The line between offline and online sales has become very blurred. There’s showrooming and Research Online, Pay Offline (ROPO), point of sale (POS) e-commerce systems, click and collect options— and then there’s local action-focused search to factor in.
With smartphones that keep us connected to the internet wherever we go, we always have the option of buying something in under a minute. We can search for things, place orders, and carry on with our days. Micro-moments are an ever-present danger to our wallets.
Retailers that aren’t taking advantage of this power are making a huge mistake, because it’s a huge source of revenue. Let’s look at what local SEO really involves, why Google cares about it, how you can optimize for it, and what really makes it worthwhile: ROI.
What does local SEO for online sales mean?
Before geo-targeting was an option, SEO was unfocused. The overall goal was always to get more traffic in general, reasoning that the more people visited a site, the more conversions there would be. It makes sense, and it works— but when there’s a physical location involved, your SEO requires a far more granular approach.
Because it operates through a physical location, local SEO needs to be geographical to an extent that goes beyond simply knowing what country a user is from. Consider the average Google search made from a phone in today’s world. Google won’t just parse the text; it will use the searcher’s specific locational data in combination with the specified keywords to try to find the best possible solution in that context.
Just look at the enormous increase in the use of the term “near me” in America over the course of the last 7 years. We know that we don’t need to type our current locations, so we don’t bother. We pass our tasks to Google, and it takes one look at our location data and figures out what exactly we’re talking about.
That’s what makes it so much more important (and interesting) to optimize for.
Why Google prioritizes local SEO
Imagine that you got hungry on a night out and wanted to visit a restaurant, but you couldn’t think of what could be open at that time. Eager to eat, you could take out your phone and search for “restaurants still open right now”. Google would interpret the string, conclude (quite correctly) that you were searching specifically for restaurants in your area, and deliver results meeting your criteria.
This focus on understanding intent—recognizing what a user meant regardless of what they actually said—is a key part of local SEO. It’s all about figuring out the purpose of a search so the best results can be found, and mobile devices play into this hugely (since searches from mobile devices cumulatively comprise well over half of all web searches now).
By listing a company in response to a local query, whether as a top result or even a featured rich snippet, Google knows it is implicitly recommending the locations it lists. If you can give your business the best chance of being such a recommended location, it will benefit you hugely through increased business from mobile users ready and willing to convert.
How you can optimize for local search
Given the overwhelming importance of being picked by Google as a top result for a local search, local SEO is all about covering all the bases and jumping through every hoop provided. Google wants as much information as possible. Here are some things you can offer:
- A Google My Business Map Listing
Filling in Google’s My Business page is an essential component of appearing on Google Maps. Without it, you won’t be featured, and all your local SEO efforts will be ruined as Google won’t want to rank you for a local search when it isn’t even sure your business is in that area.
- Local Content
Your business should have a blog or at least some form of content updated semi-regularly. Use your content to write about your area and your place in it— touch upon relevant area keywords, but be sure to make it good content regardless. If you make a guide to your area, it’ll give you new ranking possibilities and further associate your business with your location (remember to share it on social media for added exposure).
- User Reviews
A company with no reviews appears suspicious. Even if you get glowing reviews offline, it won’t help your traffic. Encourage your customers to leave you reviews through Google+ (it’s mostly dead, but the reviewing is still of value), an external review service if you have enough customers to justify it, or (if your online store setup supports it) even a free or cheap review add-on.
While you can include reviews through microdata, it’s not all you can tag. You can point out anything you can list through Google My Business (including opening hours, holiday hours, menu link, etc.) and more, including product types, dimensions, materials, etc. Google may not want to rely on it, but for the moment it still has value.
By including as much detail as you can about what your business does, where it is, and how it operates, you can make your company a viable contender for SERP positioning when a relevant search is made.
If you’re willing to do some PPC to get things moving, you can use Google’s Merchant Center to advertise your product listings inside results pages, plus they’re playing with a system for buying directly through search results. PPC doesn’t innately affect SEO, but if it brings in new customers who really like your site and your service, the uptick in your metrics certainly will.
The high ROI of local SEO for online sales
We still need to answer the titular question of what investment in local SEO can do for your online sales (and offline sales)… so let’s do that now since we only need one term: high ROI.
The scattergun approach of standard SEO gets strong results, but it also wastes resources for businesses with physical locations and associated restrictions. It brings in people who never intended to buy anything, traffic from overseas, and a weak return on the effort.
You don’t just catch stragglers— you catch the people who are in the right location at the right time and itching to buy something you can offer them.
While it’s challenging to track local SEO ROI sometimes, try using call tracking to segment the data. Use one number for your Google My Business listing, another for your website, and another for any other type of campaign you run.
Once you’re done, you’ll be able to narrow things down and figure out where all your sales are coming from. You’ll most likely see that your local traffic is converting at the highest rate. If it isn’t, then you’re doing something seriously wrong to push away locals and should think about your overall strategy.
Victoria is an e-commerce marketing expert and freelance writer who likes to maintain a good mix of online and offline purchasing. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.