I can’t believe that it’s nearly Christmas ! This year has flown by at a terrifying pace and I hope that December brings a few days of calm so that we can reflect on what has passed, and what the future holds.
2012 has been (another) year of significant change for all of us involved in ‘Local’ and 2013 is set to be just as busy. But what will 2013 bring, and how should we prepare ourselves & our customers to capitalize on the developments which will shape the next 12 months?
We called upon 4 extremely knowledgeable & experienced SEOs and industry watchers to share their wisdom and predictions for ‘Local’ in 2013. We thank them wholeheartedly for taking the time to talk with us and give us the benefit of their insights. Thanks guys!
Introduction by Myles Anderson – Founder & CEO BrightLocal.com
Qu 1. Looking back…what has been the biggest change in local search in 2012?
“Two big trends that I see are:
- Google firmed up their leadership position in local search on the desktop and from mobile browser and,
- The growth of the app as an alternative source for local search information (vs mobile search)
At a micro level, the biggest change was the broader recognition of the impact of local and the need for businesses small and large to understand it.”
- The upgrade to Google+ Local.
- The ability to merge/verify with a Google+ Business page (which is still problematic and not ready for prime time.)
- The diminished LOCAL Serps display.
While a lot of emphasis will likely be put on 1 and 2 by others, I’d like to spell out #3, because I think it’s affected local search the most (in general terms).
The ‘blended’ Local SERP display USED to be ADDITIVE. You’d get the benefit of a full paragraph keyword-rich organic listing PLUS all the local goodies added on top, which made a bigger listing that stood out.
Now the red map marker has turned to gray, the gold stars are gone, the title tag and description are gone. It’s a stripped down tiny bare listing without any keywords or context. Just name, address, phone.
Many businesses I work with would now prefer AND find they get higher click-through with a top organic listing than with a local listing. More businesses are asking “How can I get rid of that local listing so I can just show up in organic again and get my clicks back.” So I advocate/teach getting the best of both worlds. Get an organic listing on top so you have the keywords and description, PLUS get a separate local listing, so you have the benefits of a map marker and reviews.
So the visibility of local listings was just greatly de-emphasized and diminished over the year 2012.”
“I think Google changing from Places to Google + Local changed things a lot–but this year has been full of changes. Panda, Penguin and the Exact Match Domain updates also effected Local so none of the campaigns we run end up being ‘set and forget’. A lot more care and effort has to go into what we do on a local level.”
Google+ local is the big one, but there was a specific area within the new product that has effected what we do more than any other… Reviews.
The Zagat review system being integrated into Google brought about the biggest change for the following reasons.
1. No more 5 star system that helped with click through rates.
2. People now have to have a Google+ account to leave reviews and even read all of a companies reviews.
3. The review filter Google put on lots of service based industries has been a huge frustration with business owners that have actually pushed them to start diversifying reviews to other places and niche directories.
Qu 2. What do you predict to be the biggest change for ‘local’ in 2013?
“There are a few things that I think that will happen:
- Once Google + Local and business pages are fully integrated, I think that mixing the listing and social functionality might just work well for local businesses. Google + is being pushed but from what I can see it’s a wasteland compared to Facebook.
- Mobile will continue to be very important–Google Maps, Apple Maps, and mobile SEO for local.”
Last Feb comscore conducted a survey in which they concluded that around 49% of searches on mobile for local businesses were taking place in apps.
I think we will see this trend of app searches through mobile helping yelp, apple maps, and niche directories (trip advisor) gain traffic and trust while Google will continue to do what they can to send as little traffic to these sites through their Search Engine.
The outcome of this will be a huge push for correcting citation data for more reasons than ranking in Google and more responsive and mobilized refreshes of small business sites.
“Google will continue to push more and more local results into the SERPS.”
“My biggest ‘hope’ is that Google puts more resources into getting Google+ Local right.”
Qu 3. What is your biggest concern for how ‘local’ will develop in 2013?
“I am concerned that SMB confusion on internet marketing will hit an all time high. There are too many areas to manage:
- Traditional advertising (billboards, newsprint, radio, tv)
- Social Media sites (facebook, linkedin, twitter, Google+, Pinterest)
- Apps + Directories
- Search Engines
- Text and Email
Small Businesses will be looking for a complete solution across all areas as having an in house team to handle all these areas is not possible.
The challenge for local SEOs will be to decide whether to continue to focus on one area (google+ local) or try and create a service that will incorporate everything into one overall strategy.”
“I am along for the ride. I don’t have any real concerns. It doesn’t matter to me what happens. I see my job as understanding the change and interpreting it in both a practical and theoretical sense so others can increase their understanding of it.
Oops, I just thought of one…. that as more SMBs understand the importance of local and reviews, they will drive themselves absolutely bonkers obsessing over some policy, practice or behavior of the Googles of the world rather than making life better for their customers.”
“My biggest concern is that Google won’t put more resources into Google+ Local and won’t get it right.”
“Once things are working-a new change comes in and puts us back to square one. Waking up one morning and Google Places is no longer and now it’s Google + Local. The biggest issue continues to be that this “free product” from Google is hard to fix. Duplicate listings, terms of service changes, updates taking forever, etc”
Qu 4. What will be the biggest change(s) to local SEO ranking factors in 2013?
“I don’t have a crystal ball. Currently I believe there are around 300 ranking factors in local now that organic is such a big part of the picture. I predict 2013 there will just be more ranking factors added and the whole thing will get even more complicated.”
- Elimination of category choices from Google+ will mean that organic website information and citations will matter A LOT.
- Quality of Reviews (getting reviews from active accounts and top reviewers) will have a more positive effect on rankings.
“I think that quality will continue to be a big factor. The other thing that comes to mind with this is that a quality site that has tons of information doesn’t always convert as well–BUT if a site that converts well doesn’t rank, what’s the point?”
“I think Google will continue to push changes that favor brands big and small, they will push personal authority and they will continue to increase their surfacing of the relationship that users have with their friends, family and associates.”
Qu 5. What changes do you predict for Google+ Local in 2013?
“From a product stand point, Google will finally be rolling out semi finished products for local (if we are lucky). I think we will see a “dashboard” like product for SMBS that is similar to the one described in the Wall Street Journal this past summer and they will make progress on the integration of their local and social. This will hopefully include the ability to integrate brand and local into a single easily managed presence.”
I think Google will roll out a new business management dashboard that could potentially do the following…
1. Relying more on website organic information for ranking data compared to filling in categories. It seems that the google+ local business creating/claiming process removes category choice all together. This means that businesses will need to start creating very solid landing pages for each service.
3. Quality of Review will become more of a ranking factor (reviews from top accounts, much like yelp) compared to quantity.
4. Additional paid services through google’s dashboard like TalkBin (Allows customers to send text message feedback in-store) Punchd (rewards point system) and a refreshed coupon system with Offers and their recent acquisition of IncentiveTargeting.
“Again my ‘hope’ is that Google puts more resources into getting Google+ Local right. I wish I could PREDICT that’s what will happen. But I’m hopeful.”
“I think a lot of agencies and SEO’s got killed this year with the updates. Old spammy techniques no longer work. Many of these guys went out of business. I think there’s a huge opportunity for those who do it right to gain more business.
On the other hand, I think the tools will get better.”
Qu 6. What are the 3 pieces of advice you would give to local business owners for 2013?
“All too often SMBs are prey to the “shiny new object” syndrome. I think it important that ALL SMBs check that have the basics in line before they embark on any new tasks.
Those basics include a well optimized and attractive website, a properly seeded NAP, some basic link building and the ability to capture email addresses so as to stay in contact with their existing customers.
If they have those bases covered then their move into the social arena should first be via a review management strategy and if appropriate blogging.
These should all happen before they embark on using Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.”
- Make sure your site is mobile optimized
- Claim your listings with Google + Local, Yahoo, bing, etc
- Aggressively remind your customers to write reviews.”
Between Google’s new +local issues, penguin, panda, and review filters I would be looking for ways to ensure I was getting traffic from many new sources as one day you could wake up to find your listing un-findable.
- Work on your organic on-site SEO and be sure you are well optimized for city + keyword searches and have all the right local hooks in place on your site. (The current blended algo is IMO 90 – 95% based on organic ranking factors.)
- Be sure your site is not OVER-optimized as there are new Google guidelines (webmaster guidelines not Places guidelines) that deal specifically with lots of things I see many local sites doing wrong. Duplicate content, excessive keyword repetition which now in the guidelines also expressly includes big banks of all the cities you are trying to rank for, are a few of the things to watch out for.
- Read the Google Places guidelines 3 times with a fine tooth comb and try to read between the lines. There are lots of subtle or even unwritten rules and you need to be careful with everything. If you get in a bind with Google Places/Google+ Local it can be time and labor intensive to get problems resolved, to say nothing of lost business if listing disappears or data is wrong.”
Qu 7. What’s your most ‘crackpot’ prediction for ‘local’ in 2013?
“Google will hire Mike Blumenthal to lead the Google+ Local team.” (note from the editor: Linda didn’t know Mike was also taking part in this!!)
“Facebook will buy Bing and Pinterest and create a new social search image engine that will instantly take 45% of US marketshare and will have a local product that works flawlessly. (You said crackpot)”
“Skynet is really Google and it will become self-aware next year! Seriously, The merge of Google and Facebook will create the largest network world-wide. The integrated entity “Fagle” will be bigger than the Microsoft/Yahoo alliance “MicroHoo””
“That Google Plus will equal or surpass Twitter in value as a marketing tool.
Apple will fix their mapping product.
SMBs will start looking at conversions rather than rank (ok that one isn’t going to happen).”
About our contributors (in their own words)
“My blog? Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search… no, Understanding Google Places and Local Search…. no, Understanding Google Something or other and Local search. Yea that’s it.”
Laura Betterly – Yada Yada Marketing
“Laura Betterly-Marketing Goddess: Laura is an eclectic serial entrepreneur. Although her first love was playing guitar (she performed in NYC punk bands in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s) she has spent most of her career being a tech geek, handling the marketing and promotion for her clients as well her own projects . PCDJ, which she co-founded had nine million downloads. She has traveled the world working with celebrities such as Ice T, Nile Rodgers, Jam Master Jay and Chaka Kahn but also took her last company In Touch Media Group public.
She currently runs a boutique marketing agency, Yada Yada Marketing and is published by Ryan Deiss with her product for local marketers, Mobile Local Fusion. Her company is Google certified for PPC and she is also an excellent SEO ranking herself and clients for competitive terms.”
Mike Ramsey is the founder/president of Nifty Marketing, a local search marketing company in Burley, Idaho. He has taken part in the local search ranking factors and speaks on the Getlisted.org Local University tour. Outside of search Mike also moonlights as the owner/publisher of The Voice which is a weekly newspaper in Southern Idaho that is delivered to 18,000 households. Mike has a wonderful wife, a rascal of a little boy, and a beautiful baby girl.