Undoubtedly in the last 10 months of 2020, the global pandemic has dramatically affected many local businesses across North America. Some have managed to shift their business model to sell their products online and others are struggling to figure out how to stay afloat. On the other side, many consumers have chosen the convenience of shopping locally, whether it is ordering food from local restaurants or walking to the local stores for everyday needs.
While these conditions have opened up new opportunities for eCommerce, they have also created a huge demand for many local brands to optimize their websites to get found by local searchers in the local listings. As we count down to the end of this unprecedented year, with signs of economic recovery from COVID-19, I think it becomes very important for local businesses to focus on drafting their digital marketing and SEO strategy for 2021. Here is my opinion on what ranking factors will matter the most for local search in 2021, and I hope the information will provide insights to local brands who are serious about planning their SEO strategy for the New Year.
What are some of the most important ranking factors for local search?
First, let’s take a look at what factors impact your rankings in local search. Depending on whether you are looking to rank on the local map pack or local organic results, each factor can have a different impact on the rankings. According to the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, some of the factors that will influence your rankings are:
- Google My Business including the GMB primary category
- Customer reviews and testimonial signals
- Website Optimization
- Voice Search
- Link Building and Backlinks
- Locally driven content
- User Experience
Let’s see how important each factor is:
With most local searchers in Canada using Google to search, about 86.67% on desktop and 96.92% on mobile, it has become increasingly important to set up and optimize your GMB business profile. If you want to give your business a fair chance to appear and thrive in local searches, you can’t ignore this one. So, how do you know which GMB variables are important in relation to local search?
The Primary Business Category
In addition to your business name, it is the variable that has the most weight in the local rankings, because it tells Google what you do. Let’s not forget that the local search results are strongly connected to relevance.
GMB additional categories can also influence local rankings, so follow Google’s guidelines and best practices
Posting updates frequently on Google My Business can help direct more traffic to your website and open another opportunity for your customers to engage with your business through search and Maps. GMB posts inform customers about what’s new with your business and increase engagement. Google has made it easier for customers to contact the business directly from the post, by adding the ability to send a message to the business directly from the post.
Questions and Answers
Q&A section of the GMB profile is another unexploited opportunity where local businesses should place more focus in 2021. The questions and answers are meant to help customers engage with your brand through discussions, and it presents a great opportunity for your business to build trust and expertise.
Optimize for Google Maps
Google has about 80% of the market share for navigation and mapping, so from a local brand’s point of view, you cannot afford to miss out on optimizing your GMB profile. Google has placed quite a bit of emphasis on its Maps app by enabling brands and customers to upload photos and adding the ability to send messages directly from the app.
Along with positive ratings and the overall optimization of your website, reviews can send a positive signal to Google. Not only do reviews influence your local rankings, but also the keywords customers use in their reviews are a ranking factor. The more positive reviews you have in your GMB profile, the more information Google has about your business
The attributes section in Google My Business is a very important section for local businesses because it helps Google understand more your business and increases the chances of appearing on the local pack. From highlights, health and safety and services attributes, depending on the nature of your business different attributes can be available
Having a well-optimized website will give you a significant advantage over your competition. Optimize the so important on-page SEO elements including:
- Optimize Title tags using keywords your customers use
- Optimize Meta Descriptions
- Include the target keywords at the beginning of the meta description
- Include location name in your copy and page titles
- Add a landing page for each specific location
- Maintain NAP (name, address and phone number) consistent across all web properties.
- Simplify the language in your website content to resonate with your audience
- Optimize different sections of your website with structured data
- Focus on the technical aspects of your website like page loading speed
With close to 50% of people using voice assistants to search for a service or product in their local city, town or neighbourhood, there is a huge opportunity for local businesses in 2021 to grow their customer base by focusing on website optimization for voice search. When you think about it, asking the voice assistant to find a guy who does home renovation in your local city, feels more like having a conversation as opposed to the traditional way of typing a question on Google search. Voice assistants will pull will be from websites that not only provide the most straight-forward answers but also use a friendly and more relaxed language in the content.
- Use long-tail keywords
- Include questions and answers
Your Toronto local SEO expert can guide you on the tools and techniques available to optimize your content for voice search
With 70% of web searches happening on mobile devices and the trend looking upwards, having a mobile-friendly website is now as important as having a website in the first place. Google has announced that in Spring 2021, all websites that are not optimized for mobile (like the one in the picture), will be completely dropped from the index. That’s about 5 years after Google started experimenting with mobile-friendly sites. What does this mean for your business? If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, your website could lose ranking positions, experience lower traffic levels and lose potential customers. There are a few tools in the market that can help you test your website for mobile-friendliness. Goole provides a mobile-friendly test tool and you can access it here.
However, Google’s mobile-friendly test tool is very useful but it goes as far as testing a single page of your site. I came across another great free tool that automatically tests multiple pages and subpages of your website. All you have to do is enter the URL and the tool will crawl the entire website, reporting back if your site is optimized to be shown on mobile devices. It was developed by Experte, and you can access it free here
Think about link building and backlinks as strong connections you make with reputable businesses and people in your community. Seek to engage and connect with local influencers who can refer your products and services to other people, and you return the favour by referring them to your customers.
Backlinks are no different, but an exchange of links between pages of two websites. When a domain that refers your business to other people is well known in the local community and has a high domain authority score, that referral will help boost your local rankings and bring more organic traffic to your website.
Here are a few points to get you started with link building:
- Search for local online or print publications, where you can contribute with articles or posts
- Support a local cause in your community
- Seek to connect with local writers who cover topics in the same niche as yours and who can contribute to your blog with guest posts. In exchange write a positive review on their website.
- Submit your business name to local directories and utilize their platform to the full potential to build your business profile
Backlinks are in the top three ranking factors for Google, that’s why it should be a top priority in your SEO strategy for 2021.
Writing and publishing quality content continues to be indispensable to succeed in local search. I get it, that easier said than done! It is a fact that local brands no matter the industry struggle to come up with engaging content that speaks their customer’s language, helps boost organic traffic, online visibility, rankings and converts. Oftentimes it has to do with how you approach to write content, and the truth is it does not have to be complicated. Start thinking about documenting the process and different content formats you can use. Blog post ideas can be driven by:
- An awesome customer service exchange with a client
- How you helped a customer solve a problem
- Sponsoring a local sports team
- Participating at a local event in your community
- Hosting a customer appreciation day event
Short stories can be unique content but more importantly, they are locally driven. Whether you are a local business with one location, a multi-location business, or a service area business, start by researching and understanding the intent behind the keywords customers use to search, and that is a great starting point to produce content that speaks your customer’s language.
Here are a few important points to remember when creating local content in 2021:
- Use conversational language in your content
- Document the process
- Make your stories interactive and engaging
- Make use of landing pages for multi-location brands
- Tell complete stories using a combination of simple language and visuals
So, by making marketing content a priority in your digital marketing plans for 2021, you can improve your chances of being listed in the local pack and skyrocket your local rankings. Whether you choose to do blogging, podcasting, social media or video content, make sure to be consistent and patent as it will require lots of effort, and practice.
With over 60% of the web users preferring their mobile devices to browse or complete online transactions, the user expectations towards a seamless and effective page experience have greatly evolved. In fact, Google has been measuring various factors of how users interact with web pages, such as page load time, visual stability, content interactivity, safe browsing and mobile-friendliness. In May 2021 all the user experience metrics called Core Web Vitals will become SEO ranking factors. Here is the announcement from Google
Google has also clarified that having a superb page experience does not override quality content.
In closing, I would like to say that in 2021 local brands should make it a higher priority to optimize their GMB profiles and posting on Google My Business frequently. Google will continue to enhance and add new features to GMB, to help local businesses adapt to the continuously changing business environment. Brands that actively update their GMB listings, engage with customers and publish posts could see their web traffic and local rankings improve.
We will also see quite a bit of noise in 2021 about the impact that user experience and page speed will have on the overall website rankings. If you haven’t done it yet, it is time to start working on your digital marketing and SEO strategy for the new year. If you need to brainstorm, feel free to get in touch and I would be happy to help you.