To stay ahead of the competition in Local Search, you need to keep on top of the the ever-changing trends, understand how you can get involved, and learn what to look out for. Here Contributor Kayla Matthews breaks down the top six trends all local business owners and marketers should be aware of in 2019.  

How many times have you searched for a local business online, whether on a mobile browser, Google Maps, laptop, tablet or smart speaker, in the past month? If you’re like most consumers, chances are you’ve found yourself doing this fairly frequently. Growing numbers of companies are recognizing this and increasing their focus on Local Search Engine Optimization.

The most effective practices for improving Local SEO change over time with shifts in consumer habits, search engine algorithm updates, and other factors.

To be successful, it’s crucial that you keep up with the latest trends in Local SEO. Here’s my pick of the top six to look out for this year, and beyond:

1. Local Search Targeting Is Becoming More Precise

We’ve been hearing about how important Local Search is for some time now. According to data from Google, “near me” searches increasingly contain indicators of an intention to make a purchase. Google data shows that variants of “can I buy” and “to buy” have increased by 500% in the last two years.

Google Near Me

Source: Google

As times goes on, proximity is becoming increasingly important for search, leading marketers to make their local targeting more precise. Rather than focusing on certain towns or neighborhoods, marketers are starting to look at individual streets.

This hyperlocal search targeting will create improved funnels for prequalified customers. If someone sees two results for the search “coffee shop near me,” they may choose the one closest to them, even if it’s of lower quality.

Of course, quality still matters, but proximity is important as well. Hyperlocal targeting gives marketers the opportunity to capture some customers who would have otherwise chosen another option located further away.

People value proximity, especially when searching on mobile devices, and mobile “near me” searches are an opportunity to reach highly qualified leads. Often, a search like this indicates someone is likely to make a purchase imminently.

2. Local Voice Search Is on the Rise

Voice is an emerging source of Local Search that marketers need pay more attention to. While the smart speaker market is still young, growing numbers of consumers are using them to conduct searches, even for local businesses.

According to BrightLocal’s research, 75% of people who own smart speakers use them to search for local businesses on a weekly basis. About 53% of smart speaker owners search every day. That’s higher than the number of users who search for companies on a smartphone, computer or tablet.

The most common reason people use voice search for local businesses, according to the survey, is to make a reservation at a restaurant, pub or bar.

Voice-Search

While the percentage of the population with a smart speaker isn’t yet huge, it’s still considerable, and it’s expected to grow over the coming years. In 2018, 13% of homes had a smart speaker. By 2022, that number is expected to increase to 55%, according to a study by OC&C Strategy Consultants.

3. Online Brand Mentions Are Becoming More Important for Rankings

Online brand mentions are becoming increasingly important for search and local rankings. In fact, Google now uses online brand mentions in its algorithm. The inflation of brand mentions improves organic rankings, which in turn improve local ones. Google also takes into account the context in which those mentions occur.

The search giant analyzes factors such as trust amongst customers, advertising, and how an organization resolves complaints online. Essentially, Google is aiming to assess a business’s reputation among the public.

Businesses can help boost their mentions and how their reputation appears to Google by creating content, earning mentions, and engaging with customers. When creating content, companies should aim to make it highly shareable, and even consider working with influencers.

Engaging with customers via comments, complaints and reviews is critical, too. Businesses that monitor and respond to both positive and negative reviews will have an advantage over companies who choose to ignore them.

New City Moving provides an excellent example of a business that uses reviews to their advantage. They link back to review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, and Angie’s List via their website, and have chosen to promote their Facebook reviews via SERP sitelinks.  

Local City Moving Reviews

4. Google Knowledge Panel Will Become More Detailed

Google continues to add information to the Knowledge Panel, making these parts of SERP real estate more useful to customers and more important for businesses. If your company isn’t actively managing its Google My Business account, it’s time to start.

Approximately 50% of marketers are already using the Knowledge Panel features to impact their rankings, and 64% of consumers have used Google My Business to find contact information for a local business.

It’s becoming more common for businesses to see comments about how clean their establishment is, how accessible the building is, what the atmosphere is like, and more. Anything your customers experience could end up on the results page when people search for your business. Google will get most of this information by asking your clients questions.

5. Business Websites Will Remain Important Assets

Even as Knowledge Panels gain more information and Google My Business becomes increasingly important, maintaining your website is still vital for ranking factors and engaging with customers.

According to BrightLocal’s research, 52% of customers check business websites every time or more than half the time when they’re deciding which local business to visit, and the majority of consumers trust business websites more than Google My Business.

According to the study, 56% of consumers expect that local business websites will have the most accurate contact information, while 32% will turn to Google My Business and 12% would trust online directories. About 50% of consumers also said that if they found the contact information on a business’s website was out of date, it would make them less likely to use that company.

Local websites and GMB comparison report

Local businesses need to focus on ensuring both their websites and GMB accounts have accurate, up-to-date information.

6. Google Will Increasingly Monetize Local and Maps Space

Businesses and consumers can expect to see growing numbers of ads popping up in Local Search and Google Maps. Google is increasingly monetizing these spaces through Google Ads and may start using other models as well. Last year, Moz conducted a study of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for 110 keywords in 11 business categories across 100 U.S. cities. The study found that 35% of SERPS with local packs had ads.

Moz Local Search Ads

Source: Moz

The frequency of ads on local SERPS will likely continue to grow moving forward. Businesses need to start taking local search ads seriously and recognize that competition for this space is about to get much more competitive.

If an ad appears above your organic listing in a “near me” or Google Maps search, it may cause customers to choose the advertised business over yours. Local businesses should start developing marketing strategies that either incorporate Local and Maps ads, or otherwise compensate for the trend.

The world of Local SEO is constantly changing and you need to stay on top of it to ensure you get the most out of your regional SEO strategy.