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What Were the most important Local SEO Trends In 2017?

This year saw "a continued movement towards non-traditional local rankings factors" as reviews rise in importance and citations diminish when it comes to driving offline business, says Local SEO VP Dan Leibson.

Unlike any year in recent memory, 2017 has generated more dramatic changes for brick-and-mortar businesses seeking to manage their discoverability and engagement strategies when it comes via search.

Search consultancy Local SEO Guide looked at 200-plus search ranking factors in 150 cities covering keywords, website landing pages, reviews, citations, photos, link profiles, and more, and found that businesses are making consumer connections differently than previously.

The report, 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors, surveyed search performance, noting that reviews are becoming much more important versus traditional SEO drivers such as citations and listings. (That said, “inconsistent” citations and listings are a major issue that local businesses ignore at their peril, according to CDK Global, an integrated marketing company focused automotive dealers across 27,000 retail locations in over 100 countries.)

Overall, as businesses examine their SEO strategies for the holiday season, we’ve noted that retailers have remained challenged by search.

For example, SMBs generally have been shifting SEO and advertising towards greater spending on social media marketing, perhaps de-emphasizing search in the rush to expand efforts across Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat.

“Many of our clients still view social and search as totally separate marketing strategies,” Josh Markham, SVP of Digital Media Products at local marketing platform ReachLocal, has told GeoMarketing. “We believe local businesses should be viewing their marketing efforts comprehensively (not as silos) so they can understand which programs work best together. When businesses rely on only one marketing tactic, they are likely missing out on consumers in a different phases of their buying journey. In addition, consumers have different preferences for consuming information, so the combined effort is more effective than a singular effort.”

For the most part, the changes impacting search are determined by an obvious player, notes Andrew Shotland, founder and CEO of Local SEO Guide.

“The data suggests that Google, while attempting to shift to more engagement-based and locally relevant factors for its Local algorithm, is still susceptible to the traditional organic SEO tactics,” Shotland says. “The immaturity of the Local algorithm combined with the power of a focused SEO effort can yield outsized benefits for smart location-marketers. This study illustrates the foundational building blocks of a Local SEO campaign with the goal of helping marketers prioritize their investments in tactics that will move the needle.”

We caught up with Dan Leibson, Local SEO, VP of Search for Local SEO Guide, to get deeper look into the company’s findings and what the implications are in 2018 for local businesses and search.

GeoMarketing: What were the most important local SEO trends in 2017?

Dan Leibson: I think the most important thing we noticed in the 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors study was the continued movement towards non-traditional local rankings factors. Traditionally, things like citations have played an overwhelmingly large part of ranking in Google’s local search results, though now that seems to be shifting largely to traditional organic ranking factors — like links —  and newer factors, like reviews.

In terms of whether Google has shifted away from “traditional” local signal, what kinds of new signals are emerging? And how meaningful is the shift for local businesses?

Most importantly, I think that it means that local businesses need to focus on SEO holistically. This means having a solid organic search strategy, and also working on a review strategy. Both of these will return dividends for most location based businesses.

What is “Google My Business (GMB) spam?”

I’ve actually written a bit about this. Well, most of the “spam” people talk about on GMB isn’t actually spam. Google and some local SEO’s have taken to calling Google My Business profiles that violate Google’s Guidelines as spam. I’m not a fan of this at all, spam is generally black-hat or illegal tactics, not things that are basic terms of service violations. This type of “spam” is akin to jailbreaking or unlocking a cell phone.

How important is GMB for local businesses versus offerings from Facebook and other platforms?

Google is almost exclusively the only game in town. While Yelp does have a commanding second place position in some markets (major metro) and some verticals (hospitality/retail/service) they are far from being a true competitor to Google. Facebook has a lot of potential in the space, and make starts and stops of really going after local discovery, but again don’t have the kind of across the board adoption of Google search (at least in local).

Are local search marketers embracing voice-activation via Alexa, Okay Google, Siri, Cortana, Bixby?

I think marketing technologists are embracing voice-activation because they see the potential in the future. Right now though, there really isn’t much to do.

What are you expecting (and what would you like) to see more of — or less of — in the local search space in 2018?

With the recent relaunch of Facebook’s local product, it’s setting the stage for a really interesting year. Other than that, I would expect marketers to continue to market voice search. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see some pivots & consolidation in the local tools market, as the dominance of a few key players (like Yext) will likely cause some companies with competitive products to re-evaluate their long term plans. [Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here]