By: Farzin Andrew Espahani

The Reality of Local Search in 2016

Google is constantly changing, and over the course of many years, we have seen fluctuations in how Google handles local searches and SEO. One of the changes that has recently occurred is that of Google ads being displayed above local search results, leaving fewer positions for quality content. Instead of having the more traditional sidebar ads which could easily be ignored, this new ad placement causes potential customers to scroll further down the page to see local results. Local SEO is becoming more confusing and competitive every day, so how exactly does a company compete with these ever-changing elements of Google web searches?

The first step in getting the most bang for your buck in SEO content is to define your goals. Goal-setting is an important element of any advertising plan. Think about your company and what you want to achieve. For example, if you are a local bed and breakfast, your goal may be to book more reservations for your business. To achieve these results, you may want to make sure you are attracting positive customer reviews on popular travel websites or ranking higher in local Google search results.

Local SEO Search in 2016

A few years ago, there wasn’t much effort put forth in optimizing local searches. However, because the algorithms and the effort needed to succeed in local SEO has changed, businesses are required to try harder to get their name up near the top of local search results. Knowing how Google determines placement ranking of one website versus another—even those with the same SEO tactics—can be tricky territory and difficult to understand. It is important to know that if everyone is just doing the bare minimum to be seen on local SEO search results, the bar must be raised in terms of efforts versus rankings.

Ranking First Isn’t Everything

Just because your site is ranking first for a popular local search doesn’t mean you’ve creamed your competitors. There are various ways for potential customers to search for a service. They may go straight for the advertised sites because they don’t know any better. They may look at the business’s Google page to learn about the company and check out reviews, while also checking other popular sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp. These are other websites potential customers use to learn more about a company and make an educated decision as to who to choose for their needs. So understand that just being the first result on Google is not the end all, be all of SEO marketing and that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Data-Driven Local SEO Studies

In June of 2016, two marketing companies, PlacesScout.com and Local SEO Guide, paired up to provide a thorough data-driven study in regards to what factors are used to decide ranking. They came up with several determinations that should be taken into consideration, including:

• Profile views
• Well-reviewed businesses and locations
• High Majestic AC Rank
• Referring IPs
• Subnet referrals
• Photographs posted
• Backlinks with city name as anchor text
• Total number of reviews
• Followers

Let’s take some time to consider the top local ranking factors that were determined by this study and find out exactly what makes them tick.

1) Higher ranking with locations sporting many reviews
You may not be the first to notice that reviews aren’t required for a business to rank higher in Google. There are several times where searches have been made and companies without a single review are still placed as priority. However, the companies who have reviews often receive more clicks than those who don’t, which may make a difference when it comes to snagging your next potential customer.

2) Improved rankings with higher profile views
Businesses who have had their review profile clicked on may be given a higher ranking than a business who does not. The click-through rate of businesses with more profile views is substantial This may be why many businesses are beginning to focus on building their reviews so they will see a boost in traffic not only to their profile page but to their business in general.

3) Majestic AC ranking
There are several backlinking tools out there including Majestic. It is important to consider backlinking as part of your SEO strategy, especially since three of the top five ranking factors determined by the above study relate to links and referrals. These links carry a lot of weight when it comes to the algorithms by which Google determines ranking. Good quality links are definitely necessary, especially in niche markets where competition is fierce, such as law firms in highly-populated cities.

What’s Missing?

From the initial study, there are several factors that are missing—factors that businesses have been focusing on for years. Now, these factors play a small role in how Google is ranking a page. Take, for example, on-site elements and citations. Now is the time to stop investing too much time and energy in these aspects and start focusing on proper SEO building for your local business using the study’s most important factors as a guide.

How to Conquer the Competition

If you’re ready to take on your local competition when it comes to SEO search results, there are a few solid steps that need to be done in order to ensure success. We’ll take into consideration the many factors for ranking determined by the Local SEO Guide and PlacesScout.com study and put them to use.

Google My Business Listing

The best place to start is to ensure that you’ve optimized your Google My Business listing. Google My Business breaks down all the specifics about your business and can be a great landing spot for potential customers. Closely study the best practices to ensure your listing meets the guidelines for this Google profile page.

Organic Ranking

Local ranking can also be dramatically improved by ensuring a website ranks organically. Consider your primary keywords and make sure you are ranking for them—otherwise, you may have to push up your sleeves and get to work in making sure all is in order for this to occur.

Ways to check for organic ranking include considering several problems which may be keeping you from ranking in the top 20 results. This includes:

• Duplicate business listings
• Suspensions from Google My Business for spamming
• Ranking for wrong keywords
• Being listed in the incorrect category

Put an End to Spamming

If your competitors are taking advantage of Google with spamming, make sure you take the time to report them. Thanks to improvements in Google’s spamming report methods, this is easier than ever. It is only fair that businesses in the area are called out for not behaving in a professional or ethical manner to obtain better rankings. Report businesses who are out of line and using spamming techniques to boost their performance.

Consider Non-Local Search Results

Businesses who see higher ranking in non-local search results with organic keywords tend to rank higher in local results. Take a good look at your organic optimization and make sure it is order. Both local and non-local results should be treated the same to improve user and ranking perspectives.

Local search results

Reviews are Gold

Getting good quality reviews for your business can build your ranking results dramatically. In this day and age with social media, many companies are benefiting from review-happy millennials who use reviews to make decisions in regards to which businesses they want to work with. Reviews can make or break a company, so know that positive reviews of your business or service can dramatically improve rankings all by itself. Google is starting to take a more solid view on the impact good reviews can make in terms of local SEO rankings. One way to make sure this occurs is by making it easier than ever for customers to leave a review for their visit. This includes building customer feedback and reviews directly into your business model through a website widget or through in-house incentives. Make a link on your website or in follow-up emails to make it simple for individuals to post a positive review, and then take these reviews and add them to your website as well for a more well-rounded approach.

On-Page Optimization and Technical SEO

Considering on-page elements is so important as it helps in building up your name in terms of search results. This may mean organic SEO aspects, ensuring conversion with a speedy website, and improving usability on your website. All of these elements can go a long way in ensuring when potential customers reach your website, they are able to maneuver through it and find the information they need to make an educated decision in regards to using your services or not. Usability affects a customer’s journey and bouncing back to the search to seek another website than yours is downright embarrassing. Make sure your website is up to par and doesn’t lag or result in loading failures—this can completely change the user experience—and their views on your business.

Citations

While citations were not part of the factors for high ranking, it doesn’t mean that they don’t matter entirely. Citations that already exist should indeed be cleaned up but outside of that, there’s not much else to do with them. Value your citations as link sources and make sure these links are up to standards for them to be effective. Also, make sure that the data is correct. This is incredibly important if you run a business that has moved locations. Visit the Google My Business page and double-check all the information to ensure it is right. Old data can make it difficult for potential customers to find your company and start a business relationship. Last but not least, consider third party websites and the traffic they can bring to your site. This includes popular websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. These are perfect for promoting your business and drawing traffic while also building positive reviews that can be incorporated into your website. These top citation pages can greatly enhance your company’s search results in Google.

Linkbuilding Tips: Quality versus Quantity

When it comes to getting links to your site, it is important to consider “quality versus quantity.” If you have links from many different sites that no one has heard of, this isn’t going to help you. Instead, focus on getting links on popular sites to ensure quality—this makes a huge difference. These quality links may include scholarship links, links from Chamber of Commerce pages, directory links, and local newspapers and new stations.

Legitimate Links

Build some legitimate links for your business by starting with these four website:

HelpAReporter.com

Every day there are reporters seeking local experts for interviews. Consider replying to a journalist who is looking for a business owner or employee that can provide information for an upcoming article or news story. This provides quality links back to your company.

Sponsoring Events

Check local events and finding out which ones you can help in sponsoring. These events often post sponsor logos and website links on their site, which can draw more legitimate links and traffic to your company.

Local Business Directors

Take the time to Google your city and find out what websites are ranking—and then join them! These may be membership-based businesses such as the Better Business Bureau or the local Chamber of Commerce.

Give Back with Community Initiatives

Giving back to the community is one way for companies to not only help those in the city in which they live, but get free exposure. This includes organizing toy drives during the Christmas holidays or investing in free cab rides for New Year’s Eve. Not only are these expenses tax deductible for your business, but they also can bring forth news stories and quality media exposure.

Seeing Improvement

It takes time for Google to register the changes you are making as a way to push forward your company’s ranking on local SEO search results. However, when you take the time to outsmart your competition instead of outspend them, you will see your hard work pay off. Understand that getting the number one spot can be difficult. Even the first three positions can be complicated to obtain. However, with persistence and quality tactics, you can slowly see results even in a tough market.

Keep at it and consider some of the following thoughts while building your local SEO tactics:

• Make sure everything is in order and is done in an ethical manner.
• Create quality content that builds reputable links from other pages.
• Boost authority and earn links from well-known sites.
• Consider building positive reviews to boost rankings and interest in your business.

Source: Moz.com