Why Google's new Visit-in-Person query type deserves some attention

SEO is always changing. One of the reasons why true SEOs are rare is the skillset changes. The changes are sometimes subtle which require instinct as much as hands-on experience to detect and master. I think Visit-in-Person queries are one of those subtle, but important, changes.

One of the biggest Google updates ever was Florida. It hit just before Christmas and destroyed the rankings of retailers. How could retailers, almost universally, all loose the search positions? The Florida update was the one which brought the idea that people like to research before they buy to Google. The Flordia update helped create the three core query types Google used for 10 years.

  1. Navigational Searches
  2. Research Searches
  3. Commercial Searches

Those three core search types have different names today but they’re still around. There’s also a fouth – Visit-in-Person.

Page 72 of the formerly confidential but now public Google Quality Tester Guidelines spells the differences out for us.

Know queries (which we might have called Research before) are those for which the searcher is trying to find something out – which tablet to buy, for example.

Do queries are those in which the searcher is trying to take an action – buy an iPad, for example. There’s a subset of Do queries known as Device Action and these are incredibly important to know about as well. Device Action queries are those commands give Google to control your smartphone. Google gives the example [open facebook app] as an example.

There’s Website queries in which the searcher is looking for a site or a page. I speculate “Navigation” isn’t quite as an appropriate term as it was before as users may wish to navigate to apps on their phone.

Visit-in-Person queries are exactly what they appear to be. Google’s illustrated guidelines hardly seem necessary. These are search terms which suggest the user will make a physical visit to a real world location.

It’s easy to see how this might influence SEO going forward. Here’s a whole chunk of searches in which a digital asset isn’t the ultimate destination. These searches won’t drive traffic to your site.

Visit-in-Person queries are easy to understand but they’re difficult to study and predict. Using Google’s guidelines we can list all known queries with Visit-in-Person intent.

  1. [chinese restaurant]
  2. [gas stations]
  3. [pizza]
  4. [yoga class]
  5. [coffee shops]
  6. [movie showtimes]
  7. [car repair]
  8. [dentists]
  9. [bank of america atm locations]
  10. [starbucks near me]

It’s interesting that Starbucks needs a “near me” qualifier on it to be considered a VIP whereas [chinese restaurant] doesn’t. It’ll be the brand effect.

Neither Starbucks nor any nearby Chinese restaurant will be aware of the search in their own site analytics. Starbucks will be able to see the search term driving impressions but not clicks in their Search Console provided one of their URLs is included in the mobile results. That’s an interesting SEO decision – do make the effort to create pages, with sufficient authority, to rank well enough to allow you to track a query?

One of your main traffic drivers, perhaps a former Website/Navigational search could become a VIP search overnight. That’ll knock your numbers for six. I’ll use [pizza] as an example here. Google’s data tells them people are looking to buy pizza from a shop and not look up the recipe. That would be tough to swallow if the keyword has been a big traffic driver for your food blog or magazine site.

The implications go on. VIP searches are matched to locations, not websites. You may not even need to have a website to benefit from them.

As it happens [burger] is also a VIP search (at least from my location – all searches are location dependant). The results include a small restaurant around the corner, which doesn’t have burger in its name, which doesn’t have the keyword in its Google Local description and for which the word “burger” appears in only a few reviews. So once again we cycle back to the importance of UGC even though the very Google Quality Tester Guidelines that explain Visit-in-Person searches urge quality testers to be cautious with UGC.

It’s also worth noting that many venues had the word “burger” in their UGC and weren’t selected for the VIP results. In fact, one of Google’s three suggestions was over a mile away whereas venues only a few hundred metres away were omitted.

It’s important not to write Visit-in-Person searches off as just Local searches. They’re not. They’re more specific than that. There’s a stronger, clearly defined, offline intent with a Visit-in-Person search. It’s not the same thing as looking for a local florist to order online from.

It’s also important to consider that Visit-in-Person query might be the first, not the only, internet to real life mapping Google supports. Connected Cars may allow for more and Google does have an OS for cars. Just as the ‘Do’ category has the Device Action sub-category; we may Visit-in-Person grow to include specific actions or means of locomotion.

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