2019 is around the corner. A new year is coming. But some things will never change.

Consumers will continue to need your services. You’ll continue to want more customers. These are facts.

Consumers will continue to use search engines to find local businesses. But will you gain more local customers through search engines in 2019?

You can give your business the best chance by paying attention to local search trends that will determine your ability to increase lead flow in 2019.

Over the years, there was a much greater focus on search engine optimization. But local search has gained popularity over the years and at times it will take working with an SEO company to help sort it out.

Make no mistake, local search’s popularity isn’t just a fad. About 4 in 5 consumers carry out local searches on their devices and if you don’t believe us feel free to ask a digital marketing agency.

4 in 5 consumers conduct local searches on their smartphones, tablets or computers

Users act on these searches quickly. 50% of people who performed a local search on their smartphones and 34% of those on their tablet/desktop visited a physical store within a day.

Consumers act quickly after they perform online local search

In this guide, I’ll show you trends you need to exploit. These trends are already in effect and they’ll continue to be important in the new year.
Without further ado, let’s begin.

1. User Reviews

This has been an important element in ranking higher for local searches. It’s only going to gain more influence in 2019 as Google aims to focus on using engagement as a signal of how credible a business is.

Reviews show the true essence of a business. Customers who have a complaint or praise for your business can always use the review as an opportunity to speak out.

A page with reviews shows search engines that it’s generating engagement with its customers. Such a business is more likely to gain a better ranking than a page without reviews.

Apart from search algorithms, having reviews on your Google My Business page or other local listings is a psychological advantage.

Potential customers who come through the search engine are more attracted to your business if your past customers love how they were treated.

It’s no surprise that BrightLocal found in a study that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

When searching for product or service, customers tend to trust personal recommendations and online reviews.

Google and other search engines tailor their search results to suit search users’ needs. If search users trust reviews, then search engines are also bound to follow the same step, right?

Local SEO Guide conducted research and found that User Reviews were the biggest determinant of a business’ local search rank.

Businesses with a high number of user reviews were found to rank higher even though many of them had backlinks from low-authority websites.

Businesses with good reviews rank high

How can you take advantage of this trend?

You need to get more reviews.

Most happy customers won’t go about writing reviews for your service. You need to ask your customers to write honest reviews.

And there’s nothing wrong with incentivizing them to do so, but don’t bribe them to leave positive reviews.

Guide on how to get more customer reviews

As long as it’s honest (whether positive or negative), it’s fine.

Another feature found in the reviews of pages that ranked higher in the local map pack was that these reviews included their business name and location.

While telling your customers to drop a review, you can also suggest to them about including your business keywords and location, etc.

2. Voice Search

The way users are making their searches is changing. Over the years, most searches were typed.

But companies like Microsoft and Google have since improved their voice transcription algorithm to match the accuracy of humans.

Google machine learning word accuracy

Back in 2016, voice search accounted for about 1 in 5 searches on Android devices.

That has only been increasing since then. Voice search is usually easier than typed search. For a local business, voice search is a vital trend to leverage in 2019.

Mobile queries made with voice on Android

Because many searchers use voice search while on the move and need to buy a product in their locality. For instance, a businessman traveling through your city may need to eat at a restaurant or take a cup of coffee.

Naturally, they can use voice search to find a suitable business. Appearing at the top of local searches will give you an edge over the competition and help you to generate new customers.

This has also led to the introduction of a device like smart speakers. With Amazon introducing Echo, Google with Home, and Apple with HomePod, people can now use voice to perform various functions in their homes.

Despite being relatively new devices, they have gained popularity in a few years. According to a research by NPR and Edison Research, about 1 in 6 Americans now use a smart speaker. That’s about 39 million Americans.

16% of american population older then 18 own smart speaker

This number is only going to rise in 2019. Why is this important? Search engine users can carry out voice searches with their devices.

This includes many searches with a local intent. Smart speaker owners can order products in their locality or get information about a local business.

3. Local Listings

To appear in local searches, your business needs to be listed in local business directories. These are mentions that show your business is credible and authentic at the particular location.

There are two major trends in local citations that you need to pay attention to:

i). The quantity of local citation: Having many local citations puts your business in a better position for local searches.

When search engines are gauging indexed pages to determine whether they’d rank in the organic listings, one of the things they check is how often your business details appear on the web. Do other local directories recognize your business at all?

A BrightLocal study found that for businesses that appear in the top 3 of local searches, they have an average of 85 local citations. In 2019, this will continue to matter.

Add Business to Local Listings or why citation matters

However, the number may be lower as more focus is now on the quality of these local listings than just the sheer number.

To be clear, the number of local listing you have will still matter. If you have only a few citations, it’s important to add your business details to more relevant directories.

ii). The quality of local citations: In the coming year, local SEO specialists , like guys from our Atlanta SEO Company, will focus more on the quality of the local listings they appear rather than just the number.

According to Moz local search ranking factors survey, local search specialists will focus more on the quality of local listings they add local businesses to.

This could probably include the top 30 to 50 local listings. If you’re adding your business details to local listings in 2019, you should add it to the most important ones first.

But you need to note that the quality of a local listing is not only about how big or popular a local listing is. It could also be about its relevance to your business or location.

For instance, appearance in popular local listings like ZocDoc, HealthGrades, Wellness.com is an example of a quality citation for a doctor even though those citations may not be the most popular.

Appearance in popular local listings like ZocDoc is an example of a quality citation for a doctor

Furthermore, a local listing for businesses in your city is a quality listing when it comes to local listings.

Another factor to note is that your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) should be consistent across the local listings you appear.

4. Optimize your Google My Business page

To get your business on the local map results, you need a Google My Business (GMB) page. This has been a trend in digital marketing and will continue to be in 2019.
Having a GMB page doesn’t automatically guarantee your business a high rank. You also need to optimize your page for your potential visitors and clients.

Google My Business Page

If you’re yet to open a GMB page, you can visit the website and click on “Start Now.”

Creating GMB Page

This will lead you to pages where you can fill in your business details. After this, you can verify your page to get the full ownership of the page.

With your GMB page, you can have details like your NAP (business name, address, phone numbers), images of your business, opening hours, website link, and other details a potential customer needs to get in touch with you.

Creating google my business page, success message

To give your GMB page the best chance of showing up in the local map pack, you should pay attention to these signals and implement them on your page:

i). The quality of inbound links: As difficult as it is to get backlinks to your website, it can even be more difficult to do so for your GMB page.

Perhaps, this is why it could be a competitive differentiator when it comes to ranking for a competitive term. Links to your GMB page, especially local links, will improve your trustworthiness as a local business.

ii). Business category: Picking the wrong business category can lead to issues in ranking for local terms.

Before setting up your page, it’s important to check your competitors’ category and select the right category your business belongs to.

iii). Opening hours: For local business, this is an important information that potential customers should be aware of.

The absence of this could lead to a lower ranking. For most results in local map packs, Google also displays whether the business is open or close. In some cases, it shows the searcher if the business will close soon.

Google my Business page opening hours

These are details that will be absent without your opening hours and it would be a poorer search result because of that.

It would make no sense if your potential customer is unaware of your closing time and then get to your business to meet it closed.

You should also add your busy period to your GMB listing so that a customer in rush would avoid such a time.

5. Backlinks

The number and quality of backlinks will continue to be a trend you can’t ignore.

Inbound links from other websites is a show of trust from those websites. If many websites show trust in your website content, then search engines will also have more trust in it.

In fact, backlinks are one of the 3 most important ranking signals according to Google search quality analyst, Andrey Lipattsev. Also, according to the local search ranking factors survey by Moz, local search specialists believe link signals is the most important factor for local organic rank and the second most important factor for local map pack rank.

Local Search Ranking Factors

This will continue to have an effect on your local search visibility.

So what are the ways you can build backlinks to your website?

i). Local links: For a better appearance in local search, local links show your credibility and trustworthiness in your locality.

When you get inbound links from websites in your area, you can rank for more local keywords in that area. How do you get local links?

There are many ways to gain local links in your locality. One way you can do this is to host or participate in local events.

When you do this, local websites that report these events will mention you or your business and add a link to your website.

To encourage students to admit to drunk driving, a DUI attorney offered Colorado students scholarship for coming forward. Through this, he gained a local link from The Denver Post and later from The Wall Street Journal.

Participation in local events as advertising tactic

ii). Industry-related links: links from websites related to your industry or profession helps to improve your website’s trustworthiness.

It also gives you a better chance of ranking for keywords that are related to your profession.

An example of this is a guest post by Dr. Sharonrose Samelak who wrote a guest post for the website “Bodies for Birth” about chiropractic care for pregnant women.

She gains a backlink at the end of the post. This is a website that’s health-related and will give her website a boost for chiropractic keywords in her location.

Gaining links through guest blog post

iii). The quantity of inbound links: The number of links you gain also have an impact on your local rank. It could make a difference between your website and a competitor’s website.

iv). The diversity of inbound links: It’s important to gain links from different types of sources to have a normal backlink profile and prevent it from looking spammy.

6. Content

If there’s a trend that will always continue to be relevant when it comes to search, it’s content.

Whether a search engine user sees a local search result or local map pack, they want content that will provide the right information they need.

Content is always trendy and relevant as a search factor

However, many small businesses have no website. And small businesses that have websites are unwilling to invest in content for their websites.

Of course, without content, it’s almost impossible for a business to appear in local search. This business can only show up in local map pack for terms with low competition.

It all starts with the creation of a website for your business. The local SEO guide study found that businesses with websites are more likely to appear for local searches.

Business that have website are more likely to appear on google search local listings

How do you take advantage of content to rank in local searches?

i). Local content: To attract local searchers, you should have content with local terms and keywords that users are likely to input into the search engine.

ii). In-depth content: To give your business an edge among other websites with content, you need to produce detailed content.

These are pieces of content that provide the right information to searchers. Google encourages content that possesses EAT:

  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • trustworthiness.

An in-depth content is usually long.

According to a Backlinko study of 1 million search results, they found that a post at the number 1 position of Google’s search results has an average of 1,890 words.

Long and Quality Content is one of the most important ranking factors.

This is only an average and not a magic number. However, it tells you that a short post will likely perform poorly in search results.

The number of words required for a piece of content will depend on the topic you’re addressing. For instance, a wide topic would require more words than a narrow topic.

The most important consideration to make is that your content has answered the questions a visitor might have about a topic.

8. NAP consistency

When you have to add your business to many local listings, you may add different details to different listings.

The most important piece of information about your business when it comes to local search or appearing in the local map pack is the business name, address, and phone number(s). This is also called NAP.

This trend will still continue to impact local search rankings in 2019. If you’re adding your business to local listings, you should have a name, address, and phone number that are consistent across all listings.

NAP - Name, address, phone

The danger of using different details is that it can lead to a confusion for search engines.

If you have an address on some local listings and another address on other listings, which address does Google show to users?

If you have different phone numbers, which one should Google show? In a situation like this, you’ll lose local search rank as search engines are unable to decide which business detail to display.

In some cases, different addresses on listings happen when a business has moved from one location to another. What do you do when this happens?

It’s very difficult to track all the citations you have and change the address. One way to make it easier is to use tools like Yext or Moz Local to find inconsistent information in listings and you can change them.

Another potential issue with NAP that can lead to a lower ranking is a nonexistent office at your address. To register in local listings, some businesses only give an address where they have no operation. Perhaps, they have moved!

We have moved banner

This is a situation that could lead to a lower local search ranking as potential customers who go to that location offline are unable to get the service they want.
To avoid this, you should have your business operation in the address you add to local listings.

If possible, you should always have workers that can attend to customers during your opening hours. Another possible issue that occurs with local listings could be as a result of sharing an office by 2 businesses.

This can lead to a drop in rankings as 2 businesses end up using the same address.

This causes confusion for search engines and a lower ranking as a result.

9. Click-through rate (CTR)

As Google and other search engines look to engagement as a true statement of what searchers want, a metric like CTR will increase in importance.

Click-through rate has always been a search ranking signal across all search premises (international search, local search, etc).

There’s a correlation between the click-through rate of a page and its position in search results.

Research by Advanced Web Ranking establishes this with the number one result having an average click-through rate of 31.52% on desktop and 24.05% on mobile.

Page search rank and CTR ratio

Although, this could raise a question: Is it the high CTR that’s causing the high rank or is it the high rank that’s causing the high CTR? Both questions could be answered “yes.”

But when a number 3 result begins to have a higher CTR than the number 1 and 2 results, it will soon go up in the rankings.

This shows Google that the number 3 result is providing better value for users and therefore a better result.

Another factor that could have an effect is mobile clicks to call. With a result on local map pack, are users calling your business?

If users are calling your business from the local map pack, it shows a high engagement and this will only lead to a better ranking or keeping your high ranking.

Even as important as CTR or more is the Dwell time.

With Rankbrain becoming the third most important ranking signal, Google is trying to judge how searchers interact with results on the search page. Rankbrain can use this data to adjust search rankings accordingly.

Google Rank Brain

What if your page has a high CTR but users bounce back to the search results page after a few seconds?

This is a negative signal and it shows that your page is not providing value for searchers. Despite the high CTR, you could still lose rank due to the low dwell time.

One way to measure the engagement on your pages is to check their time on site and bounce rate. Wordstream founder, Larry Kim, has stressed the importance of dwell time with the introduction of Rankbrain.

For instance, in one study into their ranking pages, he found that the number of their pages ranking with a lower time on site than average dropped after Rankbrain.

The AI machine had adjusted the search rankings based on engagement and removed the lower performing pages.

The AI machines are adjusting page rankings and remove lower performing pages

10. Keywords

For any search, keywords will continue to matter as this is how people use search engines.

For local searches, there may be a slight difference in the keywords that businesses should target.

What are the most important types of keywords to target?

i). Location Keywords: These are the keywords related to where you have your business. You should have your location keywords on your local listings and your website.

This helps Google to decide whether your business is relevant to that location.

What makes this even more important is that this is how users search for local businesses or professionals. It’s usual for a potential client to search “best DUI attorney San Francisco” than without the location.

In some cases, searchers use “near me” after their searches. This also indicates location. However, this should not be overdone.

Over the years, consumers have grown aware that Google is smart enough to detect a local search even without adding a location to the search term.

For instance, in 2 years, comparable searches without “near me” has grown by 150%. Likewise, restaurant searches with zip codes have declined by 30%.

Comparable Searches

It’s now more important to target user intent and how they’re likely to word their search phrases.

An example of this is the increase in the search term “Is it going to rain today” compared to “Houston weather forecasts.” Search users now expect search engines to understand their searches without “spelling” it out.

Search users expect search engines to understand their intent better

Service Keywords: When people are searching for your service, what keywords are they going to use?

Having these keywords on your online properties will ensure you have a chance to rank for those keywords. It’s also important to use keywords that show your niche.

This is necessary if you’re a professional in wide fields like the legal or medical field.

For instance, it’s better to have “personal injury lawyer San Francisco” or “personal injury attorney San Francisco” than just “lawyer San Francisco.”

Firstly, there’s a higher competition if you’re targeting “lawyer.” Added to that, ranking for such a term will bring searchers who are looking for services you don’t provide.

When choosing keywords, alwyas choose more relevant and less competitive

To target keywords, it’s important to know the keywords potential clients are using in the search. You can have this knowledge when you use keywords research tools. An example of a keyword tool you can use is Ubersuggest.

With this tool, you can have details about your keywords like search volume, SEO difficulty, paid difficulty, and cost per click (CPC).

Ubersuggest keyword tool

You can also see keywords similar to your keyword that searchers have used in the past. This will give you an idea of keywords to use in your local listing pages and your website content.

11. Mobile-friendly website

If you want to rank high for local searches, then you need to have a website your users can access easily.

More users are searching on their mobile devices than desktop. In fact, a study found that about 60% of Google searches are done on mobile.

Share of online searches initiated with mobile device, by industry

To satisfy the increasing number of users on mobile devices, Google began mobile-first indexing. This means that the mobile version of your website will be indexed first before the desktop version.

When you consider that nearly one-third of mobile searches are related to location, this underlines the importance of a mobile-friendly site. Furthermore, 79% of people say they’re more likely to revisit and/or share a mobile site if it is easy to use.

Visitors are more likely to share easy to use mobile websites

Having a poor mobile website reduces the possibility of having a top rank in search. And for queries you already rank for, you may start to see a drop.

Because the engagement metrics for your poor mobile will lead to a lower rank.

Visitors will bounce off your website as they’re able to access your website. To take advantage of the mobile trend, you have to ensure your website is mobile-friendly.

You can use the Google mobile-friendly test to check your website’s mobile-friendliness.

Mobile Friendly Test Report

This will also give you suggestions on what to adjust on your website for a better mobile site.

It’s better for your website’s mobile-friendliness to use a mobile-responsive theme rather than having a mobile version of your website.

Google Console Errors Report

RoofCrafters got a 4,342% increase in organic traffic by optimizing its website for mobile and other strategies. It also got a decrease in bounce rate in 6 months.

Mobile optimization increase organic traffic

12. Personalization

To increase user engagement on your website and improve local search rankings, you need to personalize your website to your visitors.

This includes the content on your website and in your local citations. It could also include the images on your website.

According to Google, smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location compared to 2 years ago.

13. Micro-moments

With the improvements in technologies like search and smartphones, consumers now expect their needs to be met when they need it. Is your business prepared to assist a potential customer right now?

This is one of the things that will determine how much engagement you can generate with customers.

Likewise, it will affect how high your website can rank for local searches. What are important steps that will help you to meet searchers’ needs?

Mobile: One of the main devices driving micro-moments is smartphones.

With smartphones and search engines, smartphone users can get their needs met at the last minute. It helps smartphone users to be nimble in their decision-making and purchases.

While trying to buy a product, smartphone users can pick their phones and carry out a quick search to get important details about the product.

Or where to get better offers. How ready is your website to meet mobile users’ needs for a piece of information or product they need right now?

Can search users call your business right away or schedule an appointment in just a moment. Google found that smartphone users are 50% more likely to expect to purchase something immediately while using their smartphone compared to a year ago.

Smartphone users are more likely to purchase something immediately

Automation: How well do you know your ideal visitors?

By understanding your user behavior, it’s easier to create automation that will allow you to personalize your service to each visitor based on their interactions with your website.

Omnichannel service: One way to serve your customers better is to bridge your online and offline experience. Customers should be able to begin their experience online and finish it offline or vice versa.

Conclusion

These trends will continue to determine which page will rank at the top of local searches and the local map pack.

Taking these steps could be the difference between attracting more customers to your business and losing them.

The truth is that most of your competitors don’t go this far to rank for local searches.

Exploiting these trends is enough to rank for local searches even in competitive markets.

Many smartphone users are using local search to select businesses to patronize.

This is especially applicable for people who travel through your city. People need to stop by and eat or buy a product. They use their smartphones to find those businesses.

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).