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The growing importance of local search

October 2016

Written by Dan Marsh, Digital Strategy Director

Addressing the need

The rise in smartphone usage means that search engines, historically a static information resource, have diversified into ‘on-the-go’ tools where users expect results to be tailored to their location for ease and relevance. According to Google, from research dated summer 2015, an estimated 73% of all online activity is related to local searches; and this means businesses can no longer afford not to give attention to their local search presence.

What Google says, goes

Google has invested heavily in new products catering for local search to benefit users, but also to give businesses opportunity to increase their visibility in the space:

  • Local Business Centre – allowing businesses to claim ownership of their listings and associated brand content
  • Local results in natural search – introducing a map and three results to local queries originating from their standard web search product
  • Google 411 – voice-based local search akin to the 118 service; say aloud a type of business and local results are presented

And it’s affecting paid search too…

Google made further changes in May 2016 emphasising the importance of structured data to benefit search. Local search through Google Maps can now benefit from paid spend where locally relevant business are listed top in location-based search (see the purple pin). And then there’s enhancements beyond simply detailing locations and directions. Walgreens feature in-store promotions as part of their new Maps ad format.

Citations, and why they’re important

Of course, despite Google launching these new products to help businesses reach more locally relevant searchers, not all marketing budgets can afford to regularly pay for them. So how is SEO affected by the rise in local? Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms in major engines like Google and Bing. They are essentially the business name and address featured on other webpages; for example, a Thompsons director listing. For search optimisers, improving a brand's citations is often the first port of call for enhancing rankings for local searches.

What does this mean for multi-location brands?

Although citations can understandably be considered of massive importance to small local businesses (i.e. I need a local plumber), they still have a huge, if not bigger, impact for large businesses with many locations. Broader non-specific searches are big business in search, with category competitors vying for customers on searches like ‘Where's my nearest coffee shop?’ The emphasis here is to not only build a robust and comprehensive citation strategy for your brand's locations, but to amplify this with further optimisation techniques.

  • Google+ Local page: set up a Google Plus page for your locations
  • Reviews: encourage customer reviews through Plus pages to boost customer confidence
  • Schema markup: add rich media to your web presence to entice customers

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