Another year is closing and search marketers are anxiously looking ahead to what is on the horizon for local search in 2014.
As opportunity grows for businesses to connect with customers via search, so do the challenges of determining the best approach and the potential for search engines to change the game entirely, as Google did with Hummingbird in 2013.
Here are a few local search happenings to expect in the coming year.
The idea of a coordinated national to local strategy will become a reality for more brands and local businesses in 2014. Many local markets (and vertical industries) are very competitive and keyword saturated, making it difficult for national and regional brands, as well as for independent business owners, to win the online visibility game on their own.
National marketers that depend on the success of independent business owners (franchises, dealers, contractors) will find they can create a platform effect with a coordinated national-to-local approach to SEO, social media and content marketing.
Rooted in searchers’ conversational tone, Google’s Hummingbird — along with other local search algorithms — will continue to reward valuable content.
Local businesses will need to take a closer look at their content marketing efforts since producing and distributing informative, fresh content that provides direct answers to searchers’ most frequent queries will be imperative for ranking high in search results. Weaving content development into existing workflows will be most effective for brands and SMBs.
Making sure a business’ website is mobile optimized might mean the difference between being found by customers on a mobile browser or not. With more consumers shopping via mobile, it is clear that site traffic is moving to mobile. In fact, showing the continued growing popularity of mobile devices, InfoScout reported that a full 22 percent of Target’s early sales on Black Friday were Apple mobile products. Being mobile-ready is a must.
In 2013, we witnessed Google giving prominence in mobile SERPs to local businesses that properly configured their websites for mobile devices, and this will be a growing trend in 2014.
Some websites could even be penalized by Google and the other major search engines if they’re not optimized correctly. Also on the mobile front, strategies like click-to-call will become even more interesting as they play a larger role in the digital lead generation strategy for many business verticals.
In 2013, Google focused on ramping up its local ratings and reviews, including the launch of City Experts. The search giant will continue to try to gather this rich, hyperlocal content from local consumers to grow Google+.
In another sign of this effort, businesses with verified Google listings will continue to reap benefits including having the ability to see customer ratings and reviews in their Places for Business dashboard and the ability to reply to those reviews.
This means two things: first, it will be important for businesses to encourage their loyal customers to write reviews and second, businesses must verify their local search listings appropriately on Google and the entire search ecosystem.
Impacting local search, social media channels will continue to help drive traffic to a business’ website, building valuable links along the way and driving significant referral traffic. In general, this traffic is very valuable as time spent, number of pages viewed and bounce rate numbers are comparable to organic traffic and other (more traditional) sources of referral traffic like directories.
Social signals will also continue to impact search algorithms since search engines now weight “people links” higher than other links that can be “managed” or paid. Businesses successfully connecting with customers via social media channels will build more loyalty, positive ratings and reviews, natural backlinks and these websites are more likely to have higher conversion rates.
Facebook is the 500-pound gorilla but still has a ways to go in local search to compete with true directories like Google+, Yelp and others. However, the site reaches over one billion consumers, and time spent on the social media cannot be ignored. SMBs will want to make sure they play here.
And, with category targeting and remarketing, Facebook is a great platform for paid marketing, an excellent vehicle to build engagement, particularly using paid promoted posts, and further increase a brand’s or SMB’s online local search presence.
It is an exciting time in local search. Amidst challenges, there is huge opportunity for businesses and brands to expand their local search visibility and reach consumers across multiple devices and platforms. What trends are you watching in 2014?