As Google’s Juan Felipe Rincon emphasized again for us at Rio SEO’s third-annual Local Search Summit 2017, updates to the search giant’s constantly evolving algorithms are typically designed with one core mission in mind: to improve the experience of search for users and offer the best answers. It makes sense then that traditional SEO signals are making a comeback in building local visibility.

 2017 Moz Local Ranking Signals Report

*Statistics provided by 2017 Moz Local Ranking Signals Report

How can you improve your local strategy in 2017, and where should you focus next?

Local SEO – The Importance of Proximity

Depending on the query type, proximity can be an even more important local SEO ranking signal to Google. This can supersede the business’s reputation, review sentiment and volume, and the quality of the associated website.  

Why is Google doing this?  There’s been substantial debate on the objective of this algorithm change.  From a convenience standpoint, it makes sense that businesses offering commoditized services/products would feature prominently based on searcher proximity. Say you needed to fill up your gas tank.  Many gas stations offer competitive prices on gas per gallon. But often, you just want to find the closest gas station (especially if your tank is riding on E).  However what about people searching for the BEST business in their geographical area? Most people would rather hire an accounting service with an outstanding track record for tax preparation vs. a CPA with no reviews who is only 5 minutes away.   

The Importance of Reviews

Despite the fact that proximity is now considered a top ranking signal, local business reviews will continue to be a heavily weighted local ranking signal for two reasons:  

  1. They account for 13.3% of the total local search ranking signal (according to Moz Local Search Ranking Factors).  
  2. There’s evidence that Google is now providing different local pack results for people searching for “great hair barbers” or “best attorneys” versus just “hair barbers” or “attorneys.”  These “best” results are more likely to show businesses with a high volume of reviews.

As positive review signals can both impact rankings and help a business obtain a special local pack ranking for “best” or “great,” it’s even more important to make sure you’ve looked after review management.

Another good local SEO strategy is to make sure your associated website mentions neighborhoods, cross streets or landmarks. Google can provide more accurate results for neighborhood searches (e.g. Little Italy seafood) when they can recognize your relevance to that neighborhood.

Optimize your site with quality local content, a full NAP (name, address & phone number), structured data, social proof, etc. You can accomplish all of this and more with Local Pages for each location.

Do Backlinks Matter Today in Local SEO?

Surprisingly, there has been a notable resurgence in the importance of backlinks in local SEO. According the recent Moz Local 2017 Search Rankings Report, backlinks are now the #2 ranking signal for the local pack results! For pure organic (non-local pack results) they are now the #1 ranking factor.  

Monitor your website’s link authority with a tool like Majestic SEO’s Open Site Explorer. This nifty resource will provide several insights. These include how many backlinks your website is getting, the authority of the domains you’re receiving them from, when they appeared versus when they are removed, etc.

For white hat link building, develop relationships with local entities.  If a directory already contains your local business citation, kindly ask them to include a website link, as well. Depending on the cost of sponsored listings on sites like your local Chamber of Commerce, that could be an option, as well. Reach out to local websites (neighborhood watch groups, charities, etc.) for other backlink opportunities.

Optimizing for “Near Me” and Google My Business Listings

Another factor to consider is the local query “near me.”

As the popularity of this particular phrase has grown exponentially in the last few years, you’ll want to include “near me” optimization in several places. These include your meta tags, internal links, alt tag content and on-page content.  

This is a simple update to apply and often, it’s these local SEO best practices that can really help boost visibility.      

Near me search query

It’s important to properly optimize and categorize Google My Business listings, as well. Google My Business frowns upon over-utilizing the category feature. Pick one or two relevant categories for your business and leave it at that. (Learn more about recent GMB updates here).

Google understands that click-through rates, long clicks, click-to-calls, mobile clicks for driving directions, etc. indicates a positive or negative user experience, which is taken into account as a search ranking factor. Either way, local search marketing services need to make their websites accessible and usable. If that particular website is optimized and provides a positive user experience, it will impact the local pack rank positioning.

What’s Next in Local Search?

There was a ton of buzz at #LSS2017 about voice search, and it’s no wonder; as LSA’s Greg Sterling and others reminded us, 50% of all searches will be voice queries by 2020.

Forrester Research’s Collin Colburn gave us a great high-level overview of the post-digital marketing world and how those of us working within it must adapt. Greg Sterling, Mary Bowling and two Google My Business representatives shared with us their predictions and tips for local search optimization in this age in which consumers are increasingly asking questions of the devices around them and expecting accurate, intelligent answers.

Kyle Johnston from GigaSavvy shared his top 3 voice search best practices in his presentation: LSS2017: Voice Search in 2017: Local Business Strategies from Rio SEO

You’ll find a collection of voice search and local content optimization tips from Local Search Summit here, as well.

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