In the last decade or so, 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, participating in social media, and creating listings in digital directories.
In this post, we'll explore some of what's changed, and the biggest-impact updates you can make (according to data from local marketing experts) to your digital marketing to attract customers online and keep up with competitors.
Local search in 2024
The internet has grown more fragmented as a content discovery engine. Consider the following innovations, and their impact on small business discovery.
Searching on the go
Instead of conducting a Google search on a desktop computer, many people simply reach for their phone or tablet.
Key stat: According to Statista, as of September 2023:
- 96% of American adults aged 18-29 years owned a smartphone
- 97% aged 30-49
- 94% aged 50-64
As of fall 2022, 76% of US adults surveyed by Pew reported using their phone to buy online.
Is your website optimized for mobile users?
Organic search ranking is less important
Google increasingly emphasizes Google Business Profile-based results (formerly "Google My Business") and ads at the top of its results pages for local searches. Just look at the results for the local search "plumbers madison wi:"
The first unpaid, plain blue link result doesn't appear until halfway down the page, well after the "above-the-fold" area.
Key Stat: in 2023, local SEO pros surveyed by Whitespark believed that Google Business Profile-related factors accounted for 32% of your ability to rank in Google Maps results like the ones above.
Is your business investing in a marketing strategy that includes optimization of Google Business Profile and paid results?
Local online business directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor allow consumers to find local business information, bypassing traditional search engines entirely. Some double as platforms for users to leave reviews to help others make buying decisions.
According to local search experts in 2023, about a third of the top 20 factors influencing online lead conversion had to do with reviews:
- #1 most important: High Numerical Google Ratings (e.g. 4-5)
- #2 most important: Positive Sentiment in Review Text
- #4 most important: Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)
- #10 most important: Presence of Owner Responses to Most Reviews
- #11 most important: Recency of Reviews
- #16 most important: Presence of Review Justifications in Local Search Result
- #20 most important: Quantity of Positive Google Review Attributes
Have you claimed and optimized your directory listings?
6 ways to boost your online marketing performance in 2024
Keeping up with digital marketing trends can be exhausting, especially if you're busy running your business. Here are 6 improvements that are actually worth your time if you need to generate more leads online.
1. Claim and optimize your business' Google Business Profile (GBP).
If you only do one thing to improve your local search ranking in 2024, do this.
Google is pretty good at guessing where and what your business is, but the more information you provide Google via GBP (and even more importantly, prospective customers), the better chance you have of it showing up in Google Maps and Google Search results alongside of, or instead of, your competitors.
GBP also allows you to manage your Google reviews, which I'll discuss next.
2. Get your current customers to review your business on Google and other sites.
By now you probably know online customer reviews on Google Business Profile and other review sites 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?
According to local search experts in 2023, the following factors effect whether and how high up your business appears in Google Business Profile-related results.
Factors that effect rank (within the top 20 of 149)
- #6 most important: High Numerical Google Ratings (e.g. 4-5)
- #8 most important: Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)
- #13 most important: Factor Sustained Influx of Reviews Over Time (rather than bursts)
- #20 most important: Recency of Reviews
You can see why it's considered a local SEO best practice to properly ask customers for reviews, tactfully respond to positive and negative feedback, and report fake reviews or ones that violate platform guidelines.
3. Ensure you have enough service pages
According to local search experts in 2023, having a dedicated page on your site for each service you offer is the number one factor in deciding your business's rank in regular, unpaid search results.
Source: Jesse's Lawn Care
In short, it'll be worth your while this year to review your website. Take the lawn care services business pictured above. Instead of listing all their services on one page, they made separate pages for each major service, like lawn mowing and snow removal.
However, they've listed miscellaneous services all on the same page. A better approach here might be to reframe these as part of major services (if relevant), or create new service pages for each.
Even if you have a page for each service you offer, consider whether you could add anything to that page to make it better. If you were buying your service, what's missing that could make it more appealing, informative, and persuasive?
To successfully attract business to your site, a service page should be robust enough that it satisfies a potential customer's information needs. This typically means talking about what the service includes, how it works, and why you are qualified to provide it.
This may look like:
- Service descriptions
- subservice descriptions
- Before/after photos
- Product photos
- Video of your team at work
- Social proof
- Quotes from testimonials
- Certifications and other official qualifications
- Years of experience
- Number of customers served
- Case studies
- Location-specific information and words
- Where you provide this service (e.g. Madison, WI)
- How the location effects your service (e.g. regular, heavy snows prompt the need for snow removal)
- One or more clear next actions that urge the reader to move closer to buying, such as scheduling a free consultation or estimate.
Source: Jesse's Lawn Care
Take the lawn mowing and maintenance service page above. It includes information about what the service includes, as well as some useful points about how they do it.
That said, the page is very short and vague. It does not tell us, for example, what equipment they use, what a proper height is to promote lawn growth, or what areas of the lawn they edge.
Plus, there are maintenance services from the miscellaneous page that could be moved here instead.
Additionally, it's missing critical elements, like photos of their work, social proof, and a clear next action: all of which might nudge a potential customer closer to buying.
Finally, as a local Madison business, Jesse's could benefit from talking about their location more to signal to Google and searchers that this business in nearby. One way to do this would be to update the title of the service page (an H1, or heading 1) to "Lawn Mowing & Maintenance in Madison, WI".
Keywords (words that people use to find businesses and services in search engines) in headings is the 17th most important factor in local sites' ability to get found in regular search results, according to local search experts.
4. Ensure relevant pages are linked together
Believe it or not, the way you link from one page of your site to another (e.g. a link from your homepage to a service page) can have an affect on your search rank. In fact, it's the second-most important factor according to local SEO experts in 2023.
In short, it helps users and Google find and understand the information on your website. Plus, visitors appreciate being able to get around your site easily and find additional, relevant information without having to dig for it.
To do this, check out Yoast's step-by-step guide.
5. Ensure your website works and looks good on mobile devices.
Did you know that search engines judge most websites based on their mobile version? That means that if your mobile website isn't as nice as your desktop version, your site might be harder to find in results because Google is ranking it lower.
According to a recent survey of local search experts, your customers' mobile experience has the third-most impact on conversions as well.
Ensure your business' social media profiles are easy to find and updated with fresh content.
Social media channels provide a great way for local businesses to communicate with existing customers and spread their business information around the internet where more potential customers can encounter it.
If you've decided to publish blog posts or other content on your site, social posts are also an easy way to promote them, which could draw more traffic to your site.
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 (anywhere on the internet a business' name and address show up) from authoritative sources as a factor in determining how credible a business was.
While citations are less critical for SEO than in past years, according to Whitespark's survey, they still are an asset today.
Creating accurate, complete, and up-to-date business citations can offer the following benefits:
- Potentially better search visibility
- Future customers can find and contact you from a number of sites
- Decreases the risk of someone coming across outdated information, a poor review that went publicly unaddressed, or unchallenged spam reviews that could hurt your reputation
To make sure your ducks are in a row, you can:
- 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.