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by Mark Mitchell on 7th November 2012
Search Engine Optimisation is a key component in most online marketing plans today. A huge amount of time is spent optimising content and pages for better visibility on search engines. However, the majority of SEO plans fail to effectively account for the impact of local on organic search performance. As search is becoming increasingly more local, this is a substantial missed opportunity.
What’s more, as the adoption of location enabled mobile devices grows, search engines are relentlessly tweaking their algorithms to better leverage location data and deliver more relevant results.
These changes also extend to searches from desktops and laptops since IP routing information can be used to estimate a user’s location. As search becomes more local and the local search landscape grows, SEO strategies and technologies that do not address this area could miss out on a large opportunity.
The local search opportunity
As we approach the end of the year, many marketers will be considering their digital resource plans for 2013. One of the fastest growing areas in both SERPs positioning and complexity is the rise of local search. The common statement that 1 in 3 searches have local intent may be slightly overplayed. However, there is no doubt the drive to localised results driven by proximity and device searched upon is the biggest SERPs change happening today.
We are seeing the search ecosystem move faster than ever before in this area and with the rise of mobile devices as part of the search journey, marketers and agencies need to have a clear focus in this area.
In 2013, we will see more marketers create digital roles just for local and agencies specialising in local search as a stand-alone offering.
In order to understand, optimise, and make the most out of the local search opportunity, I have highlighted a five-point plan to help marketers who are looking into local search.
To do this, it is important that you ask some key questions in relation to your business.
A recent study conducted by BrightEdge showed high variation in search results across key verticals in five major US cities – Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.
Verticals, like car rentals, showed much higher variation in search rankings – 63%, while results for hotel brands showed a 22% variation on average. For each vertical, the variations were calculated by looking at the local rank performance on Google for national brands on major head terms specific to that industry.
These variations in rank, drive differences in Click through Rate, traffic and conversions for businesses across locations on the same keyword. The study estimates that brands could boost traffic and revenue by as much as 30% if they close the gaps in SEO performance by ranking at the same level as their top city on each keyword across all five.
One of the challenges for making local search work better for marketers is ownership. Is this an ecommerce responsibility? Is this a marketing responsibility? If SEO teams are purely judged on improving ROI and traffic to the website, then is optimising local more for the benefit of the local stores or the website?
By having a resource or responsibility assigned to local objective, this will help not only improve focus but help resolve some of the grey areas of objectives in local as not all businesses have been able to crack how local search can drive optimisation and improve store footfall.
A few common KPI’s are:
One of the key metrics marketers like to look at is share of voice to track relative SEO performance across multiple locations. For each location you should generate local Share-of-Voice dashboards that benchmark you against multiple competitors.
Having a store locator page is not a local strategy. A good content strategy is the foundations of a strong SEO campaign. Unique, relevant and engaging content has to be at the heart of your SEO strategy. With local we can do a lot in this area.
The common market intelligence tools can be accessed as part of your content strategy.
Analytics – Your analytics platform will help you understand where your traffic comes from. You can then help prioritise local properties based on your existing traffic levels and insights.
Google Keyword Research – By conducting comprehensive keyword research you can help understand what local related searches you will see for your location. In the example of a local supermarket common examples will be “brand + location + “opening times / jobs / vacancies / recruitment / offers / promotions.”
Google Adwords Reports – Via your PPC campaigns, you can provide geographic reports on breaking down your brand traffic by location searched for. This is also helpful to understand priorities where you should focus your local content strategy.
Google Suggest – Look at search suggest to see what the common search intent for local keywords is. This is highlighted below for the Supermarket chain Asda which has a primary focus for local – each store in the region as well as quick navigation for jobs in their respective stores.
Just having a store location page is not a local strategy. You can go a lot deeper with your content and thus improve the experience for your audience both online and overall for your brand.
The following areas should be explored. To continue the theme we will use Asda as the working example.
Blog: Look to incorporate a regular blog within your local store. This is a good way to empower your general manager / local marketing manager to have more connection with the audience.
This is a good forum for the manager to connect with their customers on a more local relevant level, rather than the more national driven large marketing messages. The blog could not only talk about promotions and offers, but respond to customer feedback on parking, general complaints, etc.
Informative: Ensure you deliver in-depth content on not only opening times, but how these are different on bank holidays. Also make sure that accurate information is kept up-to-date for areas such as location and contact numbers.
Social: Use social, both at a national and local level. Again resource is always the challenge here, but if you have a store manager / local marketing manager with twitter handles, social shared content via the social networks can be a good strategy by always balancing promotion and local relevant information.
Community: A lot of the stimulus for this content can come from how your local store is involved in the community. Whether it’s charity events, helping in schools, volunteer work, etc. – your store can help speak for the community and highlight all the work you do in the community too, as Asda do via their GreenRoom sub-domain.
Combining this with good local URLs will help take this to the next level.
Navigational: Updating all maps, including new platforms like Apple is important. Having a good navigational experience is also important for delivery companies, as well as consumers. Having a responsive designed site will improve the experience of navigation as well.
Regular Content: With all of this work, having a clear strategy, processes and owners in place will allow content to be regularly produced and updated to ensure you get the most from your local search.
As part of this, your management of reviews can play a huge part in your improvements for Google Places results.
Finally, appreciate search does not stand still as local SERP changes are spreading faster than ever within the landscape. The impact of local results is more than just brand + location keywords and is becoming increasingly prominent in generic searches. So, if you really want to benefit from this, then adopting a more local focused search strategy as above will really help you make of the most of this opportunity.
It’s important as part of any ongoing digital activity that you have the measurement programs in place of which can be supported by enterprise SEO technology and you look at your ‘blended rank’ across the SERP’s.
Understanding where your pages show up on local searches is critical. Armed with this information you can identify opportunities where your rank swings widely across locations. Drilling deeper into on and off-page factors on the top ranked pages in each location can quickly expose low-hanging fruit where simple actions can move the needle.
For example, the new BrightEdge local product currently covers 87 major cities globally.
Now is the time to really establish your resource needs for local. This is becoming increasingly important and goes deeper than just an SEO responsibility.
By using innovative and market leading technology, you can begin to fully understand the true value of local search for your business and then base resource, strategy and ongoing campaigns respectively. Change is the only constant in this industry – the SERPs are now beginning to reflect that.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.