“COVID itself has changed the way that people interact with businesses online,” said Amanda Jordan, director of local search at LOCOMOTIVE Agency, in her session at SMX Next, “which means that search engines, businesses and marketers had to pivot to meet those demands and needs.”
The events of 2020 have changed how local businesses operate as well as Google’s search results. And, while these shifts are designed to make search easier for consumers, many businesses have been caught unawares, losing visibility on Google.
Local marketers are at the forefront of these SERP updates, helping clients adapt to changes in features such as their Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) and Google Maps. But, the differences in these updates are not lost on local marketing professionals.
“Google, as always, is changing the layout and testing new things, so that’s not surprising,” said Jordan. “The thing that I found most interesting were the changes to reviews and the knowledge panel.”
To help local SEOs navigate these developments, Jordan provided the following strategies.
Improve the quality of local reviews
“Google has grouped reviews together by topic,” said Jordan. “This is one of those updates that were mentioned in a timeline. You can see that there is a new badge for the new reviews.”
Google also seems to be reorganizing how it displays third-party reviews.
“Third-party reviews are going to continue to be important because those are being shown in the knowledge panel,” said Jordan. “They’re being shown in regular organic search results, so it’s important to know where you stand.”
Review topics, sources, relevancy, and recency each play a major role in how the local algorithm ranks them. Marketers should know where their clients stand in terms of each of these factors and help facilitate the creation of quality reviews.
Edit your knowledge panels using on- and off-site sources
Google is revamping its local knowledge panel in major ways. It seems to be shaping into “its own entity, which includes lots of third-party data,” says Jordan. This means more of your clients’ panel information could be coming from sources you have no access to.
“While these things may seem out of our control, sometimes we can influence what Google uses,” Jordan said.
Here are some areas Jordan recommends marketers check if their panels contain inaccurate data from sources across the web:
- Site content
- Robot directives
- Google Business Profile completion
- Industry sites
- Third-party reviews
- Google reviews
Make corrections to your data sources and test your knowledge panel appearances when possible. Even if the corrections seem small, Google can still find the new information if the changes are made in one of these key areas.
Prepare to adapt to mobile SERP changes
Business information isn’t the only thing changing in this local landscape; mobile SERP layouts are transforming as well. While marketers know this happens, SERPs have begun transforming them frequently — and not always for the better.
Jordan highlighted an instance in which one of her clients’ local panels lost some important information: “We had a client that had their site links not showing up only on mobile only if you search from their city; anywhere else in the world everything was fine.”
Local SERP issues like these can seem complicated to fix, but marketers can use insights from competitor analysis to determine the best course of action. In Jordan’s case, her team worked on updating their client’s local panel so that it would include each element the competitor used.
It should be noted that Google often experiments with local results, which could result in temporary changes to how they display in the SERPs.
Moving forward with local SEO
“Google is going to continue focusing on online reputation and customer sentiment,” Jordan said, pointing to what she believed marketers should expect from local SERPs going forward. Getting clients onboard with these areas of focus can help future-proof their campaigns in the long run.
These changes to local SERPs, coupled with the rise in features focused on purchasing products and booking appointments, will require marketers to become more adaptable. But if Google provides actionable data along the way, businesses can rest assured they’ll be ready for what comes next.
“I would hope that Google’s insights for businesses get even better so that trends and user experience and customer experience show up in your panel,” said Jordan, “So that you’d be able to look at that data and make changes in your business.”