September 19, 2012

Five Local Search Pitfalls to Avoid

Companies large and small are aware of the importance of local search and many have taken advantage of the opportunities available in the local online space.  As more consumers become armed with smartphones, the number of local searches continues to skyrocket.  Depending on which firm or search engine you ask, desktop local search accounts for 25% to 35% of all searches.  On mobile that number is much higher; Google says 40% of all mobile searches have local intent while Bing pegs the percentage to be more than 50%.  Regardless of the exact figure today, local search will continue to grow as mobile consumers demand more locally relevant information to fuel their purchase decisions, 80% of which are made within a 15 mile radius of their homes.

With the highly fragmented nature of the online local space, harnessing the full, complete power of the space can be incredibly difficult, especially for those national retailers with hundreds or thousands of locations nationwide.  Following are a few major pitfalls to avoid when engaging in local online search.

Google Is Not Everything

While Google dominates in “regular” search, that domination does not translate into the local realm. Google does have the largest share of the market, around 45%.  While claiming and optimizing a Google+ Local page is an essential step in mastering your local online presence, it is not the only step.  It is just as important to have a robust profile on sites such as Bing, Yahoo, Superpages.com, Yellowpages.com and others along with providing location data to the major data aggregators and navigation services.  This not only assures a wider distribution of your data but each site, Google included, utilizes citations found on other digital properties in their local search ranking algorithm.  Missing or incomplete information on other local directories not only makes you less visible to consumers, but can harm the work a business has done on Google.

Stopping At The Basics

Many businesses, especially large, national brands, limit their local listings management to only include name and address information.  While information is essential, it is not enough to gain a high ranking in local search results.  Google, Bing and other local directories have many other data points businesses should include, such as business categories, branded messaging opportunities, photos, videos, links to websites and other social site links.  Including all of these elements in a local listing not only affects relevancy and ranking, but makes the listing more appealing to searchers trying to find a local business.

A Boring Listing Means Less Clicks

It has long been known that a top ranking in Google, in paid or organic search, translates directly into increased clicks, therefore increased site visits and conversions.  The same holds true for local listings, except direct consumer contact (via calls or visits) is the end result.  An eye-tracking and click-mapping study from Mediative last year showed that with local maps results in Google a number one ranking garnered considerably more attention and clicks than listings further down the page.  However, social signals have a considerable influence as well.  Listings with ratings indicators, reviews and/or text snippets of those reviews, even in spots below position three, received more attention than those listings above them lacking this content.  Similar results have been seen in local listings on mobile devices; reviews and social signals are the number one influencer of consumer attention, especially in results outside of the top three.  Asking customers to post reviews of your business will have a direct benefit to your listing’s ranking and actions consumers take with them.

Ignoring Reviews and Ratings

Word of mouth is nothing new and it has helped or hurt many local businesses.  Many things in local marketing have changed, but this one fact has remained consistent.  This year’s  Local Consumer Review Survey showed that 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 52% said that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business.  While businesses can’t control the reviews that consumers place on their local listings, it is vitally important to not only be aware of those reviews, but to respond to them quickly.  The only thing more damaging to a local business than a bad review is a bad review that is ignored.  For national brands, initiating a program of location-based review monitoring will not only give brands insight into how their locations stack up against each other and the competition, but provides a direct route to immediately respond to negative, or positive, consumer commentary.

Local online search is one of the few areas where small, local businesses have an advantage over large, national brands in that managing a local presence is much easier for five locations than 5,000.  However, with the proper knowledge and an experienced team in place, national brands can achieve outstanding results and draw the searching and mobile consumer into their locations.