How Verticalization and Zero-Click will Impact Local Search in 2020

In a recent post on the SparkToro blog, Moz founder and search guru Rand Fishkin predicted that 2020 will be the year Google is transformed “from everyone’s search engine to everyone’s competitor.” Fishkin cites Google’s monopoly on web search and the trend toward zero-click searches, then outlines a dizzying range of examples to prove his case, from dictionaries like Merriam-Webster to lyrics sites like Genius, from news sites like USNews and FiveThirtyEight to travel sites like Expedia and Kayak … and the list goes on. Restaurant recommendations, weather, celebrity net worth, video games: just about every vertical you can think of has been impacted by a few related threads in Google’s recent development: Featured answersKnowledge cardsVerticalized search experiencesZero-click transactions (Reserve with Google)Transactions further down the funnel (Google Shopping, Google Travel)CarouselsLocal packs All of these trends are related both technologically and strategically. From a technological perspective, they speak to the building out of the Knowledge Graph and the ubiquity of machine learning in just about everything Google touches in search. From a strategic point of view, along the lines of Fishkin’s argument, Google is pushing every potentially minable source of information, including those that hope to generate commercial transactions, further into the margins, and occupying more and more of the center of the experience. I want to share some thoughts about how all of this impacts local search, in ways that are very likely to expand in the coming year. My sense is that Google has looked very hard at the way consumers search within different types of verticals, from travel to shopping to restaurants to services and beyond, and has been tweaking the local search feature set subtly, in particular over the last year, but in some cases for much longer than that, to create ever more verticalized search experiences and own an ever-greater share of the funnel. Google wants to do this in part because of the never-ending quest towards stickiness and protection against competition. In other words, Google wants to be the best local search engine in the world, and having more or less conquered the generic use cases, verticalization is an obvious next place to go. But of course, it’s about more than that. In a scenario where the search engine succeeds beyond its wildest dreams, niche sites and directories that still serve significant margins of the population will simply be removed from the equation, leaving only Google to connect consumers with businesses. Here are a few examples of the trend. Retail shopping This is a case where many subtle changes over time have coalesced into what is now a vastly different product search experience than Google has presented in years past. Google is much more likely now to indicate local availability of products, even when the search has no obvious local intent: Further down the page for the same search, Google is essentially using the local listing as a conduit for customized presentation of content that meets the searcher’s needs. Note that the primary category of Target has been switched to “toy store” to help satisfy the searcher’s intent, and all three listings show that Google has mined data from the business website to determine relevance, making it unnecessary for the business to explicitly broadcast via Google My Business the availability of individual products: Particularly with product searches, Google has also focused heavily in recent months on drilling into photo content and modifying the display of listings in order to feature photos that match specific search queries. As Mike Blumenthal has demonstrated, this seems to work especially well when searching for jewelry. In my example below,…

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