If you are looking to dominate your local search listings, then there are important strategies you should be undertaking in regards to SEO and marketing. Learn what some of these strategies are as I chat with well respected local search expert, David Mihm.
Google knows that small businesses lack the engineering teams and budgets to build websites with a great user experience, so they’re providing that experience to searchers via your Knowledge Panel.
Along with being an industry legend, David co-founded GetListed.org, an application to help small businesses optimize their presence in local directories (which he sold to Moz in 2012). He is also an advocate for sustainable digital marketing techniques for small businesses and an all-around brilliant and great guy.
So let's jump right in...
1. What’s the MOST important thing that online small businesses should be aware of right now?
At least for locally-focused businesses based in the U.S., the extent to which Google is becoming pay-to-play for discovery searches. Whether you sell products or services, Local Inventory Ads and Local Service Ads are going to dramatically change your customer acquisition moving forward.
Through these simple ad units, Google is removing the need for keyword targeting, bid management, ad creative, and even landing pages. Google has automated the entire process.
These ads are basically the only thing searchers will be presented with on mobile and voice searches, and they are rolling out across more and more categories and locales on a regular basis.
Each has the potential to make customer acquisition easier but more expensive, and it in the very near future, if not already, it will be much more important to focus on customer service, re-engagement and loyalty programs than Title Tags, citations, or inbound links.
2. How important is SEO to a small business? Local SEO?
Both are important, but they’re not the silver bullets they were a decade ago when I started in this space. Both have become much more competitive, and because Google’s monetizing the SERPs so much more heavily, there are fewer winners than there used to be.
3. How can a small online business best prepare for Mobilegeddon?
Mobilegeddon is actually overblown, IMO, as so much of what is happening in local search, these days is happening on the Google SERP, not on your website. Google knows that small businesses lack the engineering teams and budgets to build websites with a great user experience, so they are providing that experience to searchers via your Knowledge Panel.
Tactically, I would run my site through Google’s mobile-friendliness tool. If it looks decent, you are good. If it doesn’t, time to move your website to Squarespace or a responsive WordPress theme. (And if you are not already on one of those platforms, moving will probably help your overall SEO in the long run anyway).
4. When it comes to Schema, what should an online business focus on?
The LocalBusiness schema is the most important one. As my friend Mary Bowling says, “It’s like handing Google your business card.”
Beyond that, I would look at the place review schema to mark up your testimonials. But it would be much better to use a service like GetFiveStars to automate that for you with a widget (among many other benefits).
5. What three actionable tips do you have for helping a small online businesses to get ahead right now?
There really aren’t any guaranteed quick wins anymore. So my three actionable tips are all longer-term in nature:
1) Understand the value of a customer’s email address and make every reasonable effort to capture and organize them.
As I mentioned in my answer to your first question, re-engagement and loyalty are going to become more important than ever as Google becomes more pay-to-play (Facebook’s been there for years, of course).
Email should be the easiest way to gather feedback (see below), re-engage your customers, and build loyalty and word-of-mouth. And beyond direct communications, email addresses can be used for retargeting and lookalike audiences on both Facebook and Google ad networks.
Privy is my favorite tool for capturing email addresses on your site, and you should use an Email Service Provider like Mailchimp to segment your lists around interests or other criteria specific to your business.
2) Do a “site:yourdomain.com” search on Google.com.
In terms of on-site SEO, Title Tags are still numero uno when it comes to influencing rankings. I just did this for Tidings.com last week. Even for an SEO veteran like me, it is always amazing how many pages aren’t targeting a keyword/keyphrase I care about, and at least in my case, I was shocked at the number of tag and category pages Google had indexed that weren’t targeting a keyword at all.
Even SEO novices can perform this search and highlight pages for their marketing staff or web developer to improve.
(As an aside, it is the best way I know to audit your SEO agency, since Title Tags are the first thing any reputable practitioner will look at, and fix if necessary.)
3) Invest heavily in customer feedback.
If all you care about is rankings, I see reviews quickly becoming the dominant ranking factor in local search.
But customer feedback can help your business in so many other ways within marketing and beyond it. If you are not yet intentionally gathering feedback from every customer, now is the time to start.
So, just to recap:
- Watch for customer acquisition to become easier but more expensive as ads take over discovery SERPs.
- This pay-to-play model is why it will be much more important to focus on customer service and loyalty than title tags or links.
- Heck yes, mobile friendliness matters but don’t waste time and effort going overboard.
- LocalBusiness and place review schema are important if you want local listings.
- Try to gather feedback from every. single. customer.
- Actually USE the customer's feedback to improve your business.
If you are already aware of these things and have implemented the methods, then congratulations on a job very well done. If not, then it's a good thing you landed on this post because now you have some new tasks for your to-do list :)
A huge thank you to David for agreeing to drop some wisdom on us!
Do YOU run a local business? If you have a question for David, I'm sure he would be willing to drop in on the comments and answer. Now is your chance to grab the ear of an absolute EXPERT at local marketing, folks.