Local search is a concept we’re all familiar with, whether we realize it or not: You’re somewhere, you need something, and you look to find the nearest whatever it is - be it sushi, ski lift, or Shih Tzu trainer. And, thanks to the magic of the Internet, you're presented with a list of options. Simple enough, right?
Not exactly. Whoever ends up in #1 position in Google’s search results isn't there by accident. The rules behind the system are complex, consistently changing, and in a permanent state of flux. In the last year and a half, Google has released a notable algorithm update every month. It’s difficult for a search industry expert to stay up to date, let alone the average business owner.
The best example I’ve ever come across with regard to local search is the tried-and-true “needle in a haystack” cliché. With the Internet being so vast and offering so many different search experiences online, getting your business to appear in these search results can seem impossible to control. But if you keep consistent business information in a few key areas, you can surprisingly influence how often you’re presented for customers out in the real world. Your digital footprint appears larger and larger and soon enough, that needle starts to look more like a sword.
A little over a year ago, we were approached by a Fortune 500 company whose local search results were in need of some help. The numbers were staggering: Hundreds of locations nationwide, each with different hours of operation, business contact information, and services offered. To complicate matters even further, this particular organization had grown via numerous acquisitions into a corporation known by dozens of different names. Their problem wasn’t one of sales, but rather that current customers couldn’t find the right information when explicitly looking for it. If your customers are struggling to find you in their time of need, that can be extremely problematic.
For the small business owner, managing your online presence is entirely possible, as long as you adhere to a few basic tenets (some of which I covered last summer). But when you’re looking at a corporate presence on a national scale, it’s not so simple. A number of experts have detailed how to approach this multi-faceted conundrum, but here at LaneTerralever we’ve boiled it down to a trio of simple tenets. While I can’t promise this will rocket you to the top of every local search, they will certainly help you find yourself more relevant than those pesky competitors.Step #1: Start with the Site
In this instance case we had just launched a new corporate website for this particular client. So, our expert user experience, content, and development teams gave us a momentous running start. However, we noticed something peculiar after launch: Although our organic search traffic skyrocketed across the board for broader terms, our localized results didn’t seem to follow the same trajectory.This was due to the affect of Google’s algorithm changes over the past few years. With the advent of mobile web traffic eclipsing that of desktop, search engines had come to value proximity just as much, if not more, than general relevancy. It wasn’t any secret either: An April 2015 article by Google indicated searches including the phrase “near me” had increased by 34 times since 2011. Being within a searcher’s vicinity was now one of the most definitive aspects of what made a local result #1 on the list.
The conundrum here was a classic: We had ourselves an organization, with a brand new website, who was larger than almost every single one of their competitors. Yet smaller companies were outranking them simply because the engines knew they were not only relevant, but close in proximity to the searcher. Our shotgun approach was being bested by a bunch of peashooters.
In a perfect world, a corporate site needs to establish the overall message of a brand. But on a local level, those pages should be as personalized as possible. Is there a special service you offer at a certain location that makes it unique? Or perhaps your hours of operation are more flexible than others? Whatever makes your local presence stand out should be featured prominently, as it shows search engines (and, more importantly, the users) a personalized approach that goes a long way in establishing authority.Step #2: Know your Reach
The best way to think about your website with regard to local search is as a home base with countless roads leading into it. Each of those roads can be referred to as a citation. It’s nothing more than another site, wherever it may be, pointing a user toward you while presumably providing a few details about what they can expect to find there.
The problem with citations is that it’s nearly impossible to track who is linking where. Figuring out who is linking to you, much less how you establish a consistent presence on those sites, is a gargantuan undertaking. This is probably the most overwhelming - and time-consuming - aspect of local search.
That’s why we partnered with Yext to centralize all our location information - including the day-to-day management of Google My Business. Using their platform, we’re able to rapidly update on the 50 largest web directories at a fraction of the time required to submit manual changes. In the past three months alone we’ve more than doubled our client’s “digital footprint” on local directories online, helping contribute to a double-digit increase in organic traffic. Of course, now that our customers are able to find us, that leads to an entirely new undertaking...Step #3: Learn the Currency of Reviews
With an updated digital presence, we now had customers reaching out to us nearly 10 times as often - and 3 out of 4 of them, on occasion, were submitting a complaint (particularly on Yelp). We recruited an in-house team at the client’s corporate office to begin monitoring and responding to reviews as if they were being received by customers on any other channel.
Any time a business starts engaging in open dialogue online with customers, it can be unnerving, to say the least. But an interesting thing started to happen as we addressed concerns and complaints - users started coming back to revise their reviews. What was an angry 1-star comment became a 4 or 5 star review faster than we could have expected, and the conversations taking place on our pages became overwhelmingly positive (for the Internet, at least). The process has been so successful that we’re in the process of expanding to alternative platforms as well, essentially building an entire reputation management program from the ground up. These customers have gone from frustrated and ignored, to being some of our loudest advocates online.Like any digital marketing efforts, this didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a cultural shift in our strategy used to find our customers (both current and potential) and required buy-off from our client’s organization. As we move past the 1-year mark, we’re confident this approach is working. Slowly but surely, we’ve gotten away from being the needle in the haystack to being much more like the sword.