As technology maintains its forward march, business owners are given the choice to fall in step, or to stand idly by and risk being trampled. The digital age offers us new opportunities for advertising, connectivity, and engagement, but new challenges are arising in turn, demanding the attention and adaptive action of small business owners. Keeping the needs of small business owners in mind, the following six predictions should help users navigate the continued evolution of local search.
1. National brands seek local conduits
Operating on their own, many national brands seeking access to local demographics will find themselves disadvantaged. By entering competitive local markets already saturated with keywords, online visibility becomes a very difficult prospect for national brand and independent business owners who may become lost in the shuffle.
National marketers looking to penetrate these markets and drive conversions to their local franchises will need to connect with local conduits. A platform effect will be put in place, where coordinated national-to-local strategies are applied to search engine optimization, social media, and content marketing approaches.
2. Content is king
Prominent local search algorithms, including Google’s Hummingbird, will continue their practice of rewarding valuable content. To rise up above the competition in local search listings, business owners will be required to produce original and informative content. Savvy business owners should acknowledge the conversational tone of search users’ queries and provide clear answers to their most common questions to secure high-ranking search results.
3. Mobile-optimized websites’ demand soars
It is in the best interest of business owners to cater their website to the new generation of cell-phone shoppers. Business owners who do not invest in mobile optimization risk leaving customers unable to access their website, costing them significantly in terms of both traffic and conversions. More consumers shop from their phones than ever, with websites owing a significant portion of their traffic to the use of mobile browsers. Mobile devices accounted for nearly a quarter of Target’s Black Friday sales this year, and Google is taking notice of this trend.
In 2013, Google began to reward businesses whose websites were properly configured for mobile device use, and this trend has continued this year. Websites that do not adapt to the demand for mobile optimization may be penalized by Google and other leading search engines.
4. Google gives business rating and review more weight
The past year has seen Google intensify the attention paid to local ratings and reviews, as evidenced by their launching of City Experts, a Yelp-styled review service that will increase their harvest of rich and intimately-local content from consumers. Google is offering businesses incentives to support their rating and review-centric approach, granting those businesses who verify their listings the ability to see and reply to customer ratings in their Places for Business dashboard.
In response to this new direction, businesses should encourage loyal customers to be active reviewers, and also ensure that their local search listings are verified with Google and all other leading search engines.
5. The imbrication of social media and search engine optimization continues
Social media continues to engage internet users more than any other online service, and its prevalence offers business owners some exciting opportunities for search engine optimization. Social media channels will keep driving referral traffic at rates comparable to that generated organically and by traditional directory listings. Search algorithms will continue to take strong notice of social medial referrals, with “people links” weighed higher than those achieved through managed or paid sources. Businesses who take their social media presence seriously will enjoy higher conversions rates generated by greater customer loyalties, positive ratings and reviews, and natural backlinks.
6. More Facebook face-time for small businesses
Though it pales in comparison to dedicated directories like Google+ or Yelp, Facebook remains a powerful resource for marketing, engagement, and consumer connectivity. Facebook easily reaches over one billion users, making it a compelling platform for businesses to launch their conversion campaigns from. Category targeting and remarketing make Facebook a superior platform for paid marketing campaigns, with paid promoted posts an especially effective means of securing greater engagement and local search engine presence.
Local search is engaged in an exciting period of growth and change. Though challenges arise and adaptations are called for, business owners who can successfully navigate this new dynamic will benefit from huge expansion opportunities for their brand and local visibility.