Google never stops coming up with new improvements, but its latest addition to local search is somewhat surprising. Just last year, Google revolutionized local search by streamlining the “3-pack” format across both desktop and mobile devices, and now it’s tinkering with new functions, such as purchasing plane tickets and discovering tourist attractions in new cities.
So what’s the latest and greatest that Google has to offer?
Local Business Cards
Try not to take the title too literally; Google isn’t pulling in business card information from local realtors and professional networkers. Instead, there’s a new kind of image- and information-based carousel that provides searchers with a more in-depth look at local businesses.
(Images Source: SearchEngineLand)
Notice the carousel of small information cards just below the traditional link, and to the left of the Knowledge Graph box. Each of these boxes is filled with company-submitted information, including still images, animations/videos, copy, and links. It appears to be updated based on time, the way Twitter feeds used to, and it’s been confirmed that Google is not drawing this information from MyBusiness, social feeds, or anywhere else. The feature works on both mobile and desktop devices, though it was designed to appeal specifically to mobile users. In the mobile format, these “business cards” appear under the Knowledge Graph box, rather than to the left of it. Users may also “share” the content available in these cards.
It should be noted that this functionality is currently a test, possibly stemming from a similar feature, Candidate Cards, which rolled out just a few weeks ago. However, if the test goes well, it’s likely that Google will implement this on a full scale.
The big unanswered question for this feature is whether or not Google will decide to roll it out to all local businesses. But let’s assume for a minute that it will.
- Will this be available to national or large enterprises? This will likely apply to the independently owned local coffee shop, but what about the local Starbucks across the street from it? Both companies will have Knowledge Graph boxes and will appear somewhat equally in other areas of search visibility, but it seems unfair and maybe even a little inappropriate to give national franchises or large corporations access to even more visibility.
- What limitations will there be on provided content? Google’s candidate cards struck up some major controversy because of the way candidates were using them. While some candidates used them as intended, as simple messages or arguments during a debate, others used them as an advertising platform, requesting direct donations from users. This is significantly more complex in the political realm, but what would happen if local businesses were given free search advertising features like this? Would our search results start becoming littered with these ads? This leads me to my next question.
- Could this be a paid feature? Though candidate cards were rolled out for free and for users’ best interests, it’s not unthinkable to imagine these business cards as a paid advertising feature. They’re displayed prominently, there’s a lot of room for creativity and flexibility, and it gives brands a guaranteed number of impressions. My gut feeling on this is that this won’t turn into a paid feature—somehow I can’t imagine Google striving to give users more information like this, only to squeeze a profit out of local business owners to get the job done.
- How can this integrate socially? Right now, the share button offers integration with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and email, but what other forms of social integration might Google be able to offer? Will brands be able to tie their own social media activity into business cards in a reverse of the process?
- Will this only apply to branded searches? Currently, business cards are only known to appear for branded searches of the companies they’re appearing for. As this is a highly limited test, it’s uncertain whether this limitation would remain in the future. If these business cards can be used for direct advertisements, it seems unlikely that Google would allow them for non-branded searches (at least not for free), but Google has surprised us many times before.
Clearly, there’s a lot of potential for a feature like this, but a lot of difficult problems to work out. The big test will be to see how users respond to this initial rollout; as long as reactions are favorable, the rest of the problems may work themselves out naturally.
Predictions and Conclusions
It’s too early to say definitively whether Google will roll out this feature to all local businesses (or which businesses will “count” as local), but if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s fairly likely. Given that candidate cards have been deemed successful already, and this is basically just an extension of that, combined with the fact that Google has been consistently tinkering with local search results for years, it seems reasonable to suspect that this update will make the final cut.
When it does, I encourage you to be ready to take full advantage of it. Have images and videos ready for your pop-out business cards, and ideas for both commercial (such as product ads) and non-commercial (such as informative content) applications. Don’t be surprised if this turns into a paid feature, but given Google’s long history of supporting local businesses, don’t expect it.
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