Local SEO is supposed to be easy, at least that's what I thought when I was first introduced to the concept. The fact that organic factors weren't too much at play was good news for small businesses who simply didn't have the resources to compete. All that has changed in 2014.
The Changing Landscape
The recent Local Search Ranking Factors survey has shed some light on the changes that made a fairly simple process an entirely different beast. If there is one thing we notice from the seemingly complex ranking factors list, it's the shift of organic signals to local algorithms. Domain authority, link quality and your typical organic factors measured by user behavior are all playing a huge part in the new search results.
Several experts have noted the growing significance of behavioral factors such as click-through rates, clicks on directions, pogo-sticking and so on.
Phil Rozek made a comment that reflected my personal opinion: “Google reviews do seem to help rankings, in my experience. I don’t know whether it’s a direct benefit or an indirect one (because reviews help click-throughs). Not that it matters. The benefits are ridiculous and many.”
Our own Darren Shaw is likely onto something when noted “I think factors like click through rate, driving directions, and “pogo sticking” are valuable quality signals that Google has cranked up the dial on.”
We saw an experiment by Mike Blumenthal shortly after the release of Pigeon that tested the shrinking search radius for queries following the new update. It’s clear that proximity to searcher is growing to be more important than proximity to centroid. Google wants to return results that are more accurate and reflective of where you are physically.
How this Affects Local Businesses
So what does this all mean to the business owner? After all, as service providers it’s our job to stay abreast on the latest developments and to translate them into actionable steps. Does the small guy stand a chance against stronger organic domains likely associated with national brands and chains? What should our own process look like post-Pigeon? What do we tell our clients when asked about the most important ranking factors? These are the things we discuss daily as part of our strategy to provide the best possible local SEO service for our clients.
Our 3 Takeaways from 2014 LSRF Survey
- Organic signals are playing a much larger part in local SERPs. We saw this with at least a few clients who were nowhere on the map to suddenly jump to the top simply by having a strong organic profile. Mike Ramsey put it well in his general commentary: “… this is about good ol' organic search results which focuses on your website and links and simply adds a location parameter to the search results. The nice thing is your website and links are places you should be focusing on for local packs as well.”
- User behavior is a growing influence. Whether it’s the time spent on website, the click-through rate on your listing or the number of times someone clicks on directions, user behavior is sending signals and it’s hard to imagine this ever going away. This means websites need to be relevant and click-worthy.
- Google is becoming smarter at showing only the relevant results. From personalized results for logged in users to showing different results depending on your search location, relevancy is a growing trend in local SERPs. This is all the more reason to make sure your listings are set up correctly and website optimized to show up when it matters. If you haven’t optimized for mobile, now is the time.
Our Top 5 Recommendations for Local Businesses
As the landscape of local search changes year to year, the core factors remain mostly the same – strong online presence (authority, content, reviews, citations).
- Take care of the basics. You’ve probably seen this graphic more than a number of times but we can’t stress enough the importance of taking care of your website. Optimizing your pages for proper titles, markup, content and user experience are all critical aspects of any SEO strategy and are usually the easiest to address. Build your home on a strong foundation so to speak.
- Take care of your most important citations – there may be a shift to organic factors but the basics never change. You want to have a strong foundation for your Local SEO strategy and it starts with making sure you have accurate business name, address and phone number on the top directories for your business. If you’re lazy or busy, feel free to check out our citation building service that will do just that.
- Earn links. Link “earning” as Phil likes to refer to it is not as difficult as it sounds. Unlike organic SEO you are not competing with national brands. Sure, a couple of brands have snuck into search results just after Pigeon (legal industry was the perfect example), but for the most part Google has done a decent job manually filtering irrelevant results. A few good links will get you on the right path in no time. Check out five local link building ideas to get you started.
- Provide searchers with answers to their queries. We have seen Google give more trust to websites that provide thorough content that answers the searcher’s query. All too often we see client websites that are barren, with only bits of information about their services. The easiest way to get started is to take a look at your existing services and cover them in greater detail – answering all possible questions someone may have about your business. Here is a great example of thorough content from a legal service provider.
- Get reviews. Last but certainly not least – you must get reviews. All the optimization and content in the world won’t help if people are clicking your competitor because they have shiny stars that drown out your listing. According to LSRF survey, review signals account for nearly 10% of all ranking factors – my guess it’s much higher than that. Reviews act not only as direct feedback from your customers, they also trigger clicks and result in actual new business. Check out the complete guide to Google+ Local reviews and how to get them.
Does your business stand a chance?
Perhaps a better question is – does your competitor stand a chance given all of the knowledge you have? There’s no question local search results are more competitive than ever, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. All that’s required from you is dedication to being as good online as you are in person. With a strong foundation and understanding of how search engines determine quality vs. junk, you’re in a position to make the changes to propel you to the top. The question is: are you willing to make them?