Over 80% of people now search the web to find local information, that's up 30% from just about 5 years ago. The concept of local search and the frequency by which customers use it to find and discover local businesses has exploded over the recent years, but customers are just begining to learn how effective it really is.
Google knows just how integral local search has become to helping us find the nearby businesses where we complete tasks, make purchases or try something new. It’s in Google’s best interest to ensure that we continue to use their search engine, and thus they have been hard at work making changes and updates to enhance the user experience and adapt to local search trends.
Whats a Location Modifier and why is it disappearing from user's searches?
As local search - specifically local mobile searches - gained traction with consumers, we began to see a steady increase in searches with location modifiers (zip codes, neighborhoods, and “near me” phrasing). This was a clear indication that customers were starting to utilize the web more frequently when attempting to locate a nearby business. Where simple, implicit searches like “food” and “clothing” failed to return the results they wanted, more explicit, location modified terms like "food near me" were able to return more actionable and useful results: local stores, businesses and service providers.
Recently however, Google has indicated that there has been a change, not only in the way consumers are searching, but in the way their search engines are understanding user intent:
It seems outlandish now, but not all that long ago, querying a search for something as simple as “gas station” would return all kinds of technically relevant results such as, news on the biggest oil companies or wikipedia pages describing what a “gas station” is, but nothing about where to find gas stations.
Unfortunately, for the majority of searchers looking to find a local business, this meant that you had to string together an overly specific search that left no question you needed a business only a few miles away. Something along the lines of "Gas stations close to San Diego, CA 92101".
The transition to what we now call - Local Search
Over time, Google made improvements to their algorithms and continued to adapt their capabilities to the intents and variations of user's searches. As customers learned how to better query searches that would return more relevant results (local modifiers), Google learned to better understand the needs of its users.
Now, people increasingly expect to get results that are tailored to their specific time, place and need. Google has further adapted their search results to better understand the different scenarios of implicit and explicit user intent and generate more local results whenever relevant.
What does all this mean for businesses and local search marketers?
With a declining trend in the use of location modifiers and a noticeable increase in comparable searches that don’t use them, some may reason that it’s time to abandon the once sought-after “near me” strategy. But, not so fast - doing so may cost you thousands of customers!
Yes, location modifiers are becoming less popular, but no, they are not disappearing.
Take for example all of the possible keywords for a pizza restaurant in downtown San Diego: Pizza Restaurant, Pizza Restaurant near me, Pizza Restaurant San Diego, Pizza Restaurant Downtown etc.
Now let’s look at the monthly search volumes for each of these keywords within San Diego:
(No Location Modifier)
Pizza Restaurant - 390
Pizza Restaurant near me - 320
Pizza Restaurant San Diego - 70
Pizza Restaurant Downtown - 10
While all of these keyword searches return similar results, not one returned exactly the same locations as the other. If this hypothetical pizza restaurant in San Diego were to completely abandon their “near me” strategy to target the highest trafficked keyword “Pizza Restaurant”, they would be missing out on over 50% of all potential traffic - that’s 400 potential customers lost every month.
When you begin to apply that to large multi-location businesses and include the number of other variations for location modified keywords, the missed monthly opportunity quickly reaches into the thousands, and possibly even hundreds of thousands.
Consumer search habits are constantly changing, as are the ranking factors contributing to the local search results. It's no longer enough to focus on just your online reputation, or just a "near me" local SEO strategy; the solution to this volatile world of local search is to build a holistic Local SEO strategy that optimizes your visibility and rankings for as many keyword variations as possible.