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  • Abel Miranda

Google Introduces AI in Local Search- What Small Businesses Can Expect

Google has introduced AI in local search with one goal in mind: to give users more personalized recommendations when they search for businesses.

To be more specific, the goal of Google's AI being used in local searches is to meet a searcher's needs.

This means finding businesses that match the exact criteria of their searches.

What Does This Mean for Small Businesses?

Why is Google introducing AI in local search? Because it's a buzzword and throwing AI in it will get people more interested in making a Google search?

No! Millions of searches are done on Google every single day, so that's not their main goal.

Instead, they want to make it easier for people to find exactly what they're looking for when they search for something (which has kind of always been the goal).

By incorporating AI, Google is hoping to make it even easier to find businesses using hyper-personalization.

Increase in Hyper-Personalization

Google's commitment to delivering personalized search results is reaching new heights with AI.

According to an article by Search Engine Journal, AI-powered discovery can adapt to ever-changing itineraries and give searchers exactly what they are looking for at a moment's notice.

This along with the ability to analyze individual users' location history, search behavior, and preferences, Google can tailor local search results more precisely than ever before.

This level of personalization means that businesses must focus on becoming highly relevant to their target audience's needs and habits to feature prominently in search results.

How can they do this?

Let's discuss using an example.

Example Using Coffee Shops

Let's say I wanted to visit a coffee shop in North Park San Diego. But not just any coffee shop. I wanted a modern feel with a minimalistic design. So I did the following search: "modern style coffee shops in North Park San Diego"

Here's what popped up in the top 3 results:

Google Maps search results for the query "modern style coffee shops in north park san diego

A couple of things I immediately noticed:

  1. In all 3 of these cover photos, the places do seem to look modern and have the aesthetic that I am looking for, which is modern and sleek.

  2. On Genteel Coffee Co.'s profile card, it displays a review snippet that says "new, clean, modern coffee shop..."

What can we take from just these 2 observations?

It's that photos and reviews really do matter when it comes to local search.

Google's search engine can take customer reviews that contain certain keywords related to your search and display them on the business's profile card.

It can also scan photos on a Google Business Profile to try to find the ones that best match your search.

With all this being said, this significant change in local search results could bring visibility to otherwise "invisible" businesses listed on Google. For businesses that struggle to compete with larger chains in the map pack, this comes as a way to get their shine.

AI Cannot Do it All For You

Although this is great news for businesses struggling to get found locally through Google, free visibility won't come without a price. You still have to do the work to get noticed!

As mentioned in the previous section, photos and reviews are super important, but you can't populate your Business Profile with them without a little work.

Putting in the work to ensure your Google Business Profile contains these items is integral in increasing your local search visibility.

If it's difficult for your business to get reviews and you don't have a system in place to collect them already, then you should figure out a good way to garner these testimonials.

Photos, on the other hand, you can post yourself! They're a great way to visualize your business and give viewers a sneak peek of what to expect from you.

Let's use the coffee shop example- what would be some good photos to post if I were the business owner?

  • Signage that marks where the business is

  • Interior images of the counter and seating

  • Any outdoor seating areas if you have them

  • Signature drinks or food items

  • Food or drink menu(s)

Maximizing Visibility in the AI Era

Appearing in these AI-powered searches hinges on a robust Google Business Profile (GBP). Businesses that neglect their GBP risk becoming invisible in local results. Here's how AI makes each GBP element more critical:

  • Accurate, Detailed Information: Ensure your GBP has the correct operating hours, services, etc. AI prioritizes reliable data.

  • Reviews and Q&A Engagement: Positive reviews and actively responding to customer questions show Google you're a customer-focused business.

  • High-Quality Photos and Videos: Visuals are now as important as text. Showcase your best work to attract attention in image-focused searches.

Optimizing For Local Search Going Forward

The way consumers search online has been changing in the past couple of years, and I can only see it changing even more soon given the fact that voice search has been on the rise in recent years and we want more control as consumers.

Because of these changes, businesses are going to have to adapt in new ways, one main way is by optimizing for conversational searches: long-tail keywords.

We are still in the early stages of this implementation, which was introduced in February 2024, but it's clear that search generative experience (SGE) is the new wave of search.

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