Did Google’s Local Updates Catch You Flat Footed?

So… flashback to February 2012 and the forty algo changes Google highlighted in the Inside Search blog. A lot of buzz popped up, much as it always does. A slew of articles have come out about the “new heavy focus on local” with the Venice update and other local changes.

if google can't find you how will they?

If you’ve missed the hullabaloo, here are the updates in question:

More locally relevant predictions in YouTube. [project codename “Suggest”] We’ve improved the ranking for predictions in YouTube to provide more locally relevant queries. For example, for the query [lady gaga in ] performed on the US version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in times square], but for the same search performed on the Indian version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in India].

Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.

Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.

Now, here’s my question. Were you surprised? Have you since been scrambling to get those localized organic listings in the SERPs? If so, you haven’t been paying attention.

Local SEO Indicators Have Been Flashing for Quite Awhile

In October 2011, Search News Central posted The Ultimate List of Local Citation Sites, written by Mike Wilton (great list, Mike, by the way). At the very beginning of the post, Mike says, “Now more than ever it’s crucial for businesses to stand out amongst the local competition…” The focal point of personalization, he says, is local (another must read article is linked to in the post, written by SNC’s own David Harry, Search Personalization and the User Experience).

Remember, this is back in October 2011, a full four months before Google’s localized organic updates. In June 2011, David Mihm posted Local Search Ranking Factors (another good bookmark) on his blog, which talks about the frenetic pace of local SEO evolution. –And, let’s not leave out the continual barrage of warnings from various marketers for at least the past two years, such as the Search Engine Watch article by Ray Comstock, The Importance of Localized Content – Local SEO Takes Center Stage.

In other words, localized organic listings have been making waves in one way or another for a long time. You’ve been put on notice, you’ve been warned, and if the recent algo changes targeting local threw you off guard, you’ve been slacking.

Local Content for a National Site May be a Bitch Kitty, But…

The newest localized organic updates (some have lumped them all together into the Venice code name) simply beg for things like larger sites and more content with a decidedly local flavor. Of course, we like these kinds of things; as most of you know, Level343 focuses on content-centric sites. Therefore, it’s probably not a surprise that we focus on content for local purposes, as well.

A while back, we had a Fortune 500 company came to us. They were getting tons of traffic, but their conversions (comparably) were non-existent. It didn’t take long to find at least one of the problems, and it was a big one. They had the power to rank in the top three for a generic search term, but their site had abysmal converting power.

On a scale of 0 – 100, they ranked a negative.

Issues:

  • Global business
  • Several country-oriented sites with their own country-oriented TLDs (i.e. .nl, .uk, etc.)
  • All local information on a single page
  • Map locations non-existent

Is it just me, or do some of your clients’ sites make you wince?

They’d taken the initiative to create individual country-based sites, but left out anything remotely local. When a visitor hit the site and tried to search for [where are you in my area?], they were directed to a single page with over 400 satellite offices in a country that’s twice the size of New Jersey. It’s no U.S., but that’s a sizeable bit of territory for one site (and one page!) to cover.

Here’s what happened then:

Us: We’ll need to create a page on the site for each location; or at least each major location and a searchable index of the others.

Them: What?

Us: Separate pages, with unique, location-based title tags, location-based information… you could even have the shop owners take pictures of the storefronts and the owners themselves to give it a more friendly feel. That is, of course, depending on whether we’re creating regional or local sections. Local sections allow for more friendliness and shop information.

Them: That’s a lot of pages.

Us: You have a lot of locations.

Them: ….Sometimes, there’s no reasoning with dollar signs.

 

Takeaways and Further Reading

The takeaway of the Venice et all updates seems simply to me. Get your local house in order. Dot your I’s, cross your t’s and get on with business. In other words, what you should have been doing anyway, because the writing has been on the proverbial wall so long it’s starting to fade. Venice just put a fresh coating on the words.

What are others saying? Surprise, surprise, much the same thing. Local is in, mixed with traditional SEO. Once again, our jobs are broadening, if they didn’t already encompass the more detailed aspects of ranking and traffic. –But don’t take it from me…

(note: a lot of these articles have screen shots at the beginning with various locations + terms. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, but the content under the images is interesting.)

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