In the last decade, local small businesses have experienced a fundamental shift in the way customers find them.
Print advertising, yellow page listings, and outdoor advertising -- while still relevant in some cases -- have gone by the wayside.
In their place, we have the most advanced discovery engine ever created: the internet. Savvy local business owners shifted with their customers, prioritizing increasing local search ranking via engine optimization (SEO), conducting internet advertising, and participating in social media.
However, those tactics are no longer enough. Things have changed again, and will continue to do so whether or not local businesses are prepared.
Local search trends in 2019
In 2017 and other recent years, the internet has grown more fragmented as a content discovery engine. Consider the following recent innovations, and their impact on small business discovery
Searching on the go
Instead of conducting a Google search on a desktop computer, most people simply reach for their phone or tablet.
The first organic result doesn't appear until nearly half way down the page, well after the "above-the-fold" area.
Key stat: In 2006, the top two organic search results received more than 50% of click-throughs on search engine results pages. Currently this number, when looking at searches with local intent, is less than 25%.
Is your business investing in a marketing strategy that includes optimization of paid results and map results?
Local online business directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor allow consumers to bypass traditional search engines entirely. They also provide a platform for users to leave reviews to help other users make buying decisions.
1. Claim and optimize your business' Google My Business listing
If you only do one thing to improve your local search ranking in 2019, do this.
Google is pretty good at guessing where and what your business is, but the more information you provide Google via My Business, the better chance you have of it showing up in Google Maps, Google Search and Google AdWords.
My Business also allows you to manage your Google reviews, which I'll discuss below.
2. Build out business citations in directories and elsewhere on the web
Before the days when local businesses were expected to have a web presence, Google used the number of citations -- a fancy way of referring to anywhere on the internet a business' name and address show up -- from authoritative sources as a factor in determining how credible a business was.
Google still uses citations to determine authority today. This means your business and its website show up more often and in better positions on Google Maps and Google Search if you:
seek out business directories, chamber of commerce websites and other pages that include your name and address
update them completely with your business' information
ensure this information is exactly the same from citation to citation
3. Invest in content marketing and set up a business blog
Especially in industries where customers tend to do a lot of research about the problem they're trying solve before contacting a local business (I'm looking at you, law and accounting firms), content marketing can be a huge boon to local businesses.
Successful business owners are, by nature, very familiar with the questions their customers have about them. If potential customers ask you a lot of questions, they probably ask Google quite a few more.
Social media channels also provide a great way for local businesses to keep existing customers coming back for more. Additionally, Facebook in particular has made a series of changes in the last three years that suggest it wants to be a player in the local search game.
5. Get your current customers to review your business on Google and other directory sites
By now you probably know online customer reviews can go a long way toward encouraging other internet users to give you their business.
But did you know reviews also play a role in local search rankings? Quantity of Google reviews were voted the 7th most important difference-making search ranking factor by a panel of local search experts in 2015. While you might think Google would trust its own users reviews the most when determining rank and visibility, there seems to be evidence that encouraging customers to leave reviews on a handful of directory sites is a better long-term strategy.