The BrightLocal crew was busy at this year’s BrightonSEO conference held in – where else – Brighton UK. If you’re not familiar with BrightonSEO, it’s a one-day search marketing conference that offers a series of workshops given by search industry leaders.
Our very own Myles Anderson, Founder & CEO of BrightLocal, was one of the presenters at this year’s conference.
The Future of Local Search Marketing
Myles’ presentation focused on the future of local search. And that’s important. If you’ve been in the search industry for any length of time, you know that search engine optimization is always changing. But local search has nuances that are specific to businesses in geographic regions and involves unique SEO strategies to help those local businesses appear higher in search results – and that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do.
Over the past few months alone there have been many significant changes to local search: the local 7-pack going down to a 3-pack (and soon to be a 2-pack), Possum, Penguin 4.0, Google My Business/Google+ combo, pay-per-leads, Google Knowledge Panel changes and the ever increasing importance of online reviews, building quality citations and online business directory listings with accurate and complete business information, etc. Local search optimization requires different SEO strategies.
Five Local SEO Trends Overview
Local Search Is Maturing
It used to be relatively easy for a local business to rank high in local search results. Several years ago, few SMBs knew how to optimize their website or use off-site SEO strategies, so those businesses that made even the minimalist efforts at SEO were typically rewarded with high rankings when people searched for their business. Google was also more SMB friendly by providing businesses the opportunity to appear in the “local pack.” Typically claiming and optimizing a business’ Google My Business page was enough to rank in this coveted section, but now that area has gone from seven listings to three listings – and will soon be down to two (with an extra spot for paid advertisers.) Local businesses face a much more competitive environment.
Local Search: Pay to Play
Google has invested heavily in helping local businesses get found online. Their Get Your Business Online (GYBO) program is just one example of how they encourage local businesses to get an online presence. GYBO walks business owners through the steps needed to claim their Google My Business page. Google has even partnered with organizations like SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground and grow, to help promote this program.
But let’s face it. Google is out to make money – just like every other business. Google is under pressure to monetize their local offering, and they’ve struggled to get significant ad revenue from SMBs. So they’re removing some natural, earned search result opportunities and replacing them with pay-to-play solutions.
What this means for the local pack, is that one of three results available will be a paid result. Which only leaves two slots of organically, non-paid results. So the real estate available to local businesses is being cut.
Location, Location, Location: It’s Still Everything
Because Google knows where the searcher is physically located, that location impacts the type of results that show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs.) Google is now taking local search one step further by narrowing down the radius of the results it returns so businesses located close to searchers have greater relevance than those located further away. The search area is essentially shrinking down to a neighborhood level. This is good news for businesses that are located in the suburbs outside of a larger city — they now have a chance to capture some of those searchers in the large city.
Mobile is #1
If a business has avoided mobile marketing up until now, they will have to change their way of thinking – soon. More searches are now done on mobile devices than on PCs. This is mainly because of the increased number of smartphones and the increased search activity by mobile users. Google has taken this new mobile-first world seriously. Why? Because a mobile location is an even more powerful ranking signal than a desktop search. Google is able to determine a mobile user’s location with more precision. And most importantly for local businesses a high percentage of mobile searches have local intent – meaning the mobile searcher is looking for a local business.
It’s nothing new. Businesses have been trading off reputations for hundreds of years — and consumers have been writing and reading online reviews about businesses for years. Many businesses find customer reviews (especially negative ones) an annoyance and don’t take them seriously. Google does. Business online reviews show up frequently in search results – for all to see. The number and star ratings shown not only help gain the trust of potential customers, it’s also a signal to Google that a business is trustworthy – or not.
Local Search Is Evolving
Local Search is one of the most dynamic and fast-evolving areas in search marketing – and predicting what’s going to happen next can be challenging. (But that’s what makes it so interesting; right?) Now you can check out Myles’ BrightonSEO 2016 presentation where he further outlines the five key local search trends and provides tips for SEOs and local businesses on how they can capitalize on each of them.