Remember the good ol’ days of easy rankings? It seemed like all a Chicago business owner needed to do in order to rank well on Google was have a website and a Google Plus page. Unfortunately for the end-user, those easy rankings usually served up irrelevant results and an abundance of spam sites. As competition grew and algorithms got smarter, it became more and more difficult for small and medium sized local businesses to rank well on Google. Enter local SEO. So what is local SEO, and why do Chicago businesses need it?
New Google Algorithm Updates Impact Local Search
In 2015, Google made a huge, and rather shocking, update to their Local Maps. Imagine that you’re a pizza parlor in Chicago. Historically, Google would show seven results on Local Maps with links to each business’s Google Plus page. If you were only one of, say, 3 pizza parlors in that Chicago neighborhood, Google might also show a couple of Chicago hot dog restaurants and perhaps an Italian restaurant to round out all seven positions. Even businesses that never did any local SEO were able to rank on the local listings.
However, with the update, Google whittled the local map section down to only three results. The link to Google Plus was gone, as well as the business’ phone number. With only 3 positions available on the local listings, the competition got fierce.
How Possum Changed Local Search Results
Another big change to search came a year later in 2016 with the roll-out of Possum. This update was intended to provide a level playing field for all local businesses listed in the Local Search results. Although there are several main factors, here are our 3 key takeaways that affect local business the most:
The Physical Location of the User: Considering the increasing number of users on mobile devices, this is a significant update. With Google now factoring in the proximity of the user more prominently than ever, users are going to get different results based on where they are physically located. For example, if a user is in the Loop searching for Chicago pizza parlors, they will get different results than the user in Lincoln Park.
This graph shows the increase of mobile over desktop queries, and projections for 2018 and 2019:
Flexibility on “Location” to City Limits: Previously, businesses located outside the physical limits of a city had a very difficult time ranking for that city. In response, websites started creating micro-site landing pages to compensate. Fortunately, Google now allows companies that are outside the city limits but conduct business in the nearby or ‘neighboring’ city to be listed in the snack pack search result. For example, a pizza parlor in Evanston, located on the cusp of Chicago, would now be able to rank for ‘pizza parlor Chicago.’
Location of Business: Google applied a filter to the addresses of businesses. This eliminated businesses from having more than one listing for the same location. For example Chicago lawyers in the same law firm, or a dentist with multiple locations.
So…What is Local SEO?
Local SEO, very simply, is the process of making a website more visible on the Search Engine Results Page (like Google). Through the optimization of your website, local SEO targets users who are actively searching for your product or service. This process culminates in driving more quality traffic to your website. Keep in mind that this is an on-going process. This is especially true in light of the number of Google Algorithm signals that exist, as well as the constant algorithm updates.
Why Do I Need It?
Search engines like Google have over 200 signals they take into consideration when ranking web pages. A website must be optimized, through on-page and off-page strategies, in order to gain the value these signals send to your site.
In addition, competition among local businesses only continues to increase. And with only three positions in the “snack pack” maps area, Chicago business owners need to stay on top of their local SEO strategy. Moreover, local businesses have to compete with large websites in the organic listings. Previously, it was relatively inconsequential if you didn’t rank well in the local listings but had a top presence in the organic listings. However, with sites like Yelp or Wikipedia, your organic listing that used to be #1 might now get pushed down to the 3rd or 4th position.
Therefore, Chicago local business owners must find smaller target areas in order to get more visibility and the subsequent rankings. Optimizing for local search is one of the most cost-effective marketing methods to achieve this.
Can I do Local SEO Myself?
Technically, yes. Fortunately, many of the tried and true white hat SEO techniques are still viable options for optimizing websites. While there are a lot of DIY options available, it’s extremely tedious and time-consuming for the business owner. Furthermore, unless you are experienced in local SEO tactics and keep apprised of Google’s ubiquitous updates, it can be difficult to know where to start. Although Google offers many free tools such as Search Console and Analytics, these tools are challenging for a novice to understand.
The most important thing a local business owner can do is to accurately fill out your Google My Business profile, include your Name/Address/Phone Number (NAP) on the pages of your website, build consistent citations on other websites, and then build links with good anchor text. Beyond that, you should consult an SEO agency such as Evolving Interactive for more help strengthening your site’s signals.
If your business is struggling to adjust to Google’s newest update, reach out to our SEO team. As always if you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.