What Has Changed in Local Search
The local pack has seen many changes over the last 12 months but the most significant one is that is will now only feature three instead of seven businesses, known as the snack pack, as shown in the example above. Further to this, Google announced at SMX Advanced that Ads would be coming to the Local Pack. The top listing will be replaced by an Ad, so there will now only be two organic listings.
This is makes local SEO much more competitive, with more local businesses competing for a limited number of high ranking positions.
Although not the official name for the update, Possum was massive for local search results. The main purpose of Possum is to improve the quality of local search results by diversifying the results and preventing spam from ranking.
As a result, businesses that are just outside physical city limits saw a huge spike in rankings for localised search terms. The physical location of the actual searcher also plays a huge role in the results they are served, highlighting that the local filter is now running more independently to the organic filter.
Google announced Promoted Pins earlier this year, offering a great opportunity to increase visibility in local searches. Not only can you add your company logo to Google Maps itself, you can customise your results page to include special, in-store promotions. The purpose of this is to drive offline traffic and conversions to stores.
To appear in promoted pins, simply add location extensions to your Ads in AdWords.
Local Search Ranking Factors
In addition to all the changes to local listings, you should also look at the results from Local SEO Guide‘s recent local ranking factors study to help you identify where to focus your efforts. The study unearthed a number of interesting findings:
Links have always been important, and unsurprisingly this study highlighted them as a key competitive differentiator.
Although PageRank was dead and buried as a ranking factor long ago, the study found a high correlation between websites that have a high page rank and high ranking local pages.
It appears the length of your page matters when it comes to localised pages. This is in stark contrast to Google’s claims of moving to new, more sophisticated ranking methods. Make sure you are regularly adding local content to your website. This could be in the form of local news, events, promotions etc.
Google My Business
A mutual relationship was found between organic rankings and Google’s My Business (GMB) rankings. Sites that ranked in positions 1-10 in organic results were also more likely to rank in positions 1-10 in GMB results too. Make sure your GMB is as complete as possible by adding photos with descriptions. You should also encourage reviews on your page. Reviews correlated with higher rankings, with positive reviews helping to gain trust.
Citations have become a commodity and the volume of citations isn’t as important as we once thought. This isn’t to say that citations should be ignored, but more focus should be placed on consistency. Identify those that have credibility with Google, create consistent citations, then move on to focus on other more important factors.
Your Six Step Local Search Domination Checklist
The key takeaway is that if you don’t invest in your website and links, and instead focus on GMB and citations, you’ll find yourself at a competitive disadvantage. Follow these six steps to improve your local search visibility:
- Focus on building links to your local page. If you can get good quality links with optimised anchor text, this is a bonus.
- Use paid search to appear in the Snack Pack. Add location extensions in your Ads to appear in promoted pins on Google Maps.
- Optimise your Google My Business page and fill out as much information as you can. This will increase your likelihood of showing up in the Local Pack.
- Regularly add localised content to your website (this is not optional).
- Get listed on business directories and citation sites – but don’t spend the majority of your time on this.
- Get happy customers to leave 5* reviews on both Google and third party sites.