Why You Need to Market Locally in 2018
As technology and our ability to access information have increased in speed, they have also become increasingly present in our daily lives. With 85% of UK consumers now estimated to own a smartphone, our audiences are increasingly likely to have an internet-enabled device with them at all times. It’s no surprise then, that consumers continue to turn to their smartphones when making decisions, looking for answers or finding out what is in nearby at any given moment.
Local Search Marketing in 2018
Google has been working towards tailoring its search results towards user location and context for a long time now. As Google’s triangulation of query, user location, search history, and context has improved, local search optimisation is now vital for all brands. Users increasingly expect Google to serve them locally relevant content by default, as evidenced by the 85% increase in queries such like ‘is it going to rain today’.
Because users know that intelligent assistants and search engines will return these results by default, searches for ‘weather forecast in [city]’ will naturally begin to decline. Gone will be the days where doorway pages with titles like ‘Burgers in Leeds’ are even worth considering, you need to tell Google whether you’re able to serve their user, not just where you are on the map.
Increase Your Local Search Performance by Being Honest
The key thing here is relevance: know what service you provide, who your audience is, and when you are most relevant to the public. This is the information Google will be using to determine when and where you appear in search results.
If you’re an Italian restaurant with great vegetarian options, for example, Google is more likely to recommend you to relevant users if:
- You optimise your site to identify the style of food you serve
- Include a clear NAP that is consistent across all channels
- Include your menu on-site & on Google My Business
- Make it easy to find your online reservations portal or partner
- Include your phone number
- Encourage, engage with, and receive genuine reviews
- Use attractive and relevant imagery
- You’ve got a strong reviews/citation presence on reviews sites & social
Some of these are purely for Google, and others are purely for the end user. Both are required to generate success.
If you think back to how your business will appear locally in search to users, there are four options. In desirability order these are as a regular text result, as a regular result in Google Maps, as a high-ranking listing in a map pack, or as a knowledge pane response.
Being Found in Local Search
Your weapons of choice for local search are generally going to be the same three things:
- Traditional Search Results (blue links)
- Your Google My Business Page
- Google Map packs and SERPs.
All 3 will rank sites based upon two dominant aspects, your site’s ranking power (predominantly in generic SERPs), and the likelihood that you are a viable nearby business that provides a solution for the user. Backed up with locally targeted paid search & social campaigns, you’ll be able to earn and build your online presence while you work towards improving your organic presence.
The ‘viability’ of your offering is significantly affected by one key factor: how close are you to the searcher themselves, not to the city the user is in. This is only possible due to the advent of smartphones, and is a clear indicator of Google’s drive to tailor search results to individuals, not demographics.
Luckily, there are two ways around this limitation. The first is to be a known entity: being successful, well regarded, well-linked, and a widely recommended local institution will help you rank even against closer rivals. The other, is ‘sponsored pins’ (Local Search Ads to use Google’s name).
Both function to get users from point a) wondering what’s available and relevant near them, to point b) engaging with your solution: choosing the best option that is near them. To win here, you need to have a fantastic website, in case users decide to click through, have a fantastic reputation for when they search for reviews, and have a knowledge pane, so if they search for your brand (and reviews of your business) you get the best ad space Google has to offer.
This is the coup de grâce: Google’s knowledge pane!
Optimising for Organic Local Knowledge Pane Results
The knowledge pane is a fantastic way for Google to summarise your offering and suitability for a user within a single screen. It’s also a fantastic conversion tool in its own right, combining verified information, quick access to key actions like making bookings, and social proof from peer reviews and social links. Better yet, Google are always testing and improving this channel for you, free of charge, to improve conversion rates and usability across devices.
The green pane in this restaurant listing comes from location data alone. Here you’ll find a shortcut to your location on Google Maps, and a Streetview preview. The red pane next to it is selected by Google; if you have uploaded images to Google My Business they may get selected, but if users have tagged photos in your branch that get better engagement, don’t be surprised if they appear instead.
The orange fields are vital, however – these are data points we control and can encourage Google to use by maintaining our site, Google My Business account, and off-site citations. These inform Google of your relevance to users as they search in real time, and work to convert customers within the Search Results page.
If Google consistently sees the same values for your opening hours, menu, and location across outlets, the algorithm will become increasingly confident in their accuracy. In turn this increases the opportunities for your results appearing as relevant response to queries in search.
Your site will perform better when you’re open, and when people search for specific menu items. What’s more, conversion rates can improve as users see everything they want to know within the search results, with only a single click required to book a table.
The Future of Local Search
Alas, it’s increasingly important to stay ahead of the local search curve, to prevent being swept away by waves of new Google updates and local search habits that can ultimately change the way users interact with your business.
Not only that, but the local presence of a business – such as the local Map Packs – is now fundamental in maintaining and improving its reputation. By maintaining top of mind awareness both on and offline, and gathering positive sentiment via word of mouth and online reviews, it’s more than possible for small independents to overtake businesses with much larger marketing budgets.
The local trend we’re seeing is one that will continue to progress as digital technology cements itself in the way we navigate our immediate surroundings on a daily basis. Therefore, local search should be important to all those working in the field, as a key tactic towards achieving success locally as well as nationwide.
However, as the growing range of opportunities gets eaten up by digitally savvy businesses, the monetisation of local search via paid search is likely to increase. Sponsored pins in Google Maps are likely to appear with increasing frequency, as long as they positively affect UX, allowing businesses with greater resources to fight back without the same investment in a local marketing strategy.
When you factor in the inherently immediate and local nature of voice search, alongside the predicted explosion in voice-search adoption, 2018 looks to be the year Google cements local search as the norm. As Jason Tabeling demonstrates, voice searches have a strong tendency towards local-scrope queries. Consider the below: Where [can I get pizza? Is the nearest cashpoint?], When [is the next bus? Does the shop open?].
Add Google Lens to the pile, and the way forward is clear. By pairing GPS, camera, and contextual data, Google’s future search technologies are only becoming increasingly user-oriented, and increasingly local. Which is why, instead of Lens telling me this image is a view of Stonegate, this corner shop has taken the limelight (by miscategorising itself as a restaurant).
In the near future, search will be visual, verbal, and always-on. There is only one search result in voice, lens, and notification shades; so guaranteeing your eligibility should be your top priority in 2018.