Author | Chatmeter TeamDate Posted | March 11, 2021

Local SEO in 2020: Google Is Your Brand’s New Homepage

If there’s anything SEO and Marketing professionals have learned from the pandemic, it’s that Google truly is the “new homepage”. With the rise of zero-click searches, many consumers don’t go beyond the Google search engine results pages (SERP) to find out local business information. This is why in a time when much is unknown, it’s vital that brands take control of their online presence before consumers even reach their website.

Why is Google Considered the “New Homepage”?

The idea of Google as the “new homepage” has been around for the past few years, and was popularized by local SEO expert, Mike Blumenthal. The concept of the “new homepage” is that more and more consumers are finding or interacting with your brand directly on Google and no longer need to click through to additional resources (such as your website).

In the example below, the search query is “groceries delivered to me” here we find an ad for third-party service, a list of grocery stores that deliver, other similar questions people are asking, a map of nearby stores that offer delivery, and a few links to websites with more information. Without ever having to click a link, I can find that Safeway offers delivery and that the Vons (a Safeway brand) located on Midway Dr. is close enough to deliver.

According to the State of Local SEO Industry Report 2020 by Moz Local, 77% of people agree that the SERP is the “new homepage” for local businesses, up 13% from the previous year. This explains why US businesses made 3.2x the average number of updates to their business listings during the first month of COVID-19. Brands know that consumers rely on SERP information to make informed decisions without ever needing to click a single link.

How Much Control Do Brands Really Have on their Google Presence?

Let’s face it, Google makes a lot of changes, from new feature releases to algorithm updates, it’s hard to think your business can really have any control over your Google presence. However, the experts agree, your online presence isn’t entirely up to Google or even the consumers searching for your brand. According to the State of Local SEO Industry Report, of the top 9 local rankings factors, businesses have influence over 7 out of 9 factors. The only thing businesses can’t control is location and proximity.

Source: The State of Local SEO Industry Report 2020

The top two most important factors in local rankings are Google My Business elements and Google reviews, both of which businesses can leverage listings and review management tools to maintain. 25% of how Google ranks a business is influenced by GMB engagement. Features like Google posts and Google Q&A can be leveraged by brands not only to increase consumer engagement but to control the conversation on their GMB profiles.

Additionally, on-page SEO elements, that help both your local and organic rankings, are entirely dependent on the brand’s website optimization. On-page SEO is the key to appearing in relevant searches, Google has even shared this detail with us in their How Search algorithms work documentation, “the most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant.” But this isn’t the only organic ranking factor that impacts local rankings, several organic ranking factors cross-over including; GMB elements, Google reviews, citation consistency, on-page SEO, and local listing engagement.

In order to optimize your brand for the “new homepage,” brands need to leverage all the Google features available. With the rise of zero-click SERPs, 91% of marketers have a SERP feature strategy in place, focusing on Featured Snippets, local packs, and Google My Business (GMB) Profiles to name a few. In the SERP example above, the featured snippets and local pack sections make up most of the SERP, brands who optimize for just these two features alone can control the results page. Not only does a SERP feature strategy help brands control their presence in organic and local search, but it also helps with voice search. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of voice technology as more people turn to contactless technology options. Leveraging these features gives brands more control over their “new homepages” no matter where that homepage lives (mobile, desktop, Google Maps, local pack, Google Assistant).

Planning Ahead: As Budgets Get Cut How Do Marketers Stay In Control?

According to LinkedIn, 72% of marketers have experienced reduced or cut budgets due to COVID-19. This means that marketers need to prioritize their marketing efforts in order to maintain a strong presence. With over 5.8 billion searches made on Google daily, taking control of your “new homepage” on Google is vital to your marketing strategy. Aligning your SEO, Local SEO, and VEO marketing efforts is a great way to keep your strategy focused and budget small.  Prioritizing listings, reviews, and on-page SEO are all ways brands can align their SEO efforts to reach more customers.

Listing accuracy and presence is vital during a crisis. Consumers need access to quick, clear, and actionable information at a moment’s notice. GMB listings make it easy for brands to provide this information to consumers without the need for a click. Keeping your GMB profile updated can go a long way in protecting your brand’s reputation during the pandemic.

Reputation is everything, and protecting that reputation starts with your reviews. Brands and enterprises that respond to reviews not only build trust with their customers but it also impacts rankings. Review signals (quantity, quality, velocity, and responses) help drive higher rankings, accounting for 15% of how Google ranks a business. Unfortunately, 14% of enterprises reported they need more resources devoted to review management, but online review management doesn’t have to be a time-consuming task when you have the right tools in place. Streamlining your review response strategy can have a large impact on your online presence.

On-page SEO is vital to all businesses, e-commerce and brick-and-mortar alike. However, brick-and-mortar brands need to take this one step further by optimizing local content. On-page optimization for local content puts your brand in front of the right consumers at the right time. For multi-location brands, building out SEO optimized local pages for each location is an inexpensive way to climb the search rankings quickly.

Zero-click searches are now a common part of the customer journey. Optimizing your brand for these types of searches will not only make your brand more visible but improves the online to offline customer experience. It’s not that your website is no longer important, it’s understanding that your website needs to be focused on consumer intent. Nowadays, 46% of all searches have local intent, which means if you’re not optimizing for local you’re not optimizing at all. If your brand can provide consumers with the information they need without having to click a link, you’ll outperform the competition every time.

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