Serving the home health, home care and hospice industry since 1999.

Untitled Document

by Roger McManus

In a world where over 80 percent of prospective consumers will see your ad, but look you up online before calling your place of business, your placement in a local Google search is critical. A local search is triggered when someone types in “home care” and the name of the city in which you operate (e.g. “Home Care Canton Ohio”). It is different from typical searches because the searcher defines the geography in advance and Google treats it differently when the results are displayed.

August Surprise
Before August 7 of last year, a local Google search showed up to seven listings on the first search page beside a map showing where the businesses are located. This was called the "Map Pack." These results included addresses, phone numbers, reviews and the location’s website.

The Pigeon Play

Google’s “Pigeon” update really did impact local search by shifting searches from being city-wide to being more neighborhood localized. Again, this move toward improvement works to help searchers. This geo-positioning search is also helpful to local businesses by making those closest show up higher in the rankings for that particular searcher. To best take advantage of the “Pigeon” update, use more localized descriptions of your neighborhood in your directory listings and website. Let Google know where locals think you are. For example, you may be in Cincinnati (population 300,000), but locals would think of your store as being in Kenwood (population 6,000 – but with a Cincinnati address).

The goal of every online-aware business owner is to be in the “Map Pack” (Snack Pack). The localizing impact of Pigeon actually narrows the competition somewhat making it easier to accomplish your objective – particularly if your competition is not paying attention. Even when seven businesses were listed, the top three got about 64 percent of the clicks. Now that there are only three, your diligence is all the more critical. It is too soon to have meaningful measurements, but the number has to be significantly above 64 percent. Businesses listed at the top without the searcher having to look any further will obviously get more traffic (and, therefore, more new clients) than those showing up in Google purgatory. It stands to reason the rivalry for this space will become much more competitive. You have the opportunity to get a head start if you act now.

Since that date, the list has been trimmed to three and has been dubbed the “Snack Pack” or the “Stack Pack” depending on who is describing it. This is a massive change and one that dramatically impacts local online marketing for any business. Because home care agencies are inherently local (even national chains or franchises), it represents a 57 percent reduction in page-one Google real estate.

Perhaps the only thing that is consistent about Google is that it being constantly altered. It is said that Google’s algorithm is changed between 500 and 600 times per year – about twice a day! Most of these changes are minor tweaks but some come in big, dramatic bundles such as the Map Pack change. Some of the larger ones in the past have been named after animals that start with the letter “P”.

For example, online (non-local) marketers were powerfully impacted by the introduction of Google’s "Penguin" program change and "Panda" before that. These did not really impact local businesses because they were both designed to improve the quality of the results people would get if they did general organic searches on Google. This hurt those who tended to use weak content to "spam" searchers and demonstrates how Google is dedicated to change in the name of improvement.

If you are already in the top three
Even if you are already in the top three, you cannot relax. This change in the google display system will only serve to awaken those who did not make the cut from seven to three. You can expect a redoubling of their efforts to displace you from the top. You can expect them to get more aggressive with cleaning up their listings and encouraging reviews (they might even read this article!). Over half of those appearing in the 7-packs are suddenly gone, and everyone will want a shot in the new 3-pack. Since they have nowhere to go but up, do not be surprised when a competitor sneaks up out of the dark to displace you in the top rankings. It is a very fluid game and there is no room for complacency.

Institutionalizing the Process
Your task, therefore is to consistently collect positive reviews. The good news is that there are new systems on the market to facilitate this task by allowing your field staff to engage patients and collect their reviews. These systems then automatically post your patients' reviews on Google, or another review site, before your clinician or aide even leaves the residence.

A Hint at the Future

Google likes to test changes in small subsets of their giant world before committing to broad alterations. One thing Google is testing in the restaurant space is a searcher-triggered, drop-down option for consumers to select the minimum star level they want to see. If you want to see only four-star and above listings, you can do that. While this does not currently impact home care agencies, keep an eye out for it to become universal. Your patients' reviews will become all the more critical in years to come.

If you are in a densely populated area or you have lots of near-by competition, you should pay serious attention to those star-ratings now, so you are prepared should Google pull the trigger on expanding the rating selection system. Do not count on getting advance warning about such a change. Google will want to avoid business owners spamming reviews in preparation. If you already have a rating of four-stars or more, you don’t have much to worry about. If not, get started now collecting reviews from your happiest customers.

Also, there is the reciprocal. Given that reviews are getting much more emphasis in the ratings for local results, businesses with few or no reviews are definitely at a disadvantage. This is a real disadvantage that costs real dollars. Far too many business owners – not just home care agencies – are not giving this adequate attention.

The text displays a link that directs the customer to your Google page where customers can give you a star rating and leave a review from their cell phones – which means from their own IP address, a Google requirement for a legitimate review. Yelp and Facebook posts are other options in this system; plus, the program can ask up to five marketing research questions. Information about one such system, available from the publisher of this newsletter, is available at

What else should you be doing?
Besides collecting more positive reviews, it is important to address whatever negative ones that may crop up. If a service problem led to the review, address it internally. If the review calls for a response, deal with it in a proactive way. Note: This does not necessarily mean you address the issues in public by responding online. Sometimes it is best to limit the number of times an issue is aired publicly. Private communication is often the best strategy to approach an unhappy customer. A successful exchange can sometimes get a negative review quietly removed.

It won’t stop.
Google will constantly change. As much as it seems so, it is not just to keep you off balance. Google’s objective is to make sure people using its search engine get the best, least-spammed results available. Sometimes it makes life difficult, but those business owners who are paying attention will be able to take an ethical advantage over those who are not.

NAP Consistency
There are dozens of sites across the web that list your business and the details about it. Most important among these details is what is called the NAP. This stands for Name, Address and Phone number. As simple as that sounds, it is critically important to boost your Google ranking. Right or wrong, be consistent. And, that means be consistent on every item like Main Street vs. Main St. It does not matter which, just as long as it is consistent across every listing online.

Use every advantage you can. Not only is it important that the NAP is accurate and consistent, but Google (and other sites) allow you to add many elements to your own listings. These include a listing of your website, a description of your business (use keywords people might use to search for what you do), your hours of operation and pictures of your business and personnel. Every little bit counts.

©2015 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only.