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Mike Fantis Managing Partner Make It Rain

What steps should be taken when optimising for local search?

One area of local search that is increasing in importance is the local listings or, as some would call it, the maps channel.

As Google’s local pack now hosts just 3 results, competition is fierce.

But before we get into the optimisation of this channel, it is important to ensure that any master data and store locator information is up to date and correct.

Local Data

Most businesses will have submitted data to Google, but if this isn’t a channel that a business reviews regularly or the data has been managed by multiple people over time, there are a number of housekeeping tasks to consider:

  • Review Google data against the master data
  • Ensure there is consistent naming of the business
  • Include the location in the business name
    • {Brand} Oxford Street
    • {Brand} Northampton
  • Review the landing page being used
    • Homepage vs. Store Locator Page vs. Campaign Page
  • Add tracking parameters to URLs to give clean analytics data

The next area of focus is to submit the local data to all vendors and directories. 

Remembering to add tracking parameters for each vendor means that performance can be analysed. The more accurate and consistent visibility the business has, the greater the boost to Google rankings.

Many brands focus on Google only and miss out on the opportunity the other vendors provide. Not only does increased and consistent citations improve Google ranking, it also provides an increase in organic sessions and also gives the business additional channels to gain exposure and generate footfall.

The following illustration from Moz shows just how complicated the local ecosystem has become:

Local reviews

The last piece of this particular local jigsaw is the management of local reviews. Again, most brands will have a social media team to respond to Facebook and Twitter and a sentiment monitoring tool, but how many engage with reviews at the local level?

Reviews on Google, Yelp, and the like are specific to a store/location and in some instances can be much more meaningful. These reviews allow businesses to spot trends in certain stores if the negative review includes a common theme.

Any brand not logging into its accounts on a regular basis runs the risk of missing user suggested edits and reviews.

Not only are brands running the risk of allowing a local review to damage the national brand perception but they are neglecting another one of Google’s ranking factors. In everything that Google does the user is at the heart of their decisions. They want users to have a positive experience when searching via Google, when buying from businesses found via Google and now visiting businesses found on Google.

Negative reviews raise alarm bells for the likes of Google and it makes normal business sense. Why would they rank a business that has ten 1 out of 5 reviews in the last week?

In the offline world this would be like stocking a product nobody likes or a product that most customers complain about. In the end the user will stop visiting the store. This is Google’s mantra. They don’t want to lose market share, they want to stay at the top, and by serving relevant results and giving the user best businesses to engage with, they are ensuring that Google stays at the heart of local search.

And if you need to manage negative reviews:

  • Take the conversation offline
  • Settle the issue
  • If the settlement is of a benefit to the user, (E.g. 10% off next visit) ask them to either edit their review or leave a new review by explaining the importance to the business and so other members of the team know the review has been dealt with.