Five Expert Ways to Improve Your Local SEO ResultsFrom Experts
With the search results playing host to the number of different types of search results, the importance of the original ten blue links is being reduced. In fact, a recent report by Rand Fishkin, over at SparkToro, suggested that over ~62 % of mobile searches result in a non-click result, with this set to grow over the coming year. As a result, it’s critical that business embrace the opportunity this presents or risk getting left behind by competitors.
One key area in which there’s been a noticeable growth in no-click searches is across local. Once the domain of brick and mortar-led businesses, with search results aiming to connect consumers with their nearest brand on demand, the local search landscape has now spread across queries where a local intent is perceived but not implied by the searcher. As such, for brands that can compete, have a Local SEO strategy is not only about being found (literally) by users but is also an opportunity to put your brand in front of potential customers in places you may have missed out on before.
Moreover, in particular, Google is pushing hard for location-led businesses – whether small or large – to embrace this opportunity; this they are doing through improving the functionality and breadth of the information listed across their Google My Business platform and better integrating this into their voice and assistant products.
This focus is set to continue, with Meagan Tanner, Google’s lead for GMB in America hinting at Yext’s Onward conference that this year the platform would be doubling down on ‘driving meaningful engagements and transactions for partners’. With Google launching a universal cart for shopping ads and assistant transactions, it wouldn’t be surprising if this was soon extended to allowing customers to convert online through Google My Business and pick up their purchase in store in the near future. This would be a logical next step for GMB and once that I, as a consumer, would certainly welcome.
The overarching narrative is then that if you’re not ‘doing local’, now is the perfect time to get started. But as a channel, it works slightly differently to ‘typical SEO’, with a different algorithm in its own right. At iProspect, we summarise this into three key categories of ‘factors’:
- Proximity (how near you are to the searcher),
- Accuracy (how correct your information is),
- Credibility (how trustworthy your information is).
As with traditional factors, the onus is still on providing the most value to users, but in local SEO, this is chiefly derived through how you represent yourself in the online local community and whether search engines can be confident that they’re not driving users to a closed sign or the wrong address.
I discussed the basics of local search and with so many other great guides online available, I feel there’s already of a wealth of information for anyone looking to find out how to get started. Instead, here’s five of my more expert tips for improving your local SEO results, that you can action right now, without needing to be a marketing expert, to help take your activity to the next level.
1. In the Beginning, There Was Measurement
Whether you’re an in-house SEO or agency side, predicting and proving the ROI of search activity can be a complex subject. For local SEO this gets harder by the fact that many of your conversions will be happening offline. As such, you should expect to need to stitch different data-sets together, to get a good picture of how the channel is impacting your sales.
For website clicks, I recommend using UTM parameters to separate out your Google My Business (and key 3rd party) clicks from your organic search or typical referral data. The platform also provides useful data on the number of click to calls made and directions requested, although you could take this further by implementing call tracking to understand the number of these calls that ended with a conversion. However, identifying your offline conversions from online directions or impressions is tough. While I expect a solution to be found over the coming months, in the short term, you could use a Google Posts in-store only discount code to track the number of sales made from the channel (and compare to the number of impressions made in GMB). This won’t be a perfect solution but should give an indication of the volumes involved, if you run it for long enough.
2. The Bulk Upload and Bulk Verify Are Your Best Friends
It’s no secret that having a complete Google My Business profile is a good thing. Search benefits aside, the more information you can put in, the more space you’ll take up on the results page when your knowledge card is shown. For small businesses with one or two locations, managing your location information across the web is simple – but as soon as you start to scale, you’ll run into problems. While this is an issue that can be solved through data and asset management platforms such as Yext or BrightLocal, these can be expensive for small businesses starting out (although I still highly recommend them, particularly for their enterprise-level solutions).
Luckily, Google offers both a bulk upload and bulk verification feature. The latter can be requested for businesses with more than ten locations and is managed through a central support team. The former can be used by anyone and can help save time in making large changes across Google My Business.
A pro tip: make sure your store codes are accurate, unique and consistent from day one – this underpins how the process works and will save you time as you grow.
3. Stick to the Guidelines. No Really, Stick to the Guidelines
I know, I know – it’s an obvious (and somewhat unexciting) point – but across Google My Business, following the rules really does help in the long term. For sure, there’ll be numerous success stories from trying to beat the system, by trying to include keywords in places they shouldn’t be and for many, this will be a draw to trying it out. But (unlike with your website), you’re operating directly on Google’s turf and any infringement can result in a sudden and unexpected suspension of your listings, without much room to argue. Moreover, this is kind of against the principles of local SEO anyway (i.e., the stuff that actually makes you visible), whereby having correct and consistent information, wherever your location is found, can be more valuable than being ‘keyword optimized’. Think, the more complex you make this process, the harder it’ll become to achieve the data accuracy you need to stay visible (and invariably, but not having this, you may well be shooting yourself in the foot).
4. Empower Your Staff to Build the Change You Seek
The best way, above all tactics and activities to appear like a key local online player to search engines is to actually become one. This may sound like a challenge and for businesses with a large portfolio of locations to manage, it can be. However, while you can try to centrally manage the process, perhaps even with the support of an agency, nothing beats enabling your own in-location staff to help build this up for you.
More often than not, your locations will be engaged in local community outreach project, whether this is through charity donations or the sponsorship of local sports teams – nearly all of whom will have a website. A great part of local search is that a citation (or mention of your brand / address / etc.) can be as valuable as a link. As a sponsor or contributor to the community, your staff is best placed to ask for this, when agreeing on partnerships or planning fundraising events. Think, if a business with a hundred stores, each completed one action a month, you could create over a thousand meaningful and authentic search interactions a year, without any need for additional investment.
5. Connect the Dots to See the Bigger Picture
For my final point, we need to take a step back from the weeds of deployment and consider the wider factors at play. SEO is no longer a channel in a silo, with integration playing a key part in our activity. This is most certainly the case across the local search, with a number of other channels impacting activity. With reviews playing a significant part in the overall, it’s important to have the buy-in and support from CRM teams; with local credibility impacting results, a relationship with local PR teams is a must. We often consider this type of collaboration around ‘traditional’ SEO project, but local is still seen as a specialist and stand-alone, which does it a disservice. As with wider our activities, the best way to deliver local results is for search marketers to act as facilitators across teams and to connect disparate work-streams under one, unified objective – ultimately, this is how, I believe, organizations can take their activity to the next level and achieve the results they desire.
I believe we’re sitting on the edge of a new digital ecosystem, with ever-improving technology enabling consumers to search in new and enhanced ways and this is happening quickly. Hence, while the above ideas may be a differentiating factor today, tomorrow this could be the new base-level requirement, with the early adopters seeing the benefit far and above those that engaged later. Moreover, while it’s fair to say that Google’s local proposition is already a key part of the ecosystem, as other players enter the space, I expect to see more sophisticated, customer-centric solutions arise (and voice is just the start of this). In this world, it’ll be those that fully embrace the channel, that will see the benefit it can provide continue into the future.