SEO is an ever-changing landscape. One of the biggest changes in the past 2-3 years has been the rise in the importance of local SEO. All of a sudden, Google placed much more emphasis on delivering location-based results to people searching online. This created new opportunities for optimizing our websites to rank well in the “local” SEO space.
What this meant for a lot of us was optimizing for the map snack pack.
The map snack pack was a game changer. Those three little local search results that appear above the traditional 10 organic “blue links,” became a focus for many of us as they attract a huge amount of real estate and a high volume of clicks, especially on mobile devices.
Google’s constantly changing the playing field. After carrying out months of work to get clients ranking in those top three positions, Google can decide to change the algorithm to deliver more relevant results to the end user. The latest major update in the local SEO space was Possum (September 2016).
The Possum algorithm
The Possum algorithm was a shock to the system for many SEO experts. Suddenly, local search results became impacted more by searcher location than citations and on-page SEO. This meant that companies had to change their focus.
You may have done everything you can from a local SEO perspective including:
- keeping your Google My Business page up to date
- updating all citations, so they are consistent with your Google My Business page
- adding new citations
- ensuring your on-page SEO is location focused
- adding relevant Schema.org markup
- getting a consistent stream of reviews
- getting good reviews
These actions could all be negated if your business happens to be in the same street as another business in the same sector. The Possum algorithm meant that previously strong performing sites were suddenly filtered out to allow Google to show a wider range of businesses that were not necessarily all found in the same location.
This had huge implications for SEO professionals as things were no longer completely under our control. That’s why it’s now important to think outside of the box and look at other potential opportunities. Here are some of my top tips to maximize your local SEO potential.
Near Me searches
While recent research from Think With Google suggests that “near me” searches may be a thing of the past, data from Google Trends (below) suggests that there is still a growing opportunity for SEOs to take advantage of “near me” search queries.
If you are struggling to appear in the local map snack pack for your head keywords, try adding the “near me” modifier and optimizing your page around that. You need to perform your keyword research, so there is enough search volume to justify the work. Yet, the “near me” searches worldwide continue to grow, so there’s an opportunity to improve your local search performance by optimizing for relevant “near me” search queries.
Yep, that’s right, SEOs people. If you’re struggling to rank organically in the map snack pack, it might be time to turn to paid advertising to maintain a position at the top of the SERPs.
Recent research from Dr. Pete at Moz shows that 35% of competitive local keywords (in the US) have local pack ads. The study looked at 110 keywords in 11 categories across 100 major US cities, and the results showed that, in some sectors, over 90% of local snack pack results showed an ad.
Advertising in the local map snack pack is competitive. The study showed that every local pack with ads showed only one single ad as well as 2-3 organic results. That’s a lot of companies fighting for that one ad space, so this could get expensive, depending on what sector you’re in.
Could this be the year that voice search takes off? Despite predictions every year that this will be “the year of voice search,” the take up is still relatively low, but it’s growing.
Here are some compelling stats from Branded3:
- “By 2019, the voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry”, according to a report from Technavio via Skyword.
- “About 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020.” via Mediapos.
- “50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020” according to ComScore.
- “Google voice search queries in 2016 were up 35x over 2008” according to Google trends via Search Engine Watch.
- “40% of adults now use voice search once per day” according to Location World.
- “25% of 16-24 year-olds use voice search on mobile” via Global Web Index.
- “Mobile voice-related searches are 3x more likely to be local-based than text” via Search Engine Watch.
- “Humans can speak 150 words per minute vs type 40 words per minute” via Katherine Watier.
- “43% cite that using voice search is quicker than using a website or an app” via Katherine Watier.
- “Today, speech recognition error rate is 8 percent.” via Bruce Clay.
Voice search accuracy is improving. As of May 2017, Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report suggested that Google’s speech recognition is now at a staggering 95%. That number also just happens to be the threshold for human accuracy. Sure, it’s still slightly more error-prone than typical human dialogue, but the gap is shrinking quickly.
Google has improved its speech recognition AI by 20 percent since 2013 and is continuing to make further breakthroughs. Once this tips 98%, you can expect there to be an absolute boom in the number of voice searches carried out.
With the uptake in the number of voice-first household appliances both available on the market and being used on a daily basis, this could be the year to take advantage of voice search opportunities in the local SEO space.
Featured snippets are on the increase. A recent study from Stone Temple Consulting found that of the 1.4 million search queries they analyzed, more than 30% delivered a featured snippet.
Identifying opportunities in the featured snippet space has also got a lot easier. Tools like Stat and SEMRush both allow you to identify search queries that deliver a featured snippet in the results. This should be an integral part of your keyword research strategy, as the potential click-through rates from featured snippets, essentially ranking you in position 0, are huge.
The Possum algorithm update led to a lot of results being filtered out of the local snack pack results. Proximity to other similar businesses is one of the reasons you can find yourself filtered out. But there are potential opportunities here.
Reviews have always had an impact on your local search ranking. With the ability to filter results by review score, it’s now more important than ever to work on your review strategy. Focus on getting more, and deliver products/services that ensure you are getting positive reviews.
If you can outscore similar companies, the chances are, you’ll soon see them being the ones that are filtered out.
I encourage you to keep focusing on the local map snack pack results, but it’s also important to put some of your local eggs into other baskets, and not rely solely on the snack pack results for driving local traffic. Focusing on the elements mentioned above will only help to strengthen your local position for targeted keywords, creating a win/win situation and delivering strong local SEO results.