Local Search is hard and Google seems to be making it harder everyday. It’s providing more and more answers to search queries right in the SERPs, which keeps searchers on Google properties.
Here are a few examples of Google providing answers in the search results. When searchers can get information about your business quickly and easily in the results, they often don’t need to go to your website.
But is Google really hi-jacking your Brand’s traffic?
Sort of, but we cannot stop what Google’s doing. I’d like you to twist your thinking around and stop regarding Google as your competition as it expands its answers in the SERPs. Instead we must use it to our advantage.
This research by Moz and Jumpshot shows that between Google, You Tube and Google Images, Google gets about 90% of the search traffic in the US.
These are the generally accepted low-funnel KPIs for a local business: Online form fills, messages from Facebook, Click to call and asking for driving directions. Mike Blumenthal did a study where he tracked these 4 generally accepted Local KPIs for local businesses.
and 70% of those measureable actions happened at Google and another 25% happened on the business website. These are the 2 places where you should be directing MOST of your online efforts. For many local business, the rest of it is just noise.
So our strategy with Local Search right now is to fine tune the Google SERPs for the best performance We want them to show our business in the best light and ensure that the “answers” that Google delivers there are accurate, appealing to searchers and as complete as we can make them.
Let’s take a quick look at the Google Local Search algorithms and a very brief history of Local search
Local Search is searching for some thing in some place.
Google has always wanted to make its map a highly usable representation of the real world. It’s meant to showed real things in real places.
But the idea has always been that the best businesses of their kind within a market area Should be the ones that rank the best in the search results
But they’ve had to use a lot of proxies for things over the years, the most well-know of these is probably back when proximity was measured by the distance of the businesses from the main post office in a City .
This resulted in a badly distorted version of the real world that was made worse by SEOs and spammers taking advantage of loopholes that unduly influenced theLocal algorithm.
The local algorithm has always been based on relevance, prominence and proximity. It’s the proxies that have improved over the years
Google determines if a business is relevant for a query by what is said about it online by both the business and others. Google looks at the website, the GMB listing and other listings, reviews, social media and traditional media.
For prominence, Google asks “Is the business well-known and well-regarded within its local market area and its industry? “ Is it one of the best?
For this, Google mostly relies on what others say about the business and the authority of where it’s said.
Proximity is what truly defines the local algorithm. Is the business close enough to the searcher (or to the place being searched) to be a good answer for the search query?
and the real question here is how close is close enough for this query?
It depends on relevance to the query, the prominence of the other businesses that are relevant AND on the density of relevant businesses in the area of search. If the searcher is looking for something nearby, then businesses closer to them have an advantage. But if they are looking for something in a specific area, such as Harrisonburg, then the businesses in that area are the ones considered for ranking. And if the searcher asks for specific attributes, like “best”, cheapest” or “open now”, other businesses may become more relevant even if they are further away from the searcher. Proximity is fluid and changes as the searcher moves around in the world.
IN 2012 Local search started coming into focus. Google’s understanding of local businesses improved greatly as it better saw how entities related to each other.
By cataloging all the entities and the relationships between them Google better understands the real world and how it works together. In this example of a knowledge graph of the Flintstones, Wilma and Bedrock are entities and the line between thm represents the relationship between them. Wilma Flintstone lives in Bedrock
By thinking about your business website as a knowledge graph of your business, you’ll be able to ensure that it contains all the information that it should: Your people , services, products, locations and so on are entities that should be represented by pages and the relationships between those entities should be clearly shown by links and link text. This helps Google better understand your brand.
2018, Google announced that it has added topical layers on its knowledge graph, which brings more of the real world into focus. This topical layer for example, shows the nutrients in vegetables. Imagine a topical layer about a particular location or industry or about a particular business.
So the knowledge graph laid the foundation for ranking entities rather than just ranking pages or websites. And to rank your business entity, you must optimize your brand.
From 2011 to 2015, GMB features pretty much stagnated.
But in 2015, Google really started doubling down on local search and Google My Business.
From 2015 to 2019, Google worked on how it was representing businesses in the SERPs. It was critical for it to figure out how to give searchers the info they most want about a business on small mobile screens.
There was also a greatly increased focus on reviews. And not just Google reviews, but reviews from across the web.
In 2015 the influence of a business’s reputation and the sentiment in reviews gained power in the Local algorithm. Google told us this in the Google Quality Rater Guidelines And every update of that document emphasizes reputation more than the one before it.
From 2015- 2019, a transaction and engagement layer started showing and growing in the Local results, enabling searchers to use the SERPs to interact with businesses.
And Local ads were greatly expanded in that same time frame. There are now ads seen in every screen that Google shows us and more all the time
In the last 2 years, there have been an average of 2 new or improved GMB features every month.
So why has Google jumped into local with both feet?
The current Google CEO told us just a few months ago that it intends to move from answers in the SERPs into actions in the SERPs
So now Google’s giving answers and enabling engagement and transactions in the SERPs. It’s working to prove it’s value to businesses, but that’s a double-edged sword. When it proves value, it can and will extract more profit from Local Search.
By inserting itself into transactions, Google makes more money and gets more valuable data.
Selling more ads is obvious and certain industries are being coerced into buying paid ads in order to gain any meaningful exposure in the results.
And quite possibly to create a subscription model of some type that will likely be driven by what it can get away with.
Google can now recognize and reward you for having a strong local brand, so our answer to this evolution in Local Search is to shift efforts towards boosting your brand within your own local market place. The stronger your brand is, the less reliant you’ll be on Google for new customers.
So start thinking in terms of improving your local brand That’s simply awareness – do people in your market area know about your business, where it is and what it does or sells? and reputation: what do people in your local market area think about your business?
I mentioned before Google’s emphasis has shifted from ranking pages and websites to ranking entities or brands. And Google loves brands.
In 2008, the Google CEO said “The internet is a cesspool where false information thrives… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.” This is because Google can rely on the marketplace to do the incredibly difficult job of vetting brands.
So what’s your brand’s story on Google? How do others see your brand online? Do you see your business as king when others are seeing a pawn?
You can get a pretty good sample of the answers and opportunities Google provides for your brand in the SERPs by searching for your brand name and location in Google and examining what’s on the page. In Local search, we’re calling this your brand page
Be certain to check your brand page on mobile, too.
While this is just a snapshot, it does reveal what: Google knows about your business, what searchers think is important to know about your type of business and a overview of your reputation. By doing this for your competitors, you’ll also see how they are doing and opportunities you may be missing. If you improve what searchers see on this page, you are improving your presence all across Google.
Control what you can on this page. I generally break down brand pages into the things the business controls, which are in yellow here. reviews and reputation, highlighted in green, which you have the least control of, but can influence and listings and news about your business on other websites. You generally have a lot of control over listings and you can influence the news searchers see about you.
First take a look at your page titles and metadescriptions, which I like to refer to as organic ads. If you’ve done the work to rank well, don’t drop the ball here. I never ceased to be amazed at the volume of crummy old school “ads” out there. Your titles and metadescription should focus on the customer and include your phone number, service area and a CTA
Google now allows us to choose a cover photo (even though they don’t always get it right. It’s your most seen photo and it should showcase the brand.
With your other photos on GMB, think about what prospects WANT to see. If you’re a caterer, they want to see food and party photos, if you’re a water park, they want to see kids having fun. If you’re an adult entertainment store, like the one in this photo, you want to show people that it’s not a scary place, but a clean, well-lit, and modern retail store.
For listings that appear in the SERPs with stars, Check to see that info is complete and correct, Respond to at least some of the more recent reviews on those sites and you may wish to encourage more reviews in those places
For listings without stars, Google thinks these sites are important in your industry and/or location. Again, make sure the info is correct and complete If reviews are possible, you may wish to encourage some on these sites.
If you’ve done a really good job of soliciting and publishing reviews on your own website, it can show up in the “Reviews from the web” section of the knowledge panel. In order to make that happen: Use proper schema No review-gating- Publish all comments Easiest w/ a Google- compliant platform
Google Posts allow businesses to write directly into their brand search results. Google’s messed around a lot with Posts since it was introduced. Greg Gifford will go into the details of Posts and Q&A tomorrow.
Q & A is now a feature on local knowledge panels. It’s not fully baked, yet and bears watching. In any case monitor it and answer any questions you get.
It’s possible to ask and answer questions for your brand.
I see many, many instances of lost sales opportunities when looking at Q & A Many people think they are texting in real time with the brand and expect a timely answer. Don’t be one of those businesses that effectively refers customers to their competitors just by ignoring them.
And you can text with them in real time! Enabling text messaging directly from a GMB profile offers you a way to communicate directly with customers. You’d be crazy not to take advantage of this feature whenever you can. And you can easily toggle it on and off via the GMB app.
Take a look at Lloyds GMB for a great example of how this can be used. Think about how many phone calls something like this save you in your business? And when you look at it from the searchers point of view, how great is it to be able to quickly schedule appointments yourself?
Google Products has just recently been made available to nearly all local businesses. Everyone who has access to this should use it. It’s quite flexible as to what info & images you include and it enables you to feed answers into the Knowledge Graph. We added Trane products to this HVAC company’s profile and it now gets many more views from people searching for the Trane brand than previously. This is really powerful! After you add products, make sure you have content on the site to reinforce it. For example, we are currently adding pages for each of the brands they carry to their website. And if the product manufacturer has a dealer directory, ensure you’re included in it with accurate info.
The Services feature works the same way as the Products tab. You can get very detailed about what you do and where you do it with services.
The more information you provide to Google in ways it can easily understand, the more relevant your business becomes for the products you sell, the services you provide and your attributes. Whether they have a single location or many locations, for a lot of local businesses, Google My Business and the business website provide the best opportunities for growing the KG for your brand.
Google loves brands and it’s gotten to the point where it can get a good understanding of a brand and how it fits into its local marketplace when we give it the information it needs. I see this as Google giving us gifts of opportunity to boost our local brands.
Here are a couple of bonus tips. Think about what you can do offline to encourage online searches for your brand. This can be done via ads in traditional media or suggestions from your staff.
Encourage visits to your location, even if you are a service area business. This can be done with sales, Contests or special events held at your business location. Any kind of business can have a customer appreciation day like the one seen here. And also think about teaming up with local non-profits to hold events at your location.
As someone who’s been involved with optimizing for some thing in some place since before local Search even had a name, I can assure you , it has been a very long and winding road for Google to get good at local search.
But in 2019, we are approaching the reality of the best businesses ranking the best on Google
And as one of my LocalU partners Will Scott says, “The key for us to remember, SEO was never really about search engines. It’s always been about optimizing the business.”
So your best strategy to win in Local Search is to actually be the best business of its kind in the local market area. Be a local brand that people love and Google can now understand that better every day.
while your competitors are worried about getting clicks, you’ll be getting more customers and more sales.
Because you’ll be building your Local Brand and ruling in the new era of Local Search.
Brand is King - How to Rule In the New Era of Local Search - Mary Bowling - Mozcon 2019
How to Rule in the New Era
of Local Search
Brand is King