From Zero-Click SERPs to Rabbit-Hole SERPs
Courtesy of Artificial Photography.
David: Hey Mike, good to chat with you again. I’m freshly back from 10 relaxing days in Spain. I gather from my inbox and Twitter feed that the Local Search world not only didn’t miss me but also didn’t stop its inexorable march forward.
Mike: Nice! I envy you that trip… I have been struggling with the aftermath of a tree falling on our house and all that entails with insurance, roofers, tree removal, etc. You got the better of the last two weeks. 🙂
But move forward it does. Even without you (or me for that matter).
David: Just before I left, I had a chance to hear our friend Cindy Krum’s SEMpdx Engage keynote, and in typical Cindy fashion, her presentation sparked a topic worthy of our biweekly conversation here.
Answer Optimization and Zero-Click SERPs seem to be gaining traction as concepts in the SEO industry, but as you pointed out in our previous conversation on this topic, Google’s moving well beyond simple answers and into journeys.
Cindy highlighted several examples of these new search journeys, which as I saw her presenting struck me as “rabbit-holes.”
Mike: These search journeys are the new SEO, and I assume that these “immersive” searches will become the primary SEO target in the not-too-distant future.
David: I couldn’t agree more. We’ve seen the richness of GMB-populated Business Profiles hint at this immersive experience, but you have to look at a parallel development to GMB to see where Google’s going.
One of the recent stories that caught my eye in my return was Google’s rollout of improvements to its Hotels product, which I see as part of this larger trend. (There’s still lots of room for improvement, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Google’s real-time personalization of results based on click and filtering behavior within the Hotels product feels like something that will soon extend to verticals across Local, if it hasn’t already.
Mike: Well, their move into the vacation rentals has been on a slow but steady rollout, but it makes sense that they improved that. And obviously, it is becoming a truly one-stop shop for hotels and exemplary of the sort of immersive experience that combines information, reviews, pricing, and of course ads and the opportunity to transact.
While the update to the hotel finder was in the corner of my eye, what also caught my eye was how this same immersive, multifaceted logic has been applied to their product knowledge panel answers. These are starting to become the entry point to both local and e-commerce in the most interesting of ways. This is certainly a veritable rabbit hole.
Mike: What is fascinating to me is all of the moving parts, machine learning, and entities that they are bringing together into the Product Knowledge Panel. On mobile, when you search for Apple Powerbeats 3, you find the full array of critic reviews, end-user reviews, detailed product information, warranty information as well as where to buy it online or locally.
Given the integration of product availability on a local level and which stores you can buy it at, this appears to be a powerful entry point for local, if the local businesses are advertising around the specific product.
David: We’re even starting to see Google open up local product availability through organic channels. (As the president of the Tin Foil Hat Society, this is a hard thing for me to admit.)
It feels like only a matter of time before the Merchant Center and GMB become more explicitly integrated.
In the meantime, Pointy is not waiting around and has already started down this path. And the integration between Google’s website robots and GMB seems to be tightening up. We’re seeing more and more product-type snippets showing up in Local Packs.
Mike: Obviously, Google has made strides in terms of opening up the opportunity for local businesses to get their product feeds into the mix, but there are still barriers both technical and price-related that so far have made this the playground of Google’s bigger advertisers. And even if the SMB has the technology solution in place to feed its products to Google, it effectively drives product pricing to that level as well.
David: Right. Most SMB websites don’t have any product information, let alone easily crawlable product information. And even if the GMB-Merchant Center integration were available tomorrow, adoption by SMBs would be limited for quite awhile.
Mike: Regardless of the implications for SMBs, I am amazed at Google’s ability to tie all of these entities (products, product info, stores, ads, photos, sentiment, critic reviews, and user reviews) all into one easily digestible display.
Obviously, all of these entities exist in one form or another in the Knowledge Graph, but Google has pulled an amazing depth of detail from manufacturers around product details, from sites like Walmart & Best Buy for user reviews, CNET for critic reviews. And the company has integrated ALL of that with its advertising product. It is a technical tour de force.
David: Truly. They’re presenting at least as rich an experience as the typical Amazon product page (which as you pointed out to me offline, may be part of the driving force behind this initiative in the first place).
Mike: And with reviews, they have not only managed to show both critic reviews and a deep level of user reviews (without getting into the space themselves), but they also surface frequent user questions about the product that make the reviews searchable by sub-topics. This is a very cool use of review sentiment analysis that Bill Slawski wrote about in his patent review last fall.
David: Reviews are a key part of the consumer journey for sure—along with pricing information, maybe the most key.
The product and hotel SERPs have become the rabbit hole for everything from discovery to research to intent to purchase. And just like Amazon, Google has at least a chance of taking a cut at almost every step on the path to purchase—there, earned my Tin Foil Hat status back!
Mike: The ultimate question is whether this product direction of engaging the user and the businesses via immersive search is enough to compete with Amazon long haul on the product search and purchase front.
Given that so much purchasing occurs locally, and Google has mind share in that space, this is a battle where you can’t write off Google just yet.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.