7 Tips to Help you Prepare for Local Search Being the Only Search That Matters

I want to paint you a picture and I’m sorry it’s not a pretty one. In fact, it’s going to make many of you angry and it’ll probably make some of you scared. If you need an SEO hug hit my inbox and I’ll give you an e-hug free of charge.

Most of Us are Pros at Something Other Than Digital Marketing

And that’s okay! Picture yourself as a small business person (like maybe a car dealer? I know shocking, right?!) you’re an expert in your craft or service, you’re focused on providing great service to your customer, you’ve got the tools and the skills to succeed. Sounds like you’re ready for customers to pour in, but that’s usually the problem. Business doesn’t come just because you turn the open sign on. In a world that is increasingly digital, increasingly skeptical, and increasingly overwhelmed by new choices both online and in real life or IRL as the kids say. So what do we do? We pay for some marketing right? Where do we start though? That’s the real question.

The Marketing Playbook is a Dusty Volume Written in 2010

Most businesses start with a website. I could write a whole series of articles on websites, but for most small businesses it’s the equivalent of their storefront online. It’s a place to drive digital advertising, communicate pricing and product offerings, your website acts as your home online. However, far too many businesses have what I call the “Field of Dreams” problem. They think if they build it customers will come. The hard truth is that there are over 1.5 billion websites on the web and without some very clever strategies there is a high likelihood that yours won’t rank highly in organic search. Also, there’s a good chance no one cares about your website anyway. Check out my last article about why no one cares about your website anymore.

There’s a New Set of Basic Best Practices for Digital Marketing

Next, you might consider some advertising. Potentially paid search, social advertising, or even display advertising. You might send some direct mail, buy a billboard or a radio spot. All of these can be effective, but they still ignore a few fundamental truths about the digital behaviors of your customers. Let’s take a look at why I think that’s true.

Organic Search is the Single Most Powerful Lead Converter

SEO has long been seen as a dark art, but as technology improves and more of us move from black and grey hat to focus on actually answering questions that our customers are searching for measurement has improved dramatically. In fact, at least 51% of your website’s traffic probably comes from organic search or what we know as SEO. We know that many small businesses have been trying to reach “page one of Google” for years and we also know that the best place to hide a body is on page 2 of the search results. Search is changing though and while your website is still an important information and content hub for your business you need to work a little harder to get the same benefit you did from SEO 4 or 5 years ago.

Local Search is the New SEO

Let’s start with the fact that almost half of all searches are local (46%) search and local are becoming so connected that “near me” searches have increased 900% in the last two years. You might be thinking that seems a bit high, but do a quick search for anything that has a location near you on your mobile device (at least 60% of searches come from mobile) what you’ll see is that the first organic search result is likely at least one long scroll down the page. As you’ve probably guessed this means that while the SEO work you’ve done to your website is important even if you have that coveted first position you’re really much farther down the search results. What you’ll notice is 3-5 ads and then what we call the “map pack” this is where Local Search becomes powerful and where your ratings and reviews can impact your business.

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example map pack for a search for “Car Dealers”

Local search is a powerful signal of purchase intent much more so than much of the website content driven SEO we have done for the last 20 years. Most local searchers (88%) visit a store within 24 hours which confirms our intent theory and 28% of those conducting a local search will make a purchase. Not only do local searches convert they convert much more quickly than traditional SEO with 18% converting within a day compared to only 7% for organic search. This further reinforces that local searchers are primed to spend with your business they just need to be able to find you!

How to Make Sure Your Business is Found in Local Search

  1. Titles and Meta Descriptions: Focus on one keyword as close to the beginning of the meta tag as you can and try to include targeted location names as well.
  2. Makes sure your Online Business Info is correct: SEOs call this NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) these are what are called Citations that we update on what we call Directories. For example Google My Business is the largest directory we work with.
  3. Optimize your Google My Business: Making sure your Business Name, Address, Phone Number, Website, Hours, and amenities are updated on GMB is very important, but those only go so far to help you rank. You also want to pay attention to Relevance, Proximity, and Authority as it relates to GMB.
  4. Claim and verify your GMB: There are hundreds of thousands of small businesses that miss this step and it’s super simple. Follow this link https://www.google.com/business/ to claim your business. Once claimed you will need to verify your business by requesting that Google send you a postcard to your business’s physical address (NO P.O. Boxes). Follow the instructions and you’ll open up a ton of new functionality in GMB.
  5. Relevance, Proximity, and Authority: These three elements help Google determine what the best local search results to serve the searcher are. They’re relatively easy to plan for as long as you know what they are and how to influence them. Relevance can be viewed as a measure of consistency. To be relevant in Google’s eyes you must 1. have a complete listing 2. Include the most relevant GMB categories for your business 3. Align your primary category with the <H1> tag on your website. Proximity is simple to understand for the most part if someone is not within 5 miles of your business you will not appear in local search. Authority is the hardest to understand but it is a measure of confidence that the information you provided is accurate and correct. The best way to influence the Authority signal for Local Search is to make sure your NAP (remember, Name, Address, Phone Number) is correct in as many places as possible across the web. There are tools that can help you do this and some are even free.
  6. Earn Reviews: Sure, reviews are a great way to show potential customers what kind of experience they will have, but I have a secret. They’re WAY more powerful than that. The volume of reviews you earn the your star rating in those reviews can actually help you jump over other local businesses in the map pack and earn you more traffic and sales. This is because Google uses this as a signal for ranking you to improve the quality of their results. Google makes money off the value of their SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Here’s proof (business names changed for the example) You’ll notice John Smith is further away that Hometown.
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7. Use Structure Data: If you’re technical enough or have resources that are using Schema.org to structure your data will help Google understand what your website is about and rank it more frequently. Especially for local information that can be hard to find on a website. Even with a sitemap and XML Sitemap crawlers still might miss it. Learn more about structured data here: https://moz.com/blog/structured-data-for-seo-1

So now that you know how to dominate local search be sure to do some testing. Pay attention to your website, phone call, and foot traffic and see if implementing these tips provide increases that deliver to your bottom line.