Global SEO updates like Panda and Penguin changed fundamental ranking processes across the board, but one of Google’s latest changes, deemed the “Pigeon” update, has made an impact on a much more local level. The Pigeon update, designed to give users a better search experience when looking for local businesses, has put a stop to some old local SEO tactics while paving the way for a handful of new ones.
Google now favors the information found on local directory sites, such as Yelp, with more weight, and uses more offsite information to generate immediate local search results. If you’re running a local business and you want to stay ahead of your competitors, start implementing these three new local SEO strategies:
Ensure Data Accuracy and Consistency Across the Web.
Now, more than ever, Google is cracking down on local businesses whose information is inconsistent or difficult to verify, and rewarding local businesses with clear, concise, and easily-available information. Your first and most important tactic should be to peruse the Web for mentions of your business and claim new profiles on local directories. Mentions of your NAP (business Name, Address, and Phone Number) are becoming major local ranking signals, so the more instances of that information there are across the web, and the more consistent that information is, the better.
Your first step is to claim your local profile pages on every local directory you can find (or at least the ones that are relevant for your business). Google+ and Yelp are must-haves for almost any business, while other sites like TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon are dependent on your specific niche. Most of these sites allow you to claim your local profile for free and take charge of updating it with accurate information and images. Yext provides a tool to easily check many of the major directories, and also shows you how your NAP information appears on each one, highlighting any inconsistencies.
Quantity is significant; the more instances of your data appearing on the Web, the better. But the more important factor here is consistency. Google notices when your NAP information is in the same format, and it will reward you if that format is exactly repeated across each platform. However, any discrepancy—even changing the word “road” to the abbreviation “rd”—could register as an inconsistency, and weaken the impact of your efforts.
Once you’ve completed an initial round of claiming and cleanup, you can start your regular ongoing efforts. Once a month or so, do a routine check of your local profiles and see what other opportunities there are for you to update your information or claim new profiles on up-and-coming platforms. It’s also a good idea to include your NAP (consistent, as always) on other forms of external posts, such as press releases and guest blogs.
Drive Your Customers to Google+ and Yelp (and Similar Local Directories).
The Pigeon update did more than just boost rankings for sites with consistent information across the web. Possibly in response to an accusation that Yelp pages and reviews were not treated favorably in Google’s algorithm, Google updated their ranking structure to improve Yelp page ranking positions. For some small businesses, Yelp review pages actually started ranking higher than the company’s website.
This new ranking system has been seen as interference by some business owners, diverting traffic away from their companies’ webpages. However, it also represents a key opportunity. If more people are visiting Yelp to help make purchasing decisions, and Google wants more people to go to Yelp, all you have to do is spend more time getting people to go to your specific Yelp page.
There’s one key strategy that can simultaneously improve your company page’s ranking, improve your Yelp page’s rank, and give more honest information to your potential customers that could influence them to pursue your business: Encouraging more Yelp reviews. There are several ways to do this, but one of the easiest is to get some promotional material that asks customers to post a review directly. You can include these as stickers on the walls of your establishment, or as leave-behinds when you first meet a new customer. You can also post about it on social media, encouraging your current or past customers to post about their experiences. Positive reviews are, of course, better than negative reviews, but don’t be afraid of seeing some negative reviews. It’s just a part of doing business.
Of course, this strategy works for more than just Yelp. More positive reviews on Google+ is also an important local ranking factor, and positive reviews on other local directory or local information sites will only boost your rankings further. Encourage your customers to leave positive reviews wherever they can—just don’t pay for positive or fake reviews, or else you’ll suffer a penalty instead of gaining a boost. Also, never discourage your customers from leaving negative reviews.
Include More High-Quality Images and Videos.
The Internet is evolving into a format that favors more visual experiences than written text. As a result, Google is favoring local businesses with more high quality images and videos available for customers to view. For example, let’s take a look at the “local carousel”—the strip of local business entries that pops up immediately under the search bar. These are populated with brief descriptions, reviews, and images of local businesses relevant to the search query, and are formatted in a way that draws the eye of the person searching for them. While the exact algorithmic factors that generate these results are as secretive as the rest of the Google algorithm, it’s possible to optimize your business to show up in the banner. The first step is to include as many high-quality images of your business as you can on your Google+ profile (and other profiles around the web). Include images of the interior and exterior of your business, as well as your signature products (if applicable). It’s also a good idea to update these images regularly.
Next, upload videos to YouTube that feature your business. YouTube is owned by Google, and it therefore receives some extra weight in search rankings. People will have the ability to see your official videos immediately from the search results page, and you can include your exact location to increase your local relevance. The secondary benefit of including so many images and videos is that your online visitors will have a window into your business, and they’ll feel more comfortable choosing your business after having that virtual online experience.
While the Pigeon algorithm caused some major shake-ups in the world of local search, its biggest changes resulted in key opportunities for local business owners. By adapting to Google’s newfound preference for local directory sites, you’ll be able to increase traffic to your own site while engaging new potential customers directly on your review pages. And by ensuring accurate information and high-quality images across the web, you’ll make it even easier for new customers to find your business and make an informed purchasing decision.
The fundamental principles of quality SEO have remained the same: give your users a great, informative online experience. The only difference is what platforms work best to give them that experience, and what strategies you need to execute to accomplish it.