Looking for the ‘Big Picture’ in Local Search

Tunnel vision is an issue that’s long plagued the SEO community. Single-location rank trackers don’t tell the complete story of how well a business is really performing in local search results. But with so many avenues to go down in measuring success, it’s almost impossible not to get sidetracked from time to time. 

If businesses want to redefine themselves in 2021, they’ll have to think more strategically about where local intent fits into their digital strategies.

Local Search Grid

One of the newest solutions to combat this SEO tunnel vision is coming from BrightLocal. The company recently released a product it is calling the Local Search Grid, which helps local businesses see the bigger picture in search by plotting local rankings on a map. With the software, businesses can see which keywords are performing well and identify blindspots in their optimization efforts.

“A single-location rank tracker doesn’t tell the full story,” says BrightLocal Head of Marketing Kristian Bannister. “With more data at their fingertips, local SEOs can get a better understanding of where businesses are ranking depending on where people are searching from.”

BrightLocal isn’t the only company looking to tackle this issue. A number of digital marketing firms have developed software to show businesses how much search visibility they’re really claiming. The ability to prioritize keywords based on location is a key feature in many of these platforms. But Bannister says BrightLocal’s new offering was developed in a unique way, making it easy to demonstrate the impact of local intent on search rankings, regardless of the knowledge level of the client.

SMBs

Local search surveys show that factors like the “completeness” of a Google My Business listing became more important in local search in 2020, while the “consistency of citations” on data aggregators and the “quality of Google Posts” were less important in 2020 than in previous years. Having a high numerical Google rating still ranks as the most important GMB conversion factor, followed by positive sentiment in review text, and the quantity of native Google reviews. 

But these are largely issues being dissected by larger agencies and brand marketers, and BrightLocal’s new tool is geared more toward smaller business owners who are just beginning in their journeys. The pandemic has actually encouraged many small and mid-size businesses to put greater emphasis on their digital marketing efforts, and Bannister says BrightLocal has seen a surge in interest from local businesses over the past year. 

“The biggest challenge seems to be overcoming the steep learning curve,” he says. “There are some things local businesses can do that don’t require too much prior knowledge, like making use of Google My Business features such as Posts and Q&A. But when it comes to finding the best ways to rank higher, they can often be presented with lots of hard-to-interpret data.”

Not all about location

The decision to put less weight on proximity, instead of more, is one way that Local Search Grid stands out from other software on the market, particularly given the important role that location plays in SEO right now. Bannister explains that BrightLocal’s solution is best suited for instances where proximity is less of a factor. It’s meant to shine a light on how proximity is really influencing local rankings, given that the influence of proximity can be hard to discern with single-location rank tracking. Businesses will be able to track when they are outperforming the potential restraints of proximity within Google’s local search algorithm.

“For example, we have noticed that dentists have a greater chance of ranking over a larger geographic area for queries like ‘dentist’ and ‘dental practice’. But the query ‘emergency dentist’ tends to show businesses very close to the search location in the top spots,” he says. “This suggests that Google understands that someone who needs an emergency dentist wants to find a business that is very close by, but for non-urgent dental procedures they may be willing to travel further.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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