Local marketing today looks a lot more digital and a lot more competitive than it did just a few years ago. While it’s still all about visibility, the work has shifted from posting up an eye-catching billboard in the sky to putting a click-catching link, button or ad online.
The digitized local marketing world is always evolving, and that’s especially true of the past two years amid the coronavirus pandemic. When everyone went online with their local marketing, and more eyeballs, clicks and dollars flowed through digital platforms, the platforms evolved, too. The environment is getting exceptionally complex.
One little update from Google shows how far things have come, said Damian Rollison, director of market insights at marketing platform Soci.
“Google announced that it would use AI and other signals to proactively update 20 million business hours. You don’t want to be steamrolled by a mistake Google makes. One thing to do is update your hours so the AI doesn’t do it for you,” said Rollison.
At the same time, everyone is fighting for the top spot on Google—and most companies will fail. Rollison said the coveted “three pack” of top three search spots get 93 percent more calls, clicks or requests than brands that aren’t appearing there.
JC Hite, the founder of franchised marketing firm Hite Digital, said the number of strong competitors bidding on keywords or looking to rank organically in search grows at an astounding rate. That makes the coveted three pack a cutthroat battle for a few important pixels on page one in the rankings.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult digital marketing is. A lot of people think if I have a good marketer, I’ll win. If I didn’t win, I didn’t have a good marketer. But it’s incredibly competitive,” said Hite.
He works often with local service companies in and outside of franchising, and even for an industry such as roofing that might not be bleeding edge technologically, the competition is fierce.
“There are thousands of roofers in Dallas. Let’s say 200 roofers are doing digital marketing,” said Hite. “If I want to be on page one of Google, that means that 95 percent of people trying will not win. This is a really high number. Only the best 5 percent will get on page one.”
There are innumerable ways to do local marketing, but one of the most important and one that doesn’t necessarily require a big digital advertising budget is search engine optimization. According to a recent search benchmark by Soci, 74 percent of consumers conduct a local search once a week, and more than half of those (56 percent) visit the business right afterward.
Here are three things to think about when it comes to local SEO.
Push in the same direction
At Batteries Plus, the franchisor handles marketing for franchisees, and one key part of that is SEO. “We handle that both locally and nationally, we have a search strategy nationally and we’ll do that locally as well,” said CMO Derek Detenber, who joined the company in February 2022.
Handling that strategy and aligning national and local efforts seems to work well. In several test searches of “batteries near me,” Batteries Plus had not one, but two locations in the coveted three pack in three markets.
Detenber said national and local alignment by marketing professionals matters to drive results, and instead of each operator getting an email from corporate saying, “go do some SEO,” they can focus on the business and generate positive online reviews.
Be responsive and social
Speaking of great reviews, they matter, a lot. In the long list of “ranking signals” Google looks at, reviews are critically important, and even mediocre or bad reviews that get some attention can help rankings.
Jon Asher, VP of digital marketing at Nekter Juice Bar, said he and his team use Soci to monitor and respond to as many reviews as possible.
“It’s very, very important. Obviously if you’re not responding to reviews or engaging where people want to engage, they’re less likely to engage. We want to get those reviews because our teams do an amazing job,” said Asher. “And Google will view that highly and good reviews will bring a lot of traffic.”
Yelp and Google are the dominant review sources, but social media platforms such as Facebook also affect rankings. Restaurants in particular get a lot of engagement and reviews, so it can be hard to keep up. Rollison said the first goal should be beating the average.
“Multi-location restaurants, they respond to about 33 percent of their Google reviews. That’s kind of a good starting point but we think that number should be higher, and top performing restaurants respond to more. If you’re challenged to do this at all, you can see that benchmark and see how you can compete,” said Rollison.
Social media engagement is another ranking signal, and yet another thing local operators need to think about. Asher said Nekter, which has about 170 locations, provides local content franchisees can use, but social media butterflies who stay current thrive in local search.
“Everyone loves restaurants; they will naturally generate more engagement by posting pretty food or anything. However, if you want to outperform the competition, you have to set the bar higher than that,” said Asher.
He suggests keeping up with the trends. At the moment that means spending more time on short-form video. “It’s not just TikTok but video on every platform. Short form is the media of today,” said Asher, noting platforms are pushing video hard and by “using their new features, you’re usually rewarded with eyeballs.”
Start early, stay fresh
Staying current with social media is important, but don’t forget the nuts and bolts. Operators should schedule routine time to audit and update all those local business pages, even if the information doesn’t change much. As Rollison said, if you don’t, Google or another tech giant may decide what your business looks like online.
That means locking down local business pages with as much information tailored to search as possible, with correct tags, business hours, connected platforms and websites for potential customers to find in an instant.
Asher said at Nekter they start early and update often, and importantly, make prominent the increasing amount of information search engines use for instant search. As any of the 74 percent of people who have done a local search have seen, hours, descriptions, delivery platforms and abridged menus all show up on the search page today. Google just needs time and content to absorb that.
“One of the first things we like to do is make sure people know about the location before we open,” said Asher. “We’ll do that a month or two before opening so Google can crawl things and rank, integrating menu pages and all the things Google likes to crawl.”