In the absence of historic data to help guide your planning through the pandemic recovery period, how can your brand set a solid marketing strategy for 2021? It’s a question raising much debate and discussion in boardrooms across the globe. After all, 2020 has been unprecedented, to say the least, we haven’t yet experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. While the answer may not be perfectly clear, local search trends for 2021 can best be predicted by industry experts.
On the paid side, BIA Advisory Services expects that as local businesses rebound and adapt, total local advertising revenue across all media in the U.S. will reach $137.5 billion in 2021. That marks 2.5% YoY growth from the firm’s final post-COVID estimate for 2020 of $134.1 billion. Traditional media as a percentage of total spend is forecasted to decline, while digital media spend grows 3.7% over this past year, to account for 44.7% of all local media revenue in 2021.
Lower costs, accountability, and flexibility are among the factors credited for the increasing shift to digital by Mark Fratrik, chief economist, and SVP at BIA Advisory Services.
On the organic side, we’ve certainly seen an acceleration in the shift to digital throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. From the initial spike in content streaming and the sudden downturn in discretionary shopping witnessed in April to the dramatic rise in local search traffic and views we documented through the first six months of the pandemic, consumer behavior has been perhaps forever altered by our collective experience.
We asked a panel of local search experts to share their insights and advice on local search trends for enterprise and multi-location brands to aid in your 2021 planning.
Here’s what they had to say:
Local SEO, Link Building & Online Ordering Are All Priorities
Steve Wiideman, President/SEO Consultant/SEO Expert
Wiideman Consulting Group
2020 was a wake-up call for many businesses that had not prioritized digital marketing. More business owners have had to learn inbound marketing by necessity to salvage what little demand was left from consumers, who had less to spend and more time to price shop. Lower goal rates, higher competition, and less search-demand were all contributing factors to the need to capture more from less, and inbound marketing was one medium requiring only their time.
Trends to have on the radar in 2021 may include:
- A higher number of business owners holding their SEO teams accountable for improving accessibility, speed, privacy, mobile-friendliness, and keyword-optimized landing pages.
- Link building will continue to shift toward Featured Answer efforts in syndicating short summaries.
- Multi-location brands will be figuring out how to solve for better online ordering experiences after reading through customer complaints during the pandemic. In the restaurant vertical, restaurant ordering systems, such as OLO, will have to step up, or the enterprise chains that rely on them for online ordering will look elsewhere for solutions that don’t limit SEO capabilities.
When it comes to actionable local search tips for 2021:
- Monitor and improve fundamentals: keyword relevancy, off-page visibility, user behavior signals in search results.
- Treat mobile user experience like a saving grace to rapid recovery – listen to your customers’ feedback.
- Make every critical sales page (lower-funnel content) as Voice Search and Featured Answer-ready as possible.
- Bring in 1-2 structured markup experts to ensure use across the website and within important pages is covered.
- Dial-in analytics and attribution as much as possible and dedicate a resource to providing action items based on findings.
Of course, always stay on the lookout for and test new search features, such as Google Screened (Local Service Ads) and speakable markup for podcasts. As with the Google Ads platform, the more formats of content you provide, the more likely you might be seen in the various search engine results.
Comprehensive Local Reporting Includes SERPs Insight
Joy Hawkins, Owner
Sterling Sky Inc.
As more and more search features continue to evolve, I think it’s imperative for marketers to look at the search results instead of just relying on rank trackers or numbers.
I think the SERP tells a story that many times can be missed if you don’t actually see it. We have actually learned things about what impacts ranking simply by studying what Google is currently showing in the results.
Real-Time Interaction & Communication are Key Local Marketing Factors
Mike Blumenthal, Director of Local Research
For the past four or so years Google has driven three trends in local to the forefront:
- Visual search with the ever-increasing importance of high-quality photographs
- An immersive search experience that keeps local searchers at Google to explore more (and keeps users away from the business website)
- Transactions in local; most categories have been imbued with a prominent call to action whether it makes an appointment, order ahead or request a quote so that the consumer may now consummate many actions from within the Business Profile (aka the Knowledge Panel)
But for local in 2021, I think that the trend that is coming to the forefront will be real-time customer to brand communications via SMS, Messenger, What’s App, and iMessage. This is an area where Apple and Facebook really shine and where Google, which only just recently cemented their Rich Business Messaging (RCS) approach, has a lot of catching up to do. It is an area where Google has been outflanked and one where they will need to respond.
And it will be an area where every local business will need to focus as consumers embrace consumer to business real-time communications via messaging as their preferred communication channel.
Zero-Click Search & Google My Business Will Remain King
Ben Fisher, Google My Business Platinum Product Expert, Co-Founder
Zero-Click search will be the focus of 2021. Google My Business(GMB) will still remain at the top of the list of things you need for local search as nearly all local intent searches have a GMB Listing displayed.
Google will continue to invest in local service ads and continue to expand the program. I believe there are also some major changes coming to how service area businesses are handled and that should bring opportunity to more e-merchants.
Lastly, I think we will see a rise in suspensions as GMB continues to define its guidelines more and more and increases the crackdown on bad actors.
Local Digital Platforms Enable Consumer Engagement in Digital Channels
Rich Mastriani, Vice President of Client Solutions
COVID-19 has significantly changed the way we live and communicate. The pandemic has accelerated the need to communicate with customers at the retail level through digital channels.
Local digital platforms enable this movement and brands that ignore the digital communication platform will be left behind by their customers now and in the future.
Zero-Click Search & GMB Features Will Drive Engagement
Dayna Lucio, Director of SEO and Content
The local search trend I see impacting brands in 2021 is the continued growth of zero-click searches. More customers are going to make decisions about your business, whether it’s to visit, contact you, buy a product, etc., before visiting your website, and some will even make a decision without ever visiting your website. This means ensuring that local listings are accurate, and most importantly utilizing the capabilities of Google My Business so that your business shows up for not only branded searches but near me phrases and other keywords related to your business, such as services.
Features like Posts, Offers, and Products are going to continue to be valuable in not only educating your potential customers but driving customers to take action. GMB is going to be one of the first places that a customer interacts with your business, and it’s important to provide them with the information they are looking for and catch their attention right away. These features are going to continue to be valuable in not only educating your potential customers but driving customers to take action.
Local Relevance Essential as Consumers Commit to Shop Local
Niki Mosier, SEO Consultant
“Near me” searches grew by more than 28% in 2020. Hopefully, the trend of buying local and supporting local businesses continues in 2021 and with that I think the number of “near me” and other local searches will continue to grow in 2021. I also think as people hopefully start to travel more again later in 2021, local searches will also increase related to tourism.
I was pleasantly impressed with how quickly Google My Business added features to actually help small businesses in 2020. I think we’ll continue to see new features in 2021 that businesses can take advantage of to get information out to their customer base. I’ve seen so many small businesses get really creative in how they pivoted this year. My advice would be to stay flexible and keep customer service top of mind in 2021.
Are you prepared for your next year in local?
- Access our full suite of free COVID-19 resources for brands
- Get the free guide: How to Pivot Your Local Marketing Strategy in Times of Crisis
- Take advantage of a Custom Local Search Audit and uncover your greatest opportunities for 2021