The days of getting in the 3-pack and having a one-trick pony strategy are over. Every Business wants to get the free traffic from Google’s local results, but the chances are getting harder everyday. Not only are you fighting against all of your competitors trying to get the same rankings, but now you’re also fighting against even more ads.
Today’s SERPs are ad-rich with 4 paid ads at the top, and now it’s not uncommon to find paid listings prioritized in local results. showing one ad in the local pack on mobile ranking above the 3-pack results. Keep in mind, there are four other ads above this.
If you were on desktop and you clicked on one of the 3-pack results, you’re taken to the local finder. In the desktop search example below, once you make it to the local finder you’ll see two paid local results above the other businesses.
Notice how only the companies participating in paid ads have stars. Do you think that gives them an advantage? I do.
Don’t worry though, I’m not jaded by ads
After all of that gloomy ad SERP talk, you’re probably getting a little depressed. Don’t. With every change there comes new opportunity, and we’ve seen many of our clients excel in search by focusing on multiple strategies that work for their business.
Focusing on the local pack should still be a strong priority for you, even if you don’t have a pay-to-play budget for ads. Getting listed in the local finder can still result in easy wins — especially if you have the most reviews, as Google has very handy sorting options.
If you have the highest rating score, you can easily get clicks when users decide to sort the results they see by the business rating. Below is an example of how users can easily sort by ratings.
But what else can you do to compete effectively in your local market?
Consider altering your local strategy
Most businesses I speak with seem to have tunnel vision. They think it’s more important to rank in the local pack and, in some cases, even prioritize this over the real goal: more customers.
Every day, I talk to new businesses and marketers that seem to have a single area of focus. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do one thing really well, the ones that are most successful are managing a variety of campaigns tied to their business goals.
Instead of taking a single approach of focusing on just free local clicks, expand your horizon a bit and ask yourself this question: Where are my customers looking and how can I get in front of them?
You can start by asking yourself these questions by examining the SERPs:
1. What websites, OTHER THAN MY OWN, have the most visibility for the topics and keywords I’m interested in?
You can bet people are clicking on results other than your own website underneath the local results. Are they websites you can show up on? How do you increase that visibility?
I think STAT has a great tracking tool for this. You simply set up the keywords you want to track and their Share of Voice feature shows who’s ranking where and what percentage of visibility they have in your specific market.
In the example below, you can see the current leaders in a space I’m tracking. Notice how Findlaw & Yelp show up there. With a little further research I can find out if they have number 1–2 rankings (which they do) and determine whether I should put in place a strategy to rank there. This is called barnacle SEO.
2. Are my customers using voice search?
Maybe it’s just me, but I find it strange to talk to my computer. That being said, I have no reservations about talking to my phone even when I’m in places I shouldn’t. Stone Temple recently published a great study on voice command search.
Some of the cool takeaways from that study were where people search from. It seems people are more likely to search from the privacy of their own home, but most mobile devices out there today have voice search integrated. I wonder how many people are doing this from their cars?
This goes to show that local queries are not just about the 3-pack. While many people may ask their device “What’s the nearest pizza place,” other’s may ask a variety of questions like:
Where is the highest-rated pizza place nearby?
Who makes the best pizza in Denver?
What’s the closest pizza place near me?
Don’t ignore voice search when thinking about your localized organic strategy. Voice is mobile and voice can sure be local. What localized searches would someone be interested in when looking for my business? What questions might they be asking that would drive them to my local business?
3. Is my website optimized for “near me” searches?
“Near me” searches have been on the rise over the past five years and I don’t expect that to stop. Sometimes customers are just looking for something close by. Google Trends data shows how this has changed in the past five years:
Are you optimizing for a “near me” strategy for your business? Recently the guys over at Local SEO Guide did a study of “near me” local SEO ranking factors. Optimizing for “near me” searches is important and it falls right in line with some of the tactical advice we have for increasing your Google My Business rankings as well. More on that later.
4. Should my business stay away from ads?
Let’s start by looking at a some facts. Google makes money off of their paid ads. According to an article from Adweek, “During the second quarter of 2016, Alphabet’s revenue hit $21.5 billion, a 21% year-over-year increase. Of that revenue, $19.1 billion came from Google’s advertising business, up from $16 billion a year ago.”
This roughly translates to: “Ads aren’t going anywhere and Google is going to do whatever they can to put them in your face.” If you didn’t see the Home Service ad test with all ads that Mike Blumenthal pointed out, you can check it out below. Google is trying to find more creative ways to monetize local search.
Incase you haven’t heard it before, having both organic and paid listings ranking highly increases your overall click-through rate.
Although the last study I found was from Google in 2012, we’ve found that our clients have the most success when they rank strong organically, locally, and have paid placements. All of these things tie together. If potential customers are already searching for your business, you’ll see great results by being involved in all of these areas.
While I’m not a fan of only taking a pay-to-play approach, you need to at least start considering it and testing it for your niche to see if it works for you. Combine it with your overall local and organic strategy.
5. Are we ignoring the featured snippets?
Searches with local intent can still trigger featured snippets. One example that I saw recently and really liked was the snowboard size chart example, which you can see below. In this example, someone who is interested in snowboards gets an answer box that showcases a company. If someone is doing this type of research, there’s a likelihood that they may wish to purchase a snowboard soon.
Depending on your niche, there are plenty of opportunities to increase your local visibility by not ignoring featured snippets and creating content to rank there. Check out this Whiteboard Friday to learn more about how you can get featured snippets.
Now that we’ve looked at some ways you can expand your strategies, let’s look at some tactical steps you can take to move the needle.
Here’s how you can gain more visibility
Now that you have an open mind, let’s take a look at the actionable things you can do to improve your overall visibility and rankings in locally centric campaigns. As much as I like to think local SEO is rocket science, it really isn’t. You really need to focus your attention on the things that are going to move the needle.
I’m also going to assume you’ve already done the basics, like optimize your listing by filling out the profile 100%.
Later last year, Local SEO Guide and Placescout did a great study that looked at 100+ variables from 30,000 businesses to determine what factors might have the most overall impact in local 3-pack rankings. If you have some spare time I recommend checking it out. It verified that the signals we put the most effort into seem to have the greatest overall effect.
I’m only going to dive into a few of those factors, but here are the things I would do to focus on a results-first strategy:
Start with a solid website/foundation
What good are rankings without conversions? The answer is they aren’t any good. If you’re always keeping your business goals in mind, start with the basics. If your website isn’t loading fast, you’re losing conversions and you may experience a reduced crawl budget.
My #1 recommendation that affects all aspects of SEO and conversions is to start with a solid website. Ignoring this usually creates bigger problems later down the road and can negatively impact your overall rankings.
Your website should be SEO-friendly and load in the 90th percentile on Google’s Page Speed Insights. You can also see how fast your website loads for users using tools like GTMetrix. Google seems to reduce the visibility of slower websites, so if you’re ignoring the foundation you’re going to have issues.
Crawl errors for bots can also wreak havoc on your website. You should always strive to maintain a healthy site. Check up on your website using Google’s Search Console and use Moz Pro to monitor your clients’ campaigns by actively tracking the sites’ health, crawl issues, and domain health over time. Having higher scores and less errors should be your focus.
Continue with a strong review generation strategy
I’m sure many of you took a deep breath when earlier this month Google changed the review threshold to only 1 review. That’s right. In case you didn’t hear, Google is now giving all businesses a review score based on any number of reviews you have, as you can see in the example below:
I know a lot of my colleagues were a big fan of this, but I have mixed feelings since Google isn’t taking any serious measures to reduce review spam or penalize manipulative businesses at this point.
Don’t ignore the other benefits of reviews, as well. Earlier I mentioned that users can sort by review stars; having more reviews will increase your overall CTR. Plus, after talking to many local businesses, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that consumers are actively using these scores more than ever.
Source by: Casey Meraz (moz.com)