First, the good news: Local search is here to stay. People used both desktops and smart devices to search for info on local businesses in 2016, and they’ll continue to do so in 2017.
But there’s bad news, too. Change is in the air, my friends. Google is making significant changes to local search in 2017. What you don’t know can hurt you.
What changes are coming to local search and what SEO adjustments will you need to make? Here’s everything you need to know:
The Big Picture
Google has been slowly but surely decreasing the benefits of organic visibility. Instead of focusing on the SERP, Google will continue to favor entities such as:
- Knowledge Panels
- Local Packs
How Local is Fragmented (and Who that Impacts the Most)
Local search is an umbrella term which means different things for different companies. In fact, this fragmentation is a big reason why local search is so effective for so many businesses. Local businesses aren’t directly competing with each other because they’re using local SEO to achieve different goals.
Here are the three most popular uses of local SEO:
- Small to medium sized businesses with one or just a few locations.
- Brands with many locations across a wide area.
- Brands with no physical location but which still target local traffic. These are local directory sites, media sites and more.
Small and Medium Sized Businesses in 2017
The changes to local SEO in 2017 are going to have the biggest impact on small and medium-sized businesses.
There used to be a time when a small business could implement a few basic SEO techniques and see an increase in visibility and sales. Unfortunately, these “cookie cutter” solutions will likely be severely limited in 2017.
There will always be small businesses with limited SEO knowledge who will need an SEO agency to help them find success online. The focus is going to shift from the generic “churn and burn” strategies towards boutique agencies.
This is a good thing for both SEO agencies and clients. A few quick fixes to temporarily increase the SERP of a business isn’t a strategy which promotes long-term growth.
Building a relationship with a boutique SEO shop is another story, however. When the SEO agency understands what makes their client unique, they can tailor their SEO strategies for long-term growth.
Local Directory Sites
Local directories have seen a consistent drop in popularity over the years. This is due to two factors:
- Local businesses have focused more on local SEO for their own sites, relying less on third-party directories.
- The increase in popularity of Google 3-packs, which display relevant results automatically.
To put it bluntly, local directories will need to change if they want to thrive. Instead of a Local Directory SERP, these directories will need to focus more on providing information.
What info does a customer need to know in order to make a purchasing decision? Comparing multiple products in a quick and easy database is how a local directory can stand out from the 3-pack.
You’ll also want to fine-tune your content in the following ways:
- Emphasize markup and page structure to help Google understand the focus of your site
- Create content which engages and informs your readers
- Prioritize the answers to the most popular questions
Brands with multiple locations are, by definition, not small businesses. Managing multiple websites across many locations is time-consuming and complicated.
With multiple locations, you’ll need a website for each local area. These sites need to be unique, too. If each local site contains the same content, you’ll be penalized by the search engines.
This isn’t an example of re-writing as much as customization. You’ll need to create content for each site designed around the unique features of the local store.
First, you’ll want to claim the listing on Google My Business. Fill out your profile completely. This info is used to create the map info for searchers on mobile and desktop.
You’ll also want to place this NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) info on your local page. You can put it in several places such as the contact page, the meta data and various landing pages.
Use the same exact format for your NAP everywhere. For instance, if your address is on “East 14th,” don’t write it as “E. 14th” or “East Fourteenth” on multiple sites. Called citation consistency, this helps search engine spiders find and note your NAP. Citation inconsistency is actually a major source for ranking penalties.
In 2017, local SEO techniques will play a big role in the success of high-end small businesses. These are specialized services such as dentists, attorneys and cosmetic surgeons.
High-end small businesses need content which connects to the local community. This includes a detailed biography. With a high-end business, potential customers are choosing the professional directly. The doctor, lawyer, etc. will want to emphasize his or her roots and connection to the surrounding area.
Both high-end businesses and multiple-location brands require outside SEO professionals. You’ll almost never see these larger brands attempting to optimize their sites in-house. Simply put, this stuff is too complicated. An SEO agency is required to manage all the various sites, social media updates and strategy adjustments.
With multi-location brands, in particular, you can’t just create a series of independent websites. Instead, those sites need to connect with each other. This not only increases brand cohesion but search engines also look favorably on any well-maintained, interconnected sites.
Make the New Year Your Best One Yet!
Local search is going to look drastically different at the end of 2017 than it looks today. Organic results likely won’t have the power they do right now. The specific type of business will play a large factor in your local SEO strategies.
But with the right techniques and know-how, your local SEO efforts can produce strong results all year long!
So embrace the changes to local SEO for 2017. The sooner you adapt, the better your sites will perform. Here’s to a successful new year in local search engine optimization.
What changes are you planning to make for your local SEO strategies in 2017? Share your plans and tips below: