Local Search 2020.
As part of our team’s internal training, I recently hosted a session on the changing local search landscape. This post acts as a summary of the talk and assumes some level of knowledge of local search ranking factors and experience using Google My Business.
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT LOCAL SEARCH?
For certain businesses, a presence in Google’s local map pack is critical to gain search exposure. The local search pack is usually located directly below paid search listings and ahead of the standard “10 blue links” and its presence is not just limited to queries containing a location.
In competitive industries such as travel, which are increasingly dominated by Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) such as Booking.com, presence in local packs is a SERP opportunity not currently available, in the traditional sense at least, to aggregators. Property owners can gain control of their location listings and reduce leakage to aggregators.
Google 3-pack local results appear for 93% of Google searches with local intent, so the potential is strong. As you would expect, the search engine has increasingly begun to monetise this lucrative space with the addition of paid local-pack ads and in the travel sector expanding the roll-out of Google Hotel Ads which tend to see brands compete against 2 or 3 OTAs.
However, Google doesn’t only show local results for keywords that contain a specific location. They will also show it to you if the algorithm believes it needs some local results:
The key thing to consider, is that you’ll still want to optimise for your keyword+location, but be aware that occasionally a keyword without a location might be better.
CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR CHANGES
As well as changes to the SERPs, consumer habits are also changing. The growth of mobile has resulted in a much higher proportion of location dependent searches and more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on desktop machines in 10 countries.
With the exception of lockdown due to the 2020 pandemic which saw a significant change in behaviour, the growth in searches containing ‘near me’ has been almost exponential.
TRACKING SMARTPHONE USERS
According to Google’s research, 75% of smartphone users expect to get immediate information while using their smartphone, and 60% of smartphone users have contacted a business directly using search options like ‘click to call’. Mobile searches for terms such as ‘best place to buy X’ have grown almost 70% over the last two years. This underscores the need to be optimising for your local terms.
If you haven’t disabled location sharing, Google handily shows you a map of everywhere it has tracked you at https://www.google.com/maps/timeline. This information can be used to present information such as graphs of how busy a location is expected to be at any given time – these now show in real-time.
LOCAL SEARCH RANKING FACTORS
Local SEO Guide has a good guide to local search ranking factors but in brief there are some areas which effect ranking, some of which you can effect.
Google My Business – Google’s platform for managing local search listings potentially offers quick wins. If this hasn’t been reviewed for a while and locations or information are incorrect or have been omitted this is where you should start. Google My Business evolves fairly quickly with new features being added so it’s definitely worth scheduling regular reviews of your account after you’ve got everything in order – if not you could quickly find Google making its own (often undesirable) changes to the company information it displays your users.
Remember to fill in every data point possible, and keep it consistent across all sites (including your website contact or location pages, GMB, and any third party sites you use). Google uses this consistency as a factor when considering how reliable your contact information is.
Handily, Google gives you a score on how complete your profile is, so you can use this is a guide to figure out what you are missing.
On-page Elements – Name, Address, Phone Number. Easy to manage, there shouldn’t be any reason why this information isn’t right! Google uses these to confirm that your business information is correct, so ensure you keep these up to date.
Reviews – It’s been found that ‘review signals’ play some part in your local ranking. Specifically, negative reviews on your GMB profile can hurt and that Google may use reviews from 3rd party sites too (think Glassdoor, Yelp etc.). One thing to consider here is how to drive positive reviews to your site and to stop negative reviews – you shouldn’t incentivize people to leave reviews, instead you should respond to every review whether it’s positive or negative.
Off-site Citations – These are harder to manage due to number of places at which information needs to be reviewed and updated. Various commercial services are available to help manage this process which could be particularly worthwhile when working with multi-location chains.
Link Metrics – Hard to manipulate.
TRACKING & REPORTING ON LOCAL SEARCH
How is Google local search tracked by default? If you haven’t configured any tracking traffic from Google local pack listings is automatically grouped alongside standard Google organic traffic.
That means a click on either of the following three listing types:
Will appear in Google Analytics attributed to the following Source and Medium:
But given local search has its own ranking factors distinct from “10 blue links” results, should this be the case?
TRACK CLICKS ON LOCAL PACK LISTINGS TO ATTRIBUTE CONVERSIONS TO LOCAL SEARCH
Fortunately, it is very easy to distinguish between standard organic search and Google Local Pack sessions by configuring a simple piece of tagging. Among its many options, Google My Business enables you to customise the URL linked from your listings. It takes only a matter of seconds to swap your standard office or store URL to one with UTM tracking parameters appended.
https://www.site.com/locations/faketon-123-fake-street.html?utm_source=local&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb will ensure that local search traffic remains attributed to organic but that it can also be separated from clicks on traditional listings.
This can lead to interesting insights such as the changing split in organic search behaviour seen below as local search listings are increasingly given more prominence in SERPs coupled with improved local search optimisation.
Properly attributing sessions and conversions back to local search traffic can help to justify the investment in local search optimisation.
GOOGLE MY BUSINESS INSIGHTS
Additional reporting options available with the “Insights” area of Google My Business. This shares statistics, such as the proportion of local impressions that occur from searches for your business name or address compared to those searching for your product or service, the number of overall impressions on Google Maps or standard SERPs and also data on actions users have taken after viewing a listing.
FUTURE OF LOCAL SEARCH
As we head into 2021, local search has only gotten ever more important.
If you haven’t reviewed your local listings and Google My Business account recently it’s definitely something to schedule for the new year!