The Evolution of Local SEO: What’s New with Google Local?

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There’s been a dramatic shift in the way Google evaluates and ranks local businesses, and Uptick is ahead of the game in adapting to these changes. In the past, maintaining a bunch of local citations was considered best practice, a critical local ranking factor. As Google evolves and reprioritizes, though, a strong brand presence on a few top platforms is significantly more important than minimal presence on many smaller, less relevant platforms, with Google My Business presence being the most important.In many ways, your GMB profile acts as the homepage for your business—it’s the first thing that the majority of your audience will see when they are looking for you, and oftentimes, they won’t even navigate to your site when making a purchase decision. So as we adapt to Google’s shifting local landscape, it’s important to carefully craft your brand’s presence there. But where do you start?

New Trends Mean New Tactics

At Google’s annual developer conference on May 7th of this year, CEO Sundar Pichai said, “We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that helps you get things done…we want our products to work harder for you.” And when you look at the new local landscape on Google, you’ll see that Pichai wasn’t kidding. The platform now provides more information right on its pages so that users don’t need to navigate away to find what they are looking for. This may translate to less clicks for businesses, but less clicks doesn’t mean less conversions—especially if you have optimized your GMB listing (more on this later). 

In the face of Google’s increased interest in providing answers rather than pointing you elsewhere to find them, Google local is changing in the following ways: 

  • Google mostly relies on its own data, so it’s really the only trusted source for name, address, phone number, and website (NAPW) information. This means that citation campaigns are a thing of the past, as the data points to the reality that Google doesn’t value citation work like it did before.
  • On top of that, two of the four data aggregators will soon be out of the game, with Acxiom retiring its services at the end of December 2019.
  • Google introduced the Products Beta, so your business now has the option to add products and services that appear as part of your GMB listing on maps and in search.

  • The search engine giant added a “Request a Quote” button on desktop

  • Data revealed a surge in suspended listings because of spam listings and duplicates

This is just a handful of ways that Google has changed the way they do local, but they’re arguably the most important and immediately actionable. 

Increased Focus on Reviews

One additional change that deserves a longer discussion is Google’s increased focus on reviews, because they’re part of an experience that users are after. BrightLocal performed a survey and found that 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends. Google knows that users value the opinions of their community when making a purchase decision, so they’ve started to forefront it as an integral ranking factor. 

Here are just a few ranking factors that Google looks at when it comes to reviews:

  • Number of Google reviews that mention the target keyword
  • Number of Google reviews that mention the target city
  • Total number of Google reviews
  • Percentage of Google reviews that mention the keyword
  • Percentage of Google reviews that mention the city
  • Average yearly Google reviews
  • Number of Google reviews not responded to
  • Number of new Google reviews in the last year
  • Average weekly Google reviews

And it makes sense—Google values reviews as important ranking factors because they directly measure customer satisfaction. The search engine aims to interpret user intent so that it can give users exactly what they’re looking for. So when you search “best restaurants in birmingham,” Google would be silly not to show you a restaurant with 100 five-star reviews. 

Also, this trend keeps with the overarching theme that Google is relying more on itself and the few superpowers around it rather than on the smaller guys, and reviews published right there on Google are more valuable to the platform than whatever is happening off their site. 

Creating a GMB Listing that’s Accurate, Appealing, and Complete

To make the most of the changes to GMB, your business needs to make sure all your info on the SERPs is accurate, appealing, and complete. So, we have identified several concrete ways to take full advantage of all the new opportunities afforded you. 

Quality Imagery

Photos and images are arguably the most compelling way to attract customers to your business. Think about looking up a restaurant on Google—the photos they feature on their listing are probably going to make or break your decision to try it out. This goes for any business, and remember that your GMB listing is often a potential customer’s first impression of your business, so you should take it seriously! You’ll need clear, high quality photography of the inside and outside of your physical location, if applicable. You’ll also want to include photos of your team, product photos, and anything else that showcases what your business does or offers. 

To achieve the best photography for your listing, take photos at peak times to show your happy customers and/or during natural daylight hours where your business looks the most appealing. These photos should not feature any text, markups, or logos. There is a specified place in GMB where you should upload your logo, but every other photo should be clean of any embellishment. 

A Business Description

Your business description should include keywords that you anticipate your target audience searching for and should emphasize what makes your business unique in 450 characters or less. It’s a tall order! But you want to sum up what you do and what value you offer your customers as succinctly as possible. 

Products and Services

Google now gives you the opportunity to list your products and services directly on your local listing. Even if you’ve got a great product page on your site, you need to take a few minutes to list those products in Google My Business so that the search engine can display them on the SERPs. It’s pretty straightforward to list your business’ services, as you just enter them in a list in the “Services” tab in GMB. When listing products, however, you’ve got a lot more options. You have to include a photo for each product listed, and you also have the option to add multiple product collections, product and collection descriptions, and a call to action button like “Learn More” or “Buy Now.” 

Answers to Questions

Users have the option to ask your business a question that is posted directly on your listing in Google, and if you see questions that have been asked, you definitely should answer them as fully as possible. However, above and beyond answering questions asked by others, you can post your own questions and answer them yourself, as questions are always anonymous. Think of it as an FAQ opportunity.

Posts

This feature is for publishing news, events, promotions, and announcements for your business.  The rule of thumb here is not to do too much with any single post. They’re intended to be short and specific, so you shouldn’t include more than one promotion per post. Also, you’ll want to take advantage of call to action buttons like “learn more” and “buy,” as well as include photo and video whenever possible.

Below you’ll find a great example of a business that has taken full advantage of all the features in GMB. 

Fighting Spam in Google Maps

There are scammers out there creating fake GMB profiles to enhance businesses. Google is in “an arms race with an extremely motivated group of scammers who are constantly on the lookout to beat the defenses we build,” according to Google Maps director to Ethan Russell.

This article by the Wall Street Journal talks about how Google struggles to shut down all the spam listings on its site because the volume is just monstrous. The best map spammers can post thousands of fake listings in a single day. The motivation behind the spam listings is to gain more visibility on Google Maps and to score more phone calls and conversions.

Spam listings can range from fake businesses to businesses that are listed with a string of keywords in addition to the formal business name. And you can imagine how damaging these spam listings are for legitimate local businesses, as the spam is taking up prime real estate in the SERPs that they don’t deserve.

It’s now necessary to start policing the maps results to keep these spam listings from robbing your business of the traffic you have worked hard for! Spam fighting takes the form of regularly monitoring the maps listings for your target keywords and making suggested edits to the listings you believe to be fake or spammy.

Takeaways

If you can manage it, creating and maintaining a strong brand presence on GMB is essential for gaining local visibility. This means completing your listing as fully as possible, scoring high quality reviews, and ensuring that your listing always remains accurate and up-to-date. 

Want to talk further about adapting to the new Google local? So do we. Drop us a line or give us a call. 

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