4 Local SEO Trends Shaping the Future of Search

Search engine optimization (SEO) evolves quickly, especially when it comes to local SEO trends. As a local business owner, it can be hard to keep up—which is why we’ve put together this guide to four local SEO updates that are shaping search in 2017.

The Rise of Voice Search

There’s no way around it: voice search (a search performed when a user speaks a voice command) is one of the biggest trends in local SEO, and businesses need to think about how to optimize web content for searchers who aren’t looking at a screen.  With the increasing popularity of virtual smartphone assistants like Siri and Cortana, as well as smart devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, spoken queries are becoming a common starting place for researching local businesses. In fact, Google estimates that 20% of all mobile queries are voice searches.

So, what’s the takeaway here? For one thing, local businesses and SEO analysts need to include natural language in site content and tags that mirrors the language of voice searches. Let’s say you’re trying to drive foot traffic to your Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin. You might already know that, “Where can I get Tex-Mex in Austin?” is a popular voice query. However, people may also be asking questions like:

Who has the best Tex Mex food in Austin?

Where can I get cheap Tex Mex near me?

What's the closest Tex Mex restaurant?

As people get more comfortable having casual conversations with their internet-enabled devices, local SEOs must update their strategies to focus more attention on long-tail keywords. Local businesses may also benefit from expanding their website’s FAQ content to address the common queries that consumers are asking their devices.

Sophisticated Chatbots

Chatbots are relatively new on the scene (at least when it comes to widespread adoption by small businesses). It’s hard to predict exactly how they’ll shape local SEO in 2017 and beyond, but chatbots certainly seem to fit with the shift towards more conversational search.

Microsoft’s Bing is betting big on this trend. The Google competitor is currently testing out chatbots for local Seattle restaurants. Participating restaurants have a Chat button next to their listing in the search engine results pages (SERPs), and searchers can click the option to summon up a chatbot. People can then ask the chatbot questions—such as whether the restaurant accepts credit cards or is good for large groups—and get answers faster than they might be able to just by searching the restaurant’s website and online reviews.

Bing's chatbot feature reflects local SEO trends

Bing’s chatbot opens directly on the search engine results page.

Bing plans to let businesses build their own SERP bots using their Microsoft Bot Framework. Once the bot is reviewed and approved, it will be available to display for relevant queries.

As of this writing, Google hasn’t added a chatbot feature to their SERPs. However, if Bing proves successful, it’s a safe bet that we’ll see something similar from Google in the future.

Proximity as a Ranking Factor

It’s no secret that search engines can identify a user’s approximate location (based on nearby WiFi networks and other data). What you might not know is just how granular Google can get with its geotargeted results.

A 2017 Local Search Rankings Survey from Moz found that the proximity of a searcher’s location to the point of search is the #1 ranking factor for the local pack (that box with a map and three locations that you sometimes see when searching for a local business). To put it another way, Google gives extra priority to relevant results that are geographically close to the place you’re searching from.  That means you could see different results in the local pack based on where in your city you’re searching from.

Google local pack

When I searched for “dog training Austin,” the results in the local 3-pack were relatively close to where Google placed my location.

This could be good for businesses that are trying to bring in foot traffic from a relatively small radius, but it’s not great for businesses that are trying to cast a wider net—or searchers who care about quality over proximity. For example, I’m more likely to drive a little farther than I normally would for a well-reviewed dog training service than to just pick whichever one is closest to my house.

In an article for Moz, Darren Shaw points out that Google may dial back the weight it assigns to proximity if searchers aren’t getting satisfying results. In the meantime, make sure you’re weathering this local SEO trend by claiming your listing on review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Angie’s List, and that you’re driving customer reviews to these sites. Shaw points out that if people don’t see what they’re looking for in the local pack, they’ll often click a link for a review site directly below it.

Yelp listing below Google's local pack

When I wanted to see more than the results in the local pack, I clicked the link to Yelp.

The Weight of Reviews and Links

If you’ve had any experience with local SEO in 2017, you know it’s a bitter fight to get your business to rank organically on the first search results page. Some searches deliver up to four ads at the top of the page, and ads are even sometimes prioritized in the local 3-pack. It’s an understatement to say that local SEO is getting more challenging.

It’s becoming more important than ever to prioritize link-building and customer reviews in your local SEO campaigns. These are two major factors that can help your site get organic traction and rank highly on the SERPs, even when you’re up against ads.

Let’s start with the link-building part of the equation. While Moz’s ranking factor survey found that physical proximity was the top ranking factor for the local pack, it also found that the quality of inbound links was the top ranking factor for local organic search (i.e. all the organic results outside of the local pack). The diversity of inbound links was the #3 most important factor, while the quantity of inbound links followed at #5.

Essentially, Google is giving a lot of SEO juice to local business sites that have been linked to by lots of high-quality websites. For example, if I owned a new bar in Austin that got coverage from high-traffic websites like Eater Austin, CultureMap, and Buzzfeed, Google’s algorithm would factor those links in when deciding where to rank my site for searches like “best new Austin bars.” As a bonus, those inbound links will drive new traffic to my site, introducing a larger audience to my business.

Now let’s take a look at customer reviews. There are plenty of SEO benefits when it comes to reviews:

  1. When a star-based ranking appears alongside a listing on the SERPs, it helps searchers make a snap decision about whether they’re interested in the business or not.
  2. Reviews give you unique, user-generated content for your site.
  3. Analyzing the language in reviews can help you decide what long-tail keywords to target.
  4. Google prioritizes businesses with 4+ star reviews when delivering results for “best x in city” searches.
best boutique hotels in Austin search results in local pack

The local pack results for “best boutique hotels in Austin” all have an average rating of over 4.5 stars.

What all this boils down to is that outreach needs to be a major part of your local SEO strategy for 2017. You should be reaching out to local bloggers and journalists to earn more coverage and inbound links, and you should be reaching out to past customers or clients to ask for their honest reviews. Don’t underestimate how much of a boost you could get in the search engine rankings by focusing on third-party content.

At Leverage Marketing, we have a lot to say about local SEO trends—more than we could fit in one blog post. If you’d like to talk to us about local SEO strategies for your business, contact us now.

6 replies
  1. shreelatha
    shreelatha says:

    Great year for SEO from my perspective, especially now Penguin is real-time which will (hopefully) eliminate some of the scrubs and their pesky link building tools. I beleive SEO is developing into a more technical role, as I work for a fairly large eCommerce company as an SEO Analyst, I don’t find myself doing the day-to-day tasks as I would have done agency-side, instead I’m starting to become involved in the more technical stuff, crawls, log file analysis, using XPath extractions with Screaming frog etc.

    The mobile-first transition is also going to be a very interesting one, I’m hoping some industry experts will talk about this next year at conferences.

    • Madeline Jacobson
      Madeline Jacobson says:

      Definitely! I’m probably biased since I’m a content marketer, but I appreciate any SEO changes that place more emphasis on writing quality content and earning links from reputable sites.

  2. Madhushalini
    Madhushalini says:

    Thanks for this in-depth breakdown, it’s a good reminder that we have to consider a lot this year.

    As for my tactics, we discussed one recently on Digital Olympus 😀 I still think that backlinks will rule.

    As for marketing strategy we’ll be focusing on content mostly,

    And I agree, positions in Google are going crazy, when I compare data between Yandex and Google it looks like Google’s new algorithm should be called Random Ranking, on some of my projects positions go like 13>31>49>47>1>96>7>OUT>44>19>OUT>2>3>OUT>95

    It’s going to be a fun year.

  3. Gale
    Gale says:

    Thanks Madeline for this intuitive post and and for drafting very well the significance of being superior in this trend. I don’t used voice search a lot but reading this has motivated me to start using this feature.

    • Madeline Jacobson
      Madeline Jacobson says:

      Thanks, Gale! Voice search is definitely becoming a huge trend. I recently saw a statistic from Gartner that voice-responsive virtual assistants (like Alexa) will account for 20% of user interactions with smartphones by 2019, which is pretty mind-blowing!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply