New year, new trends, right? With that theme in mind, it's important to think about the year ahead and what you can expect from your local search strategies in 2018.
Instead of chasing every new trend, though, focus on the basics and ensure you have a solid foundation for long-term success in place. As such, the three basic elements to begin optimizing for are existing search behavior of users in your target audience, focusing on the user experience after the click happens and improving user-focused content.
OK Google; Hi Siri – Understanding the digital assistant
According to Google Trends, Google voice search queries in 2016 are up 35 times over 2008. Additionally, 40 percent of adults now use voice search once per day. To say that voice search is the latest and greatest opportunity for local search optimization is an understatement.
With the rise of digital assistants, from mobile and desktop to internet of thing (IoT) devices, there is now a growing market that can change the way searches are performed. In fact, Amazon has sold more than 10 million Alexa-powered Echo devices since late 2014, and Google says it sold more than one Google Home device every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October 2017. No longer are people typing in queries on search engines. Instead, they're speaking to their digital assistants as if they were friends: "Hey Siri, where's the closest barber shop?"
When it comes to your local search strategy, start by optimizing your basic location data and business information for all of your locations. Digital assistants are smart, but they can only be as good as the data they have available. If your website is outdated or misleading across different platforms, people won't find your locations, no matter how well your digital assistant works.
It's also important to focus more on longtail keywords that connect the user to your location, as these tend to also be more conversational in nature. Instead of targeting "cars," focus on "car parts near me" or "vintage Corvettes." People are looking for answers, especially for purchases they're intending to make at that very moment.
Also, consider natural language and how users engage with their assistants. They tend to have a conversational tone, as if speaking to a friend, meaning the phrases they use will differ.
The user experience matters more than ever
While the customer journey and experience has always been important for brands, it's even more vital now with the shift to online shopping and search. Google pushes for the focus to be on the user, meaning sites should deliver a smooth user experience (UX) for their visitors. Not only does a good UX increase the chance of consumers engaging with your site, but it can also result in recommendations to friends and family, increasing conversions. On the back end of your website, proper technical and schema markup helps search engines understand which pages are the most useful for your target consumers, and ultimately rank higher than others sites/pages.
For multilocation brands with multiple pages, understanding the localized user experience is critical to success. All of your local business pages should feature relevant business information and local content, and have an easy-to-navigate structure that caters to the local experience. Take a look at visitors' browsing habits to understand what it can teach you about customers. Those in NYC might care more about your location relevant to their proximity, over those in the suburbs who want to find out about your shipping policies. Streamlining these items makes it easier for people to find what they’re looking for when they need it.
77 percent of Americans own smartphones, meaning there is a growing need to provide an excellent UX across all devices, especially mobile. An unorganized or slow mobile site will not only deter your customer from shopping, it can also impact the amount of site traffic you receive, leading to a lower search engine ranking.
Now that we've covered the importance of the user experience, it's time to discuss the rise of visual search.
Can you visualize that?
Visual search is an exciting area that includes the advance of technology and the UX, and takes it to a whole different level. As the internet becomes more visually focused through content sharing and social platforms (824 Instagram photos are uploaded and 72,334 YouTube videos are viewed in one second), now is the perfect time for marketers to understand and explore the power of visual content.
Consider how people consume visual content – they want to see the product before purchasing or check out your store layout before visiting. Rich, colorful visuals are the new way to engage customers and increase online site traffic and in-store visits.
Think about your target audience and their interests. If you own multiple gyms, feature images of different exercises and fitness equipment across your pages. Have a state-of-the-art fitness center in Chicago? Fill the web page and listing with colorful images or virtual tours of your facilities. Consumers what to know what they're getting before they buy and photos are the perfect way to serve that purpose.
Optimizing your visual content for SEO purposes will also go a long way toward increasing engagement, especially as more companies begin to leleverage itsower.
2018 will be another interesting year for SEO, especially as technology continues to evolve. Traditional techniques can still be effective, but combining them with the latest trends will prove fruitful in attracting and retaining customers. For multilocation franchises, understanding your customer per location is key, especially for your bottom line.