Just when you thought that you’d successfully optimized your restaurant to appear in the top seven returns for local Google searches, Google changed the rules. It was always important to make the top-seven return list because Google displayed more detailed information about these companies, but the company has changed its policy to display results only for the top three. To some extent, this makes sense because Google searches are becoming more accurate and people are using smaller screens to look for restaurants and other services.

Results Could Provide Hospitality Opportunities

Google’s decision to show three results instead of seven in local searches is not new for hospitality venues like hotels, but began back in November of 2014. However, Google is apparently reducing its results in all its search categories in an effort to streamline searches, target local traffic more accurately and shorten lists for mobile displays for people using their smartphones.

Any restaurant, bar or hospitality venue needs to familiarize itself with these algorithmic changes because Google’s organic searches typically result in one out of every three website visits. Google has emerged as a major player in hospitality booking, and any hotel, restaurant or attraction stands to gain alternative revenue by selling ancillary products like meals at restaurants, catering services, vacation packages, delivery service, theater and attraction tickets, eCommerce merchandise and other ancillary services.

Summary of the Changes

Google’s new local SEO policies include showing three results instead of seven and consolidating links from Google+, Google Maps and descriptions from Knowledge Graph into the Local Finder. Phone numbers have been eliminated from the listings, but a tightened map, options to get directions and the ability to link to the company’s website are included behind the scenes.

The reasons why Google changed its search-display could involve several issues that include getting more search referrals from smaller phone screens, enjoying better dashboard analytics and answering “racist” charges related to Google Map’s scandal where the White House appeared in search results using racial epithets. Google is always refining its search formulas and display practices, but this latest change is highly visible and considered a major algorithmic changes.

What the Changes Mean for Hospitality Venues

The first reaction from most hotels and restaurants tends to be negative, but there are some positive aspects of the changes for those restaurants and hospitality companies that optimize for local SEO well enough to make the top three. These benefits include:

  • No Phone Numbers or Exact Addresses Displayed  Customers can no longer view multiple addresses and phone numbers of your competitors automatically. Prospective clients must click on your link to get exact information about your company, which increases the chances for conversions.
  • Direct Bookings  Google is expanding its direct-booking options, which began as a 50-hotel experiment called “Pegasus Solutions.” Customers can get real-time pricing and book directly on their websites, make reservations and sell ancillary services.
  • More Relevant Information  The search results appear below the top AdWords listing but are organic. Hotel listings will include pricing information and whether rooms are available. Combining your listing with paid advertising, you can offer direct bookings or accept reservations. The three-pack of listings also lends itself to integrating with getting directions to local restaurants and using Google Hotel Finder.
  • Fewer Competitors  If selected for one of the top three positions, your company will get a tremendous boost. You also can buy paid advertising with Google and have your results appear more prominently with fewer competing listings.

Concluding Thoughts on Google’s Local SEO Shakeup

The rollout of the new search results includes Western Europe, Eastern Europe, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and even Canada. Internet customers who are just browsing won’t automatically see exact addresses and phone numbers, but they can still connect with a website at the touch of a button. Getting more information about any potential site should motivate people to click on websites where they can be further educated and converted.

Reviews will no longer be identified as Google-sponsored, which leaves room for Google to choose reviews from other sites. This practice could ultimately help to foster a more even-handed or unbiased reputation for hospitality reviews. All these changes seem to promise solid benefits for restaurants and hospitality-industry websites that optimize for local searches, directories and audiences.