“In the summer time, when the weather is hot –”
I’ve decided summer is here because our New York office is finally experiencing weather above 70. In fact, white J. Crew button-downs are all the rage. Playing catch-up at the gym is now an imperative. In a changing of the guard, plastic iced coffee cups now line our desks and form the centerpiece around which we meet to discuss budgets, strategy, and vacation plans.
Outside the office, the sidewalks are especially cramped. Tourists make their way down Broadway from Grand Central, a Terracotta army of cargo shorts and mini Purell dispensers dangling from fanny packs. In swarms, NYU students meander about in their best Coachella-esque garb ready for Instagram at the drop of a floppy sunhat or Vera Bradley phone-wallet combination wristlet. From sleepy no-name West Village side street cafes to the famous Mamoun’s on St. Marks’s Place, tables and chairs are out on the sidewalk again. Washington Square Park has sprung alive with impromptu jazz quartets and ice cream sandwich stands. If you want a picture of yourself under the famous Arch, afterwards you might have a tough time spotting yourself in the frame amongst the commotion. Children shout and play in the fountain and Mr. Softee’s jingle carries in the distance, a soft murmur accompanying a lazy scale on the saxophone.
People are out and about, going places and spending their money again. It’s summer buying season. Most importantly, people are now more willing to travel to have their needs met and travel itself has become, once again, part of consumer intent. Conveying your exact location to consumers during these next few months is absolutely vital to capture in-store purchases.
Because we all have smartphones, this process starts with digital – specifically, organic search.
Location, Location, Location – Google Hyperlocal Search Has Taken Over
When we say “hyperlocal”, we mean a SERP that otherwise would be informational but has since been overhauled to feature acutely location-specific results. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see a local three pack on a mobile search. It's everywhere, and down to near everything.
You might say that ranking in this three pack is important.
These are numbers for just one location which was only live the last two weeks of March. This kind of visibility without spending a single penny on advertising is almost too good to be true.
But it's not.
If it isn't obvious, the three pack is an abbreviated Google Maps search. What does this mean? While schema.org mark-up contextualizes locality information for search engines and improves overall web rankings, it is not the key to appearing in the local three pack for non-brand queries.
Google Places for Business, now Google My Business, is actually what directly lists your location on Maps. Unlike a knowledge graph, the informational Maps listing is directly 1-to-1 dependent upon the information you provide in your Google My Business location profile. While Google in all its scale and infinite knowledge has most likely amassed all of your locations’ addresses and contact information, businesses are actively demoted in local results if those locations are not claimed and then managed by a human in Google My Business.
Also, sometimes, Google gets it wrong. Sometimes Google just decides to be Google. (I’ve had to manually update our agency’s phone number a few times after Google insisted it knew better than us).
Not only have Maps results (local three packs) become more prominent and more frequent across searches on desktop and mobile, Maps also plays a fundamental role in getting customers in the door because of the Directions feature automatically tied to all Google Maps listings.
Users are infinitely more likely to visit a store if they know where it is and if their smartphone will lead them there easily. I see it in New York constantly creating chokepoints on subway steps and sidewalks alike – the out-of-towner with their head down, walking slow with all navigation entrusted to their cell phone. They might look up periodically and scan franticly to find “Hews-ton” Street, but the phone is calling the shots and they’re only headed to one place.
Albeit very slowly.
But we shouldn’t get too frustrated at this sight. That’s a new customer. (Although, it’s “House-ton” Street. And please don’t walk so slowly when you visit – I’m rushing to get on an outdated subway system that has a scheduling and rat problem). In cities all across the United States, bolstered by travel season and pleasant weather, there is a unique opportunity for brands in local search because of this integration with Google Maps. As a result of the all-in-one customer journey Google has set the groundwork for, brands are just a few steps away from cornering local search if they’re first to the punch. Google has made it too easy, and people are just too darn cozy with Maps – even when they are on iOS devices. (iPhone users often opt to install Google Maps, foregoing the usage of Apple Maps which only last year has shown signs of life after its release fiasco).
How to take advantage of the Google ecosystem and user dependence on Maps:
- Verify locations in Google My Business
- Implement consistent location and contact information for each
- Authenticate “Directions” button on Maps listings
- Promote Google reviews
Now that last part is crucial to making some real headway. Once your location is optimized and contact information is uniform across properties, the only factor which moves the needle in creating additional visibility and better rankings in local results is your Google review count and rating. We suggest A/B testing an email survey which prompts customers to leave a Google review. Another way to gain Google reviews is to put up brick-and-mortar signs in your locations asking users to do so – I mean hey, it works for those businesses who are Yelp-conscious. And you’ll soon find that there are many more people with an active Google account (think Gmail) than Yelp.
Holla at us at email@example.com if you need help setting up Google My Business or growing your local search presence. Just please don’t be a slow-walker.
-Ken Trojanowski, SEO Strategist