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The Future of Local Search And What It Means For Your Business

Local search – using search engines to find information about anything in your immediate area – has grown exponentially in recent years to the point where nearly 50% of Google searches are locally related (eSalesHub, 2017).

Local search on Google encompasses a number of features, most notably the ‘local pack’ – the section at the top of the result page of any search carrying a local intent that displays 3 businesses laid out on a map.

The unstoppable rise of local search is largely due to the boom in mobile usage; with 85% of UK adults now carrying smartphones (ConsultancyUK, 2017), people expect to be able to quickly find out what’s around them, wherever they are. Google has catered to this expectation by progressively expanding the functionality and structure of local search results pages. Local search’s continuous growth and development have some great ramifications for local businesses.

1. Higher sales (if you can master it)

Businesses who successfully boost their prominence on Google’s local results pages could be in for a windfall thanks to how motivated people are when they do a local search.

People searching for the businesses closest to them tend to do so with the intent to make a purchase. After all, what could be more useful for a motivated customer with a hankering for a particular product or service than instant information about all the nearest places that offer it, helpfully marked on a map?

Consequently, the conversion rate for local searches – the frequency at which a search leads to a sale – is a staggering 80% (Search Engine Watch, 2014). For reference, non-local searches convert at a rate of only 8 or 9% (Google, 2018).

This isn’t to say that every 10 searches for the product or service you offer will deliver 8 sales for your business; rather that, if you’re conspicuous on local search result pages, you can win big and win often.

2. Your site will need to be both fast and responsive

A clear majority of all searches, local or not, take place on mobile devices (Search Engine Land, 2016). Not only do local search results on mobiles differ from those on desktops thanks to more precise tracking technologies, but your customers have different expectations of what these searches should lead to.

Crucially, your site has to load quickly. 53% of mobile visits are abandoned if a site doesn’t load within 3 seconds (Google, 2016). This makes sense when you consider the typical scenarios of local searches. For instance, if someone is on the go, armed only with a smartphone and the desire to grab a bite to eat, they’d be inclined to choose a restaurant whose website swiftly loaded up its menu, opening times and other information, over one where the homepage lurches slowly into view.

For the same reasons, your website will also need a mobile-friendly, or ‘responsive’ design that can adapt to any size screen. Our digital experts can help you with this.

3. Make Google Ads your priority

Thanks to changes in how Google structures its results, the first few pages of local results now feature significantly fewer organic site listings (i.e. results that haven’t been paid for) than 5 years ago.

Once upon a time, a business hoping for any online exposure had to follow some quite rigid technical steps to propel its site further up the list of organic results. This is what’s known as Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO for short.

Traditional SEO is still a major consideration in marketing, but organic results have become less immediately visible to users, and thus less useful for businesses.

Nowadays, the first things you’ll see on a result page for local businesses tend to be several paid ads, followed by the local pack until finally, a few scrolling motions later, you’ll reach the list of organic results.

While it’s definitely possible to get into the local pack for free by claiming your listing on Google My Business, Google’s built-in directory tool, ads are now creeping in there too. It’s estimated that around 35% of local packs now contain ads (Moz, 2018), a number we forecast to rise as Google continue to leverage their newer search features for ad revenue.

Rather than expending energy learning SEO best practices, it may be easier and more profitable to start using Google Ads yourself.

This will significantly increase your chances of appearing towards the top of a given local search result page, and even give your business’s icon on Google Maps a different colour from the ones surrounding it to help you stand out. Johnston Press Local Business can help you set up and run an effective Google Ads campaign to grow your business.

Google have been deliberately making their search engine local-orientated for some time now. GPS tracking is now so precise that local searches don’t even need modifiers like ‘near me’ anymore – Google knows where you are and will tailor its results accordingly.

Such ongoing developments will be to the benefit of businesses like yours, and if you can keep up to speed then you can expect a bright future.

Want to know more about the power of search engine marketing? Check out these articles:

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