By Meghan Trapp, Local Search Director, B² Interactive
Everyone wants free traffic from Google’s local search pack, but actually ranking there is increasingly competitive. If you’re one of the lucky ones to appear, searchers must look past the four paid ads at the top of search results and occasionally past an additional local pack ad before arriving at your Google My Business listing.
However, with near me searches and local-intent voice searches on the rise, it’s important to be on top of your local search strategy. But where to start? Our local search serenity prayer can help you focus your local SEO strategy for better ranking and optimization in 2017.
“Grant Me The Serenity To Accept My Physical Location”
Since the Possum update in September 2016, we’ve seen proximity to the searcher become an even heavier ranking factor than before. Recently, our hunch was validated with proximity of address to the point of search being named as the new #1 local search ranking factor by other industry experts.
You may have even wondered yourself why your biggest competitor is no longer showing up neck in neck with you in search results or why a smaller, younger business has taken their place. No, unfortunately, your competitor is still ranking somewhere, but the new competitor is ranking since they’re within proximity.
This new increase in weighing proximity over other factors, such as citation quantity and domain authority, means your real competition is in your backyard…sometimes even within walking distance.
For Omaha businesses, showing up in the local search pack for searches from anywhere in greater Omaha could be a lofty goal, depending on the number of local competitors. For a more reasonable evaluation of who your local competition is, do an incognito search from your office or location and take note of which competitors are in the same area.
“The Courage To Change The Things I Can”
This year’s local search ranking survey revealed that citation management priorities have shifted. While it’s still important to maintain consistent business data, not all citations are considered equal. Cleaning up and maintaining citation consistency in the Primary Data Sources was ranked as factor #5 this year. Data that’s incorrect in Acxiom, Localeze, ExpressUpdate, and Factual will only continue to permeate the local search ecosystem and must be corrected before it spreads.
Also in the top 10 ranking factors is Quality/Authority of Structured Citations and maintaining Consistency on Tier 1 Sites. Adding your business and maintaining consistent business information in sources like Yelp, Facebook, Yahoo, and Yellowpages is a must. If you’re already optimized in these sources, you can move on to optimizing in Tier 2 and Tier 3 sources or industry-specific sources, but spending countless hours on obscure sources has diminishing returns, so don’t lose too much sleep over every inconsistency.
The value of review signals as an overall ranking factor has increased greatly from 8.4% in 2015 to 13.13% for 2017. Google decreased the threshold for showing a business’ star rating from needing five reviews and now shows a star rating for businesses with at least one review. Google also allows reviewers to sort their results by rating, which means you may rank but then be filtered out because of a low rating. Even if you have a high star rating, searchers give more credibility to businesses with more recent total reviews with text.
Every business loves having gold stars, but there are additional SEO benefits besides the value of the quantity of the reviews themselves. Searchers relying on these reviews are more likely to take action and click to call (ranking factor #35), request driving directions (ranking factor #43), or click to your website, increasing your overall CTR and again influencing more ranking factors.
This year, don’t rely on only your fanatically pleased customers to leave your business reviews. Building a past customer list is a must for all businesses. How you leverage your customer list to implement a review generation strategy greatly depends on the nature of your business, past customer volume and buying frequency.
A great start is sending a follow-up email to past customers. If you have a smaller list of past customers or less frequent transactions, you may be able to send individual emails asking for a review. For businesses with larger customer lists and high transaction frequency, I recommend working with a partner to send automated emails and manage new reviews.
WEBSITE & HYPERLOCAL CONTENT
This year, at least 11 of the top 50 local search ranking factors relate to the quality of the website tied to your Google My Business listing. Businesses must have a website that follows on-page SEO best practices and leverages a hyperlocal content marketing strategy to stay competitive in both local and organic SEO. Because this topic is so important on its own, we’ve discussed it in greater detail in 3 Things Content Marketers & SEOs Should Be Doing in 2017
“And The Wisdom To Know The Difference Between Good And Bad SEO.”
The days of executing a standalone local search strategy are gone, and you may be find yourself looking for a partner to develop a holistic SEO strategy. Long-term, successful SEO takes time. Google says that, in most cases, SEO needs four months to a year for improvements to see potential benefits.
If you’re a new business or a business that’s just starting to invest in SEO, steer clear of SEO firms that purport number one ranking and quick results. Google cautions businesses, “If you want long term success, there aren’t any quick magical tricks that an SEO will provide so that your business ranks number one.” Not only can poor SEO work not deliver long-lasting results, but black-hat practices can actually do irreversible damage to your online presence.
So what can you look for when hiring a good SEO company? Thankfully, Google has helped break it down in their recent video.
To compete for your share of free traffic in Google’s local search pack, you must have a strategy in place that puts your business best foot forward. We hope you find our Local Search Serenity Prayer useful when focusing your 2017 local search strategy.