Local SEO – looking beyond the snack pack
Following on from a recent post by Casey Meraz on the Moz blog, we wanted to follow up with a post of our own looking at local SEO and what your options are if you are not ranking in the local snack pack results.
First up we want to include a caveat to this post; tracking your results in the local 3-pack is getting harder and harder. With recent research suggesting that a searcher’s proximity is the biggest ranking factor, accurately monitoring your results in the local packs is very difficult unless you can be in all locations at all times. We track and monitor local results for all our clients. We know it is an important part of any SEO strategy. We also know that the results of ranking well in the 3-pack can lead to a high CTR. However we are learning that this should not be your only focus.
We have seen one client go from ranking number one for nearly every keyword+location combinations we target to them dropping out of the top three for a lot of them and over the past couple of months we have seen a great recovery. We know that we have a strong foundation of good technical SEO, great citations and a decent volume of high quality links. When Google introduced their ‘possum’ algorithm in September 2016, rankings started to go haywire. We knew we had done nothing wrong; it’s just that Google moved the goalposts and we had to move with them – kind of. We always knew that the work we had done previously would stand us in good stead and this is proving to be the case as we see more and more of our results returning to the local 3-pack.
During the time when our results weren’t as strong in the 3-packs, we tried everything to ‘force’ a recovery but after a while we realised that we were just wasting our time. We had done everything we could other than attracting fresh links which is part of our on-going strategy. There was going to be no golden bullet that would suddenly see all results return to where they were. We just had to bank on the fact that we followed Google’s local guidelines to a tee and trust that this would see us right in the long run. It looks promising so far.
What to do when you are not ranking in the local 3-pack
So, instead of ploughing hours into ranking in the local 3-pack, we looked at our other options. Throughout all this time, our organic blue link results were still extremely strong with an average position of 4.1 for the 870+ keywords we were tracking. The question that now came up was ‘what else could we be doing to drive traffic to the site?’ and it was one we were ready to tackle. Here are just a few of the things we looked at:
Although we were not responsible for the online advertising for the client, we knew there were fresh opportunities to look at in the local space including ads in the snack pack. We worked closely with another agency to identify these opportunities and ensure we had a presence in the local snack pack even if it wasn’t organic.
2. Voice Search
One thing we are looking at more closely than ever is voice search. It seems like voice search has been a hot topic for SEO for years but without anyone really doing anything about it, however it feels like we are finally reaching a point where it is going to become more important to optimised for voice search. The introduction of Google Home and Amazon Echo have expedited this to some extent but there has been a definite shift to people using voice search both at home, in the car and out in public. For many, it’s about a change in habitual behaviour. A move to voice search is not that scary. It’s just getting out of the habit of going to your phone and typing your search query and instead, just talking to your phone. Voice search should certainly be part of any local SEO strategy planning – the majority of voice searches are carried out on mobile and these could open up the potential for local results.
3. Near Me Searches
As Casey covers in his blog, ‘near me’ searches are on the rise and we certainly saw that in our own research. Interestingly when Possum hit, we went and carried out some field research in Auckland and discovered that whilst our client had lost their 3-pack ranking for a number of terms, they were appearing strong for ‘near me’ searches without any specific optimisation on our behalf. This identified an opportunity for us to maximise this opportunity with optimisation on-page and those results have remained strong throughout.
4. Featured Snippets
We’ve been looking at featured snippet opportunities for a while now. Since we attended SMS Sydney in 2016, we knew the potential was there and we have had some good success in ‘stealing’ some featured snippet answer boxes. The recent introduction of SEMRush to New Zealand has now made it easier for us to identify opportunities to create content for featured snippets and this is something we will be working on for our clients in 2017.
Here’s how you can use SEMRush to see if you already have any featured snippets driving traffic to your site (note, Wikipedia is not a client of ours!):
Step 1: Search for the keywords that currently drive traffic to your domain
Step 2: Click ‘Featured snippet’ from the right side to see all the keywords that have a featured snippet which includes a link to your domain
Step 3: Once you have the list, you can then delve into the SERP and see where it links. Carrying out this type of research on your competitor domains can help identify featured snippet opportunities where you can create content which will take that snippet
Another part of our local SEO strategies has always been identifying opportunities to collect customer reviews and this has become even more important with the filtering options in the local packs that have become available. Reviews are an important aspect of any SEO strategy but the ability for a user to filter based on the aggregated review score means targeting your most satisfied customers and asking them to post a review is even more important in terms of your ability to drive traffic from local results.
So there you have it. We still think the local 3-pack results are important and we will never stop trying to improve our rankings in that space but there are alternative that you should also be paying attention to which could also help to drive more customers to your website.