Local SEO Lessons From 2017

Local SEO Lessons From 2017

Local SEO Lessons From 2017

If there’s anything you already know about SEO is that it isn’t rocket science. Rocket science is probably easier — at least when it comes to predicting the results ahead of time.

While you can’t stop working on your fundamental SEO strategies, you have to take a somewhat different approach to local SEO.

Here’s what we learned about taking the lead in 2017 and actionable tips you can use.

Mobile Results Matter More Than Ever

Last year, we told you that you needed to go mobile or go home. This year, we’re telling you that you need to make sure that your mobile results are constantly improving if you want to move that needle and inch up the page. If you aren’t one of the first few listings that pop up on someone’s smartphone search, you might as well be invisible.

Think about it for a second. The majority of people who are ready to hit the local market with their wallets open and ready to buy are using a smartphone to search — which gives them 3-4 inches worth of space to see the results. If you aren’t visible in that small space, don’t count on the idea that the searcher is going to scroll down through the results to see what else is available.

That already puts you at a disadvantage now that Google has decided that up to four paid search results will appear at the top of any SERP. Organic search results may automatically get cut out of the first SERP on a cell phone or tablet.

  • If you can afford it, a mix of paid search ads and organic results will give you an edge.
  • If your SMB can’t afford paid ads right now, focus on landing in the local pack results that fall just below the ads. Aim to capture those local searchers that tend to be suspicious of paid ads and automatically move past them.
  • Optimize your mobile site around searchers who are already in “buying” mode.

Your non-mobile site should put searchers on landing pages geared toward “research” mode. Your mobile site needs a different landing point. If you’re a restaurant, consider making it your menu (complete with mouth-watering photos). If you’re a hotel, an attractive page showing the free amenities you offer could turn a customer your way pretty quickly.

Distance, Prominence, and Relevance Are The Biggest Factors That Count

In order to understand how Google ranks local businesses, you need to understand that there are three primary factors that are considered important to the algorithms: distance, prominence, and relevance.

Users also have high expectations of their search results — so Google is constantly refining its search experience. That makes your competition fiercer by the day — you really want one of those first two organic spots that show up easily as you scroll down.

While you can’t control certain things (like whether you’re the nearest sushi place or the second-nearest sushi place to the searcher) you can control more than you think.

Distance Is More Than Just Your Physical Location

In order to refine the distance part of the algorithm, your GMB page has to be constantly tweaked and improved. The more precise your information, the more satisfied users will be with the results and the higher you’ll rank.

  • Make sure that you use the same branding and recognizable images that your business uses in the physical world. In other words, your online logo should match your store logo or branding.
  • Check your address. Include clear contact information with phone numbers and a website landing page that’s both visually pleasing and useful to local searchers.
  • If you have multiple locations, create a different SERP for each with unique content.
  • Check your category. You want to be as specific as possible. For example “Carry-Out or Delivery Chinese” is a much different category than “Chinese Buffet.”
  • Update your business hours, especially around holidays. Make sure the GMB page reflects any extra hours (which can gain you customers) and unusual closings (which can lose a prospect before he or she ever becomes a customer).
  • If you’re a restaurant or service that delivers, include call-in cut-off times and any other important information (like “no check” policies).

You absolutely have to remember that you cannot “set it and forget it” when it comes this data. You need to constantly update hours, photos, SERPs for your mobile optimization.

Prominence Is All About the Buzz Around the Business

Prominence crosses into the world of regular SEO and has a lot to do with the noise surrounding your business. Make a few tweaks, however, to better capture the mobile user.

  • If someone uses the “check-in” feature offered by Google, offer a 5% or 10% coupon at the checkout (or one good for a future visit) in exchange for a review.
  • Remind shoppers you have a Facebook page. If they choose to like your page, they’ll receive sales reminders and contest invitations.
  • Be interactive. Respond to both positive and negative reviews in a way that leaves your readers feeling like you genuinely care about the customer experience.
  • Keep getting those reviews. Your business should appear on as many search results as possible. Aim for reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, Twitter, Yahoo, and any other site you can think of.

Around 70% of customers will take the time to leave a review if asked — but you’ll make a huge impression not only on those customers but on other prospects if you quickly respond to feedback.

Reputation marketing tools, like Reputation Loop or Vendasta, can help you build reviews and manage them. Even some social media platforms, like Hootsuite, have similar features. Dive in and start working that angle.

Relevance Can Overpower Distance if the Reason is Right

Relevance can cause your listing to climb higher than a competitor’s listing, even if you’re physically further away.  

Again, this is where content is still king when it comes to SEO. And your long-term goals and your local SEO methods overlap.

  • You need interesting content to keep your customers coming back, in a variety of formats. Don’t overlook YouTube, especially in mobile (and local) SEO.
  • You need useful content that will give away information that prospects can use so that they come to see you as an authority in your business niche.
  • Get the right keywords on your GMB page. Wrong or incomplete listings will disappoint consumers and that’s not good for them or your business.

For example, the simple addition of keywords like “authentic” or “hibachi” could put you higher on a listing when a searcher is looking for an authentic Japanese restaurant (not a mix of Chinese and Japanese) or a place with a hibachi grill — even if that place is a few miles further away than a couple other places.

Wrap Up

It isn’t easy to keep up with an effective local SEO strategy — but it has already become essential to the survival of your business. Contact us to help you manage parts of the operation. As you become more experienced, you can take over some of the tasks yourself. As your company grows, you can add services that right now aren’t affordable or necessary.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you have a firm grip on what has changed in 2017 when it comes to local SEO — and how it fits in with your larger SEO picture. If you end 2017 on the right note, hitting the key points in 2018 will be much easier.

Maggie Black
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Maggie Black is a freelance writer, biographer, editor and mixed-media artist. She absolutely loves what she does for a living and occasionally gets out of her pajamas (for public appearances only).