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Webinar Recap: Tactics To Transform Your Local Search

Feb 25, 2021   |   Local Search, Webinar Recap
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Milestone Webinar_How Local Search Has Evolved

Milestone’s experts Emily Brady, Sr. Manager Local SEO Solution, and Erik Newton, VP of Marketing, discussed key local marketing strategies for 2021. Attendees can use the insights discussed in the webinar and execute a more holistic approach to achieving online presence on search engines, maps, and local channels. An effective local strategy in execution requires you to build authoritative digital assets that demonstrate expertise and provide helpful information. This webinar provided the answers to key local optimization questions and how you can market your business better.

In this webinar, the audience learnt:

  • How local SEO has changed as an industry
  • Why local is not listings management or GMB optimization
  • What core channels matter and why
  • Elements of a successful local strategy
  • Measuring the success of local SEO in 2021
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Here is the complete transcript of the webinar:

How Local Search has Evolved

Erik Newton

Today’s topic is how local search has evolved. And five specific tactics that matter a lot in 2021 that are new and fresh information, that probably will be new to you. And so we hope it’s good, valuable, fresh information. If you have any questions, you can put it into the Q&A box and we will address it maybe during, or maybe after Emily. Could you go next slide for me?

Thanks. My name’s Erik Newton. I’m the VP of marketing here at Milestone, and it is my pleasure to have speaking with me today. Emily Brady, who is somewhat new to the company in the last couple of months to who is a local expert, and she’s going to be breaking down the information and those five tactics for you. Excellent. So some of you on the phone are customers. Some of you are considering Milestone. Some of you are just interested in the information, but our Milestone total solutions are made up of three primary elements. The digital experience platform, the digital discovery platform and digital marketing services. So the local listings that Emily’s going to talk about today fit in the digital discovery platform because they, they help you increase visibility and help you get found.

And we serve a whole range of industries. We have our traditional base in hospitality, but we’re working with restaurants, retail, finance, healthcare technology automotive across the board. Next one, Emily. Thanks. So our agenda today is to do a little bit of a little bit of foundation work on what local SEO is and how it’s evolved, and the definitions have become a little bit more finesse than it has been in the past. And how has the local industry changed tactics and how you can measure the success of your local SEO program.

Emily Brady

Fantastic. So let’s go ahead and just dive right into all of the good stuff. So that first topic, what is local SEO? I think there are a lot of definitions out there and maybe even some misconceptions as to what local SEO is. So I always like to start with defining what SEO is or what local SEO is not specifically. So local SEO, isn’t just listings management, although listings are part of it. It is not just listings, local SEO. Also isn’t GMB optimization alone, right? GMB is a huge part of local, but it’s not the only thing that we definitely don’t want to restrict our definition to Google my business alone. It’s also more than just adding city optimized content or adding city names in your meta titles or headers, etc. And it’s more than just local backlinks. So what local SEO actually is, is all of those things and so much more.

And over the years, we have seen that definition evolve as more features become available on Google and as the algorithm changes and the way that customer search changed as well. So really local SEO is going to include all of those things above, but it’s also landing pages and hyper-local content. It’s going to be entity search optimization, and we’ll get into that a little bit later as well. because that’s a newer and newer term that has entered the search industry as a whole. It’s also your local listings and those core channels. So GMP, Yelp, Apple maps, all of those important listings. It’s also going to include schema and site performance and technical foundation. So the technical foundation of your site is perfect. Your local SEO, if you are serving local customers. And then finally local SEO is engagement with customers. And we’ll talk about that a little bit on this slide as well.

So here’s the definition of local SEO as I like to think about it. And I think this really does capture everything about local that we need to be paying attention to. So local SEO is satisfying local search queries. So keywords with local intent across every channel at every touch point in the conversion funnel. So we’ll break down each of those elements as we go through the talk today. But I did want to just put this kind of fun metaphor out there to help everyone remember what local SEO is, and also what it is not. So typically I would be a bigger fan of cake than I would have a snow cone. But for the sake of our example today, what we don’t want to do is treat local SEO like frosting on a cake. It’s not something that you can just put on top of an SEO strategy that already exists on the flip side. What we want to do is we want to treat local SEO like the snow cone, right? So the good part of that snow cone, the flavor there is completely inseparable from the snow cone itself. Otherwise you’d just have snow, right? So local SEO really has to saturate every single piece of your digital marketing campaign, if you are hoping to reach local customers. So again, we don’t want to treat local as something that can be added on top, but we want to approach our SEO strategy with a local first mindset.

What is local search?

I also want to just give a quick call out here to other channels are digital mediums. Local is more than SEO as well, right? So SEO is just one, one piece of the puzzle, but it works together with every other channel of your digital marketing campaign. Again, if you’re trying to reach local customers, your SEO is going to be a big piece of that, but your SEO also ties into your paid ads. It’s going to tie into your email marketing, your social, etc. So really any kind of advertising that you’re doing on a digital level is going to play nicely with your local SEO. So local as a whole is really that bigger umbrella term. And then SEO is just one piece.

What do we mean when we’re talking about local search queries? So in, in our definition, right, so satisfying search intent for local search queries. What does that mean? I want to talk briefly about both discovery and branded keywords, because these are both really, really important for local SEO discovery keywords. That essentially means a keyword when someone is searching support a service or a product. So best hotel, downtown Los Angeles, that would be a discovery, keyword or dentist near me or personal injury attorney in Santa Clarice. Those are all discovery keywords because at that point in my customer journey, I have not yet discovered the brands that I might be interested in hiring. On the flip side, we also have branded keywords and generally speaking, branded keywords, don’t get as much attention from an SEO perspective because we really want to rank for those discovery keywords, right?

Local Search Queries

That’s how you get new. That’s how you get new customers, but branded keywords are equally important because when we are hoping to meet and engage with clients at every point in the conversion funnel, it is highly likely that after someone discovers you, they’re going to do research on multiple brands. So they’re going to come back and start searching for your brand name as well. And being able to control those branded search result pages is a huge part of your local strategy. So in short, a branded keyword is basically when a customer looks for your brand specifically. So Starbucks near me or eighth hotel downtown Los Angeles. So if I was conducting a search for a hotel, ACE hotel might be one them on, but I might be looking for others as well. And it would be wise for me as a business to make sure that my knowledge panel and my local search result page reflects well on my business as the consumer is making a decision. So both discovery and branded keywords are very important. And I specifically want to emphasize the branded ones because discovery already gets so much attention in the, in the SEO industry as a whole.

How has local SEO changed? We’re going to, we’re going to go way back in time and then talk about some more recent changes as well. But I wanted to start by going over how search has evolved in the past 13 years or so. So 2008 a might not seem like that that long ago in, in, in years. But when we’re talking in terms of SEO and digital marketing and search, that is centuries ago, right? The way that Google function back in 2008 was so different than the way it does today. So back in the day, Google largely understood businesses and websites just by the text that was on those pages. So search was text-based. This was, this was the age when you could just add keywords to a page and then you would rank for them. And even at this time, the search result pages were much more sparse.

Evolution of Search

It was largely just those 10 blue links. And that was pretty much SEO was. And over time we can see a couple things on this timeline. So the first one that we noticed is that today searches more voice driven. It is more conversational, but you can also see that in recent years, Google has started updating their algorithm at a higher velocity. So changes are happening all the time. Whereas in the past, they tended to just release big updates every once in a while. Another thing I want to want to call out as well are the two most recent updates. So we have the Bert update. Now, when this rolled out, what it basically meant that was that Google was starting to understand more long tail and FAQ based searches using natural language processing, which is basically a fancy way of saying Google wanted to understand search intent based on natural language.

How do, how are people searching? Customers are becoming more conversational and the way that they search because Google is giving them answers directly. So those FAQ’s, how does Google really decipher what they mean based on the nuance of language? Another thing I want to call out is the Smith algorithm. Now this is the most recent one, and this relates to what is known as passage indexing. So just compare it to Bert. Bert was aimed at understanding the individual words within sentences to understand the search intent and the nuance behind them. The Smith algorithm focuses more on understanding pages as a whole based on the passages within them. So it’s just another step that Google is taking to understand not only how people are searching, but how websites are providing those answers. So today in 2021, what we want to be focusing on is largely voice and conversational driven content.

Also down there at the bottom, we can see, looking at the whole, we’ve gone from keyword based optimization to conversations and entire documents. So it’s much more complex now, but that also means we have a lot more opportunity. Google has also shifted its focus as well. In the past, you can see those initial updates, no spammy content or links, no duplicate content, things like that. So their, initial goal was to fight spam. But today their goal is to reward websites that have enhanced user experience. So they are more user focused in the way that they are adjusting the algorithm. And as marketers and as local SEOs, we need to do the same. We need to focus on meeting the needs of customers because that’s, what’s, that’s what Google is doing as well. So let’s, let’s look at the impact of those algorithm updates over the years.

So back in 2008, SEO was largely a popularity contest. You could add keywords, you could have links. And that was pretty much how Google was able to evaluate the value of a given page. And at this point as well, search result pages were much simpler. , we have those blue text links, but because Google was really only looking at keywords and links at that time, it was really common to see spammy content showing up in search results. So as marketers, really the best strategy you could do was just emphasizing keyword density, making sure those specific keywords were in your content. And then also link building

Google started to focus more on quality, right? So that spammy content showing up in search results that doesn’t really help anyone. So what Google started doing was combating spam and what that meant on the marketing and the SEO side was we needed to focus on original quality content and earning links instead of building them. So creating content that was good enough to get a link opposed to paying for links or proactively just asking for as many links as possible from websites that may not have provided value

Impact of evolving search engines on marketing

Moving on to 2016, this is when search starts to get a lot more fun and really interesting. So the emphasis here started to be search intent. So Google introduced universal results. That just is a fancy way of saying that there are a lot more opportunities. So, image, search all kinds of features that can show up on page one. , the new section, all of these, all of these elements of Google, it starts to become more complex to meet the needs of searchers and give more opportunity to, for businesses to show up as well. So on the algorithm side, this meant that Google started emphasizing semantic search. They started looking at the structure of content as well, instead of just the keywords and instead of just emphasizing, analyzing bad content, but instead looking at the structure of content to reward high quality content. And on the marketing side, this meant that we needed to emphasize more topical coverage. And also this is the advent of schema. So we’ll talk about schema and a little bit, but essentially schema is structured data that you can add on the backend of your website. And in 2016, this is when we kind of started to see that become more and more important because Google started using that as a way to understand your content more fully.

So Moving on to today, 2021, now we’re looking at kind of intent plus experience. So Google has continued to evolve again, remember that in that initial slide, where we saw all of the updates happening at a higher velocity, while you can see the result here was tons of SERP features 1200 SERP features. So outside of the, the 10 blue links, there are all kinds of things that can show up on page one, there’s featured snippets. There are the people also ask boxes. There are site links, all kinds of great things. And on top of that, the emphasis is now mobile and voice. So this includes a mobile first indexing or mobile only indexing where Google really looks at the mobile version of your site before they look at the desktop version or they only emphasize the mobile version because people are searching from their phones more often.

It also means in search content. So this whole concept that Google is now your landing page, Google is less of a search engine and more of an answer engine today. They want to give consumers as much information as possible so that they don’t even to click into a website. And that’s really changed the way that SEO as an industry like our needs as SEOs, but also on the local side, it’s changed the way that we do local SEO too. On the algorithm side. This means that Google is focusing on entities. They’re focusing on intent and they’ve also introduced core web vitals. And we’ll touch on that again later and a little bit more detail. But this, this also means that schema and content are still really important. We want to emphasize share of visibility outside of just ranking in those 10 blue links.

We want to be creating conversational content because that’s how people are searching. And that’s what Google is becoming more intuitive about understanding. And then also we want to make sure that our websites are core one vitals compliant. So how has local SEO changed? Right? Those last two slides were pretty much a high level overview of how search has changed, but we also want to know how the local industry has, has changed as well. And this information here reflects not changes from 2008 so much, but maybe in the past two years, this is the evolution that we’ve seen. And I would expect these trends to continue in the future as well. So back in the day, listing quantity was everything. Local SEO was essentially listings management. And the most important thing was getting your URL name, address, and phone number on as many directories as possible, regardless of whether or not people were actually using those directories because the primary value was you not consistency and links.

How local industry has changed

So the listings really just existed for Google to look at, right, because sure people were using GMB and Yelp, but why not put my, why not put my business information on a hundred other websites as well? So that Google deems that more valuable, well, Google’s a little bit more, more intuitive today and it doesn’t need the context of all of those directories to understand what your business is, where you’re located, what you do. And most importantly, what search queries you might be relevant for. So listing quality is what is actually important today. So the directory value then actually comes from user engagement on those websites, opposed to just, a really niche directory that maybe no one’s looking at. We want to be focusing on directories and listings and channels where people are actually engaged. We can get traffic from listings as well, and then also reputation, right?

So people are leaving reviews, people who are actively engaged in those websites where your business is listed. That’s what we want to focus on in enhancing our data as much as possible. Their entity search is paramount and also GMB plus core directories are going to be the primary source of local traffic. So again, focusing on those channels that matter, opposed to just getting your information on as many sites as possible and just to touch on entity a little bit. So what I’m talking about when I talk about entity being paramount is how much context and how much information can you give search engines and users about your business? So let’s, let’s think about it in more more human terms. So as me, I’m Emily Brady, what do about me as an entity? You probably know my name, my title, and then I really like local SEO. But what if I also told you that I play the piano and really like coffee and have two cats? Well, now you kind of understand me a little bit more as an entity. So as Google has developed more ways for us to push information onto search engines or onto listings to customers, we can start to give a better idea of our businesses as an entity to Google, which then helps Google rank or provide visibility for relevance

I also want to touch on how local has changed with COVID. So we’re, we’re coming up on a year of being in lockdown and living in this new normal. So how has local SEO changed? Well, COVID forced consumers. It forced us as people to change the way that we live our lives. And in turn that meant that search engines and businesses had to adapt. So local search has actually evolved more than other areas of digital during COVID. And that’s because as humans, we, that so much of our search results search revolves around the businesses that are close to us, right? So I, my dentist is local to me and my grocery store is local to me. My bank is local to me, all of these things, that’s local search. And that is what has been impacted the most by COVID and the way that people have changed living their lives because of it.

So because of this, Google has introduced new features to help customers and businesses adapt. So we’ll get into those in a minute, but one thing I want to call out here, and I think this has become really clear over the past year is that we tend to think that search engines control search. And yeah, that’s true to a certain extent, right? Google decides what sites get rewarded. They’re the ones in control of the algorithm, but at the end of the day, it’s really consumers who control search, right? Because in the past year, Google had to change based on how we were changing as people and how we were changing, the way that we live because of these unproductive unprecedented times and what is happening in the world. So it’s a really good reminder that at the end of the day, local SEO and digital in any forum is always about

Couple of examples and action of things that Google has introduced to, to help us on the local front provide more information to users specifically regarding COVID. So the first one is updated attributes. So we, I mean, a year ago, I never would have even thought to check if a restaurant was offering dining indoors, right? But now that’s something that I’m going to go on GMB and look at before I go out, if they’re open. So in-store shopping, curbside pickup delivery. These are all new options on GMB that you can provide to users. And that Google has the opportunity for us to provide to potential customers. And again, something we wouldn’t have thought about a year ago, special hours, such as senior hours. That’s another great opportunity. Many stores are doing this now having specific hours for seniors, and you can update that information and provide it easily to users on your GMB listing other timely updates. So if you were to click on that little updates tab, what you would see is a list of, when the hours were updated, because hours are changing a little bit more often now, a specific COVID information, maybe a post about whether master required or how curbside pickup works. All of this proactive information that businesses can push out. Google has provided a platform for that. And then finally health and safety information. Again, this one, I think is probably the biggest change because a year ago, I never thought about staff disinfecting surfaces between visits of Jesus, because it’s important to them. So whether or not master required, whether or not temperature checks are required, all of this health and safety attributes can be pushed out easily into your knowledge panel.

I also want to give a quick call-out to proximity because we’re talking about local SEO, right? So proximity is it used to be much more complex than it is to be totally honest. So on the left, you can see what my life may have looked like in January and February and halfway through March of last year. So you can see, yeah. I spent a lot of time at my house, but I spend a lot of time at the office and going out to restaurants, I have multiple coffee shops that I’m stopping at along the way, different grocery stores, depending on where I’m at, I’m at the movies I’m shopping. And basically the point is back in the, back in the day before, COVID the proximity, your proximity bubble would follow you around town, which means that your search results would change based on where you are located in wherever you live. So if I’m at the mall and I’m looking for coffee, I’m going to get different results than if I was at home because different businesses are close to me. But today my proximity bubble is a lot smaller, right? I’m working from home. I’m maybe going to the grocery store, that’s closest to me, or more than likely just having that store delivered to me instead. So my proximity bubble is a lot more static than it used to be. And that’s something for businesses to keep in mind as well.

Just go over a couple of use cases, talking about proximity and how we can adapt. So as a customer, one common thing is that could happen is, I want to order lunch and I want to order it from the restaurant. That’s closest to my house because I want it to get here really fast. So as a business, I can focus. on hyper-local customer base, maybe through a war rewards program or offering free in your body. I did this myself from a coffee shop. I used to frequent. Now they offer free delivery for their coffee beans since I’m at home. So that’s a really great way that they have adapted to as a hyper-local customer. And I’m going to keep coming back to them for as long as I’m working from home, because of that experience that they’ve created. Another use case is there’s less traffic. So I might be willing to drive a little farther to pick up food, for example, or , products or whatever it might be. I think Valentine’s day was actually a really good example of this, right? So people might be wanting to look for a special meal or something, a little nicer than they typically get, but they’re still wanting to do takeout.

So because people aren’t driving around as much, there’s going to be deep, decreased traffic, and I might be willing to actually travel farther to a business to get what I want. So as a business, I might be able to use email marketing, for example, to target return customers from a little farther away, just to remind them, Hey, I, I still exist. And , you can come get our services and they might be willing to make that drive just because traffic is less of a consideration than it used to be. And then the final use cases between working from home and the kids I forgot to order groceries is

And for pickup or deliver this one, I really liked because it’s such an easy way to have a competitive advantage. So as a business, what you can do is extend your business hours just a little bit past those in your competitor to capture some of those specifics efficient. It’s interesting because we were spending more time at home, but our lives are busier than ever. So it’s easy to, to forget, or maybe need something earlier in the day or a little bit later, that was a business, do a competitive audit on businesses around you. And if for hours, just a little bit past to pick up some of those customers that may have otherwise gone to it

So focus on your core channels and enhance your data. So what we mean by this is Google has provided, and this is for GMB specifically, in this example, this is the knowledge panel. Google has provided so many opportunities for us to provide that context and information to customers and to search engines. So this is, this is a big part of entity search for local. But when you look at this knowledge panel, there are so many pieces of information that add that directly, reflect how Google views this business as an entity. Oh, I won’t go through all of them, but I do just want to call it, call out things like your core information, your media. So photos and videos, those have always existed. But on top of that, the health and safety attributes would also live here along with just business amenities, your hours, all of that staff, the one with the description and then engagement.

So QA, we have FAQ’s reviews and then also Google posts, which ties in nicely with the next thing that I want to emphasize. So number two, so the first one is focused on those core channels, right? So your GMV, your Yelp, your Apple, and then whatever core channels would be specific to your industry as well, but really focus on the important ones that allow you enhance your data. Secondly, once you’ve done that focus on engaging with customers. Again, we want to engage with customers at every point in the conversion funnel. And here are four examples of how we can do that. The first one is by utilizing Q and a. So GMB has a Q and a feature where anyone in the world can go onto your listing and ask a question. And what’s really crazy is anyone in the world can go on and answer that question as well.

So as a business, you want to make sure that you are controlling that Q and a as much as possible to create a positive customer experience. A lot of consumers will log onto Google and maybe treat the Q and a like a chat, or they might leave a review there, something like that. So just being aware of what people are saying, what they’re asking about can be really important. And one thing I also want to say here, that’s a great strategy. If people are not asking questions on your Q and a, or if it’s just not useful information, that’s showing up there, you, as the business owner can go in and add seeded questions. So you can ask questions and answer them. So predict kind of like an FAQ page that people can see before they even get to your website. And maybe they don’t even need to click through to your website to get that information.

So it’s a really good opportunity to engage with people and provide more data. Another thing I want to call out is GMB posts, GMB posts are available from most industries. There are a few business types that actually don’t have GMB posts available, but if they are available to you, this is another way to meet the needs of customers when they’re maybe a little bit closer to converting. So if I do a branded search, the knowledge panel is going to pull up and any recent posts are going to show there. So if you have specials running, if you have updated information about COVID, if you just want to remind people that you’re there for them, you’re open and you have safety, safety, precautions in place. That’s a great place to do that is on your GMB posts. And you can add a nice image, et cetera.

So it’s kind of like a cross between social media and a free branded ad. So definitely take advantage of those if you have the availability to do so. The third thing is reviews reviews. Now these are interesting because technically you’re engaging with a customer after that, after they’ve had an experience with you, but reviews are also a deciding factor for conversion and their ranking factor. So reviews are important at the discovery phase because they can help you rank. And they’re important during the conversion phase and also the engagement phase after they’ve become a customer. So make sure that you’re encouraging people to leave reviews if possible, or just making it easy for them to do so, and also respond to reviews, whether they’re positive or negative. You want to make sure that you’re engaging with your customers there, because me as a potential customer, I’m going to go in and see, how do you respond when you get a bad review?

Or how do you respond? Are you nice and friendly when you get a good review too? Are you engaging with people? The final thing I want to mention is messaging. So this is a newer feature on Google. My business. It’s actually been shown through some studies that Google has conducted, that people are more willing to initiate messaging. So like a chat feature than they are to pick up the phone. So if someone has a question and they can’t find an answer on your website or on your knowledge panel or wherever they’re looking, they can initiate a conversation with you on messaging. And this is a great way to directly engage with potential customers. So if this is a bit.

A few things here. And what you can see on the right is these are just some snips from a local landing page that we created recently. And I want to call it a couple important items there. So you always want to have your address and contact info your hours. So very similar to what you’re seeing on the GMB knowledge panel, right? A lot of that information translate, but now it’s on your website. We want to include a map for directions. You can also include staff bios. I see a lot of businesses not taking advantage of this, but it’s such a great way to really connect with people and humanize your business. So if you have a specific manager or leadership for a specific location, it’s really smart to add a little bit about them on your location page. So people feel taken care of, if I have a good experience or a bad one, I know who talk to about that.

Also payment and financing info offers coupons deal frequently asked questions. That can be a really powerful one. Inventory, highlights, images, all of this good stuff. And then because COVID is changing so much of our lives right now also COVID information. So any of that safety information that you’ve highlighted on GMB, you want it to be reflected here as well. So the primary takeaway for creating a great local landing page or a great location page is put as much information on this page that could only exist on this page because it is unique to this location. So your hyper-local content is going to be as much information that is completely unique to this page. So if you’re just creating, if you have multiple locations, you don’t want your location pages to all be the same. You want the reviews to be unique to each location you want.

The hyper-local content to be as unique as possible. All of that good stuff is going to create real value on those pages. So I love data and this is, this is what we saw for this particular page within 30 days of launching it. So granted you one month is a pretty short amount of time. Of course, there’s more information to collect, but I did just want to highlight this for you guys to see, okay. If I build out a page with all of this great rich data, what results should I expect to see? So for this particular, for this particular page, we saw an increase in sessions, page views, pages per session. So more engagement as people are clicking through the site and then also a decrease in bounce rate. So really good results. And if you’re starting from scratch or you’re starting with a page that just doesn’t have a lot of unique content on it, you can expect to see a reward from Google for that. And you can expect people to be more engaged with your website, which is the goal right at the end of the day is engaging with customers as they’re going through that buying journey.

I also want to call out optimizing for site performance. So this is the fourth thing that we really want to focus on. I’m not going to go through each of these in detail, but think of this as kind of a broad technical SEO bucket. And the reason I emphasize this is because we don’t really talk about technical SEO. It relates to local very often, but at the end of the day, if you are optimizing for local customers, technical SEO is part of your local SEO. So things like site speed, your user experience, your amp pages, those are accelerated mobile pages. And also just all of that good stuff like redirects in place, your URL structure. Does that make sense? Can users find their way around your site easily? Can Google do the same? And then any tactical maintenance over time? I’m not one of the top.

This is the one that I want to call out specifically because it’s so relevant. This year is core web vitals. So if you’re not familiar with core web vitals, here’s the short version of what, what those are basically, it’s three unique metrics that are somewhat related to sites that Google has developed to measure user experience on a page. So if you’ve ever read like a news article or opened up a recipe website, and as you’re trying to scroll stuff is flying in and the whole page and look around you can’t click on what you need. Well, Google has a way of measuring that now. And it created technical benchmarks for us to be compliant with our web pages. And that specific metric is called cumulative layout shift, which is a fancy way of saying the page shouldn’t shift around while it’s loading too much.

Because that’s an unpleasant user experience. So there are three of those metrics. They all focus on really user experience trying to close that gap between, how can we measure UX? And also at what point do we consider a page to be user-friendly? And a lot of them are related to site speed as kind of an overarching concept. So really paying attention to site speed and those core web vitals. And the reason I emphasize core web vitals is because Google introduced them somewhat recently. So last year I believe, and they are, they’ve given us the specific metrics for, how, how fast things each, how, how fast things need to load and how we don’t let things shifting around all of that exists, which is great. But also they’re going to be baking this into their ranking algorithm later this year, probably around may.

So there’s a ramp up period now where businesses have the opportunity to make sure that they are core web vitals compliant in order to be positioned best when that is actually more of a ranking factor. So again, just thinking of just don’t forget about technical SEO when you’re dealing with local, because that local landing page that we talked about should include all of these things too. You want to make sure it’s fast. You want to make sure it has a good user experience, etxc. Because content alone, isn’t going to be the only thing that Google rewards. They’re also looking at the technical the technical benchmark of your site as well.

All right. Number five. And I’m really excited to talk about this because I love talking about structured data and schema. And again, it gets something that gets a little bit overlooked when we’re thinking about local SEO. So number five for our tactics is going to be leveraged, structured data. So if you’re not familiar with structured data or schema is what it’s called. It’s basically code that you can add on the backend of your website, provide more information to search engines about your content. So this could be anything from marking up your address to marking up FAQ’s, et cetera, and the regions to understand your website. So users are never really going to see the schema, but they will see the result with a schema. So just a couple of stats for you on where, where schema is that at the industry level and what adoption looks like for schema, because it’s really an untapped resource for a lot of websites.

So 39% of websites have schema errors. So if you don’t Mark up your scheme and properly, it’s gonna Google view it as an error. And then you’re not really going to reap the benefits of that. 59% had no schema at all. 95% had less than eight schema types and 97% were missing error-free advanced schema. And what we mean by advanced schema is schema that has more than eight types or more. So that’s the you benchmark that we’ve chosen just based on the amount of schema that is available out there and what we’ve seen in the industry. So there’s really a huge opportunity there because most sites are not really implementing error-free schema. And if they are, sometimes it has errors. So the benefit of schema is again, it’s for search engines, right? But remember all of those rich results that we talked about earlier that people also ask the featured snippets, all of that data that Google is pushing onto a search result pages because at once the search to be your new homepage, so schema can help you actually get more rich results.

So, images, all of that good stuff, schema is going to help you see a lift or an uptick in visibility for rich results and really searches all about rich results. Now, when you do a search, yeah, we pay attention to the template links, but what’s more interesting is all of those answers that Google is surfacing without me actually having to click on a website. So that’s the value of schema and it definitely applies to local businesses just as much as any other business. So I want to tie this back to our local, our local page, right? So local SEO, this location pages are such a big part of it. So how can we use schema for a location page? Well, I’ve included the same list of items here that we could include on our location page. And all of the highlighted ones are ones that are opportunities for us to implement schema.

So there are hundreds of schema types. I think there’s close to 800 or so. Not all of those are going to apply to every business, right? So you’ll have to take inventory and see, okay, what, what applies to my specific content, understand those gaps in your content, but then also understand what content do I have that would be more up with schema. So your address, your contact info and your hours that all falls under this umbrella of local business schema, and a lot of local businesses just stop there. They just Mark up that, that generic local business schema. But what you can also do, if you’re providing information about, the manager of a location or staff bios, you can Mark up that information too and give it to Google. You can also add payment information with schema offers deals.

You can Mark up reviews. You can Mark up frequently asked questions. This one is really important because if you Mark up FAQ schema who may choose to show those FAQ’s underneath your search result on page one of Google. So you’ll have those lists of questions and people can actually click and see the answer without even getting to your website. So that’s a really great opportunity to take up more real estate on page one. Also inventory highlights, you can Mark up products, you can Mark up your images. So if you have images specific to a location, you can do that with schema video, also department information. There’s just a ton of opportunities for schema for local businesses. And as we saw in the previous slides, so many websites, aren’t leveraging it to the extent that they

All right. So let’s dive into measuring the success of local SEO. So local SEO exists to get results, right? But the industry has changed so much. So how has the way that we measure our success changed? The short answer to this is that local SEO KPIs have changed the same way that ranking factors and the algorithm has changed. It’s not about unit consistency anymore. So in the past, I think that one of the things that we tended to maybe focus on a little bit too much was is our name, address, and phone number consistent across every directory. And that was pretty much your primary KPI for local SEO. Yeah. That’s still important because you want to make sure that people can contact you, but really what we want to focus on more is visibility, SERP, saturation, and engagement. We want to focus on engaging with customers and then try to measure how they are engaging with us. So how do we measure that specifically?

A list that I put together as some ideas. I’m sure this is by no means exhaustive. It’s just to kind of get you thinking about how you can start measuring your local SEO from a more holistic perspective. So I bucketed this into, with three different categories. The first one is listing visibility, SERP saturation. So are you ranking in the maps pack? Now there’s only three slots in the maps pack, so it’s pretty competitive, but knowing where you stand is really important and then identifying ways to potentially increase that visibility also views and impressions. So not just how well you’re ranking for a particular keyword are important, but that’s not everything. It’s more about visibility. So views and impressions for your listings. How often is your GMB listing showing up for searches and how does that compare against mobile versus desktop or in Google maps versus organic search?

So all of that information is available to you and what’s known as GMB insights that you can break this down and kind of see, okay, where are customers finding me most often? And you’ll notice, this isn’t keyword related information. It is visibility related information. I also wanna emphasize engagement metrics and engagement is so important. So a couple of things that we can look at are GMB, post views, how often are people looking at my posts that content that I’m putting out there on my knowledge panel are people seeing it also review velocity. So reviews are important because they can help you rank. They can help you get that visibility. But it’s also important to have recent ones because if I’m making a buying decision, I want to see that, someone has viewed this business recently. So it shows activity.

So review velocity is going to be a good one to pay attention to also website visits. So are people clicking through from the knowledge panel to your website or not, sometimes that’s not necessary. They can make that decision before they even get to your one site. They may just call directly from your listing, whether that be GMB or Yelp or wherever, but it’s still good to track and understand, okay, are we getting enough traffic from GMB photo interactions? And then also chats onsite are going to be another one. You can also track chat interactions on GMB as well. So chat, and directions, or your listing plus chat interactions on your website as well are going to all be reflective of how people are engaging with you and then finally landing page metrics. So if you remember that screenshot I showed earlier of how, sessions and page views had gone up after we really enhanced that landing page. Well, that’s the kind of stuff you want to pay attention to. So page views, return visitors, rankings, and then also rich results. So now that we’ve added all of this great content and we’ve marked it up with schema, are we getting more visibility through rich results?

So the, the final thing I want to emphasize here and here are key takeaways. If you, if you remember anything, and I know I threw a lot of information out there, here are just a couple of things to to take away from our, our discussion today. So approach your local SEO with a local first mindset. Remember that snow cone image right local is changing, which means we have more to focus on, then you not consistency. And we need to make sure that local SEO is saturating every piece of our digital marketing strategy. If we are speaking to local customers, the next is to foster engagement. So what Blasio doesn’t end with rankings, right? So you’re in the map pack, but that’s kind of the top of the conversion funnel, really. So we need to make sure we’re engaging at every point in the funnel to get more leads and more conversions from that visibility. And then finally diversify your KPIs, rethink how you measure the success of local. If we’re, if we’re starting to think of local as more than GMB management or more than just listings alone, but also your onsite and your technical SEO, then incorporate those KPIs into your strategy as well. So really focus on those metrics that matter.

Key Takeaways

Erik Newton

There’s a couple more offers for people. So one of the things we wanted to share with you today was that we have a new piece of research on a core vitals. So if you are interested in this ranking factor, that’s going to be in play in around May, 2021. Emily talked a little bit about it in her presentation about speed and experience. You can take a look at this benchmark. Very few sites are truly ready for this. You can download this and other research at milestoneinternet.com/resources/research, or go look in the menus. Next one, Emily.

And to help you get ready for 2021, we can do an audit for the first 20 people that want to get one. We’ll do an audit for you for free, and we will cover technical SEO, schema speed, local and core vitals for you to tell you where you’ve got opportunities. All right, let’s leave that slide up. And we’ve got a couple of questions that have come in so far and more coming in is my voice echoing Emily.

Question: I’ve completely understand about listing quantity, not being the main focus for Google, but are there a minimum number of listings that we should have as a baseline? What are those baseline listings? And we should ensure we have accurate and consistent. So what’s the, what’s the minimum. How do you build that quality base?

Answer: Yeah, totally. So what I would do first, and I hesitate to throw out a number because it is going to change from industry to industry. So, hotels have different listing opportunities than say attorneys or dentists or something like that, but really some of the core ones off the top of my head that you want to start with are going to be Google my business, Yelp being Apple maps are good ones as well. Outside of that, then I would say, move into looking at the really important niche directories. And even for the core ones too, that are more vertical agnostic , there’s data aggregators and whatnot that you can look into. But as far as niche ones specifically, I would, I would just do a little bit of research and see, okay, what are the top five channels that are specific to my industry on top of that?

And you’ll start to kind of get a baseline. Something else to take into consideration is that, if you have a data aggregator, for example, where information goes out to many, many different channels, it kind of just amplifies the amount of listings that you have. So, maybe you’re assigned up for between 10 and 15, but that can easily turn into like 30 or something like that. So as far as the specific number, I don’t want to say off the top of my head, cause it can change from industry to industry, but definitely the first ones you should really be paying attention. We’re going to be GMB, Yelp, Apple maps being those really important ones, because those are the ones that people use the most often.

Question: Creating hyper-local content in addition to city pages was mentioned, do you have an example of this or can you explain it further of what local pages are and how to use them? Yeah,

Answer: So hyper-local content. I would love to talk about that, cause it’s a really great thing that you can incorporate into your local pages. So what I mean when I’m talking about hyper-local content is going to be, it can be a paragraph or two on the page that talks about the location, what you do, where you’re located, et cetera. But what hyper-local refers to specifically is content that could only exist for that location. So if I’m, Emily’s dental practice and I’m, have a little employer of, and I have three locations, maybe one of them is like, Hey, we’re located in this parking lot across from such and such, here’s the parking information. So that’s, hyper-local because it only applies to that location, but really just mining opportunities where the content is truly unique is going to be, hyper-local posed to having the exact same content across multiple pages.

Question: COVID hotels, weren’t able to provide their like destination activities, theme, parks, and such in their, in their area. And they, some of our customers started talking about the best walks, the best natural things you could still do during COVID. And they would add the best places to go drive or take a picture of the things that were going to be COVID safe. Would you consider that hypo hyper-local

Answer: Yes, absolutely. That’s definitely going to be something you need to, that location is providing added value and it, even on top of that, I would say you could even encourage people who are looking for staycations and want to do something fun in their local area that they may not have discovered before. All of that would be hyper-local because it’s going to be unique to the individual needs of customers who are going to be staying at that hotel.

Question: For hotels, the GMB post is not available. Can we add offers?

Answer: So the post, so offers are actually a type of post, so no, unfortunately, I am the first to admit that I wished GMB be poster available for hospitality, but they’re currently not important

Question: For hotels. Would you suggest putting the location page on the site?

Answer: I think it’s going to depend on the current structure. I, with SEO, the answer is always going to be, it depends, right? So it’s going to depend partially on how locations exist. In some cases, if there are many, many, many locations, an individual location might have a vanity URL with its own sites. So that would be separate, but if you’re dealing with a smaller amount of locations, it might make more sense to add them to the main domain as well, just to build up the authority there and have more content opportunities. So really it’s kind of analyzing what you currently have and then saying, okay, is this working or not? And then moving from there and doing incremental, improving,

Question: I have a service-based business. Any advice on showing up in the neighborhood maps we cater to?

Answer: So surface area businesses for context, what that means is it’s a business where they go to customers, opposed to customers coming to you, which means the address wouldn’t be displayed in GMB. So service area businesses are newer to GMB, but Google does have the opportunity to add service areas and create kind of a little similar to that proximity bubble we looked at earlier, right? The, the thing is, as far as ranking and proximity is concerned, Google is still going to take your immediate address into consideration. So what you can do is add all of the areas that you service, but as far as visibility, the expectation should be that you’re still going to show up more often in your hyper-local backyard. That’s how that’s how Google ranks sites, otherwise it would be too easy to rank outside, in other cities where you’re not located. So that’s what I’ve seen is the expectation still should be for maps, ranking, specifically being in that individual, the, where you’re actually located, opposed to hoping to rank in cities that are far away. But on the flip side, you can still create visibility, incorporate your ads campaign, right? If you’re wanting, if you’re not seeing visibility a little farther out, then focus on local ads in those areas. And you can also always add that content on your website They, we serve as these other areas to provide that context. But realistically, the first expectation should be you’re going to rank closer to where you’re located.

Question: I have a lot of clients, I E lawyers who don’t need, or want a physical business address. They work out of their homes or meet up with people in public spaces. However, they do only serve people locally or statewide because that’s where they’re licensed to practice. What would you recommend for a local SEO strategy for them?

Answer: So I’ve actually heard of some attorneys doing this as well because COVID, we’re all working from home. So it’s just not as necessary. In that situation you could set it up as a service area business, but again, they’re not necessarily going to rank in the entire state because of that. So what I would do is have, have their listing most accurately reflect how the business functions. So if they plan on having an office in the future, or they’re going to go back to, having an office where they can set up actual physical appointments, then I would say, keep, keep the address there if, if you’re able to. But if they are truly migrating to being more of a service area based business, then yeah, they can remove it and just add the service area instead and make it super clear to customers that they are doing virtual appointments and all of that. And again, from a, visibility and math rankings perspective, they’re still going to show up closest to where their address is regardless of whether or not that is hidden from view. So again, the principle there, I would say is just make sure that the actual listing, excuse me, reflects the reality of the business most accurately.

Question: What are the types of local paid ads and is that considered part of local for you?

Answer: So you can have advertising in Yelp, you can have advertising in ways and industry. So there are just normal paid ads and yes, that would be part of local if you’re serving local customers. So your PPC, your pay-per-click some industries also have the ability to have local service ads. This is largely for home services type businesses. So anything from plumbers to junk removal, that type of thing, but also was recently opened up for lawyers as well. So local service ads are really great because they’re specifically targeted for local businesses and they involve a really rigorous approval process. And you can get this cool little Google guaranteed tech Mark on your, on your ad. So I would definitely incorporate that into your local strategy, if those are available for your particular industry type Google message, That’s Google messaging is now moving to desktop, I’ve heard of is now, or will soon be available as well for Google ads. Can you comment or explain?

I can’t comment to the ad specifically but I can comment to the desktop portion of that. So yes, basically the entry point point for messaging in the past has only existed on mobile really. And from what I’ve seen, it largely lives on mobile as well. So mobile customers will have the opportunity to chat with you. However, I have started seeing some listings now where you can respond to messages from desktop as it can be so cumbersome to have to log into your, do you need to be from your phone to respond to messages? So it’s largely, there’s a heavy local emphasis there. Yes, but as far as responding to messages, Google is rolling out the capability to respond from the top.

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