Local SEO is has been an under-appreciated discipline in digital marketing. Yet management and optimization of local business content and reviews, including for multi-location brands, directly and indirectly impact trillions of dollars in annual consumer spending.
Roughly 90 percent of retail and an even higher percentage of service transactions occur offline. But search, reviews and social recommendations now influence a large majority of U.S. consumers in their purchase decision-making.
Since mobile search volumes overtook desktop queries just over two years ago, more marketers have come to recognize the importance of local SEO and its impact on lower-funnel, “ready to buy” consumers. Google has also placed increasing emphasis on local search and Google My Business (GMB), adding a dizzying array of features and capabilities over the past two years.
To understand where local SEO (and Google) are going, we asked some of the leading local SEO practitioners to offer advice for 2019. The following are their observations, predictions and recommendations.
Mike Blumethal: “Google will continue to develop the capability to transact directly from the Knowledge Panel. They will continue to roll out new partnerships for their Reserve with Google to include integration with major players like Yelp and develop tools for additional segments. In addition, they will build out a back-end to the reserve interface that allows them to handle the complete transaction in certain, high-value verticals like hotels.”
“AR will start to show up in the conversation about local search optimization.”
“Businesses will start to see the value of getting and using their own, first party reviews for local content and social proof.”
Mary Bowling: “Feed the Google beast! The more information about your business, your products and your services that you can provide clearly to Google, the more it will understand what you do, where you do it and which queries your company might be the best ‘answer”\’ for. Provide this information via GMB and other local listings, your website structure, content and schema, info on industry authority sites, relevant media mentions and by encouraging plenty of honest reviews.”
Miriam Ellis: “Real-time local inventory will become a real ‘thing.’ Pointy just passed the 1 percent adoption threshold of all U.S. retail businesses. Their device and their launch partnership with Google’s ‘See What’s In Store’ feature will start to be felt in local. Early adopters will be rewarded.”
“Sustainable local business practices will become increasingly influential in consumer decision-making as U.S. citizens experience messaging surrounding climate change in the run-up to a major election. Local businesses should green-audit their models and market their improvements.”
“Reputation will rule the day. Moz found that 91 percent of surveyed marketers agree that reviews impact rankings and Google says that 27 percent of local searches have the intent of reading reviews about a specific business. Local businesses must take a robust stance on the entire review management cycle.”
Joy Hawkins: “I predict Google My Business will add Q&A to the dashboard (long overdue), continue to roll out Local Service Ads to other industries and come out with a way to schedule Posts in the dashboard as well.”
Dan Leibson: “Bing will continue to be far and away the most critical voice search “channel” to optimize. The data is pretty clear: Amazon Echo has ~70 percent market share, yet voice search experts continue to promote an over-reliance on Google, especially regarding local voice search. Also, Bing’s local search data and experience are much worse than Google’s, so the optimization work has an actual short-term return.”
“The importance of websites will continue to be a huge trend in 2019. As brands continue to pour more and more dollars into their owned assets, their local search dominance will continue to improve and SMBs will continue to be left behind.”
“Google’s local pack results will continue to get worse and worse. It seems pretty clear that the focus on quantity of features and their quick roll out has negatively impacted their local pack results pretty heavily. Expect to see more automated review generation schemes in 2019, more keyword stuffing in business names and more fake locations. After all, it works and the downside is pretty minor.”
David Mihm: “Mike Blumenthal has done a great job promoting the concept of ‘Google as the New Homepage,” but I think 2019 is the year businesses (and agencies, for that matter) finally realize just how profound, and profoundly different, a concept that is when it comes to thinking about SEO.”
“In a story that flew under the radar in 2018, Google made a significant improvement in its local branding. It is now promoting the term ‘business profile’ to replace the esoteric ‘Knowledge Panel’ designation (a move I fully applaud).”
“This more approachable packaging will begin to help the average local business owner realize that Google My Business truly is the natural place to start your marketing journey on Google, in the same way you’d update and market your Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.”
“In addition to a fully-baked, well-optimized Business Profile converting more direct searches from customers looking for you, I think we’ll see more and more examples where content added within Google My Business begins to inform relevance for certain discovery queries.”
“I’m also predicting 2019 is the year that messaging becomes a principal feature in GMB. On the SMB side, messaging feels like the most natural area for Google to invest in next. It keeps businesses continually engaged with GMB. It’s a feature that doesn’t involve content creation on the part of businesses — an area they’ve historically struggled with. It provides a lighter-touch transactional mechanism for longer-tail industries or industries where Reserve is too complex for a simple user experience.”
“On the consumer side, it addresses a pain point for millennial searchers. It also keeps searchers in the Google ecosystem, rather than losing them to a website clickthrough. As GMB gradually becomes more interactive, messaging feels like an essential component of that effort.”
Andrew Shotland: “‘Optimizing for voice search’ will start to show up as a bold line item in most local SEO proposals even though the consultant won’t actually do anything about it beyond a normal SEO program.”
“Blog posting budgets will start to morph into GMB Posts management budgets.”
“Link building will continue to be the biggest line item in your local SEO budget, regardless of E-A-T optimization, search intent targeting, or any other tactic you may read about, even in this article.”