Advancements in search engines, new technologies, and rapidly changing consumer behavior are driving massive changes across the local search landscape. How can enterprise brands focus in on the most impactful local search strategy and tactics for their hundreds or thousands of individual locations?
We explored just that in the webinar I hosted this past week. We had two incredibly knowledgeable local search experts share their insights and answer participant questions, to help us understand how local search technology has changed this past year and what enterprise brands can expect in the future.
I was joined in presenting “Guiding your Local Search Strategy to Drive Customers in 2019” by Brian Smith, Director of Data Partnerships and Local Strategy here at Rio SEO, and Steve Wiideman, President of the Wiideman Consulting Group.
In this recap, we’ll share the highlights and key takeaways from this event, including:
- How the biggest changes in consumer intent, search signals, knowledge panel and more impacted enterprise brands in 2018;
- How voice search, the mobile consumers’ journey, and conversational elements are shaping the way users interact with your brand;
- How to optimize your content to make it clear that your solution is the best answer for specific consumer needs and problems;
- Key areas of focus in 2019 and what is essential versus what you need to have on your planning horizon
We’ve embedded the full video of the webinar at the end of the post, as well. Ready? Let’s do this…
How Evolving Consumer Intent and Search Signals Are Impacting Brands
Consumers today aren’t interested in simply buying products or services. More and more, their purchasing decisions are driven by their desire to have an experience—by their buying into an idea. Optimizing your digital strategy means feeding your consumers information—in the right place, at the right time and via the right channels—for them to weigh and consider in their decision-making process.
Fully 75% of consumers use a business’s website as part of their decision-making process, and 87% will consider your local listings. If they choose to do business with you, it’s increasingly because of the experience they are having with you in this critical consideration phase.
We’ve found that just 1 in 60 MapPack listings views results in a click-through to the website, as illustrated above. Further, a recent study by Sparktoro found that 62% of Google searches by mobile users required no click-through at all.
Increasingly, consumers are finding what they need to make a decision about you without even leaving the SERP (search engine results page).
Both your on-page and off-page optimizations are therefore critical in boosting your search visibility and enhancing the customer experience wherever they happen to gather information about your brand.
Optimize Your Local Presence to Position Your Locations as the Best Answer
How can you make it crystal clear to search engines and searchers alike that your solution is the best answer for specific consumer needs and problems? We’ll start with…
There are three places you really want to pay attention to in on-page optimization; that is, optimizing the digital entities that consumers can interact with on your own domain:
- Structured data – Ensure proper Schema markup in all of your content, but particularly in your Q&As, events listings, and expanded product and service offerings. Make it seamless for Google to pull this enhanced data about your business into the search results, to expand and bring greater utility to your search listings.
- Link structure – Help Google crawl your site with a logical site structure and complete, current sitemap. Optimize your external link structure with citation links, reference links, and events links.
- Content – Optimize your site with thoughtful, quality content that provides information and delivers utility for visitors. Use a mixture of well-written, focused long-form content and engaging local content (think events listings, menus, ordering information and capabilities, etc.) to demonstrate to search engines and consumers alike that you are the best solution for their local needs.
These are the places your consumers can interact with the brands or its locations outside of your own domain, including:
- Knowledge Panel – Take advantage of new GMB features including Google Posts, Local Q&A, restaurant or service menus, and more. (Learn more in another of our recent webinar recaps: Optimizing Your Listings & Reviews for Smarter GMB Strategy.)
- Consumer Experience – Think of the myriad ways consumers interact with your brand online outside of your own ecosystem. Google Reviews, in-store events listings, locally relevant images, and video—these are all optimizations that enhance the customer experience while also providing search engines valuable, locally relevant content with which to increase your local visibility.
Learn more about the most impactful areas in which to focus your optimization efforts in these resources:
- 6 Reasons to Make Optimizing Your Store Locator Your #1 Priority
- Best Practices for Optimizing Local SEO and the User Experience across Multiple Screens (Whitepaper)
- Where to go next with your Google My Business listing
Key Areas of Focus for Brands’ Local Search Strategy in 2019
With all of this change and the rapid evolution of search only picking up speed, how can you future-proof your local search strategy and plan to succeed within this environment?
Our local search experts keyed into 5 areas of focus for enterprise brands this year:
- Solving for Mobile First, Then Hands-Free
Users on mobile devices now make up more than 60% of all searches, and we know that on-the-go consumers tend to use mobile to search for things nearby in order to solve their most immediate needs.
Yes, voice search is on the rise (and we’re going to talk about that in a minute). But right now, consumers searching on mobile still need to be able to interact on their device and take action. What does that process look like for your customers?
It’s important to recognize that mobile-accessible and mobile-optimized are two different animals.
In the example above, you can see that the site on the left simply providing access to mobile users doesn’t impart a good user experience, as the site hasn’t actually been optimized for mobile numeric input. The site on the right offers a more seamless experience, with mobile-responsive input depending on which field the user needs to fill in.
Hold your webmaster accountable. Make sure that you are using autofill where possible and that your site adheres to the HTML Living Standards here. Perform mobile UX testing and identify potential pain points that could be standing in the way of your customers’ converting from online browsers to in-store buyers. Use tools such as Pingdom, WebPageTest.org, and Google Developer Tools to speed up your page times for mobile users.
- Studying Your Buyers’ Journey
The days of the linear buyer’s journey are long over. Customers are being exposed to and connecting with your brand across any number of search engines and their local listings, ads, social networks, and more.
Are you putting your best foot forward in each of these areas? It’s critical that at each touchpoint, your customers can fulfill their need and take next steps if they so desire. Gain a holistic view and complete visibility into consumer interactions with your brand across the local search ecosystem with Local Reporting.
- Map Conversion Paths
With this enhanced insight into your buyers’ journeys, you can begin to map conversion paths that accurately reflect the experiences people are having with your brand online. From there, it is possible to identify potential stopping points or hurdles to conversion, critical content gaps, and new opportunities to delight and convert customers with exceptional online experiences.
- Measure Online to Offline
It’s a perpetual struggle for brands—how can you most accurately measure your online to offline attribution? While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, our local search experts recommend that you incorporate the following into your arsenal:
- Use mobile apps with GPS and beacon technology to recognize in-store shoppers who have engaged in the app.
- Set up store sales conversion tracking in your Google Ads to use third-party partner data to match offline sales information you track in your CRM with clicks on your ads.
- Use barcodes and coupons to track in-store activity driven by online engagement.
- New Ranking Signals
Revisit your local SEO and have a look through the lens of new focal points provided by new search engine rankings signals. Google is looking at 4 main factors when ranking listings in the Local 3-Pack:
- That the business listing is real, so verify your listings and ensure all data is accurate and current.
- Quality and recency of content.
- Alignment with other listings across the web.
- Reputation, as gauged by your local reviews volume, rating, and management.
How Voice Search is Reshaping the Consumer’s Journey
Voice search is changing the way consumers interact with information and by 2020, you can expect that fully 50% of all search queries will be by voice.
In some cases, as with voice-activated assistants like Alexa or Google Home, there are no blue links or visual search results whatsoever and you are strictly optimizing for voice results. However, Google and other types of voice search on a mobile device still bring back mobile results.
How can you optimize for both? Our local search experts identified 4 voice search goals for brands in 2019:
- Work your way toward touch-free with Conversations. Consider the types of questions customers have for your brand and how you can respond, in turn.
- Earn ‘Position Zero.’ Conversational responses, when properly marked up, are accessible by search engines for both Featured Answers in mobile search and voice responses. Earning Featured Answers is, in fact, the fastest way to see results from your voice search optimization efforts. Use tools such as StoryBase, SERPSTAT, SEMrush, or Answer the Public to research the types of questions consumers have about products and services like yours.
- Start with voice by claiming your business. Visit the Actions on Google “Claim” page for step-by-step instruction and the request form you’ll use to claim your brand’s locations for Google Assistant. In doing so, you can allow people to buy tickets, book a reservation, ask questions about your business or otherwise take action using voice search.
Bringing It All Together For Your Local Search Strategy
Are each of your locations positioned for maximum visibility, discoverability, engagement, and conversion in their respective local markets? Staying one step ahead of the competition by capitalizing on new local search updates and features as they emerge can provide the push you need to dominate even the most competitive of spaces. Utilize this key action list to optimize your local SEO strategy and drive more customers.
We hope this post capturing the highlights of our “Guiding your Local Search Strategy to Drive Customers in 2019” has been helpful. Don’t miss the full recording for more examples, discussion, and the valuable Q&A period at the end. Fill out the form to get FULL ACCESS to the live webinar now:
Krystal Taing is a Google My Business Gold Product Expert with extensive knowledge and expertise in local marketing and local search.