Often, when companies think about search engine optimisation, it’s largely focused on determining where their business shows up on a search results page. While this is, of course, an important part of the equation, it also assumes that all search is the same. In truth, search results are not created equal — especially when it comes to those for local businesses.
Unlike companies that operate primarily online or have locations everywhere, local businesses tend to have different metrics for success. According to HubSpot, half of all people who make a local search visit a store they find in the results the very same day. This combined with another survey that says 61% of local searches result in conversions makes it easy to see the power of search in getting customers through the door.
That’s why there are search tools specifically tailored to local businesses. Not only do services like Google My Business offer a way for companies to provide searchers relevant information about their locations, but Google Maps and a relatively recent addition called Google Posts can help businesses communicate with customers on a local level.
With these tools, Google has made it increasingly clear that it takes its role in helping your local business seriously. That said, it’s time for businesses to start taking Google tools seriously, too.
The unique challenge of local
While local searches are more likely to result in purchases, they also come with their own set of challenges. Local spam, for instance, has been on the rise because there’s a perception that Google is doing less to stop it compared to the effort to stop it when it comes to universal search.
Fabricated reviews (both good and bad) and listings, as well as duplicate companies, fake addresses, and keyword stuffing, are problems local businesses are likely to face on Google Maps. A cottage industry of people willing to write fake reviews or copy reviews from other sites for a fee has formed around these practices, too. While Google says it’s working on the issue, it can’t just be up to Google to face it and fix it.
Whether or not these bad-behaviour tactics actually work is debatable. Keyword stuffing, for instance, isn’t necessarily more effective than proper targeting. But it does add to the noise customers have to sift through, making the job of marketers more difficult — especially when they’re working with limited data.
While Google My Business does offer insights, the information isn’t as robust as many marketers would like or have become accustomed to with services like Google Analytics. While it’s possible to get some additional information through other means like UTM codes, it still isn’t a completely ideal solution.
Currently, the best way for marketers to combat noise and bad actors is knowing how to properly use the tools they’re provided to promote their own businesses and report violations. Luckily, Google makes that fairly easy.
How to best use Google’s local search tools
Knowing how to use Google tools to impact your search results can have a major impact on the success or failure of your local business. Here are three ways to leverage what Google has to offer and help customers separate the wheat from the chaff:
While some businesses like hotels and resorts still don’t have access to this service, those that do should definitely be taking advantage of it — including qualified venues within hotels, such as restaurants or entertainment venues. According to one survey, brands that used Google Posts reported an average increase in search views of 76.54% after just a single week.
This service is a great way to inform potential customers of events, specials, and other relevant information because it’s more flexible than traditional ads. Google Posts can highlight just about anything, from recent blog posts to products or services to discounts and offers.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Google Posts expire after seven days by default and can’t be scheduled in Google My Business without a third-party tool. So it’s important to plan accordingly when you use it, especially when promoting events or limited-time specials.
Many people take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to Google Maps, but it requires some maintenance from businesses in order to keep its rankings honest and to be effective. Spend some time seeking out and reporting spam on Maps, too. Removing even a few businesses with keyword-stuffed names or illegitimate addresses could boost your business’s visibility for target keywords. It also has the added bonus of creating a better search experience for your local customers.
Going about this isn’t too difficult — simply search for some non-branded keywords related to your industry and include the phrase “near me” or the specific city or county you’re looking in. From there, you can determine who’s gaming the system. Look for businesses with names like “Top Defense Lawyers in Portland — Free Consultation.” These results are likely in violation of Google’s Terms of Service for using keywords and sales verbiage in their business listing instead of their legally filed name.
It’s important to note that this shouldn’t be looked at as a way to eliminate legitimate competition. Not only is it ethically dubious, but it also won’t work. Google has to approve proposed changes before they go into effect, so that kind of practice could even get your own business in trouble.
Google My Business
This should act as the hub for all of your business’s local search marketing. Make it an active part of your marketing routine. Respond to customer questions in the Q&A section. Periodically add your own new photos to keep users engaged with the latest products, services, and happenings at your business. Fully complete all of the details in your profile (hours of operation, phone number, address, amenities, services, business description, categories, etc.). If an empty field for information exists in your Google My Business dashboard, go ahead and personally fill it out.
These tactics have real results. Businesses that have taken the time to put pictures up, for instance, boast higher click-through rates and — more importantly for local businesses — increased requests for driving directions than those without photos.
Leveraging local search tools not only gets you higher rankings in search results, but it also shows that you’re an active member of the local community who’s invested in showing that. If people see your posts, see you answering questions, or see you responding to reviews, they’re more likely to trust you with their business.
Google gives even the smallest businesses the power to get noticed — it’s just up to you to take advantage of it.