Local SEO is getting more and more complicated, and as we roll into the new year, I want to share my biggest, most important tip:
What do I mean by that? Put simply: A microscope is a great research tool, but it’s a flat-out awful marketing tool.
It seems like we’re hearing more and more of the same kind of question over the past few months: “I’ve done X on my site, why isn’t it working?” or “I read your post about Y, does it make sense for me to drop everything and go do it?”
Local SEO is not, nor has it ever been, based upon a single tactic. Recently, it seems like many business owners will read a post or watch a video, realize that they’re not utilizing the tactic mentioned, and immediately drop everything and concentrate on the shiny new object.
Local SEO is not just citations. Local SEO is not just Google My Business (aka Places) optimization. Local SEO is not just inserting your city and state in title tags and H1 headings.
When you use your microscope to focus on a single tactic, your field of view is so zoomed in that you’re blinded to the other factors that are just as important. It’s a new year, so try a new process — toss that microscope in the trash, take a step back, and look at the big picture.
You’ve got to spread out all the pieces and figure out how they fit together if you want to assemble the puzzle. Let’s take a look at some important recent updates in the Local Search arena that will help you get a better view of the big picture in 2015:
• Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors study is a great place to start. David Mihm’s study shows a simple pie chart that arranges the signal groups by weight in the algorithm. Check out the factors and compare them to your current efforts. If your workflow and task list aren’t a fairly close match to the weighted areas of the pie chart, you might want to shift your priorities a bit.
• The most important Google update this year for local businesses was Pigeon. Google drastically changed the way that local results are calculated, and business owners and Local SEOs all across the country collectively freaked out.• Last week, Pigeon rolled out in Canada, Australia, and the UK, and the collective freak-out went international. If you’re still holding out hope that Pigeon was just a temporary test, you need to let it go. SEOs in all three countries are reporting the same results that we’ve been seeing for the last 5 months. Pigeon is here to stay.
• Google threw us for another loop a few weeks ago when it dropped the Local Carousel for many types of businesses. Instead of the Carousel, Google is now displaying an expanded 3-pack.
• The new expanded 3-pack still shows a thumbnail photo like the Carousel, but the listing only shows the business name, review stars, and a short description. Like the Carousel, if you click on one of the listings, you’re taken to another SERP for that specific business… instead of the business’ website or Google My Business page.
• Another critical recent update: Google’s updated Google My Business guidelines. Google is cracking down on category selections, removing the option to add a descriptor to business names, and finally flat-out disallowing virtual offices.
Google is putting significant effort into local search. Whether we like Pigeon or not, it’s a part of the game now, and we all have to adapt.
A few years ago, you could rock some citations and do nothing else, and you’d still rank at the top of the map pack. Now, there might not even be a map pack for your vertical.
With Pigeon and the new expanded 3-pack, it’s clear that mobile behavior is having a huge impact on how Google is approaching local search.
As the scales tip and users switch to mobile devices, local results will be increasingly unique because Google knows exactly where each user is located. You’ve got to have the right (current) relevancy signals both on your site and off your site if you want to compete in 2015.
You’ve got to stop focusing on one or two tactics and instead work on everything.
In a nutshell, you should click the “local” button up in the menu and read everything. Twice.
In 2015, you’ve got to be a jack of all trades if you want to succeed in Local SEO. You can’t just bang out a bunch of citations and win any more. You can’t just put your city and state in a few title tags and H1 headings. You can’t just spam a few Google Places categories.
You have to look at the big picture and do it all if you want to succeed.