Today, having a physical business location may not cut it if you want to gain a foothold in a local market. If you want to lead the pack, you need to be visible in local search results.
Local searches has become a major factor to consider when marketing a business on the web. In 2015, 43% of consumers searched for local businesses at least once per month (38% in 2014) and 60% searched at least 6 times per year (56% in 2014), according to a survey conducted by BrightLocal.
The Shift from 7-pack to 3-pack
In August 2015, local SEO experienced a major shake-up when Google reduced the 7-pack, the list of seven local businesses that appear on the top of SERP for local queries, to 3-pack. Other changes that took place were the reduced visibility of phone numbers, shortened addresses, placement of websites, and less focus on Google+. Meanwhile, there are no changes with how reviews and review stars were displayed as well as with the significance of Google Maps.
While review stars appear as they used to, Google added a filter that gives searchers an option to search only for businesses that fall under a particular rating. 43% of consumers say that a business should have at least 3/5 stars before they work with them, while 38% say that a brand should have at least 4/5 stars, according to the same study from Bright Local.
Businesses who were penalized by Panda and Penguin may experience a graver implication.
“Sites that are looking to replace that pack listing with a regular organic listing will not be able to do so if they are penalized. Previously, even if they didn’t make the top three, but were somewhere in that top seven, they were assured that their business was still visible on that all-important first page of Google search results. But this new 3-pack change can really hurt a penalized local business if they aren’t appearing in that pack,” according to Jennifer Slegg, founder of The SEM Post.
How to Stay on Top
It’s normal to be concerned about the changes, especially if you’re in a business arena with two or more competitors. However, the key is to adapt and to innovate systems and techniques that can help improve, if not maintain, your visibility and reach within local queries and organic search results.
“We basically designed a new program to become more effective at what we’re doing. We’ve also targeted more local search keyword terms that weren’t necessarily in the seven pack. It’s all adjusting the program, so it’s up and out basically. It’s about getting more keywords out there that aren’t necessarily in the keyword phrase but identify with local or a specific geographical area,” said Peter Liefer, CEO of PrimeView.
Businesses can also get exposure through reputable and high ranking websites, which is a practice that can be referred to as Barnacle SEO. Getting listed on trusted directories such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google My Business can work to your advantage, especially if you have a strong profile and link to your website.
Increasing brand awareness is also imperative. Because competition for the 3-pack became more steep, businesses should increase focus on other strategies such as content and social media marketing in creating buzz about who they are and what they can offer. More so, all important information (name, address, phone number, and operating hours) should be published and must be uniform in all listings—may it be on the website, directory listings, and social media accounts.
At the end of the day, quality service, products, or information is the core of any business. When you provide what people are looking for, clients will be naturally drawn to you. As a result, good citations and reviews will just trickle in and your marketing efforts can easily adapt with any changes in Local SEO algorithm.