Google Testing Slimmed Down Local Box

Written by: Jason Bayless | November 05, 2016
In the world of search engine optimization and Google algorithms, a good, strong contradiction is sometimes par for the course. Case in point: Recently, Google announced that it was testing a slimmed down version of the “local box” displayed to users on mobile platforms. This comes after Google has repeatedly emphasized that the best-ranking mobile websites are not slimmed down at all, but instead robust, mobile alternatives to their desktop counterparts. While these two goals might sound contradictory, however, they have something in common: Both efforts are working hard to improve user engagement levels and to provide key information in the most effective way possible.

Goodbye, Fancy Local Box: A Look at the Future

Google’s standard local box is a stellar design, created specifically to highlight that a local business or website is, in fact, local, and should be trusted. The design uses a bright blue banner at the top, where reviews and rankings of the business are provided above an address and phone number listing for the merchant. This format works well on both mobile and desktop platforms, but Google noticed at least one significant problem with the design.

On smaller mobile devices, the larger local box takes up the vast majority of the viewable space in a search results listing. In order to see more information, users on smaller mobile phones need to actively scroll down. If the business at the top isn’t the one they’re looking for, they could feel discouraged or simply close the search results. Where there’s a problem with Google’s format, there certainly are engineers hard at work on an alternative. That’s why the new, slimmer box is being tested.

Same Information, Compact Layout

On mobile platforms, Google decided it was time to create a bit of space between its desktop box and the mobile version. Lately, that effort has resulted in widespread testing a slimmed down mobile version that’s not much larger than a standard search result on most smartphones. Though the box is slimmer, with a far shorter stature, it still contains the business’ name, Google reviews and star rating, address information, and action buttons.

The biggest change inherent with the new local box is its lack of flashy visibility. While the standard version of this box features a hard-to-miss blue banner, the slimmed down version looks something like a regular search result, with no distinguishing banner or attention-getting characteristics. This could be either a boom or bust for small, local businesses, depending on their broader name recognition in the community and the specific nature of their customers’ Google searches.

Not a Fan of the Box? Don’t Fret.

Google has been known to A/B test all kinds of changes to how it does business, especially in terms of its search result aesthetic. Though the slimmed down box is a great enhancement to the mobile experience for users of smaller devices, and manages to present the same information while using approximately half of the screen real estate, there’s no guarantee that the box will become a permanent part of local search in the mobile environment. Instead, the slimmed down box may provide for more evolutionary design changes to the current local box, helping it to stay noticeable while becoming smaller in stature and easier to integrate among standard search results.

As for what to do next? Most small businesses should keep doing exactly what they’re doing. No matter what changes are going on aesthetically, it’s important to remember that local search and Google overall rankings are now linked. Strong SEO practices must be enforced across all aspects of a website to ensure that, whether the slim box or the traditional local box is presented, a company can rank first and garner the most clicks from a local-based, keyword-targeted search.