Social networks have become increasingly relevant in the local search space for consumers. In the latest “Local Search Usage Study” conducted by comScore, 15% of participants claimed to use social sites when searching for local businesses. This is up from 9% the prior year, and nearly four times the 2008 rate. Social’s impact on local search is far from limited to searches performed on local networks, though. It’s also impacting traditional search results, rankings and relevance. Here are three local-social tactics that need to be included in every national brand’s digital strategy.
“What? Didn’t the Wall Street Journal just label Google’s entry into the social space a ‘virtual ghost town?’”
It’s true that Google+’s 90 million users are a far cry from Facebook’s 845 million. The gap is further widened when you see that Google+ users spend an average of just three minutes per month on the site, while Facebook users engage at an average of six to seven hours. Despite this gap (or perhaps because of it) Google launched a campaign called “Search Plus Your World” in January. The stated goal is to incorporate social content into the SERP for signed-in Google users, thus providing more comprehensive and relevant results. Among other things, this means that social content from Google+ is given preference, driving down the rank of traditional results, and even paid search results in some cases. It also means that national brands and local businesses need to create an optimized Google+ page and start the process of working their way into circles.
While you may not be thrilled with Google’s fabricating the relevance of Google+, you need to accept the fact that they still own search and that Google+ needs to be a part of your brand’s local SEO strategy.
OBTAIN AND LEVERAGE ONLINE REVIEWS
“Okay. I can see that this might be important, but how?”
Online ratings and reviews are a great source of customer feedback on a local business’s service, products and pricing. These ratings and reviews also play a huge role in local search. They help your local affiliates’ sites outrank the competition, while also ensuring that their listings stand out from other results.
Your local Facebook strategy should complement the national strategy, not mimic it. Remember that expectations for engagement are very high among consumers using these social networks, and the outlets are useless unless you AND your affiliates are participating in a meaningful way.
Unique content is more important than ever to organic search rankings, especially considering Google’s Panda update last year. Incorporating reviews into local sites is a great way to increase the unique content for a Google algorithm that is increasingly valuing it, particularly if you are publishing templated websites on behalf of your local affiliates.
The same comScore “Local Search Usage Study” indicates that the presence of reviews — even more than the reviews themselves — influences purchasing decisions. The study found that while 61% of online consumers claim online ratings and reviews to be an important factor in their local purchase decision, only 29% of consumers actually use the reviews to influence their behavior. Once your affiliates have a handful of results that can be attributed to their business, Google will show the star-ratings in their organic result. This is the differentiator you need.
Of course, all of this hinges on your ability to encourage customers to leave reviews, but that is a topic for another day.
FIND THE RIGHT CONTENT MIX ON FACEBOOK
“Finally! I was wondering if you’d ever mention these guys.”
Your local Facebook strategy should complement the national strategy, not mimic it. Remember that expectations for engagement are very high among consumers using these social networks, and the outlets are useless unless you AND your affiliates are participating in a meaningful way. Your local affiliates cannot simply repost your corporate content and call it a day. Corporate content certainly should be included (think new product information or national contests), but it should represent no more than 40% of the total content. The 60% bulk of content responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the local affiliate.
If the amount of work involved in monitoring and engaging in social channels frightens you, great — because it should. While it’s hard to argue against social media being an integral part of most every marketing plan at a national level, it could do more harm than good on a local level if you are not prepared, motivated and engaged. It’s much better to stay out of this space than to dabble in it. If, on the other hand, you incorporate these tactics into your digital strategy you can really aid your local affiliate in being found online.
Matt Long is responsible for integrating local microsites, SEO, paid search, social media and analytics into a cohesive strategy for Balihoo and its clients. He is a regular contributor to Balihoo’s blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @mattlongbalihoo.