In June, GatherUp joined forces with Location3, a Denver-based digital marketing agency specializing in delivering enterprise strategy with local activation for franchise marketing teams.
Steve Hartman, a national account executive for GatherUp, and Tom Lynch, the VP of Growth at Location3 focused on paid and organic strategies for driving business to enterprise brands on a local level.
Local search trends
First, Tom dived into local Google search trends over the past 5 years. Google is increasingly tailoring results to local searches. Because of Google’s continued focus on local searches, businesses of all sizes would do well to optimize their ad campaigns and SEO strategies to tap into localized markets.
Here are the top local search trends:
- “Near me” searches continue to grow, in particular, “near me” mobile searches which have grown 136% year over year for the past 5 years.
- Demonstrating the popularity of location-optimized searches, 4 in 5 consumers want search ads customized to their city, zip code, or immediate surroundings.
- Looking at the impact of location-specific ads that target a specific audience, they convert at almost double the rate of non-localized ads, 17% compared to 8%.
- Ads have made their way to the top of local results including maps that are more likely to be clicked on.
- Currently, 46% of all Google searches are linked to something local.
- 76% of people who search for a brick-and-mortar business nearby on smartphones visit within 24 hours.
The growth of “near me” Google searches in the United States over the past 5 years:
The localization of Google
As Google continues to localize its searches to be in line with search demand, the search engine has also recently finished partitioning ad types after working on it for three years.
Some of these changes include:
- Specific types of local ads that local businesses or franchises can run.
- Most ads can be run independently.
- Maps and business profile ads are run within the ad campaign, others can be run independently.
- Local campaigns use AI to rotate how often when you are showing up as a search result in local listings as a brand icon on the map, as an ad within a business profile, or as a display ad on YouTube.
Local service ads
Local service ads are a unique ad type that runs separately from your other paid search ads. You can set your own budget and Google gives local businesses a CRM to request reviews from within.
The advantage of using these ads is that they don’t have limitations in terms of minimum high-level budgets. The downside is that they can be difficult to set up as there are checks on individual insurance and business background checks.
They’re available to about 40 different local service businesses including plumbers, landscapers, accountants, and pest control.
- Show up above Google search results so these service provider ads are more likely to stand out.
- Get leads and book local jobs – Local Service Ads help you connect with potential customers who are searching for services you offer, providing leads who are more likely to book.
- Only pay for results – you pay only for leads related to your business and the services you offer.
- Pause your ad during downtime you can pause ads during those months when business is already too heavy or when interest is lower.
Local search ads
These are Google’s most trusted ad type, and a favorite with local businesses.
They’re essentially bottom of the conversion funnel ads, where you can get the most bang for your buck as a franchisee spending a limited budget but still getting a good return from direct conversions.
Recently, Google has reorganized its SERPs to emphasize these local results. As a result, competitors are pivoting their strategy to be local-focused.
National campaigns can’t customize ads to local needs without excessive segmentation, so for that reason, local ads are becoming more popular. Both franchisees and local businesses can drive incremental revenue with local search efforts.
But it’s key to understand local market level demand to fund campaigns appropriately.
Unique local campaigns will obviously perform differently from national ones, so it’s key to adjust local campaigns in line with how each is performing
Brands that already have a strong national campaign can expect to see a huge increase in revenue growth when they add localizations to it.
Organic local SEO strategies
Moving onto the section on local SEO strategies, Steve walked us through new local search trends.
Google continues to prioritize the user experience, making it easier for searchers to see a response to their query without having to click on any of the results.
Just like for this example search for “how to do online tax return”, the searcher can instantly see several answers to related questions like “what to do if you owe the IRS” along with six steps for what to do without having to click on any web pages:
These so-called zero-click searches rose to nearly 65% in 2020 between Jan and Dec 2020:
These local intent zero-click searches rely on well-optimized GMB listings.
To help you optimize your local GMB listings for Google zero-click searches you can do the following:
- Frontload H1s and put in company names and include the service or product name.
- Add in an aggregate review rating from GMB listing––another indicator to Google that your business is relevant to the search.
- Include an accurate business name, address, and phone number on the listings page.
- Use content optimization to help expand local keyword coverage and gain the zero clicks feature available in maps listings and the maps pack.
Local SEO opportunities
Steve explains that it’s vital to adopt a comprehensive approach between local and national campaigns.
To do this you need a good balance of several SEO techniques and strategies. Here are the most important elements to think about.
URL structure – Make sure your URLs are clear for readers and Google. Avoid long URLs like pizza-palace.com/344466336/jhakkaljdwkal
Instead, opt for something simple and readable like pizzapalace.com/locations
That way both readers and search engines won’t be confused about what your URL is leading searchers to.
As searchers increasingly use mobile devices for local business searches, so it’s essential your site has a user-friendly mobile experience. Mobile usability is a Google ranking factor too.
Fast loading pages are more important than ever before.
Make sure you already have a content strategy and content gap analysis.
Check out those keywords that your competitors ranking for and make sure you have a strategy in place.
Perform regular inbound link reviews to identify where your backlinks are coming from.
Make listings management a priority by hitting key directories like apple maps and building citations where they matter. You don’t need to be listed in every local business directory but ensuring you have a presence in top-performing online directories will help your local SEO.
From this Whitespark study, we can see that Google My Business continues to grow in importance and that citations are decreasing in importance in local marketing strategies:
The local experts agree, including Location3, that leveraging the power of GMB is essential to a successful local marketing strategy. The volume of citations will no longer help you rank better in Google.
“Broader citation consistency does not matter that much anymore… Google has gotten smarter”
Darren Shaw, Whitespark, April 2021
Top GMB conversion factors
Reviews along with high 4-5 star ratings continue to be the top factor when it comes to evaluating conversions on GMB.
In fact, if you’re doing GMB well and getting solid customer reviews, you’ve got 70% of it covered.
But how do you boost your performance on GMB?
Here are some tips on a granular level of what to do to boost GMB engagement:
- Google Q&A – Answer customer questions on your business’s products and services. These help potential customers see if your offering matches their needs.
- Google Posts – This is keyword-rich fresh content that shows google you’re relevant to searchers.
- Reserve with Google – This feature makes it easier for customers to book an appointment or service with your business.
- Store photos – Exterior and interior photos provide another opportunity for user engagement a signal Google’s algorithm considers.
Reputation management and customer experience
For “near me” searches, a star rating increase of just 0.1 could increase the conversion rates of a business location by 25%
In addition to more conversions, reviews help businesses understand more about their customer experience and offer more.
These days customers trust reviews more than acquaintances. In fact, 66% of Americans trust an anonymous, online review more than they trust a recommendation from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.
In addition to this, in today’s competitive business landscape it’s hard to compete on price and offering. But your brand and reputation can set you apart.
Using reputation management software is what can drive organizational-wide change to improve your customer experience.
Within your business, these teams can benefit from reputation management:
- Training & Support
- Business Development
Putting the customer in CX
68% of consumers say review sentiment influences the trust they feel in a business. How you respond to reviews sets your business apart from competitors.
- Enable proactive conversations
- Provide listening channels
- Create marketing lists based on feedback or review ratings
Local SEO wins
Reviews also give you user-generated, keyword-rich relevant content which Google loves.
Reviews are also a top SEO ranking factor, they account for 15% of how Google ranks a business.
They’re also an opportunity to separate yourself from competitors. More relevant results lead to better UX and therefore a higher CTR.
Treat reviews like a financial portfolio
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and diversify your review strategy. Focus on the main 3rd-party sites like Google, Facebook, maybe even Yelp then some industry-specific ones like Zillow or Healthgrades.
1st party reviews are gold as you’re no longer at the whim of Google and they create keyword-rich relevant content for your site.
5x review strategy
Once you have a set of positive reviews, don’t let them sit there doing nothing. Make sure to keep reusing and repurposing them in your marketing strategy. This could mean posting them on social media, including them across your site or newsletter.
Read more: The 5X review strategy
Reviews provide social proof
Ultimately, consumers feel better about making purchases from businesses with good reviews. Customer reviews are today’s word of mouth and help validate a customer’s purchase decision. In fact, testimonials can increase conversions on sales pages by 34%.
- Use local ads in combination with a border local SEO and content strategy.
- Grow your location revenue with social proof from reviews and local SEO wins that drive new customers.
- Use reputation management software to enhance your customer experience and give back your teams more time.
Take a look at the full webinar here.