As we settle into January, we’re preparing for what we can only guess will be another big year in local search—and getting excited for the potential changes and transformations that we might see.
We know that local SEO is ever-evolving, I mean, we’re still navigating the ‘openness’ update announced last year.
So, we spoke to some of the industry’s top experts to determine what we could expect for the year ahead. Spoiler alert: yes, they all mention AI, but read on to find out what their predictions will be around updates to GBP, authenticity, and more!
Artificial intelligence (AI) is still on the rise. AI will reshape our workflows, content creation, and even how users find answers in 2024. As SEOs, we will need to prepare and adapt even more than we did in 2023 as AI continues to be used in our industry.
Expect personalization on steroids. AI will crunch large amounts of data to help craft content that resonates deeply with your audience. Think laser-focused content and narratives that feel handmade. And all the data analysis that was out of reach will be close to your fingertips in 2024.
Users want answers, fast. Enter Answer Engine Optimization (AEO). This rising star is all about optimizing for concise, direct replies, the holy grail of zero-click searches. AI will power this shift, ensuring your content delivers the quick hits users crave. Someone will start to crack the code of AI SEO, learning to harness its power effectively (think gentle nudges, not direct control).
The AI arms race will heat up. Big tech will continue to throw money at AI tools. Get ready for AI video, audio, and who knows what else, to help to your SEO strategy. Just be ready and open to change. It has always been a constant in our industry—adapt or die!
Content will remain king; editors will be needed. No amount of AI can replace well-crafted, relevant content. But AI can help you understand user behavior and tailor your content accordingly. Don’t forget the human touch, though. Editors will be more crucial than ever, ensuring quality remains the north star.
Then there’s the UGC avalanche. AI will unleash a flood of user-generated content, a mixed bag of gems and noise. New strategies will be needed to filter the good from the bad. I predict search engines will step up the penalties of AI misuse and move to clarify what they consider to be useful and not.
94% of high-performing multi-location businesses have a dedicated local marketing strategy
Authentic, Rich Content
I believe that in 2024, there will be a much stronger emphasis on rich content that truly engages customers. This involves going beyond just keywords and focusing on delivering immersive experiences through diverse content formats like photos, videos, detailed service information, and even more specific location attributes. Businesses that invest in creating high-quality, varied content are likely to stand out and capture more attention in local search results. It’s not just about optimization; it’s about captivating and fulfilling the needs of potential customers.
With the rise of AI-written content and fake engagement (purchased reviews/followers), I think Google will continue to reward sites they see with genuine user-generated content. I also think they will reward businesses who publish new things that aren’t already on the internet. Specifically, I think they will continue to reward data-backed information like case studies.
Visuals (images and videos) are going to be even more important for local businesses like restaurants, clothing stores, hotels, attractions, etc. for converting customers. With so many more AI images and videos out there, incorporating real, high-quality images of a local business (and what they sell) directly on a website or Google Business Profile will be a great way to instill trust in customers and stand out in search results.
Changes in Local SERPs and GBP
I think based on the way this year has gone we’re going to continue to see a lot of changes with search. With some of the recent updates, we’re already seeing a change in how some tactics used to work and now don’t anymore; I feel like 2024 is going to have more of those moments come to light. I’m also thinking of more testing of new features by Google/Bing and more integration of AI into the search results. Additionally, I think that we might continue to see changes to GBP features and maybe the way businesses can present themselves on the platform. We’ve already been seeing this a little bit with the change in the ways that products and services are displayed in some categories. In 2024, I still think that real-customer reviews will be big to help differentiate businesses.
I’ll dust off that crystal ball… what does 2024 hold for us, in terms of local SEO? I predict there will be changes. Changes to the SERP, changes how (and perhaps where?) our potential customers make their searches, and changes (as ever) to Google Business Profile in terms of look, feel, and functionality.
How do I know this? Well, we all know this because it happens every year. As local businesses, we offer real products and services to real people. So, like every year I suggest that businesses put the time and effort into understanding their customers, their marketplace, and their competitors.
Monitor your business’s relevant SERPs, for the relevant terms, from the relevant locations. Monitor SERP features and make sure that you jump on the opportunities before your competitors do. Make sure you REALLY speak with your customers and potential customers so you can gain a much deeper insight into their decision-making processes through to the actual nuts and bolts of how and where they gather information.
The foundational tenets of good marketing will hold true even with the rising tide of preoccupation with AI—so keep abreast of both and you’ll be golden.
We’ve all been continuing to see a shift towards focusing on relevant, high-quality content, and I think we’re going to continue to see that. I’m not ever entirely trusting Google to do the best job at ranking the best local content for users all of the time, but I think it’s a clear direction they keep pushing. Focusing on targeting users who are more likely to convert rather than solely chasing rankings is going to be more helpful to local businesses in the long run.
Focusing time on higher-quality link opportunities, rather than just building as many local links as possible, is going to have more of an impact. Focus on links that build on your authority as a local business, and that are more likely to bring in leads, rather than spending time building out as many links as possible, regardless of the quality.
Lastly, for SEOs in particular, it’s also always been important to be able to prove the work you do is providing positive results and I don’t see that changing anytime soon! With the introduction to GA4, SEOs need to understand how GA4 gathers data. I’ve been getting more and more familiar with GA4 over the past year and a bit (you can’t help it with Dana DiTomaso around!) and I’ve also been taking Kick Point Playbook’s Analytics for Agencies course. It’s been an amazing learning resource and I strongly encourage more people to take the course and build on their data skills. Dana will also be doing a BrightLocal Academy course on GA4, so keep your eyes peeled!
Local Services Ads will continue to be a disruptor for local search pushing organic results further down for primary keywords. Long tail keywords will play a role in 2024 to increase organic traffic from search results to continue to reach goals.
Here’s to an Exciting 2024
All in all, the road ahead looks like an exciting one, with potential new learnings about the transformative power of AI, rich content experiences, and ongoing changes in SERPs. As local SEO professionals, you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse, ready to adapt to any changes and challenges that come your way.
Here’s to an exciting and innovative future!