According to Statcounter, Google finished atop the worldwide desktop search engine market in August with nearly an 85% share – the second was Bing with less than 10%. Similarweb reported an even greater gap when it came to the most used mobile search engines in June as Google trounced Yahoo by over 90%. Then there’s recent survey data from Brightlocal showing that 98% of consumers used the internet and local search to get details on local businesses in 2022.
Numbers can tell a story, and while ChatGPT may reshape the future, today Google is the 800-pound search engine gorilla. Not surprisingly, it offers the best way for consumers to find local businesses online, and conversely, for businesses to reach consumers. Google Business Profile (GBP) – a free tool for enhancing how a business appears on Google Search and Maps – is also considered the most important local search engine optimization (SEO) ranking factor.
With consumers increasingly resisting digital marketing efforts, mastering SEO has become crucial for driving online visibility and business growth. However, the game of SEO is constantly changing and businesses need to adapt their strategies accordingly to compete. And knowing what Google values in its algorithm has become essential to optimizing SEO strategy to deliver results.
Google goes local
At the end of 2021, Google announced an algorithm change, referred to interchangeably as the vicinity or proximity update. This enabled smaller, less established businesses physically closer to a user to be ranked better than a business located further away. In fact, users no longer even need to key in “near me” to get such information.
By emphasizing local search results, even at the expense of relevance or quality, Google gave small businesses a fighting chance against larger competitors with deeper pockets. It also reduced the likelihood a company could dominate a densely packed city or large geography without having a physical presence. Google’s technology even identifies shared offices, so a legitimate, standalone one is required. Additionally, if a business is in a building that houses others in the same field, only one is going to rise to the top in rankings.
Then again, should a large corporation have an office in a given location, smaller businesses would no longer have an advantage. This makes having a healthy, established footprint vital. With a GBP that’s undergone SEO, smaller businesses can secure a prominent position in Google’s search engine results page (SERP), where businesses are listed and shown on a map with place marker icons. Even better, they can appear in the Google 3-Pack – those coveted top three results just below sponsored ones – a major driver of business growth and inbound leads.
Ranking with SEO
Small business owners can boost their local SEO ranking by taking a number of steps, beginning with optimizing and maintaining their GPB. Other measures include increasing the volume of positive customer reviews, providing a quality website, and using keywords that highlight business functions and location. The following are a few specific recommendations for achieving local SEO success.
The GBP includes a description that provides a business with a good opportunity to differentiate itself. Write one that succinctly and accurately reflects your business, working in keywords potential customers might use when looking for a business such as yours.
When optimizing a website, directory citations that list name, address, and phone number (NAP) should be consistent. Providing relevant, accurate, and reliable information to Google and potential customers drives rankings, traffic, and conversions. Auditing NAP details – across a website, directories, and social media profiles – will strengthen your local SEO foundation.
Monitor your profile:
To keep NAPs up to date, be vigilant about monitoring and verifying your GBP details. Discrepancies can cause Google to highlight incorrect information, keeping potential customers from ever reaching your home page. Also, keep in mind users outside your organization can suggest edits to a GBP and affect your information. Stay on top of changes and take corrective measures when needed.
Provide a strong experience:
Search engines often prioritize websites that provide users with a positive experience. Fast page loading, easy navigation, applicable and engaging content, and a mobile-friendly interface are critical. Ensure these things and visitors to your site will linger longer, explore deeply, return more often, and convert in greater numbers. Additionally, this will result in low bounce and high click-through rates, which in turn raises the value of your website and rankings for local search.
Without positive reviews from actual users, a site can go unnoticed by Google, severely hampering the ability of a business to compete. That’s because its algorithm weighs various factors including review volume and quality. To even register, a business needs at least ten good reviews – so encourage customers to weigh in. What’s more, not only are users far more likely to interact with a highly regarded company, but responding to reviews punctuates a business’s authenticity and boosts search rankings. Whether positive or negative, responding to reviews promptly and professionally helps.
Steady action, long-term gains
There are additional search ranking factors, along with actions businesses can take, that can enhance local search standings. Posts on a GBP can promote such things as sales. Creating content with a local focus can best meet user inquiries and stand out. The list of possibilities is extensive and so are the features Google provides to facilitate success.
By Seth Price, Founder of BluShark Digital
Featured image provided by henry perks; Unsplash; Thanks!