Local Marketing in 2020: 3 Important Areas To Focus On
by Mike Khorev
What is the most effective way to market a local business in this digital era?
The modern local marketing can be a very intimidating, since indeed, the landscape has significantly changed from the traditional local marketing we are all familiar with.
Here, we will discuss how we should approach local marketing in 2020. However, let us begin by discussing the most important thing: the customers.
How Local Customers Have Changed
Every marketing effort should sprout from a thorough understanding of the market—our customers.
So, before we begin, it’s important to understand how our behaviors in learning about local businesses have significantly changed in the past decade.
In the past, we learn about new businesses from billboards, newspaper articles, and direct mails, among others.
Nowadays, there are two primary ways to learn about the existence of a local business: social media (including posts and reviews from influencers), and Google Maps queries—including “near me” search queries—.
Of course, there are other ways like online advertising or recommendations from certain apps/sites, but the fact remains that nowadays, we learn about local businesses online.
So, in this guide, our strategies will revolve around this customer behavior, and capitalize especially Google Maps and social media platforms to capture our audience’s attention.
I. Google Maps Marketing
Also often referred as “local SEO”, there are two main ways people search for local businesses in Google Maps:
- Straight from Google Maps app
- Performing location-based search queries (i.e. restaurants in LA) or ‘near me’ queries (i.e. restaurants near me) on Google search.
For the latter, Google will display the top 3 results from Google Maps above the organic results (but below the paid ads).
Depending on your device, you can usually see 2-4 results before you need to scroll while using the Google Maps app.
So, our priority here is to get ranked on the top-3 results according to our location and niche—often called the ‘3-pack’ —.
Before we can learn how, we have to discuss the important ranking factors for Google Maps.
Google Maps Ranking Signals
It’s important to first understand that ranking signals for Google Maps SEO is significantly different than traditional SEO, and here are the top ranking signals we will need to focus on:
1. Google My Business signals
Google My Business is where you list your business to be featured on Google Maps, including various information from your address to the description of your business.
The most important signal here is your business’s proximity to the searcher’s. For example, if your Google My Business listing is similarly optimized as your competitor’s but their business is slightly closer, they will rank higher.
The more complete and informative your listing is, the higher the chance to rank.
Your website can (and should) be listed on your Google Maps Listing. Here, Google will take into account the backlinks coming to your site, the quality of backlinks, and so on. Quite similar to what you would see in traditional SEO strategy.
Note: since this will also affect your website, we will discuss this in the website section further below.
The quantity, velocity, and diversity of (preferably positive) reviews on your Google Maps listing. Google will also consider reviews on third-party major sites (TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Facebook Places, etc.) depending on your niche.
4. On-Page Optimizations
In Google Maps SEO, the most important on-page optimization is the presence of your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) information. Keyword optimizations and other on-page signals for traditional SEO will follow.
Local citations are any mentions of your business’s NAP on other sites. The more, the merrier.
6. User Experience signals
Both on your website and Google Maps results. For example, the number of people who calls your business directly from Google Maps results, the bounce rate on your website, and so on.
7. Social Signals
Engagement on various social media networks.
Note: we will discuss this on the social media section further below.
Google Maps SEO: Step-By-Step Guide
Based on the ranking signals discussed above, there are four key steps in climbing the ranks of Google Maps:
- Claim, Optimize, and Verify your Google My Business Listing
If your business has been around for some time, it’s possible someone else has claimed your business listing (in most cases, with a good intent). If that’s the case, you can claim the business by simply providing proof of ownership in the verification process.
If your business has a physical address, the verification process usually involves Google sending a postcard containing a verification PIN, so it’s fairly simple. Depending on the type of your business, Google might also allow verification via email or phone.
When optimizing your listing, the most important thing to consider is providing clear information for your human audience. Make sure they will know what your business’s about immediately, what you sell, any unique propositions, and so on by focusing on these areas:
- Make sure all your information (especially NAP information) is accurate, complete, and up-to-date
- Choose your business category carefully. The business category should describe what your business is doing rather than what you sell
- Use attributes to inform about your unique services or value propositions (i.e. if your business has a smoking area or kid-friendly)
- Use well-taken photos, preferably those taken on or nearby your premise. Listings with photos get 35% more conversions.
- Specify your service area, for example, if you provide delivery.
In general, avoid stuffing your Google My Business listing with keywords (Google is strongly against it). Use your keywords sparingly and focus on bringing clear information for your human readers.
2. Get More Reviews
Getting more (positive) reviews both on your Google Maps listing and other platforms are not only beneficial for Google Maps ranking purposes.
Reviews are also important social proofs that will drive conversions.
There are several effective tactics you can try to encourage more reviews:
- Ask at the right time.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Timing, however, is important to maximize the chance of getting the best possible review. For example, ask when they just made a repeat purchase.
- Offer incentives
A fairly common practice is to offer incentives in exchange for their review (and social media post). For example, you can offer discounts or freebies after they show you their valid reviews.
- Respond to existing reviews
Including and especially for negative ones. People are more likely to leave reviews for businesses that frequently respond to previous reviews. Address all negative reviews quickly and politely, and fix the underlying issues.
Obviously, the most important thing in getting positive reviews is to actually deliver good products and services.
Thankfully, Google actively encourages you to get more reviews, and nowadays they even send a push-notification asking your visitors for a review automatically after their visit.
- Building Local Citations
As previously mentioned, citations are any mentions of your business’s NAP information that can be indexed by Google.
NAP information in a standard text format is easier to index than an image, so it’s important to consider.
There are several ways to get a local online citation:
- When other website or an influencer mentions your business’s NAP (i.e., in a review for your business)
- Asking your business partners to cite your NAP on their website
- By listing your business on various online directories according to your location and niche
While the first and second options are fairly limited and harder to control, you can definitely put more efforts on the third.
Do a quick Google search to find online directories according to your industry and location. If you are located in the US, you can also use this list to find online directories by category, and this list for directories by city.
The most important thing when building your local citation is to maintain consistency in information. That is, if, for example, you just changed your business address, you must update your NAP information on all these listings.
II. Optimized Local Website
It’s easy to be tempted to solely focus on the looks of the website rather than its performance and functionality—a common mistake made by many local businesses.
However, your website as a local business is a very important part of your digital marketing strategy. One one hand, it’s your online business card, and it’s where people are going to visit when they want to check out your brand.
On the other hand, when used properly, your website can be a steady source of traffic, prospects, and ultimately, paying customers.
When planning and developing your local-focused website, here are a few things to keep in mind:
More and more people are using mobile devices exclusively, and as mentioned above, many are using “near me” queries on their mobile device to find your business.
So, having a mobile-friendly (or mobile-responsive) site is a must.
Studies have suggested that if your site loads in more than three seconds, more than half will leave immediately. Use Google’s PageSpeed insight to assess your current website speed, and make the necessary improvements.
3.Embedding Google Maps API
Embedding Google Maps on your page used to be a major local SEO ranking factor, and thus often abused by marketers. Since mid-2018 or so, Google has updated its algorithm and if you overuse Google Maps API, you can get penalized.
So, use Google Maps API according to its original purpose: providing a better user experience for your audience. Embed Google Maps API with proper location tag in your About Us (or similar) page.
Also, if you have several locations for your business, create different location pages and embed the right Google Maps location for each.
- Content and Keyword Optimizations
We can divide website content into two different categories: static and dynamic.
Static content is the pages that are relatively “fixed”, you won’t update it frequently, and mainly contain fixed information about your business. For example, your About Us page, locations page(s), product/service page(s), and so on.
Dynamic content, on the other hand, is the pages that are frequently updated. The most common form of dynamic content pages is a blog, but nowadays it can also be videos and podcasts.
When developing your content, there are three main purposes to pay attention to:
- To attract more people to your website, and convert them into prospects and visitors.
- To get backlinks for each content page, which will also help Google Maps SEO, as discussed above
- To target location-based keywords so your page and site can rank on these keywords
III. Social Media Marketing
As we have mentioned at the beginning of this article, social media is now one of the main ways people can learn about local businesses.
It’s worth discussing that social media marketing consists of three different aspects:
- Organic social media marketing. Which is, building organic followers by consistently posting engaging and valuable content.
- Paid social media marketing. Using paid advertising options provided by the social media network, and other paid marketing options to reach more audience.
- Influencer marketing, endorsing an influencer to promote your brand.
The key here is to find a balance between all three: organic social media marketing is obviously important, but it will take time and significant effort before you can build your followers.
Paid social media ads and influencer marketing, on the other hand, can work instantly, but obviously the issue here is budget. Also, influencer marketing won’t be maximized unless you already have a decent organic social media presence.
We have discussed the three most important channels to focus on in local marketing. All three are long-term tactics, so the most important thing to focus on is consistency.
Evaluate your progress regularly, hire a local SEO expert and reoptimize or adjust your strategy whenever necessary.
January 15, 2022