Since 2014, local SEO has been adapting at an alarming pace. It fits with Google’s relevancy mantra—delivering the best search results to users based on their location. But that means businesses and marketers have to keep up with the changes—especially brick-and-mortar shops that rely on local traffic. Outside of the formal algorithm rollouts, we’ve seen fluctuating local SERPs and changes to Google My Business. The carousel was replaced with the local pack. The local pack was trimmed from seven results to three items. Local directories were evaluated heavily for their quality guidelines.
More recently, it’s become vital for a business without a storefront to define its service radius. It’s also become more difficult for brick-and-mortar businesses to target cities too far outside their physical address. Think about what you search for when you have a specific local intent. The verticals affected most by this ever-changing landscape are the ones you’d think of first—the restaurant, hotel, and travel industries. The biggest change to local SEO has been, of course, Google’s own local algorithm update, Pigeon.
Local Algorithm Updates
Google’s Pigeon update wasn’t the first step toward hyperlocal search, but it was a turning point for SEO strategy moving forward. Released in 2014, the update aimed to tie local search results more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. Google’s intent in rolling out Pigeon was to improve and fine-tune their current ranking signals in terms of distance and location. Although it’s not a penalty-based algorithm, the introduction of Pigeon also meant the usual scramble in regards to traffic and rankings. The use of local packs allowed Google to establish authority within a query for local businesses with a good search presence.
The rollout of Pigeon tried to eliminate duplicate results—businesses were less likely to show in both organic and a map pack—so those featured prominently in the pack were seeing favorable results. In order to give the best possible results, Google’s Pigeon reduced the search radius for local queries as much as possible. This continues to have an effect on businesses that used to rank for their closest metropolis—now without a physical address in the query city, you likely won’t rank high in organic search and probably not at all in the local packs.
Good news for mom and pop shops—Pigeon affected how universal brands showed in local results, and mostly negatively. Local businesses, even without a strong search strategy, continue to rise in the ranks of organic and pack results—think Amy’s Pizza vs. your local Dominos chain. But there were industries that took a hit after the Pigeon roll out—real estate and insurance in particular. BrightEdge’s Data Cube saw a significant drop in Google Places results from those queries.
Google’s Local Goals
Google’s local ranking emphasis and ongoing local efforts contribute to the overall goal of Google—personalization and relevance. Someone searching for a local product or service, whether they’re at home on a desktop or walking down the street searching on mobile, should see the best possible result. In order to deliver on this, Google aimed to define the parameters of local search as precisely as possible. Instead of general city targets, geolocation was further dissected into neighborhoods. This gave new emphasis to the importance of a correct NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) and a shift in how successful local marketing would be. How Google Ranks Local Listings
With the new algorithm and Google’s local mission statement in play, it’s important to understand how this changes rankings for the SERPs. In order to understand how local rankings fluctuate, you have to monitor your brand and keyword targets at a local level, instead of just US. BrightEdge can help you determine your geo-targeted market and create specific localized campaigns for your brand or service. The local search ranking factors are important to monitor on a yearly basis.
The existing ranking factors are present here, albeit with a local focus—on-page optimization for local terms, link signals with local relevance, social signals. There is also a heavy focus on specific local factors—Google My Business signals, NAP consistency across citations, and the strength of your review portfolio. Most sites saw a positive or negative effect of these signals, depending on their local strategies before Penguin. Whereas sites rose or dropped for the existence (or lack of) NAP, reviews, and a Business page immediately following the rollout, the signals have become more defined over the past two years. Now quality is favored over quantity, and the search radius continues to shrink with laser-like precision to the business’s storefront address and neighborhood. In addition, signals like reviews and citations are also becoming more refined under the Google microscope. Accuracy and relevancy can enhance citation signals along with the quality of the directory or aggregator used. Just a large volume of reviews isn’t enough to rank either—the timing, consistency, and the quality of review sites are all factored into the local ranking algorithm.
The world of “content is king” was hardly expected to escape the impact of local search. For local businesses targeting specific neighborhoods, it’s important to tailor your content strategy to fit these needs. In addition to your existing strategy that targets your brand, products or services with high-volume keywords, you’ll need almost an entirely different strategy that targets your local neighborhood, or to at least weave some local elements into your existing content. First you want to identify your radius and your local audience. What neighborhoods do you want to reach, and who makes up those neighborhoods? What are they searching for, and how can you help them? This is where your content strategy can go outside the grid when it comes to your brand. If you’re a maternity clothing store in Astoria, you want to build content for new moms and maternity clothes. But you can also hone in on your local keyword targeting by writing about the best day cares in Astoria and your surrounding neighborhoods—relevant and hyperlocal.
In order to identify your audience and their needs, you can use the tools already at your disposal—Google Analytics demographic information and interest categories, Facebook Insights, AdWords Keyword Tool and more. It’s important to monitor your content performance for your local SEO strategy. Identify the goals you want to achieve—do you want more traffic from your surrounding neighborhoods? Do you want to rank for local queries? Do you want more sales from your immediate location? Once you’ve identified your goals, your local content strategy should be tailored to achieve them. In addition to just creating content, make sure you are optimizing it. Craft local-focused meta titles and descriptions and optimize your images for local search. Pay attention to your industry. If you’re in real estate or hospitality, you can corner the local content market with neighborhood guides, local landing pages, and “best of” lists. The key for local content is to be useful to your market. That can mean promoting events, news, sports teams, or little-known spots and becoming to go-to resource for your neighborhood. Best Practices for Local SEO If you’re looking to ramp up your current SEO strategy, or if you’re starting from scratch post-Pigeon, there are best practices to consider for your local SEO.
Both on and off site, your Name/Address/Phone Number listing needs to be consistent. It’s worth spending the time to update anywhere your business might be located on the web to match exactly how you’re listed on your website.
Speaking of your business listings, check to make sure you’re listed everywhere that’s relevant to your business and seen as a quality site. Sites like Yelp, Foursquare, and of course:
- Optimize your Google Business Page
Update and optimize your Google My Business page with your NAP, categories, keyword-targeted description, photos, and more.
- Optimize on-page for local
Your content and site architecture should reflect your local strategy. Make sure your city and neighborhood targets are present in your copy and meta data. Take advantage of Schema markup to boost this content.
- Manage your reputation
Your online reviews can make or break your local business—and Google knows this too. Review signals are quickly climbing the ranks as part of the ever-changing local algorithm. A local content strategy and citation building strategy should be ongoing. Make sure to start with your site foundation to create an optimized local template for copy and meta data. Don't Overlook These Crucial Parts of Local SEO
The increase in mobile queries was skyrocketing during Google’s rollout of Pigeon, and it’s easy to see how the two go hand in hand. If you’re a brick-and-mortar shop, your potential customers are walking around the neighborhood, searching on their mobile for the closest fill-in-the-blank. In fact, the percentage of mobile searches with local intent is as high as 60%. If you don’t have a mobile presence, they might not find you at all. According to Google’s Smartphone Insights:
- 94% of smartphone users have looked for local info and 84% have taken action as a result
- 57% of smartphone users look for local info at least once a week
- 25% of smartphone users look for local info daily
Of smartphone users who searched for local info:
- 65% visited the business they looked up
- 47% looked it up on a map and/or got directions
So how do you optimize for mobile in a hyperlocal world? First and foremost, your site should be mobile-friendly. Google has started displaying this quality under each site in the mobile SERPs, so users don’t even have to visit your site to know the mobile experience they’re facing. Since many mobile searches are being done on the go, you want to be prepared with the information they need. This falls back on consistency across citation sites and your mobile site—especially when it comes to your address, phone number, and directions. Important details like parking or hours of operation should be prominently featured. Again, on the go searchers don’t have time for slow loading sites or Flash-heavy web pages. Make sure your mobile site is not only friendly, but optimized for page speed. Finally, if someone is comparing you to your competitors, the first thing they’ll look for on mobile (and desktop) will be your reviews.
Reputation Management and Local SEO
Reviews are crucial to your local SEO strategy. Not only are they considered a ranking signal, but managing your reviews should be extremely important to you as a business owner. Why? Because it’s extremely important to your customers.
Earning favorable reviews on the top sites—Google My Business, Yelp—will help that first interaction that local searchers will see on their desktops or mobile phones and tablets. The process of getting reviews is tricky, and one that is monitored more and more by Google. Here are some key takeaways for reviews:
- Whenever possible, acquire naturally
- Speed and velocity of reviews are monitored—keep track of your requests and promotions to avoid an influx of reviews
- Responding to negative reviews is easier than trying to remove them
You can get creative with asking your customers to post reviews, but you should always let them know where you’re listed and how to leave a review—especially in the case of a favorable sale or interaction. The response to negative reviews can’t completely combat the effect of that negative review on a potential customer, but a smart and thoughtful response can negate some of the backlash. In addition to reviews, social media is a great way to maintain your reputation for local SEO. Using and optimizing sites like Twitter and YouTube can help boost your local content and dominate your local SERP presence. Can’t get enough local? Check out our other local SEO blogs.