It’s been a fast-paced year with plenty of developments in digital marketing, and local SEO was no exception.
As consumers’ informational needs have grown and local markets have become more competitive, search engines have adapted to meet these needs.
Businesses, local SEO professionals, and their agencies have new tools, more data – and easier access to both.
And consumers? They’re gaining access to more of the information they care about through an increasingly rich, engaging, and seamless local search experience.
Google And Changing Consumer Buying Habits Disrupted Local Search
This year, many of our top local search updates are from Google, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Google quickly responded to changing consumer buying habits as a result of the pandemic and remains the dominant force in the market.
- Google currently enjoys an over 92.4% market share in the search engine space worldwide.
- 83% of local consumers use Google Search to find information about local businesses and 90% will make a purchase within one week of their initial search.
- Google facilitated 2 billion connections such as reviews and bookings between US businesses and shoppers per month in 2020.
- [Available near me] searches increased 100% in 2021; [now near me] searches by 200% in 2021, and [along my route] searches 1000% in 2020.
With numbers like that, businesses can’t afford to ignore local SEO. Capturing even a portion of these searches can be game-changing for any business and life or death for those struggling.
That means understanding the changes to local search throughout 2021 and adjusting your 2022 local SEO strategy accordingly. So, what do you need to know about 2021’s many updates and changes?
1. Google Business Profile Made Local SEO More Convenient For Businesses
When Google rebranded Google My Business as Google Business Profile, the new moniker came with updates and new features, too.
Perhaps most impactful was that business owners no longer have to dig through an app or platform to update or correct their listings. You can add or update contact information, opening hours, add images, and more right from Google Search and Google Maps.
You can complete the verification process and address issues such as suspensions from Search, too, making it easier than ever to gain a powerful presence in the local search results.
2. Google Made It Easier To Find And Catch Up On The Latest Local News
Google launched two projects to help journalists enrich their stories with local data and information:
Census Mapper Project
Gather, analyze, and visualize data collected and processed by The Associated Press about a local area.
Common Knowledge Project
Access geographic comparisons, charts, and visualizations for data analysis at the county, state, and national levels.
The search engine also made local news stories easier to find in the SERPs with these updates:
- Local News Carousel: Local news stories relevant to a user’s query now appear at the top of the SERPs, making them easier to find while giving local journalists and publications more visibility.
- Top Stories Carousel: Authoritative local news sources appear alongside the major publications, which once dominated this portion of the SERPs.
- More News In Search: Google improved its ability to connect the news to broad topic queries.
- Local Tweets: Local publications and journalists appear in local news with tweets rather than just published stories.
3. Bing Added More Visual Elements And Rich Results
In March 2021, Microsoft Bing rolled out five updates focused on providing local searchers with a richer experience by improving the integration of visual elements with its text-based search results.
- Expandable carousels give users access to additional information when they hover over a result.
- Infographic-like results now entice searchers using broad queries to dig deeper into a topic.
- Intuitive highlights pull details like ingredients lists, calorie counts, and nutritional information from a page without requiring the user to click through to a website.
- Integrated visual search allows users to visually search for similar-looking items by clicking the integrated visual search button.
Why do these things matter to local SEO professionals? Bing incorporated these same concepts into its local search results.
Instead of a simple image carousel or text-based facts, Microsoft Bing delivers a visually-rich SERP for local queries consisting of relevant resources gathered from Bing Maps, top images, visitor reviews, and other sources.
These changes have made focusing some local SEO efforts on Bing a more attractive prospect. Creative businesses can own the local search space if they’re willing to get creative with the many local search opportunities.
So, if you haven’t already, enrich your site and listings with various media types and content, including user-generated content.
And don’t forget to use schema.
4. Everyone Gets New Attributes
It seems like Google constantly releases new attributes, and that’s for good reason.
Attributes provide proactive answers to questions searchers often have about a specific business type and are featured prominently on Google Business Profiles.
Why? Google is always looking for ways to help businesses stand out and better satisfy a query.
Features like the Black-owned or Women-owned business attributes, for example, help searchers who are looking to support businesses with shared value make these connections.
In February 2021, Google added health, safety, and pandemic-related attributes to Google Business Profiles.
With the addition of these attributes, local businesses can share information about safety protocols and advertise changing or new services such as curbside pickup, no-contact delivery, and dine-in service.
Google also included attributes for online appointments, estimates, online classes, and digital care.
Call logging, messaging, and access to new data and insights in Google Search and Maps help keep customers engaged by enabling businesses to track customer phone calls and respond to missed calls.
All of these can be huge for a busy business. If you haven’t looked at the many new attributes made available in 2021, it should be one of the first local SEO tasks you take on in the new year.
5. Local Ecommerce Got A Boost With Pointy
In June 2021, 50% of US shoppers said they planned to check online to see if an item was in stock before buying their holiday items. But even before that searches with the phrase “in stock” increased 800%.
This means adding your products to your Google Business Profile and keeping the inventory up to date are highly advantageous. Still, it can be a time-consuming feature–one that businesses don’t always have time for as sales increase.
To make it easier, Google announced Pointy integration.
With this new feature, eligible US retailers can have their in-store product inventory automatically added to Google.
Then, it’s updated every time you sell an item, keeping the product availability up-to-date online, so searchers always know what you have in stock.
6. The Mobile-First Indexing Rollout Is Still Rolling Out
Mobile-first indexing has been looming since Google first announced it at the end of 2017.
Since then, there have been several expansions, stops, and starts, including the September 2020 delay in which the search engine stated it would hold off mobile-first indexation until at least March 2021.
The source of the problem? Google cited several, including robots meta tags, lazy-loading, blocked assets, primary content, mobile images, and videos.
Regardless, it would be unwise to get caught off guard–if you’re not offering a seamless mobile experience already, you need to get on it.
So how do you get ready?
The best advice for local businesses and marketing professionals hoping to attract attention from on-the-go local searchers, according to Google, is to focus on creating a positive mobile experience.
7. New Free Local SEO Tools And Insights
Local businesses and SEO professionals looking to keep up with all the changes also gained access to some new free tools.
One of these tools, developed by Local SEO Guide, is the Local-Pack-O-Meter. With it, SEO and business professionals can track data for ten different types of Google search features, including local packs, knowledge panels, shopping, job postings, and ads, to name a few.
The tool runs on data gathered from roughly 60 million US search queries provided by Traject Data. As a result, it has a much larger sample size and is more representative of all US queries.
And with data going as far back as May 2020, users can scour the data to identify exciting trends and insights to power their strategies going forward.
Another great resource released this year was a research paper from Milestone Inc, which analyzed 500 location-based businesses, their sessions, and page views to understand better which channels had more earnings at the best ROI.
Some of the insights include:
- Referral traffic came in third behind organic and local search for ROI.
- Referral traffic did, however, have higher engagement rates.
- Local search gives the best ROI with the highest page views per session.
Rio SEO, meanwhile, has been analyzing aggregate GMB performance metrics from the over 200,000 U.S. business locations managed in its platform. Each month, the brand releases a new report with vertical-specific benchmarks for Search Views, Clicks to Call, Clicks to Website, and more.
If you’re looking for data to inform your 2022 local SEO strategy, you’ll want to be sure to check these and other opportunities out.
What You Need To Know For An Effective 2022 Local SEO Strategy
While these seven updates are essential for your 2022 local search strategy, they’re not the only things you should have on your radar.
For large, multi-location businesses, ensure you’re leveraging the data available in the Google Merchant Center to power your local SEO campaigns.
- How To Analyze The Performance Of Your Multi-Domain SEO Program
- 5 Common Local SEO KPIs And How To Measure Them
- The Complete Guide To On-Page SEO
Featured image: Shutterstock/RoseRodionova