Twelve years ago, local search expert David Mihm published the first iteration of Local Search Ranking Factors, in which he polled 20 experts active in the Local Search Marketing community to glean their insights into what were the most impactful local ranking factors for that year. Each year since he’s conducted the same survey and shared his findings with the wider audience. These findings better equip local marketers with the knowledge and tools they need to better refine their marketing strategy and highlight the areas where they should be placing their focus.
As the year comes to a close, we solicited the help of our own expert panel to breakdown their thoughts on local ranking factors in 2020 during a live webinar. The panel included Carrie Hill, Local Search Analyst & Community Manager at Sterling Sky, Ben Fisher, Co-Founder at Steady Demand, and Mick Wilson, Vice President of Customer Success at Rio SEO.
Here is what our expert panel had to say.
Google My Business Remains a Priority
Google overwhelmingly and undoubtedly dominates its local search competitors, which captures around 81% of all general search queries in the U.S. on desktop and 94% on mobile. Knowing Google will likely be the first place a potential customer searches for your business surfaces the inevitable need to optimize and accurately display your business information in Google My Business.
Google My Business(GMB) has also been increasingly gaining traction as the top-weighted ranking factor in the Local Pack, rising 13% from 2013, furthering the importance of local marketers investing their effort in this endeavor.
Fisher adds that 90% of local searches will show a GMB listing. This proves consumers want to find products and services locally near them. The need for local products and services has only increased given the current pandemic, with the majority of consumers working remotely and seeking convenience now more than before.
Active Management of GMB Profiles is Essential
Our local experts made it abundantly clear, GMB cannot be ignored for brands who want to appear in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Brands who actively manage their GMB profile will succeed in local search. Our panel agreed one of the most often underutilized yet beneficial features brands can use to optimize their GMB listings are attributes. GMB attributes provide transparency into the way a business operates and services they have available, from being able to designate whether curbside pickup or delivery is an option to being able to showcase if you’re a women-led or black-owned business.
Some of the latest GMB attributes available to businesses to better help promote safety precautions you are taking include:
- Mask required
- Staff get temperature checks
- Staff wear masks
- Temperature check required
- Staff required to disinfect surfaces between visits
Local Reviews Are Proving to be a Powerful Ranking Signal
In an era where fear and anxiety are consistently perpetuated by social media and news outlets, consumers are careful in where they spend their time and money. Part of the consideration stage in almost any customer journey includes soliciting the advice and feedback of others. Has someone else tried your product or service before? What did they think about the way you do business? Is it safe to shop in-person with you? How many negative reviews do you have?
Local reviews play an integral role in whether a customer will engage with your brand, and Google has been quick to notice this. Our experts recommend brands prioritize their reputation management strategy and focus on the following to improve their ranking:
- Collecting natural, unsolicited reviews
- Responding to both positive and negative reviews
- Adding first-party reviews to your website
- Having a strategy in place to manage local reviews at scale
- Focusing on first-party and Google reviews
“First-party reviews on your own website may be even more valuable than Google reviews.” – Carrie Hill
Citations are No Longer an Important Ranking Factor
Not long ago, citations were seen as a critical local ranking factor. In fact, many local SEOs consider them to no longer have any impact on ranking. However, ensuring you have accurate and up-to-date information on the places you can control your business data, such as your website, social media platforms, and GMB listing, is still a must. During the webinar, our experts agreed, GMB will first look at your website to source information, surfacing the need to update your website any time your business information changes, such as your address or phone number.
Hyper-Local Content Wins
It’s not enough to have a landing page for each of your locations. Generic, templated content won’t push your brand to the top of the SERPs. Neither will stuffing as many keywords as possible into your content. However, developing and executing a winning content marketing strategy will.
To do so, Wilson recommends adding unique and quality content, which at the local level means hyper-local content relevant to the individual location, such as including nearby landmarks, neighborhoods, or cross streets. Hill added brands should answer the most commonly asked questions on their local landing page. To fully understand what consumers want to know most about a specific location, she suggests engaging directly with the manager at the location to understand from their perspective what they hear customers inquiring about most often.
“Don’t optimize for Google, optimize for people. The only thing that matters is the experience the consumer is going to have when they visit your website.” – Ben Fisher
The Top GMB Elements in GMB Marketers Should Focus on, According to the Experts
During the webinar, we asked each of our panelists what elements, if any, brands should focus their effort on in GMB.
Want to hear and learn more takeaways from the webinar?