Google search has arguably changed more in the last 18 months than in the decade prior.  It is something that keeps us search engine optimization pros on constant guard. Generally, the evolution of Google search has been to help improve the user experience and provide better results for searcher’s queries.  With the recent Google I/O event, we see many updates and changes to Google products and services, and we are seeing a fundamental shift to Google search results. I view my job to help cut through the clutter for small business owners and marketing departments, so I will let you read the details if you’d like from the Search Engine Land article I shared earlier this week. They do a great job at covering this stuff in detail.

But what are the headlines? Often the whole world goes crazy about some of these changes that in the end don’t move the needle tremendously for small business owners. I would argue that the Google core update at the end of March may have changed things more for local small businesses than this new look of Google search results, but let’s take a look at the main point.

Google Baking in AI and More Images and Video

The new look might be a bit jarring as it looks like they are becoming more of a TikTok or Instagram look than our traditional list of links to go to. With an assortment of “cards” that are viewed as more digestible and include images and videos, it will be more like a wall of interactive media than text.  We are evolving away from straight text and we are embracing AI more and more.  In the upcoming early version, Google is giving proper credit to the different sites it uses for information, so when asking for a fact or piece of information, if Bard (Google’s AI programming) decides the best answer comes from a certain site, they will still provide the link to that site. This tends to be a big scare for many providing blog posts and information for the general audience. They worry that Google will just give the answers and people won’t go to their information or news sites.  This is probably going to be true in many cases.

Why Does it Matter To Local Small Businesses?

It may not. As I said above, some of the other changes they have made to their algorithm are worse for small businesses than this may be. I would recommend something that I have recommended for some time.  If you are a small business, you should try to provide unique images and videos to go along with your content pages.  Plain walls of text have never been appealing. Always make your information digestible and provide as many different ways to take it in as possible and within your budget. But try to provide images that present your products or services. It will help them stand out more in the search results which will lean into images and video more than ever.

When people look for the best local plumber or dentist, or whatever you are offering, AI doesn’t really dig down to that level as much. Google’s job is to provide the best user experience, as they tell us all the time.  So having AI present the “best dentist near me” is not really feasible and actually can probably be risky. The best user experience is to provide a few options of highly reviewed businesses that offer what the searcher wants.  I don’t think AI will drastically change that in the near future, and though the way it looks may change, local businesses should still show up based on similar ranking factors as we have seen in recent years. That being said, the giant changes Google made in March that adjusted the ranking factors a bit, have created some pretty bad user experiences.  They seem to have given even greater priority to proximity and business categories than ever before.  Perhaps too much. Check out the below search for “neurologist Queens”, The first one listed here not only has a bad review score but doesn’t actually exist. Queens is a densely populated area and there are many neurologists in Queens that will get you better than a 2.8 review score, the best presented here by Google. Sometimes Google adjusts too much and scales back.

Bad Google Search Result Neurologist Queens

Keep Asking for Reviews and Creating Specific and Helpful Content

This is just one example since March of bad user experiences because Google gives a bit too much power to location. The point is we need to worry about these factors more than if an image shows up in these Maps listings that represent your business. That will probably happen and you should definitely add images to your content if you don’t have it, but don’t get too worried about how the search results look right now. The buzz and worry is about search results that don’t typically pertain to your business. The news from the week that you probably want to pay more attention to, though maybe not getting as much media buzz, is the upcoming update to the “helpful content” part of the algorithm. Showing off your expertise is going to continue to help you stand out from your competitors. Focus on that, and take a picture or two while you are at it, to help present your point. That way both of your bases are covered.