Local Search Predictions for 2021 and Beyond
2020 has been quite the year. COVID-19 and many other unprecedented situations were thrown our way this year, changing our day to day lives and how our world operates. In these uncertain times, one thing remains certain: “the new normal” that we’ve all been talking about isn’t really new anymore and is likely here to stay.
COVID-19 forced businesses to start completely from scratch and rethink how they can keep their business going throughout quarantine. To get some more context and insight, let’s take a look at the data.
Recent research from Yelp shows that from the 175k businesses that were marked temporarily closed on Yelp in April, only 24% have reopened. What’s even more unfortunate is that over half of COVID-19 temporary business closures have become permanent. It also comes as no surprise that the restaurant and retail industry has experienced some of the highest closures, two industries that rely heavily on in-store foot traffic.
As a response to these changes, consumers have shifted their searches to things like contactless deliveries, curbside pickup, dine-in visits, and other related queries. These new consumer behaviors, search habits, and the redesigned customer experience born out of COVID-19 will most likely be here to stay. Even after COVID-19, consumers expect that they’ll make more online purchases than they did prior to the pandemic. New innovations such as QR codes in restaurants, contactless delivery services, and other adaptations will also likely be here to stay.
Source: Google Trends
Having an optimized online presence with local SEO will continue to rise in importance for brands looking to get ahead and achieve post-pandemic success. Throughout this entire year, Chatmeter has remained vigilant in uncovering local search trends for 2021 and the future. Keep reading to find out our top local search predictions for the next year and beyond.
Local SEO Ranking Factors for 2021
Before we jump into our four local SEO predictions for 2021, we first need to understand how the business local ranking factors in effect today. businesses are being locally ranked today. Whitespark recently came out with their annual 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors, which highlighted the latest changes and variables of local SEO rankings today. The findings explored these seven areas: Google My Business (GMB), Citations, On-Page, Links, Behavior Signals, Reviews, and Personalization.
GMB and reviews have grown the most in influence over time, carrying 33% and 16% of weight. This dramatic increase means that brands need to ensure they’re taking full advantage of GMB and implementing a strong review management strategy. The findings also showed that keywords in your GMB business title, proximity of your business location to point of search, and primary GMB category have a large impact on local rankings.
One decline that is interesting to note is the value of citations. In the past, citations were seen as a critical ranking factor. In 2020, citations really don’t matter as much anymore, declining in value from 16% in 2013 to 7% today. This doesn’t mean you need to remove all focus from citations, it’s more important to focus on quality rather than quantity. Businesses need to ensure that their listings on the top directories like Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps, and Bing are accurate and optimized. Citations in areas like these are worthy of spending your time and will help your business.
2021 Local SEO Predictions
#1 – GMB Will Continue to Remain as One of the Most Important Local Marketing Tools for Brands
GMB signals now make up 33% of how Google ranks local businesses, according to Whitespark’s findings. Over time, Google has invested many resources and tools into GMB, including COVID-19 posts, new promotional assets, and more. During our recent virtual event, PULSE 2020, local SEO guide Andrew Shotland mentioned that 70% of KPIs happen on Google – even more the reason to have a great GMB profile.
Think of your GMB profile as your one-stop shop to give consumers every answer they need. Consumers can find out all the information they need about a business through their GMB, without ever having to click through to their website.
You might already have addressed the basics such as ensuring your GMB includes NAPWCHD, has photos, and a description. Take it a step further by leveraging the latest GMB attributes, categories, and Google Posts. It’s also a great time to enable the messaging feature within GMB.
Over time, messaging and chatbots have quickly become the preferred method of communication between businesses and customers. Customers don’t like to wait around for their inquiries whether it’s through phone, email, chatbots, or social media. Allowing your customers to message you directly on GMB will help you connect with them quickly and directly. These features are all ways that you can attract more consumers and drive engagement.
#2 – Reviews Are Just as Important for Local SEO as Brand Reputation
In 2015, review signals accounted only for 10.8% of ranking importance. In 2020, reviews now make up 16% of the local ranking factors making it the second most important factor. The top three factors for review signals are keywords in native reviews, your star rating, and the number of reviews with text.
Reviews are a direct reflection of your brand’s reputation and show Google if your business is trustworthy, has authority, and is relevant. Responding to reviews also gives your brand an additional opportunity to engage with your customers and understand consumer sentiment. Whether your team is utilizing a review management tool or manually responding to reviews, the following tips will help strengthen your review management strategy.
- Focus on tier 1 directories and industry-specific review networks – Responding to reviews on top review sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Google is a must. In addition to industry-specific review sites, this is where your consumers are going when determining if they want to purchase from your business.
- Create review responding templates – Having review responding templates on hand can save your team a lot of time and resources. Build review response templates for several types of reviews like positive reviews, negative reviews, COVID-19 reviews, and more. From there, you can tailor the review response to address each specific review. Head over to our blog to get the full guide on creating review templates.
- Scan reviews for deeper insight – Your business has most likely implemented changes and tools to overcome challenges from COVID-19. Reviews are where your business should look to first to see if these new operational changes are working for your customers. Leveraging a tool like Chatmeter’s Pulse can help your brand identify trending customer service issues and address them quickly before it becomes a larger issue.
#3 – COVID-19 has Accelerated the Voice Search Timeline
Voice assistants were already gaining traction with consumers before COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated the touch to talk shift even more quickly. 76% of these smart speaker owners are also making local searches weekly. Some of the new ways in which consumers are leveraging voice technology today are for contactless deliveries, coronavirus related queries, and shopping experiences.
Unlike desktop queries, which display one page of search, voice assistants will only pull 1-3 results. Businesses will need to be prepared in 2021 with an optimized voice engine optimization (VEO) strategy in order to rank #1. If you want to attract purchase-ready consumers who are using voice assistants, you need to put yourself in the shoes of a voice assistant user. Typically these consumers are looking for answers on the go and asking their voice assistant conversational questions like:
- “Hey, Siri, which restaurant near me offers contactless deliveries?”
- “What’s the closest store with in-store shopping for kitchen appliances?”
Center your content strategy around conversational phrases, long-tail keywords, and the right keywords that address how voice assistant users are asking questions. You can use this voice-friendly content to create FAQ pages on your website and local pages to rank for featured snippets.
#4 – Keep a Close Eye on Apple Maps
Have you heard about the new Apple Maps? Apple Maps recently revamped its mapping application with features like a share ETA button, an interactive map, and 3D renderings. Their largest update includes their own ratings and reviews system. In the past, Apple has relied on third-party integrations like Foursquare, Yelp, and TripAdvisor as a source for reviews and photos for its users.
The ability for users to provide their own ratings, reviews, and photos is a feature that has been available for many years in Google Maps. It’s also the reason why Google Maps is the most popular mapping system, but this newest update may give Apple a greater chance at competing. Google Maps may have one of the largest user bases, but this is just the beginning of Apple Maps expansion. As Apple Maps continues to evolve, brands will need to focus on having an accurate and active presence on Apple Maps.
Looking Into the Future
Although it may be difficult to guess what’s in store for the future, we all know that having a strong online reputation will matter more than ever. Consumers will continue to search for answers on the go and expect a seamless customer experience from brands. When businesses are looking into the future to see how they can prepare, they’ll need to ensure they’re optimizing for GMB, Apple Maps, voice assistants, and reviews as part of their local search strategy. All of these factors will help shape your brand’s reputation and attract consumers with local intent.
Are you looking to refine your local search strategy and plan for the future? Schedule a demo with one of our experts to see how Chatmeter can help you prepare for 2021 and beyond.