Last month, Learn Inbound held its 2019 marketing conference at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, with 20 speakers taking to the stage over the two-day event. One of the highlights was a presentation from Wikimotive’s Vice President of Search, Greg Gifford, on increasing local SEO visibility.
Instead of repeating the same old tips we’ve heard a hundred times before, Greg goes the extra distance in his presentation, offering practical tips and insights on how businesses in the UK and Ireland can get ahead in local search. You can watch his presentation in full on YouTube (37:52) but we’re summing up all the best points from his talk right here.
Understanding local SEO in 2019
As Greg mentions in his presentation, any businesses with a physical location or serving customers in specific geographic areas should be doing local SEO. The thing is, a lot of business owners (and marketers for that matter) don’t appreciate how different local SEO is to universal search.
There are additional signals and additional factors to consider.
For example, Google tracks the location of people’s phones and this allows it to measure visits to your business. It even shows a graph in Google Maps displaying the busiest times for local businesses. As far as Google is concerned, a busy business is one worth ranking well and the search giant is capable of measuring repeat visits from the same people – a strong indicator that a business provides great service.
Google also had a patent approved in July for “Quality visit measure for controlling computer response to query associated with physical location.”
The point Greg is making is that local SEO is unique to regular search optimisation and strategies that work in one vertical don’t necessarily work in another. As he says, the most important signals for a doctor might be different to electricians and plumbers while the signals for all three could be different again in different cities or countries.
Local SEO ranking factors
In his presentation, Greg references Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors report, which is compiled by dozens of the world’s leading search experts every year. According to the 2018 report, these are the most important factors for the local pack:
- Google Business Profile Signals: Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc. (25.12%)
- Link Signals: Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc. (16.53%)
- Review Signals: Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc. (15.44%)
- On-Page Signals: Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc. (13.82%)
- Citation Signals: IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc. (10.82%)
- Behavioural Signals: Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc. (9.56%)
- Personalization (5.88%)
- Social Signals: Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc. (2.82%)
Essentially, the same count for organic local rankings in Google Search but the weighting is different.
Google Business Profile
We’ve covered Google Business Profile before in our article looking at how to show up in Google Maps but the key thing is to make sure you complete your profile with every piece of information that’s relevant to your business.
Details like your opening times aren’t only important for Google, they’re crucial when it comes to helping people choose your business over others.
Also, make sure your details are 100% accurate and use your Google Business Profile as a reference so your business information appears exactly the same elsewhere on the web (your site, social accounts, review platforms, etc.).
If your address in Google Business Profile says London Street, don’t start putting London St. elsewhere – 100% accuracy is important.
Link building for local SEO
As Greg admits in his presentation, building links is tough for any business. What a lot of marketers don’t realise, though, is that the rules for link building in local SEO are totally different – and much easier to deal with.
Local links are what really matter here and Google isn’t really worried about authoritative links. Local churches and community centres aren’t going to have high domain authorities but they do tell Google your business matters to the surrounding community. So forget about chasing that Forbes link and concentrate on getting links from local sources.
Greg suggests using Meetup.com for local meetups that need a venue or sponsoring existing events as a means of generating local links. This makes a lot of sense as you can use this strategy to bring more people into your business, which Google will count as visits and, in some cases, you could host events while you’re open for business – eg: a language exchange or book club in your cafe or bar.
More foot traffic, more revenue and, hopefully, more reviews.
We also recommend making your business newsworthy in the area to get the local newspapers and bloggers writing about you. And remember Google also looks at citations so there’s still value in having people mention your business name, even if there’s no link provided.
Create localised content
Much like links, Google wants to see localised content on your blog and you need to do more than mention your city a few times. You need to be creating topical content that’s relevant to your area and this is going to be much easier if you’re genuinely involved in the community.
Hosting events, for example, will generate local links and give you material for writing posts about them.
In terms of technical on-page SEO, make sure you have the following covered:
- Location name in the title tag
- Location name in your h1 tags
- Location name in the URL
- Format titles with the location first, then blog title and, finally, business name – eg: London | Blog post title | Business Name
- Include location name in subheadings where naturally possible
- Include location name in your image alt-text
- Include location name in your anchor text where naturally possible
- Create internal links to other relevant, localised content on your website
If you’re stuck for ideas on what kind of local content to create, Gregg also published an article with suggestions on Search Engine Land, which will give you some ideas to get started.
Create regular Google Posts
Greg spends quite a lot of time talking about Google Posts in his presentation (starts at 27:49). He makes a point of saying that, while businesses in the US have widely adopted Google Posts, companies in the UK and Ireland aren’t really using them a great deal, which means the gains from becoming an early adopter are huge right now.
Here’s a summary of what he says:
- Wide adoption in the US means there’s little competitive advantage left there – Google Posts are more of an essential that everyone’s doing. However, in the UK and Ireland, adoption is much lower and this means the competitive advantage is much stronger and faster.
- Highly visible: They appear in the Knowledge Graph on desktop and in a carousel format on mobile.
- Zero click conversions: Google Posts provide conversion opportunities without people needing to click through to your website.
- CTA buttons: Include CTA buttons on your Google Posts for zero-click conversions.
- Keep it promotional: Google Posts are designed to promote your business, not just give social-style updates.
- Always add UTM tracking on CTA buttons because attribution does not always work in Google Analytics, meaning clicks won’t show up as organic.
- Include campaign UTM tracking variable so you know which posts are generating the most traffic and converting users.
- Image cropping: Image heights are inconsistent in Google Posts so crop your images to leave some vertical space above and below the most important part of your image.
- Questions and answers: People can ask your business questions, which appear as Google Posts for the world to see – so make sure you’re answering these questions before other users beat you to it.
- Up-voted Q&As show in the Knowledge Panel so make sure the right questions are showing up.
- You can ask your own questions too and this is a great place to post your FAQs and put interesting questions to your target audience.
Google Posts are a great way to boost visibility – especially here in the UK, as adoption has been relatively slow compared to in the US. Crucially, they also provide a new channel for generating no-click conversions and this couldn’t be more important with search becoming increasingly no-click for website owners.
Finally, Google Posts are also a great way for brands to interact with real people in the local community – something Google and potential customers both want to see.
Reviews & citations
We know reviews and citations are important but things have changed a little over recent years and Greg has a few key messages in his presentation:
- You only need a few quality citations so make sure they exist on the platforms your potential customers are using and ensure they’re all 100% accurate and consistent.
- Google wants to see reviews across multiple platforms including Facebook, Yelp, Trustpilot and other third-party sources – not only Google Reviews.
- Ask every customer to leave a review and create a page on your website where you can direct them to choose their preferred review platform (Google, Facebook, etc.).
- Keywords matter in reviews and people often don’t know what to write. So try offering suggestions like “which product did you buy from us?” or “how does our Thai food compare to other restaurants in the area?”.
- Respond to every review whether they’re positive or negative.
- Respond quickly to negative reviews to show new potential customers that you do everything possible to deliver the best experience.
Studies have shown that only 10% of people trust brands with a 5-star review average. You’re much better off with a 4-point-something score out of five and even scores of 3/5 are more trusted more than perfect scores.
So don’t obsess about getting 5-star reviews every time; just focus on delivering good service and getting as many positive reviews as possible.
It’s all about maximising store visits
The whole point of local SEO is to increase the number of customers walking through your door. As mentioned at the start of this article, this is something Google specifically looks at as it tries to gauge the quality of your business – so make this a core part of your strategy.
Hold events, run promotions, ask for reviews, get involved in the community and maximise store visits to show Google and new customers how popular your place is. This is going to become increasingly significant as Google merges digital and real-world metrics such as repeat visits and searches made in your store.