Google Screened – The Future of Local SEO Searches for Lawyers and Others? Possibly.
In mid-2019, Google began rolling out a test phase of a new search feature called “Google Screened” in which lawyers and other professionals with at least a 3.5 star rating would be displayed in the top results for a particular search query. As of now, the feature has only been rolled out in select markets (Houston, San Diego, and Atlanta) and for a select number of verticals (immigration and estate planning attorneys), but the fact that Google made changes to the “Google Screened” section as recently as January 13th may be a signal that they plan on moving forward with the new search engine result implementation. It is worth noting that these Google Screened results are currently displayed as paid and sponsored ads, but it could be very possible that Google continues to expand this offering in order to combat the amount of spam listings in organic local listings created by those attempting to improve their local visibility in markets where they don’t actually have a physical presence.
What is Google Screened?
According to Google, Google Screened provides background and license checks on lawyers and other types of professionals who are included in the results.
All firms that have the Google Screened badge must pass a business-level background and a business-owner background check. Additionally, each professional in the business must pass a license check and the business overall must have a 3.0 star rating or higher. In some categories, each professional in the business must also pass a background check. See Requirements by category for details.
These checks ensure that the professionals you work with have been vetted and provides you added peace of mind as you work with them.
Only firms that provide professional services including Law, Financial Planning, and Real Estate are eligible for the Google Screened badge.
While this may be a way to “weed out” those who simply attempt to dupe the search engine rankings while not being as trustworthy or credible as some of their local competitors, it still remains to be seen how Google will rank multiple firms who apply, or are included, in the Google Screened program. Some of the requirements based on each industry that Google plans to include in the future can be found here. These industries include:
- Appliance repair
- Auto glass
- Car repair
- Carpet & Upholstery cleaning
- Estate lawyer
- Event planners
- Financial planners
- Garage door
- House cleaning
- Immigration Law
- Junk removal
- Lawn care
- Pest control
- Pet boarding
- Pet grooming
- Real estate agents
- Tree service
- Water damage services
- Window cleaning
- Window repair
Google’s recent updates to the Google Screened program includes adding images to the Google Screened results in markets where the SERP feature is currently available:
You can find out more about Google Screened (what they look for during a background check, what the minimum criteria is for a business to be listed, etc.) directly from Google on this page.
If Google’s new Screened program is rolled out Nationwide, it would surely be an added benefit for industries in which many have violated Google’s Terms of Service in order to obtain top local rankings. For example, the locksmith industry is one vertical in which those looking for reputable locksmith services have been taken advantage of by individuals acting as independent contractors for Nationwide companies setting up bogus Google My Business profiles in order to obtain local rankings and generate leads. Recently, CBC in Canada published an investigative report showing that a Google user searching for a reputable locksmith became a victim of fraud. The company that was displayed in the Google search showed a reputable address, which ended up being a vacant lot, and the user was significantly overcharged once the locksmith (which was supposed to be local to his address) actually arrived. These lead generation scams are far too common in certain industries, and hopefully Google’s new Screened program will help users feel comfortable again searching for local businesses on the leading search engine in the world.
If your industry is listed above among those which Google plans to roll out their new Screened program, you may want to setup Google and Twitter alerts and stay updated on the progress of this potentially massive shift in the Local SEO industry.