Local SEO & Beyond: Ranking Your Local Business in 2017 0

Posted by Casey_Meraz

In 2016, I predicted that ranking in the 3-pack was hard and it would continually get more competitive. I maintain that prediction for 2017, but I want to make one thing clear. If you haven’t done so, I believe local businesses should start to look outside of a local-SEO-3-Pack-ONLY focused strategy.

While local SEO still presents a tremendous opportunity to grow your business, I’m going to look at some supplementary organic strategies you can take into your local marketing campaign, as well.

In this post I’m going to address:

  • How local search has changed since last year
  • Why & how your overall focus may need to change in 2017
  • Actionable advice on how to rank better to get more local traffic & more business

In local search success, one thing is clear

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.

If you thought it was hard to get top placement today in the local pack, just consider that you’re also fighting against 4+ ads before customers even have the possibility of seeing your business.

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. Just take a look at this example that Gyi Tsakalakis shared with me, 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?

Sometimes taking a step back and looking at things from the 30,000-ft view is beneficial.


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, which you can check out here.

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. Here are 6 tips you can use for a faster WordPress website.

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.

So, how do you get more reviews?

Luckily, Google’s current Review and Photo Policies do not prohibit the direct solicitation of reviews at this point (unlike Yelp).

Start by soliciting past customers on your list
If you’re not already collecting customer information on your website or in-store, you’re behind the times and you need to start doing so immediately.

I work mainly with attorneys. Working in that space, there are regulations we have to follow, and typically the number of clients is substantially less than a pizza joint. In pickles like this, where the volume is low, we can take a manual approach where we identify the happiest clients and reach out to them using this process. This particular process also creates happy employees. 🙂

  1. List creation: We start by screening the happiest clients. We then sort these by who has a Gmail account for priority’s sake.
  2. Outreach by phone: I don’t know why digital marketers are afraid of the phone, but we’ve had a lot of success calling our prior clients. We have the main point-of-contact from the business who’s worked with them before call and ask how the service they received was. The caller informs them that they have a favor to ask and that their overall job performance is partially based off of client feedback. They indicate they’re going to send a follow-up email if it’s OK with the customer.
  3. Send a follow-up email: We then use a Google review link generator, which creates an exact URL that opens the review box for the person if they’re logged into their Gmail account.
  4. Follow-up email: Sometimes emails get lost. We follow up a few times to make sure the client leaves the review…
  5. You have a new review!

The method above works great for low-volume businesses. If you’re a higher-volume business or have a lot of contacts, I recommend using a more automated service to prepare for future and ongoing reviews, as it’ll make the process a heck of a lot easier. Typically we use Get Five Stars or Infusionsoft integrations to complete this for our clients.

If you run a good business that people like, you can see results like this. This is a local business which had 7 reviews in 2015. Look where they are now with a little automation asking happy customers to leave a review:

Don’t ignore & don’t be afraid of links

One thing Google succeeded at is scaring away people from getting manipulative links. In many areas, that went too far and resulted in people not going after links at all, diminishing their value as a ranking factor, and telling the world that links are dead.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you need good links to your website. If you want to rank in competitive niches or in certain geographic areas, the anchor text can make a big difference. Multiple studies have shown the effectiveness of links to this very day, and their importance cannot be overlooked.

This table outlines which link tactics work best for each strategy:

Strategy Type Link Tactic
Local SEO (3-Pack) Links to local GMB-connected landing page will help 3-pack rankings. City, state, and keyword-included anchor text is beneficial
Featured Snippets Links to pages where you want to get a featured snippet will help boost the authority of that page.
Paid Ads Links will not help your paid ads.
“Near Me” Searches Links with city, state, or area anchor text will help you in near me searches.
Voice Search Links to pages that are FAQ or consist of long-tail keyword content will help them rank better organically.
Barnacle SEO Links to websites you don’t own can help them rank better. Focus on high-authority profiles or business listings.

There are hundreds of ways to build links for your firm. You need to avoid paying for links and spammy tactics because they’re just going to hurt you. Focus on strong and sustainable strategies — if you want to do it right, there aren’t any shortcuts.

Since there are so many great link building resources out there, I’ve linked to a few of my favorite where you can get tactical advice and start building links below.

For specific tactical link building strategies, check out these resources:

If you participate in outreach or broken link building, check out this new post from Directive Consulting — “How We Increased Our Email Response Rate from ~8% to 34%” — to increase the effectiveness of your outreach.

Get relevant & high-authority citations

While the importance of citations has taken a dive in recent years as a major ranking factor, they still carry quite a bit of importance.

Do you remember the example from earlier in this post, where we saw Findlaw and Yelp having strong visibility in the market? These websites get traffic, and if a potential customer is looking for you somewhere where you’re not, that’s one touchpoint lost. You’ll still need to address quality over quantity. The days of looking for 1,000 citations are over and have been for many years. If you have 1,000 citations, you probably have a lot of spam links to your website. We don’t need those. But what we do need is highly relevant directories to either our city or niche.

This post I wrote over 4 years ago is still pretty relevant on how you can find these citations and build them with consistency. Remember that high-authority citations can also be unstructured (not a typical business directory). They can also be very high-quality links if the site is authoritative and has fewer business listings. There are millions of listings on Yelp, but maybe less than one hundred on some other powerful, very niche-specific websites.

Citation and link idea: What awards was your business eligible or nominated for?

One way to get these is to consider awards where you can get an authoritative citation and link to your website. Take a look at the example below of a legal website. This site is a peanut compared to a directory like Yelp. Sure, it doesn’t carry near as much authority, but the link equity is more evenly distributed.


Lastly, stay on point

2017 is sure to be a volatile year for local search, but it’s important to stay on point. Spread your wings, open your mind, and diversify with strategies that are going to get your business more customers.

Now it’s time to tell me what you think! Is something I didn’t mention working better for you? Where are you focusing your efforts in local search?

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Source: Moz

#13 – Owning a bad customer experience, Genie Bouchard’s reputation ace, & social media succession planning 0

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This week we discuss the importance of owning a customer’s bad experience, how Genie Bouchard is engaging fans off the tennis court, and the importance of social media succession planning.

Each week, we’ll take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • Erin Jones of Social Ink co-hosts this week!
  • How one online mattress firm passed the buck on a disastrous online buying experience.
  • WTA tennis star Genie Bouchard proves that you can build a great reputation off the court.
  • Do you have a social media succession plan? Don’t let this scenario happen to you!

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Coming Soon!

The post #13 – Owning a bad customer experience, Genie Bouchard’s reputation ace, & social media succession planning appeared first on Andy Beal .


Source: Andy Beal

E-commerce Entrepreneurism: Best Option For 21st Century Employment? 0

can e-commerce save the rust beltIs ecommerce one of the best opportunities for entrepreneurs? Can it help save the “Rust Belt”?

Over the next ten minutes we’ll:

  1. Explore the current state of the E-commerce Union;
  2. Review recent news items that could affect the vertical; and
  3. Close with further reading links for people thinking of starting an online retail business.

E-commerce is the New Investment Banking: Growth Estimates Are Astounding

Pundits have posited: Brick-and-mortar stores are going the way of the horse-and-buggy; barring a catastrophic event, online retail will be with us forever, in some form or another.

Binny Bansal, co-founder of Flipkart.com, painted the prosperous picture, explaining, “Times have changed. Today, the biggest recruiters in the premier institutions aren’t consultancy or financial firms but the e-commerce companies.”

Sound like an exaggeration? Check out these facts and figures:

  1. Analysts predict that ecommerce will be a $523-billion-dollar market — in the U.S. alone— by 2020.
  2. In 2016, third-party sellers on Amazon shipped over 2 billion items to 185 countries.
  3. 71% of shoppers believe they will get a better deal online than in a store (which means more and more shoppers are flocking to online retail platforms).

Societal and Marketplace Shifts Effecting E-commerce

One Million Jobs?

Business luminary Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, tucked behind Trump’s doors during the transition. He emerged pledging to “create 1 million American jobs.”

Media outlets alit: Would Alibaba really hire a million Americans?

In a statement, Ma clarified:

“We specifically talked about … supporting 1 million small businesses, especially in the Midwest of America. Small businesses on the platform selling products — agriculture products and America services — to China and Asia, because we’re pretty big in Asia.”

In other words, Alibaba isn’t hiring a million U.S. workers in the heartland. Instead, the company wants American businesses to sell directly to Chinese citizens via Alibaba.

Debate: Is that really the same thing as “creating 1 million American jobs”? Furthermore, do you think it will work?

Arguments stack up on both sides.

China is home to over a billion people (compared to about 320 million in the U.S.), and its e-commerce market is expected to reach $840 billion by 2021 (almost double the estimates for the United States). Moreover, the Chinese middle class is growing — and they’re in the market for American goods. As such, the conditions are ripe for small American businesses looking to expand their markets. Theoretically, there’s enormous growth potential.

Of course, there’s a counter argument.

Several analysts scoffed at Ma’s economic seduction. For starters, China’s laws prevent  over-profiting by foreign entities. So, let’s say a small U.S. business takes off in China. At some point, when the profits surpassed a certain threshold (high, no doubt), that small U.S. business would be forced to partner with a Chinese entity — and relinquish a certain amount of control — to keep expanding in the region. (That said, many people think the trade off is worth it.)

Automation: The True Job Thief?

President Trump promised to reinvigorate the American heartland by reviving factory jobs previously lost overseas; and a lot of people voted for that promise.

But, (politics aside), the pink elephant in the room is braying: U.S. manufacturing output hasn’t rapidly decreased over the past 30 years; the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has. And that loss isn’t solely the fault of offshore plants (they do play a small roll, but not enough to fix the decline). Over the past two decades, companies invested in technology. Because of automation, what once took 10 people, may now only take 2.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but those factory jobs probably aren’t coming back — at least not the same way and in the same volume. So the question becomes: What can fill the gap? And right now, e-commerce looks like a profitable bet.

Starting An E-Commerce Business

Starting an e-commerce business may be easier than you think. It doesn’t require a trust fund’s worth of capital, nor copious amounts of official paperwork. Just create an account with an online retail platform that allows third-party sellers (Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Jet, Walmart, et cetera) and start selling.

Of course you’ll need procure and promote your wares, which takes times and skill — and yes, a bit of startup capital. Also, to avoid a liability disaster, it’s wise to create a business entity for your ecommerce business. But guess what? People regularly accomplish all these things on a $1,500 budget. In fact, one e-commerce legend started his company with $300; today it’s a multi-million dollar operation.

Further reading links

Questions For An E-commerce Business Attorney?

Our firm, Kelly / Warner, regularly works with online sellers and marketers. We assist with everything from account suspension to product counterfeiting to online payment processing issues. Additionally, our team performs marketing compliance audits and handles the business formation process, step-by-step. Whatever your e-commerce legal needs, we’re here to help.

The post E-commerce Entrepreneurism: Best Option For 21st Century Employment? appeared first on Kelly / Warner Law | Defamation Law, Internet Law, Business Law.


Source: Kelly Warner Law

Proximity to Searcher is the New #1 Local Search Ranking Factor 0

Posted by Whitespark

Have you noticed that a lot of local pack results don’t seem to make sense these days? Almost every time I search Google for a local search term, the pack results leave me wondering, “Why are these businesses ranking?”

For example, take a look at the results I get for “plumbers”:


(Searched in an incognito Chrome browser on PC in Edmonton)

Here’s a quick summary of the basic local ranking factors for the businesses in this local pack:

Notice that:

  • None of the businesses have claimed/verified their Google listing.
  • None of the businesses have any Google reviews.
  • Only one of the businesses even has a website!

Surely, Google, there are more prominent businesses in Edmonton that deserve to rank for this term?

Here’s the data table again with one additional point added: proximity to the searcher.

These business are all so close to me that I could walk to them in about 8 to 15 minutes. Here’s a map of Edmonton with pins for my location and these 3 businesses. Just look at how close they are to my location:

After analyzing dozens of queries that my colleagues and I searched for, I am going to make a bold statement:

“Proximity to searcher is the new #1 ranking factor in local search results today.” – Darren Shaw

For most local searches these days, proximity appears to be weighted more than links, website content, citations, and reviews in the local pack rankings. Google doesn’t seem to value the traditional local search ranking factors when determining which businesses to rank in the local pack. The main consideration seems to be: “Which businesses are closest to the searcher?” I have been noticing this trend for at least the last 8 months or so, and it seems to have intensified since the Possum update.

Evidence of proximity-based local rankings

Whitespark has team members that are scattered throughout Edmonton, so four of us ran a series of searches from our home offices to see how the results differ across the city.

Here is a map showing where we are physically located in Edmonton:

On desktop, Google doesn’t actually know exactly where we are. It guesstimates it based on IP, WiFi, and mobile data. You can figure out where Google thinks you’re located by doing the following:

  1. Open an incognito browser in Chrome.
  2. Go to maps.google.com.
  3. Search for a local business in your city.
  4. Click the “Directions” button.
  5. Enter “my location” into the top field.

In order to give you directions, Maps will drop a circle on the spot that it thinks you’re located at.

Here’s where Google thinks I am located:

As a team, at approximately the same time of day, all four of us searched the same 9 local queries in incognito browser windows and saved screenshots of our results.

The search terms:

Non-geo-modified terms (keyword):
plumbers
lawyers
coffee shops

Geo-modified terms (keyword + city):
plumbers edmonton
edmonton plumbers
edmonton lawyers
lawyers edmonton
coffee shops edmonton
edmonton coffee shops

Below are the mapped results for 9 local queries that we each searched in incognito browsers. Rather than dumping 24 maps on the page, here they are in a Slideshare that you can click through:

Proximity is the New Top Local Search Ranking Factor from Darren Shaw

As you click through, you’ll see that each of us get completely different results, and that these results are generally clustered around our location.

You can also see that proximity impacted non-geo-modified terms (“plumbers”) more than the results for geo-modified terms (“edmonton plumbers”). The differences we’re seeing are likely due to relevancy for the geo-modified term. So for instance, the websites may have more anchor text targeting the term “Edmonton plumbers,” or the overall content on the site has more references to Edmonton plumbers.

How does proximity impact local organic results?

Localized organic results are the blue links that list businesses, directories, etc, under the local pack. We’re seeing some very minor differences in the results, but relatively consistent local organic rankings across the city.

Generally, localized organic results are consistent no matter where you’re located in a city — which is a strong indication of traditional ranking signals (links, reviews, citations, content, etc) that outweigh proximity when it comes to local organic results.

Here are screenshots of the local organic results:

Proximity is the New Top Local Search Ranking Factor from Darren Shaw

Some observations

  1. Non geo-modified searches (keyword only) can pull results from neighboring cities. In the new local packs, proximity to searcher is not affected by the city you are in, but by the radius of the searcher. This does not appear to be the same for a geo-modified term — when you add a city to the search. This tells us that the #1 local search ranking factor from the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, “Physical address in city of search,” may no longer be as important as it once was.
  2. Results sometimes cluster together. Even though there may be businesses closer to the searcher, it seems like Google prefers to show you a group of businesses that are clustered together.
  3. Google would rather show a smaller pack than a 3-pack when there is a business that’s too far away from the searcher. For example: I only get a 2-pack of nearby businesses here, but I know there are at least 5 other businesses that match this search term:
  4. Probably obvious, but if there aren’t many businesses in the category, then Google will return a wider set of results from all over the city:

Why is Google doing this?

Why is Google giving so much ranking strength to proximity and reducing the impact of traditional local search ranking factors?

To sell more ads, of course.

I can think of three ways that this will increase ad revenue for Google:

  1. If it’s harder to get into the organically driven local packs, then businesses will need to pay to get into their fancy new paid local packs.
  2. Back in the day, there was one local pack per city/keyword combo (example: “edmonton plumbers”). Now there are thousands of local packs across the city. When they create a new pack every mile, they drastically increase their available “inventory” to sell ads on.
  3. When the results in the 3-pack aren’t giving you what you want, then a click into “more places” will bring up the Local Finder, where Google is already displaying ads:
  4. (Bonus) And have you noticed that the new local ad packs focus on “nearby”? The local ads and the local pack results are increasingly focused on how close the businesses are to your physical location.

Though I don’t think it’s only for the additional ad revenue. I think they truly believe that returning closer businesses is a better user experience, and they have been working on improving their technology around this for quite some time.

Way back in 2012, Whitespark’s Director of Local Search, Nyagoslav Zhekov, noted in the 2012 Local Search Ranking Factors survey that proximity of business location to the point of the searcher was his top local ranking factor. He says:

“What really matters, is where the searcher is physically located and how close the potentially relevant search results are. This ranking factor is getting further boost by the importance of local-mobile search, where it is undoubtedly #1. For desktop search the factor might not be as important (or not have any significance) if searcher’s location and the location for which the search is intended differ.”

It is interesting to note that in today’s results, as we can see in the examples in this post, proximity is now a huge ranking factor on desktop as well. Google has been going “mobile-first” for years, and I’m starting to think that there is no difference in how they process mobile and desktop local results. You just see different results because Google can get a more precise location on mobile.

Furthermore, Bill Slawski just published a post about a recently approved Google patent for determining the quality of locations based on travel time investment. The patent talks about using quality measures like reviews (both user and professional) AND travel time and distance from the searcher (time investment) to rank local businesses in search results.

One excerpt from the patent:

“The present disclosure is directed to methods and apparatus for determining the quality measure of a given location. In some implementations, the quality measure of a given location may be determined based on the time investment a user is willing to make to visit the given location. For example, the time investment for a given location may be based on comparison of one or more actual distance values to reach the given location to one or more anticipated distance values to reach the given location. The actual distance values are indicative of actual time of one or more users to reach the given location and the anticipated distance values are indicative of anticipated time to reach the given location.”

The patent was filed in May 2013, so we can assume that Google may have been experimenting with this and incorporating it into local search for at least the past 3 to 4 years. In the past year, the dial seems to have been cranked up on this factor as Google gets more distance and travel data from Android users and from users of the Google Maps app on other mobile platforms.

These results suck

It seems to me that in most business categories, putting so much emphasis on proximity is a pretty poor way to rank results. I don’t care if a lawyer is close to me. I am looking to hire a lawyer that’s reputable, prominent in my city, and does good work. I’m perfectly happy to drive an extra 20 minutes to go to the office of a good lawyer. I’m also looking for the best pizza in town, not the cardboard they serve at the place down the street. The same applies for every business category I can think of, outside of maybe gas stations, emergency plumbers, or emergency locksmiths.

In my opinion, this emphasis on proximity by Google seriously downgrades the quality of their local results. People are looking for the best businesses, not the closest businesses. If this is the new normal in Google’s local results, I expect that people will start turning to sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Avvo, Angie’s List, etc. when searching for businesses. I already have.

So what about local rank tracking?

Most local rank trackers set the location to the city, which is the equivalent of setting it to the centroid. It is very likely that the local pack and local finder results reported in your rank tracker will be different from what the business or client sees when they search. To get more accurate results, you should use a rank tracker that lets you set the location by zip/postal code (hint hint, Whitespark’s Local Rank Tracker).

You should also realize that you’re never going to get local rank tracking reports that perfectly match with what the person sitting in the city sees. There are just too many variables to control for. The precise proximity to the searcher is one thing a rank tracker can’t exactly match, but you’ll also see differences based on device used, browser version, personalization, and even time of day as results can and do change by the hour.

Use your rank tracking reports as a measure of general increases and decreases in local visibility, not as an exact match with what you would see if you were searching from within city.

How does this affect local SEO strategies?

Local SEO is not dead. Far from it. It’s just more competitive now. The reach your business can have in local results is smaller than it used to be, which means you need to step up your local organic and optimization efforts.

  • Local search practitioners, if you’re seeing traffic and rankings going down in your local SEO reporting and you need to answer to your clients on this, you’re now armed with more info on how to answer these questions. It’s not you, it’s Google. They have reduced the radius that your business will be shown in the search results, so you’re going to be driving less traffic and leads from local pack results.
  • If you want your business to rank in the pack or local finder, you will need to crank up the dial on your optimization efforts.
  • Get on those local organic opportunities (content and links). There is less pack real estate for you now, but the localized organic results are still great city-wide opportunities. The local organic results are currently localized to the city, not the searcher location. We can see this in all the terms.
  • Look for outliers. Study the businesses that are getting pulled into the local rankings from a far distance from the searcher. What are they doing in terms of content, links, reviews, and mentions that helps them appear in a wider radius than other businesses?
  • Diversify your local optimization efforts beyond Google. Make sure you’re on Yelp, BBB, TripAdvisor, Avvo, Angie’s List, etc, and that your profiles are claimed, optimized, and enhanced with as much information as possible. Then, make sure you’re driving reviews on THESE sites rather than just Google. If the local pack results are crap, a lot of people will click Yelp’s 10 Best XYZ list, for example. You want to be on that list. The more reviews you get on these sites, the better you will rank in their internal search results, and as people desert Google for local business recommendations because of their low-quality results, you’ll be ready and waiting for them on the other sites.

The tighter radius might mean less local search pie for the more dominant businesses in the city, but don’t despair. This opens up opportunities for more businesses to attract local search business from their local neighborhood, and there is still plenty of business to drive through local search if you step up your game.

Have you also noticed hyper-localized local pack results? I would love to hear about your examples and thoughts in the comments.

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Source: Moz