Businesses need every advantage in today’s tumultuous economy, and prioritizing local SEO and marketing may be a way to stay on top for many. Targeting local consumers and monitoring their shopping trends also allow companies to compete for shifting brand preferences as people solidify new ways of shopping.
According to McKinsey, 75% of U.S. consumers have tried a new way of shopping in the past year, such as buying online, using their mobiles, and services that allow them to make a purchase on a website and then pick it up in a store. More than one-third of customers have changed brand preferences, and 73% of this group plan to stick with their new choice going forward. COVID-19 has reshaped the sales and marketing world, with customers demanding a mix of convenience and value.
Refreshing marketing and SEO to focus on local audiences helps you rethink and reshape your overall campaigns too. It gets marketing teams to think about what has changed and research how customers are shopping differently. Risk profiles are vital to determine if your audience is still less willing to shop in areas without mask requirements, more hesitant to linger in crowded places, or has changed patterns as more vaccines are administered.
That’s a significant promise for a single marketing activity, so let’s investigate how local SEO can accomplish it and why it might be the right area of focus for your team.
Quickly builds trust
Local marketing is a core way to build trust with your audience because they’re more likely to trust reviews, ratings, and comments about a local business. The latest data from BrightLocal’s extensive consumer review survey says that 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses. Reviews are tied to trust, with more than 90% of people saying positive reviews make people more likely to buy, and negative reviews make them less likely to buy. The report notes that Google My Business results are the most likely to be viewed for local businesses.
In terms of SEO, this trust means companies need to prioritize their reviews and reputation. You’ll want to encourage local consumers to leave reviews, be active about responding to them, and leverage these reviews in your marketing. With a simple screengrab or copying text, you can turn reviews into essentially UGC and testimonial content that allows you to highlight a specific store or region. They’re also assets that you can use to perform well more broadly. However, their value to me as the consumer is that I know the store down the street has a 4.9-star rating, and just last week, a customer said it had “the most helpful experts for what to plant in my garden.”
Some elements may be time-sensitive. The BrightLocal survey notes that two-thirds of consumers say they won’t use a business if reviews say it doesn’t have COVID-19 safety measures in place. The local SEO response is — if that is an untrue statement — to reply to reviews and note your safety measures while also adding them to your website and Google My Business information. Optimizing your data to address local efforts can cut against that potential customer loss by providing accurate information. You want the correct data to show up in search results, which will take a concerted effort.
It’s unclear how long the COVID-19 safety measure data will be relevant. However, it’s a good lesson for everyone going forward. There may be other health or social trends that customers demand, which Google or other search services adapt to display.
Prioritizes motivated customers
Local marketing targets people who are looking to make a purchase. They’re trying to accomplish various errands and tasks, including buying what you have to offer. Local search can be taken as an intent to act. Your responses to local queries, such as information provided on your Yelp page or where your ads direct to, should facilitate that action.
Consider using local SEO efforts to help people figure out “how” to buy, not “why” to buy. With less travel, even in the local area, people are planning more and you being in local and map searches makes it easy for them to add you to their route. Noting options for pickup, delivery, and more can help speed customers’ decisions to buy from you specifically.
Focus marketing on your specific service regions. You’ll want to drive traffic that’s relevant to avoid feeling like you’re wasting someone’s time. If your ads continually land on searches outside of where you operate, you may build awareness that doesn’t translate into sales.
On the other hand, when people search with the “near me” phrase in their query (e.g., plumbers near me), you can show up if your business is physically closer. It’ll allow you to compete for some distant audiences while avoiding spending to compete for them. For our plumbers, that’s often a good situation because you’re not putting money toward potential clients who require hours of transit time each way. For those that serve niche audiences, perhaps stamp or coin buyers, you gain reach into interested parties that might be willing to travel a longer distance.
To find and target motivated customers who are close enough to you to complete the purchase, marketing efforts should ensure site copy and metadata to include locations, cities, and pricing data. Google now denotes dollar signs next to store names in results. Ensuring pricing is correct helps you keep those motivated shoppers who may finalize decisions based on a combination of price and location.
Meets new demands
We still see ongoing trends from COVID pop-up for local businesses. Google is adding relevant information to its search results, and this will likely be a permanent change. One of the most significant shifts has been highlighting special or secondary hours, where businesses set aside time for at-risk customers. Building that information now could potentially allow you to leverage other elements in the future, such as hours for rewards members. Get your marketing and SEO efforts to start thinking about and addressing these changes and new demands.
One growing trend that will likely stick is the new options for people to get the products they buy. For safety and convenience, people are thinking about how they can shop online and pick up in the store, get a contactless delivery, and more. People are looking for these options in major online shops and local food delivery and pharmacy prescription drop-offs. One panel of experts suggests that the services that began in 2020 will become a staple of shopping in 2021 and beyond.
Your website and local search listings will need to adjust to reflect these options. Your back-end tools will need to expand to support using inventory in multiple ways. And don’t forget about the people and experts who need to pull off getting orders to people.
“Push your fulfillment capabilities—whether that’s a stockroom, the warehouse you rent, or when you outsource—to train and master new practices,” said Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment. “In-store pickup will need specific hours, and your team must have orders ready at specific times. People need to know how to handle options like delivering goods to a car safely. And when something is out of stock locally, you’ll want strong direct-to-consumer fulfillment to ship an order to people within two days to avoid losing their business.”
The planning you can do now as the economy begins to pick back up will help you immensely as we all discover just how much of these new fulfillment demands become permanent.
Addresses narrowing customer attention
In most searches now, Google provides local results under a map, but these have slimmed down from seven items to just three over the years. This “local 3-pack” drives a significant amount of traffic because studies suggest that 44% of people who perform a local search click on at least one of these links.
If you land in the 3-pack, the SERP includes your name, rating, and price range. There’s been a COVID-19 impact now where Google adds eating options, including “no-contact delivery,” and it’ll tell the searcher if your location is closed.
Focus your local SEO efforts on getting into this list. That’ll give you a clear goal for all the efforts discussed. Adjust your SEO and business listings to try and meet search behaviors from your audience. For Google, that includes some elements such as ensuring your location, website, and contact details are the same on your website, Google My Business, Yelp, and any other directories where you’re listed.
There are even rumors that Google may shift to a 2-pack on mobile devices. Get your local SEO game in high gear to avoid falling behind those “View all” or “More places” buttons.
Always return to the customer’s perspective
Accenture gives us one of the best framings for thinking about local SEO in this time of eCommerce growth: “If I can do it online, I will.”
With the pandemic still lingering and audiences having mixed trust in visiting locations, stores need to help potential customers accomplish as much online as possible. For some, that is about prioritizing information to inform decision-making and location choice. For other businesses, this can mean supporting the option to buy online and pick up in a store or providing contact-less delivery options.
Local SEO helps you reach a wide range of audiences that are looking to shop in multiple ways. You’ll still reach shoppers who want to visit. However, you may also reach people looking to buy online while supporting a local business. Your local SEO efforts give you a chance to meet customers however they feel comfortable and tell them why they should buy from you.
Help your audience do what it can online. Give them a local option for everything else. And use local SEO tactics to achieve both with your website, marketing, ad placement, and more.