Whether your business wants to embrace the trend or not, local search engine optimisation (SEO) is taking off – with or without you. This has not been a conscious shift by the search engine operators, major brands or even consumers.
Much like any natural evolution that takes place over the course of years and generations, local SEO is simply a progression from a stale business model that expanded beyond its limitations.
Should you be fortunate enough to run a major chain or franchise that does not require an exclusively local focus, then this field is probably not of immediate concern. However, even the likes of Starbucks, Apple, Harvey Norman and Just Jeans will have to appreciate the shifting landscape that is taking place. It turns out that many of them have already accepted the switch, leaving others to catch up.
There are a number of factors at play when it comes to the boom of local SEO. Our inherent need to find out information immediately and source a good or service has removed the need to accept the status quo from monolithic organisations.
Instead of relying on a generic privately run taxi company to flag down during a city trip, an Uber can be hailed with a specific price and location already agreed upon. The same applies for restaurants, real estate agents, department stores and movie theaters.
The habits of consumers has changed and the cultural norms are no longer the same. For an enterprise seeking to gain the most out of their online exposure, they must acknowledge local SEO’s impact and take advantage of what it has to offer their business.
According to Deloitte’s internal findings from the Mobile Consumer Survey of 2017 a staggering 88% of Australians are now in possession of a smartphone. If that number told us something about our personal habits domestically, then our addiction to these devices goes deeper. 70% of us use them during mealtime or with friends and family, and 35% within 5 minutes of waking up in the morning.
The outstanding link between the local SEO trend and the phenomenon of mobile use is not a coincidence. What people are accustomed to day to day impacts and has a direct correlation to their searching habits.
ESP Interactive Solutions have embarked upon their own research in 2017 to discover some important information. They would soon find that:
- 86% of people surveyed will look up the location of a business on Google Maps
- 78% of location-based mobile searches lead to offline purchases
- 61% of local searches prefer to contact the local business if their site is mobile-friendly
What we can deduce from this data is that a coherent local SEO program that uses mobile compatibility will score well with search engines and customers. Fail the metrics on either side of this scenario, and your business will suffer for visibility and with revenue.
Mobile is what matters for enterprises not only in the future, but in the present.
Google outlined in 2014 that 50% of smartphone users who went on a local search on their device would end up visiting that store within 24 hours.
Compare this to a rate of 34% for desktop and tablet users, and it is clear that mobile users are made up of individuals who are on the go and require information right then and there. Mobile users are the new backbone for local commerce.
The bottom line is this – local SEO is cost effective. This is simply a means of working smarter, not harder.
One clever trick to utilise straight away is ensuring your NAP (number, address and phone number) is consistent across all platforms: website, directory listings, social media accounts, blogs etc. By taking a little bit of human capital and cross checking this information, you can improve your local SEO standing.
Among Google’s many free offerings, the ‘My Business Page’ is a standout mechanism to drive your local SEO. Anytime a visitor heads to the search engine to source your brand or niche, they will be presented with a condensed version compiled with all your necessary information:
- Contact details (phone and email)
- Business hours
Operations that ensure their My Business Page is up to code enjoy higher conversion rates than those who ignore the domain. Add to this the ability to spread your local brand to social media accounts and online directories, the cost efficiency greatly outweighs traditional means of marketing or SEO that attempts to be all things to all people.
This is one of the pitfalls that businesses suffer from when embarking on their own SEO journey. They believe that visibility by any means is the objective, but if the traffic derives from interstate or overseas sources, then the likelihood of real life sales are diminished. Local SEO is a means of geo-targeting your audience to see more people flooding through the shop door, not to score likes and shares on social media.
By targeting your market in your proximity, the return on investment (ROI) is far greater than the alternatives. The tangible benefits speak for themselves on this count.
Google changing the game
Notice how a Google search will provide a box or “Local Pack” at the top of the browser? Whatever product, service, brand or name you are after, the search engine giant will minimise your online enquiry to what is nearest and most relevant to your specific location – usually to a top three selection of the best possible hits.
Google has updated its algorithm with a series of changes in recent years to accelerate this process, placing an emphasis on the local SEO trend. Their Hawk update in August of 2017 was one case in point as they provided more flexibility for local businesses that were operating in close proximity to each other.
While competing companies that happen to share an intimate address are vying for one position, there is more scope given for operations that are split by a block or two. It might be a minor detail from the outside looking in, but it illustrates just how relevant and prevalent local SEO has become.
As we mentioned when discussing the quality of local SEO return on investment, Google’s My Business Page (MBP) is one central element to this algorithm dynamic. When the company took figures from 2017, they discovered over half or 56% to be exact of local operators do not even have an MPB.
Their process used to favour big brands, then transitioned to new emerging local business. Today, local domains that have their MPB game on point are given ranking preference. So while the influence of content, keywords and authoritative backlinks are all influential, local SEO performance can be enhanced with a couple of minutes work.
Leverage your networking skills
Part of the SEO process surrounds the technique of link building. The idea here is that you relate your own site to others within the same niche. The healthier the source in the eyes of Google (or the more authoritative), the stronger the acknowledgement is reciprocated.
This activity overlaps with the concept of keyword strategy and keyword placement. Keywords need to be scattered across the following departments to truly be effective:
- Links: backlinks and hyperlinks
- General content
The fourth segment here is where we see the process of link building. Should you be in the textiles business, it is good practice to send your visitors to other textile sources that might offer a point of reference or a product that you might have a relationship with. The same applies for any business of any niche on a local front.
Fortunately for local businesses, many of them happen to have strong networks established in the real world already. Café’s are in business with local deli’s, gym’s are in business with local water suppliers, and sports clubs operate alongside domestic sporting goods outlets. The commerce is intertwined and those networks are a great means of forging your local SEO performance.
By offering links to these credible brands in neighbouring communities, you provide more points of access for Google to recognise your standing in that region.
Old methods are no longer relevant
According to Poynter.org, local newspapers have dropped 80% of their readership in the past two decades. During the 1980s, 90s and even into the 2000s, it was common practice to head to the classifieds of the paper to find a plumber, an electrician or a gardener who was close and available.
Today, the mobile search is the best strategy. These very same publications are attempting to keep up by updating their websites to update this information, but they cannot swim against the tide to keep this segment of the population tapping into their platform. The internet is the central source of all information for the populous now, leaving the other 20% to source their news and services from the traditional formats.
You might be able to embark on a happy medium via the likes of the Yellow Pages. This was always the go-to source for brand names and services in the form of a thick book. Today, the Yellow Pages enjoy a thriving online database of businesses who are still trading on the history and reputation of the name.
Should your enterprise have the time and resources to dedicate a Yellow Pages listing or a local directory of any description, by all means include one. The more avenues your message is being broadcast, the better. Yet the My Business Page of Google remains the central hub of your online operation to get domestic searches rising.
Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.