covid-19 local marketing changes hero image

Trusting your gut, while it may pay off on occasion, leaves decision-makers open to behavioral biases and heuristics that can seriously sabotage our best efforts. Worst, we tend to be more emotionally invested in decisions based on intuitive judgment and therefore less able to recognize impending failure and to respond appropriately. Making data-backed local marketing decisions is key for businesses to thrive and succeed, especially during times of crisis.

Yet even prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, KPMG found that business leaders had a long way to go in consistently following the direction of their data. In fact, 71% of respondents to the firm’s 2019 CEO Outlook Survey said they had overlooked insights provided by data and analytics in the past three years because they contradicted their intuition. 

The good news is that the nature of this particular crisis—the shelter-in-place recommendations and mass self-isolation—is driving big gains in media consumption and search. Brands do not need to take wild guesses at how customers are affected by COVID-19. They are expressing their needs, wants, fears, desires and more across countless channels and platforms, all over the web.

Here are 7 local metrics to tune in to as you gather the information that will help you make informed decisions around your business despite the COVID-related uncertainty. While this is not a comprehensive list and the best insights for each company will be unique to your brand, these may be great indicators of how your customers’ needs are changing.

1. Map Pack (Local Pack) Insights

Given that the Local 3-Pack accounts for as much as 44% of clicks on any given search engine results page, this is an important area of focus for multi-location brands. Searchers can see the NAP (name, address, phone), open or closed status, reviews and overall rating, and more for the top three Map Pack results. These are the results Google considers of highest quality and greatest relevance to the searcher’s query and location.

Data-back local marketing decisions - Local Pack Finder 2018

Monitor Local Pack rankings closely so you are in a position to take action for the locations that need intervention. As the above local ranking factors breakdown from Moz illustrates, GMB signals, citations, and on-page SEO are all impactful opportunities for optimization. 

If your brand has shifted to new methods of serving customers—perhaps with curbside pickup, phone or online ordering, special hours, or delivery—the business description in GMB and on your Local Pages may need to be updated to reflect these changes. You could earn new, more relevant citations from the local community with targeted outreach or a new piece of content. 

The information Google has to consider about your location needs to show relevance to what consumers are searching for now.

See How to Optimize for the Google Local 3-Pack for more.

2. Local Rankings (Gains & Losses)

Both local and organic search and dynamic spaces, where one listing’s gain is another’s loss. Evolving consumer behavior, shifts in demand, the closure of some businesses and pivoting of others to new products or operational methods are sure to shake up local search listings. 

The increased informational needs of consumers may present new opportunities to rank in various types of search results—in Position Zero, or where video or image results appear, for example. Understand the relationship between organic and local SEO and seek out opportunities to rise in the rankings with targeted optimizations.

3. Local Reviews, Both Volume & Sentiment

While Google briefly paused the publication of new reviews due to COVID-19, there are still first-party and many other third-party review sites to monitor and analyze. (Note: as of April 7, 2020, GMB review replies are available once again. In the coming weeks, new user photos and other features will gradually return.)

Reviews are not only an important reputation management tool but can be a great source of insight into what matters most to customers right now. You may find trends in new reviews to help inform operations, customer service, and content creation; for example, are you experiencing an influx of comments expressing a desire for curbside pick-up? Suggestions to improve physical distancing in stores? Complaints about a specific aspect of your e-commerce experience? Marketing needs to ensure these insights make it into the hands of the right decision-makers as Coronavirus-related business interruptions continue.

New Google Reviews

See this resource on local reviews strategy for tips on managing reviews and responding at scale.

4. Facebook Post Reach & Engagement

Again, the idea here is to identify shifts in audience behavior that can help you understand their current needs. Early COVID-19 consumer research shows that about 50% of people are looking at social media several times a day, and close to 75% are looking daily. 

  • Which topics are resonating most with your Facebook audience right now?
  • Which content types are getting the most engagement and shares?
  • Which are driving the most conversions to a site visit, location phone call, or other desired outcome?

These insights can help you craft a more in-depth snapshot of how your target market is evolving and inform content and advertising to meet their needs.

5. Local Engagement 

Metrics for clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions, and clicks through to the website (or Local Page) are available in the GMB dashboard or, for brands with over 100 locations, in Rio SEO’s Local Reporting dashboard.

These engagement metrics have always been an important indicator of your online-to-offline marketing success. They may be even more important now, given that conversion to in-store foot traffic is impossible for many businesses that relied on it before (albeit temporarily). 

6. Audience Location and Demographics

Your target market may be changing dramatically. That is not to say you would ever leave existing customers behind, but there may be entirely new segments you can reach in ways that simply didn’t make sense for you before. This may be the time to revisit your marketing personas and be aware that they could change often in the coming months.

While you are putting out COVID-19-related content, you also want to make sure you aren’t paying for traffic outside of your service area. It could be a smart play to use social PPC to drive views and engagement to content right now in order to build a remarketing audience. But as always with paid, it’s important to be laser-focused and ensure you’re connecting with people who may actually become customers. 

7. Local Revenue

Ultimately, all of the above are performance indicators but your revenue in each location tells the true tale. Depending on how your business was affected, it may be helpful to measure revenue in different ways. 

For example, if you have transitioned to online ordering with curbside pick-up, measuring conversions to online orders and the revenue that generates by location is important. Specific product sales in individual locations or regionally may point to new demand and opportunities to pivot and better serve customers in those areas. 

Local Search Insights Are Powerful Consumer Signals

As your brand responds to changes in consumer behavior and the pandemic regulatory environment, it is critical that what you are tracking and analyzing at the local level meets the evolving needs of your business. Moreover, we need to make the best use of the information consumers are sharing by activating these data-backed local marketing insights—by understanding their significance and ensuring they are put to work to help us better serve customers in their time of crisis.

How has COVID-19 changed the way you operate and make decisions? If you’re looking to make better use of your local data, get in touch and let’s see how we can help.