At the beginning of April this year, Moz released their hotly anticipated 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors (LSRF) survey. Every year, Moz assembles a thorough questionnaire with the intention to audit successful local digital marketers to discover their preferred techniques for ranking locally. The results are compiled and then shared worldwide to create a comprehensive resource for businesses to utilize within their own SEO efforts.
This year, the Local Search Ranking Factors survey revealed that proximity is now the number one local ranking factor for Google – which makes complete sense. Google’s mission is to enhance user experience; they’ve been able to predict what you want to search for a while now, so of course the next step is predicting the where. For example, if the user is searching for a cleaner, it’s likely they’re going to want a cleaner in the local area, purely for convenience. Google pulls data from your IP address position or your mobile device location, and will filter results to align with your area, thus ensuring that your top cleaner results are local, easy to visit, and easy to contact.
Whilst this improved user experience is great for searches, it makes our role as local SEO experts a little tougher. Where techniques such as bespoke doorway pages or content optimization could have previously lead to a number one position in local search results, the automatic proximity filter introduced by Google in their Possum update of September 2016 changed all that. This is where the phrase ‘post-rank’ comes into play – thanks to the algorithm update, we’ve now entered a world where a static position 1 simply doesn’t exist anymore, not in the way we have previously known it. No matter how optimized your website is for your area of choice, if your website address isn’t in close proximity to the user searching for your keywords, you’re not going to appear in position 1 of the SERPs.
The goal posts for achieving successful local search campaigns are constantly shifting and moving with little warning, thanks to Google’s vigilance and insistence of keeping SEO experts on their toes. Therefore, ONL Marketing have answered below exactly what the phrase ‘post-rank’ means, and offered measures to take in order to navigate this whole new world and retain your online presence in your chosen local areas.
What Is ‘Post-Rank’?
A term coined (as far as we can see) by Search Engine Land columnist Megan Hannay, ‘post-rank’ refers to the declining importance of obtaining position 1 within the SEO industry. Previously, our role as an SEO agency would be to create content and optimize client websites to obtain a static position 1 for the relevant keywords and locations selected by the clients, and utilize a number of tried-and-trusted SEO techniques to retain the top position. With the latest Possum update, focus is now instead placed on gaining maximum visibility within page 1 of the SERPs across all selected keywords and areas. A flavourful mix of various algorithm updates, the rise of voice search, and Google’s move to their mobile-first index has torn apart what once was clear and simple about local search, thus changing our job as an SEO agency and possibly changing what it takes to rank locally forever.
How Do We Navigate A ‘Post-Rank’ World?
To find out how best to drive your SEO campaigns in a post-rank world, you’ll have to first start by considering the elements that have amalgamated together to modify the local search checklist.
Last September, Google rolled out the update of Possum, an algorithm specifically focused on improving local search rankings and Google Maps results. The impact on search results was immediate, with SEO companies worldwide reporting fluctuations soon after the algorithm was rolled out. Aside from the heightened importance of the physical location of the searcher, the requirement to clean up Google My Business listings was placed at the forefront of ranking locally, with Google pulling out the best and most relevant listings to feature in the Local 3 Pack.
Position 1 – Still Important?
As noted above, the need to be position 1 within local search results is unnecessary thanks to the personalisation factors of the Possum update. Instead, shoot for maximum visibility across all areas you wish to optimise for – branding is only going to continue to make an impact on search results, both local and otherwise, so shifting your focus to improving brand awareness could be worth your while. In the meantime, we’re recommend continuing to write high quality content and optimise your pages as you would in order to achieve position 1, and it’s likely you’ll be rewarded with a page one ranking for your desired areas.
The Inevitable Rise Of Voice Search
With Google’s mobile-first index making waves in the SEO community and more users accessing websites via their mobile devices than ever before, voice search can no longer be ignored when creating content and crafting user journeys for your clients. But how will voice search affect local search results? Well, potentially more than you may think. How can your business website offer all the data your user is voice-searching for? Details should be clearly displayed within the website – for example, if someone were to voice-search ‘show me a Bedford-based plumber that has reviews boasting over four stars and is working until 7pm tonight?’, you will need to ensure that your website can provide all the information Google needs to decide that you are the number one choice for the area, and thus suggest your website. The more data you can provide that can improve the user’s experience, the more likely it is that Google will offer your result above your local competitors. Customer reviews are due to have a huge impact on local voice search results as users, and therefore Google, are more likely to select businesses with the highest review ratings. Begin encouraging your customers to leave online reviews at your Google My Business listing if you haven’t already. Share your listing across social media, include the link to the listing in your email footer, and don’t be afraid to reach out to past customers to ask for reviews – you’ll be relieved you did when voice search truly finds its footing.
Using This Information, How Can I Optimise My Business For Local Search?
1. Amend Your Google My Business listing – Ensure that your Google My Business listing is current and correct, listing the address that appears on your website and offering as much information as possible. Duplicate listings can cause visibility issues and will ultimately be a problem when trying to rank locally – no matter their origin or intention, it is best to remove duplicate listings to make things as easy as possible for Google to crawl. Be sure to select the Google My Business listing that provides the current physical address of your business – if you’re questioned by Google and cannot prove that your business is located at the address shown on your GMB listing, you’ll be in trouble!
2. Clean up your citations – similarly to the multiple Google My Business listings, multiple citations that present your business name and address with slightly different features can be detrimental for your business’ presence within local search. Moz’s Local Search survey found that consistency and quality of citation data were highly rated when it came to both local pack finder and local organic factors, reiterating the importance of a clean citation profile. Taking the time to comb through your existing citations and amending errors to update all data will strengthen your brand and ultimately impact your local search rankings.
3. Look at your links – although the relationship between rankings and links continues to be argued and scrutinised by SEO experts globally, Moz’s Local Search survey revealed that links are still paramount for ranking in local SERPs. In-fact, when it came to organic ranking factors, the quality, diversity, and quantity of inbound links all featured within the top 6 results of the survey, plainly showcasing why businesses should try to establish links – particularly if those links arrive from industry related sources or, more importantly, locally relevant domains. Navigate post-rank SERPs by connecting with local websites and businesses and scouring the web for potential link relationships, even striking up a conversation with the local neighbourhood watch and looking at their website can result in a quality link arriving from a local domain to your business website.
4. Gain online reviews – Once again, we cannot stress how important online reviews are for your business. In Moz’s LSRF results, Google reviews were absolutely considered important factors for landing in the Local Pack Finder, possessing 4 places in the top 50 results. Superb.digital’s excellent article ‘How to Ask Your Clients for Google + Reviews’ is a great place to start if you aren’t sure how to encourage your customers to leave a review on your Google Business page.
5. Examine doorway pages – Integrating doorway pages into the navigation of your website is highly recommended. Although doorway pages specifically targeting areas of business interest are not yet penalised by Google, with such a focus on personalising local search, we could be heading that way. Doorway pages themselves aren’t a problem; if they present an obvious purpose for the user (as opposed to being hidden away in the depths of the sitemap ready to be crawled by a bot) then you needn’t worry. However, if your doorway pages are merely uploaded with no other purpose than to rank you locally, you may need to review their usefulness.
6. Voice Search – Test out your voice search features by asking your mobile device to suggest a place near you, containing your keyword and business industry. Even if your business isn’t suggested to you initially, take the time to examine your competitor and see what information they offer that you do not that is making them seem more appealing to Google.
With constant developments affecting how your business can rank locally, it can seem like an overwhelming task to handle on your own. Here at ONL Marketing, we strive to remain ahead of current trends to ensure that our clients receive the best possible service.