It’s very easy to get obsessed by local snack pack rankings. For those who are not sure what these are, they’re the top 3 map listings that appear for a local search query:
We know that these companies appearing in the top 3 maps results are getting a high percentage of clicks for local-specific queries. That’s because they are ranking above the traditional 10 organic blue links and that’s why we all want our sites, or our client’s sites to appear in this space. The thing is, since the ‘Possum’ algorithm update, introduced by Google in September 2016, it’s become much more difficult to rank consistently in the map space. Sites that were previously dominating the map snack packs found themselves all of sudden out of the top three and other sites were suddenly seeing an upturn in traffic as they now found themselves ranking in the top three.
What was the Possum algorithm update?
Let’s just cover this quickly. The Possum algorithm update basically helped businesses that were outside of the physical limits of a city to rank better. Previously, local results had been based around a company’s proximity to the city ‘centre’ but the Possum update meant that companies on the outside could now rank in the map snack pack if they delivered a result that met the needs of the searcher.
Another key element of the update was a new filter that was applied to the results. This had the biggest impact on the clients that we managed as suddenly businesses that shared a similar address or phone number were being filtered out of the snack pack results. For example, you will often find car rental companies bunch together in a similar location within a city. Instead of showing the three leading companies in the snack pack, if they are located next to each other, it is now more likely that only one of those will appear in the snack pack results.
Physical location of searcher
The other big change was that the physical location of the searcher became much more important. Since the initial update, it also appears that this has been refined further still with users seeing different results as they move from block to block in some cities. This is Google’s way of trying to show the most relevant results depending on a user’s location, however it does make it incredibly difficult to track and monitor snack pack results when they can change within a few KMs of each other.
Optimising beyond the local snack pack
What all this means for SEOs is that you need to look beyond the snack pack for other ‘local’ opportunities. The local snack pack is still incredibly important so make sure you have done everything you can to rank in that space, but don’t get too obsessed as some things will be out of your hands. Instead, identify other potential opportunities that have a local focus and assess whether there is more value in these avenues. Here are some of our suggested local opportunities:
Yep, Paid. Paid is now an option in the local space and is only going to continue to grow. Google’s main revenue stream is from advertising and this is unlikely to change any time soon. Advertising opportunities within the local snack pack can ensure you have a strong presence in the local map results even if you have seen your top 3 organic map ranking disappear.
We can see that there are two local ads in the map results above which are highlighted in green on the map. They do however blend in with the organic results and generate valuable clicks in the local space.
Reviews remain an all-important element of any local SEO strategy. The new filters that have been added to the local map space mean that reviews are even more important than ever. It is important to have a review generation strategy in place and we cover this in more depth below. Targeting your most satisfied customers is a great way of ensuring you maintain a strong review score, making it much more likely that users will click through to your site.
That’s right. Many featured snippets have a local angle that you can work and we all know the value of appearing in featured snippets. We took this great example from a recent post from local SEO expert Casey Meraz:
It is quite likely that anyone looking for the correct snowboard size is probably in the market for a new snowboard. If I’m a company selling snowboards, it makes perfect sense that I would want to take this featured snippet and push people to my product pages once they have checked out my snowboard size guide.
Voice search is coming. Whilst there is a relatively low number of people using voice search at the moment (40% of adults now use voice search at least once per day according to Location World), it is expected that this number will increase significantly by 2020 when comScore predict that 50% of all searches will be voice searches. What this means for SEOs is a shift towards optimising for natural language searches and maximising opportunities within the local search arena as the majority of voice searches are carried out on a mobile device.
You can find out more about the expected growth in voice search in this great article by Branded3.
Near me searches
Searches that include ‘near me’ are still pretty crucial for local SEO; however it would appear that their importance is waning. If this article had been written in 2015, we would have told you to be all over this. At the time, Think with Google reported that ‘near me’ or ‘nearby’ searches had grown 2x in the previous year. Two years later however and the landscape has changed again. It seems people are now starting to drop that location qualifier in local searches (like postcodes, neighbourhoods and ‘near me’ phrases) because they know that Google will automatically show them results relevant to their location.
Don’t get us wrong. There are still plenty of searches that still include ‘near me’ so do your research and see if these are relevant to your business but bear in mind that user behaviour may well be shifting. Find out more here.
Local SEO tactics
Taking into account these opportunities, we wanted to take a look at some of the tactics that might help you to gain more visibility in the local space:
Focus on conversions
It’s great to think about driving traffic to your website through local search channels, however if the content on the page you are sending people to is poor quality or does not meet the search query, this is a sure fire way of losing your rankings. This article from Moz in 2016 suggests that CTR is one of Google’s ranking factors (despite their insistence that it isn’t) so getting people to click through to your page and then engage is pretty important. Making sure your site loads quickly, is mobile friendly and has clear CTAs can really help to improve engagement and keep you ranking in those top spots for local search queries. Using tools like Google Search Console to check if there are errors on your site can also help to ensure a positive user experience for all visitors to your website.
Review generation strategy
We work with some pretty big clients across a number of sectors here in New Zealand and one thing we are constantly pushing for is more reviews. Good or bad (obviously having a great product or service will reduce the bad ones); reviews are extremely helpful signals to both Google and the end user about the quality of the product or service they can expect by clicking on a link to your website. The fact that local snack pack listings can now be filtered by review score makes it even more crucial for you to increase the number and quality of reviews you are getting.
So how do I get more reviews?
No matter what sector you work in, you should be collecting customer contact information. Whether this is through the checkout process or face to face, start to build a customer list which you can then use for targeted reviews. We would recommend targeting your happiest customers – the ones you know are repeat customers for example as they are much more likely to leave a positive review. Here are some other methods of collecting more reviews:
- Direct email
- Follow up email
- Phone call
- Facebook advertising (using your customer list to create a custom audience)
- CTAs at point of sale (simple stickers and signs at your POS can help)
Link building should already be a key pillar of your SEO strategy for any client; however your link building should also have a local focus. There are lots of ways to build links to your site and doing link outreach properly takes time, however it is always worth the investment when done properly. Local link building can take on two dimensions.
- Focus on building links from sites with a local focus (directories, chamber of commerce sites, other local businesses etc.)
- Focus on building links to the location-specific pages on your site (store location pages, Google My Business pages, local-focussed blog posts, FAQs with a local focus etc.)
Building local links will also have a knock on effect on your overall SEO strategy so it’s a double win play.
Ah yeah. Citations. Another key pillar of local SEO activity and one that is important to get right. Citations from high authority directories such as Yelp or Chamber of Commerce sites can have a big impact on your ability to rank well in the local search space. Gone are the days however of building citation links from 1,000s of directories (many of which will be spammy links). Instead, focus on ensuring your citations from the high authority sites are 100% accurate and up to date. Ensuring consistency of NAP (name, address, phone) information is crucial so check and double check all your listings and make sure your information is up-to-date.
We hope you have found some useful takeaways from this post. The local SEO landscape can differ massively from location to location, sector to sector, however the tactics listed above and the opportunities typically exist no matter where you are based and what sector you are based in.
Digital Hothouse is a small, full service digital marketing agency based in Auckland, New Zealand. Our primary focus is on SEO and between the team we have over 25 years’ experience in SEO both in New Zealand and overseas. Whilst we may be small, we focus on the delivery of the best possible ROI for our clients. Our clients include Fairfax Media, Stuff.co.nz, Makita, GO Rentals, CPG Hotels, Sharp New Zealand, Oyster Bay Wines, Postie+ and more. Find us on Twitter.