Since Google implemented its local search algorithm, Pigeon in 2014, local businesses have scrambled to keep up with ever-evolving search criteria to claim those coveted top spots for local search terms. Pigeon proved to be a game changing aspect for local search. This update transformed local results and altered how the search engine interpreted location tools. With Pigeon also came the amendment of Google Maps’ search results, which was both a pitfall and pay out to local businesses, since locality based searches within Google led to the serving of map results appearing first. With all these changes, local companies are forced to be more attentive and knowledgeable than ever in order to become optimised for local search. Here are a handful of tips to help you optimise your website to gain further online visibility for local searches.
Ensuring that your websites are mobile responsive and being awarded that extremely important “Mobile-Friendly” tag from Google is one of the most important things local companies can do to grow and expand their business. “Mobile is really the next everything as far as it comes to local search,” Tyler Ludwig, Rio SEO product manager, said. Search engines enjoy mobile responsive websites because they only have to browse one page for business info compared to numerous ones, explained Ludwig. However, businesses that have a dedicated mobile interface do not necessarily suffer as long as that site is able to direct back to a mobile responsive version. “What we’ve seen is that [dedicated mobile sites and mobile responsive sites] are both fine as long as there is a mobile responsive version so the canonical tags from an SEO perspective point back to the desktop version and give Google a clear path from mobile page to the main desktop page that has all the same relevant content,” Ludwig explained.
It is crucial for businesses to set up 404 pages and test them often to make sure links are appearing properly on both mobile and desktop interfaces. Or else, they may be directing their target audience into dead space when they could instead be generating sales. “Every website should have analytics on it and set up specific 404 pages,” Ludwig said. “That’s a great way to see from a Google analytics perspective how many 404s are being delivered and where the referral path from those 404s leads are coming from,” he said.
Schema markup is a simple and extremely useful way for companies to ensure that search engines are able to pick up pertinent information for maps and other geo-location search queries. “Schema’s one of the directions that everyone is kind of leaning right now because it makes it easier for the search engines and for you to have a little more control over what’s displayed,” said Rachel Gordon Lindteigen, who is the senior director of SEO at PM Digital. “Schema is a great thing to add because it allows businesses to very easily mark up the information on websites to location information, hours of operation, and reviews,” she said.
Businesses are no longer able to disregard their presence on online search directories such as Foursquare and Yelp. Their lack of existence on popular directories such as these could be lending to their invisibility on local search. Citations play an ever important part in achieving prominence for geographical based search results.
While no one can be certain which specific indicators Pigeon is able to pick up, you can be absolutely certain that businesses that have reviews will appear on mobile and map searches far more often than businesses that have no reviews. “It’s pretty obvious that reviews do factor into Google search results because reviewed businesses show up in map listings with star ratings,” said Lindteigen. One of the most important pieces of advice for remaining a relevant search in the age of Pigeon is to pay attention and make sure any websites, directory information, and social media sites are up to date and accurate. “What I see more than anything is that businesses let their online presence become inactive,” said Lindteigen. “They’re not filling in all the information or taking the time to really optimise sites. A lot of local sites have no title tags, no meta descriptions, no header tags. They’re not helping Google understand what the website’s about. If local businesses do basic optimisation on site they will see improvement in their rankings,” she said.