Local searches are the lifeblood of many businesses. Unfortunately, many Google updates have rolled out in the past year—some of them even within the past month—that are going to have an impact on your local SEO efforts and search rankings. In order to stay on top of your competitors and avoid seeing your ranking slide, a local business web site needs to stay ahead of these changes and adjust to the new challenges they pose. As you will see, Google’s narrowing the field doesn’t mean you have to be squeezed out of local Google rankings.
The Launch of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
In February, Google launched its AMP HTML project, a variant of the web site language HTML that is designed to provide version updates of mobile web sites. By stripping away many of the elements responsible for slow mobile load times, page speed can be increased by up to 85%.
This is an important change for two main reasons. The first is that visitors will quit a page if it takes too long to load or if it is too cumbersome to view on mobile. AMP addresses both factors by improving load speed and making sure the page is easy to read and interact with on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The second is that Google prioritizes mobile-friendly web sites for searches originating on mobile devices, and right now it considers AMP to be a definite indicator of friendliness.
The importance of having a mobile-friendly web site has been mentioned here before, but it bears repeating. A lot of local searches are done on the go as customers look for venues in their area. This applies to restaurants, theatres, hotels, and other stores and businesses as well. Incorporating AMP HTML means your web site is more mobile friendly, more likely to be prioritized by Google for local mobile searches, and more likely to be fully viewed by anyone who clicks on the link.
How you upgrade to AMP is up to you, but if your web site uses WordPress, there’s an plugin for that.
No Right-Side Ads on Google Results
Google recently changed how it displays paid advertisements on its search results. It has eliminated the six or so ads that would appear on the right side of the screen in favour of adding a fourth slot to the ads it displays above organic results. This fourth slot will only appear for what Google deems “highly commercial search terms.”
How will this impact your SEM performance and strategy? Naturally, if you focus more on getting organic listings and results then this change won’t matter as much. If you use AdWords updates as part of your strategy, however, you will now be trying to outbid for fewer slots. This could potentially raise the cost per click of your strategy. Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell how big the disruption will be, but it does suggest there will be more benefit in diversifying to more organic SEO approaches.
Boost Your SEO with Schema Markups
Schema markups are not a challenge for local SEO rankings per se, but they are one of the ways a local business can respond to those challenges and enhance their search profile. When a search algorithm reads a web page, it takes away an understanding of what that page contains, categorizes it, and forms a listing. Schema markups are a way of embedding microdata in the page’s code that tells the algorithm more about what it’s looking at. This allows you to provide context about your page and get listed more accurately. Although search algorithms are getting savvier and have started to respond to ideas and concepts rather than pure word matching, schema markups still have an important role to play in providing necessary context.
Another benefit of schema markups is that you can add what are known as “rich snippets”—pieces of extra information that can enhance how a search result appears. Recipes are a common way to illustrate this effect. By using rich snippets, you can add a picture of the finished recipe to a search result and even include things like its calorie content or estimated cooking time. Methods like this allow you to create a larger at-a-glance appeal to anyone skimming results and earn a higher click-through rate.
If you use WordPress, you can find plugins to add common rich snippets to your web site.
Using Reviews to Stay Competitive in the Local 3-Pack
When someone searches for a local business, Google provides a sidebar with what it deems the top three locations nearby. This is the Local 3-Pack, a local SEO ranking that is a highly valued spot for local businesses since it provides a direct link between a customer and you—complete with directions and contact information. Naturally, these three spots are highly competitive, and unfortunately they are also governed by factors beyond your control. One of the more significant factors, for instance, is the physical location of the searcher. Being just one block closer or father away from your business could change where you rank or whether you appear at all. This does not mean that you can’t influence your Local 3-Pack status, just that you need to be creative about it. For instance, you can take the online review approach.
Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are looked at when Google lists your business’s web site, which is why garnering good reviews is so important. Leaving calls to action at the bottom of flyers or communications with customers, asking them directly as they leave your business, sending emails to subscribers, social media appeals, or other methods can be used to try and encourage people to share their thoughts online. The key is that the reviews and testimonials must be genuine and not done to obtain a specific incentive. While it can be tempting to try and fake reviews, you will eventually be found out and that sort of deception can be hard to recover from.
Lastly, keep an eye on your business’s review pages and look out for negative reviews. Although you can’t please everyone, take the time to look over the more reasonable complaints. By taking time to respond to these, acknowledge their experience, and say how you intend to do better (or have done better), you can build trust and establish yourself as a responsive company.
Numero Uno Web Solutions is a provider of search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and mobile optimization solutions to startups and small companies from all industries and fields. We stay on the pulse of industry changes and adapt our practices to produce quality SEO and mobile optimization plans to fuel the growth of businesses across communities. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 905-856-2012 to learn more about marketing techniques and how we can help improve your search profile across all platforms.