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On Your Way Home: Why Local SEO Is One of the Most Important Marketing Strategies of 2018.

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Artificial intelligence knows where you live and where you work (because you told it), so it also knows you want search returns relevant to where you are.

The train has left the station. Are you on board? Actually, it’s more like the rocket ship has reached its orbit platform and is ready to shift into warp drive. We’re speaking metaphorically about mobile search.

Google statistics show it’s the dominant platform for searches, with 48% of buyers saying they use their smartphones to start searching with a search engine. Google, by the way, continues to tweak their search algorithms to index mobile first. Perfectly logical. Bye-bye, desktop searches. Today, we’re in motion and we’re doing our searching with smartphones. We want the results to show us content formatted for mobile devices. Even more important, we want search results to be geographically relevant to our location.

Be near me

Fabulous song from the 80s by the group ABC, and once again relevant – but this time it’s about getting your business in front of people as they enter your geographical location. When people search using Google on their mobile device, Google returns 3 results on the local map.

Those locations could be anywhere in the city, as Google can show results based on popularity if the search isn’t specific. Which is why there’s been a huge change in user behavior. Today, mobile searches start off with keywords, followed by the all-powerful “near me.”

Google then knows to return results based on geography. This means you absolutely must make sure your SEO is set up for “near me” searches. Otherwise, you may simply not appear to a customer who’s two blocks away and heading in your direction. She’ll end up stopping at your competitor about a mile farther down the way – who’s all over making their online identity optimized for mobile devices and “near me” searches.

Join the “near me” crowd

And, this is one time you definitely do want to join the crowd. It’s not just Google optimizing searches based on location. Say hello to Alexa. She’s joined Siri on iPhones, and there’s also an Android app on Google Play. And, Alexa’s got some friends.

Alexa, Siri, Google’s girl with no name, and a host of other digital assistants know quite a lot about you. Although sometimes that’s scary, more often than not it’s delightfully convenient. Artificial intelligence knows where you live and where you work (because you told it), so it also knows you want search returns relevant to where you are.

How it’s done

It all starts with having a mobile friendly site. It used to be okay to just have your desktop version tweaked to fit on mobile screens. That’s not good enough anymore. User expectations have kept pace with mobile user interface best practices. It’s reached the point where people simply bail on websites that aren’t specifically built for mobile devices. The message these squish-my-desktop-version websites say to visitors is, I don’t care all that much about gaining you as a customer.

Speaking of caring, Google does. The search engine giant cares so much that it gives preference to mobile friendly websites. Bottom line: make your website mobile friendly or get comfortable in your cloak of invisibility.

Optimize your local SEO

Yes, appearing in “near me” searches is your aim, but getting there is a result of your overall SEO practice. Google knows your physical location, but are you employing local keywords? Are you generating content filled with relevant information and references to your location so search spiders pick this up?

Claim your Google business listing

It’s a tedious but necessary chore. You must claim your business listing on as many online directories as possible. Being on Google’s online directory is akin to getting on first base. Google is also looking at all those other online business directories as it decides whether or not to put you on the map when a user makes a mobile “near me” search.

Get people talking about you

Online, of course. The trio of businesses Google pushes to the top of any mobile search is often referred to as the “3-Pack.” Part of the criteria to join this group of highlighted businesses – besides being located in the right place – is a sufficient number of online reviews.

Start with Google. Even a handful of short reviews is enough to boost your search ranking. You’ve always known that word of mouth is the best advertising there is, so it’s in your best interests to encourage customers to talk about their experience with you online. Sure, Google’s business listing reviews are key, but add reviews on other platforms to your SEO strategy – and don’t forget social networks.

Pick just one way to display your name, address, and phone number

Many businesses don’t realize how important it is to have what’s commonly called a “uniform NAP.” If you want to jump up and be one of the chosen few who make it into Googles 3-Pack, you absolutely must make sure that your name, address, and phone number is consistent.

This includes how It’s displayed on your website, and it’s even more important on directory listings. If it’s “Blvd.” on some listings and “Boulevard” on others, Google may penalize you for inconsistency.

Take advantage of AdWords Location Extensions

What are these? It’s Google’s ad unit made for mobile searches, and you need to use these extensions if you want to show up in “near me” or “nearby” searches.  This Google voodoo gets your business in front of mobile users who are nearby and ready to spend some money with their business. If you want your business to appear in this specific ad unit, you have to be using the location extensions option within AdWords.

It’s a small world after all

The Internet allows the whole world to be your customer if you have an online store. That’s awesome – but totally useless if you’re a local business dependent on local customers. In that case, you’re not so interested in being found by the whole wide world. You need the Internet to help you reverse a global focus and narrow it down to just the geographical location surrounding you.

If you want that focus, it’s all about how you approach your mobile SEO, as well as how you craft the content people will engage with when you show up in searches on their smartphone, as they’re heading in your direction. Your objective is to prove that you really are, as those old radio ads used to say, conveniently located on your way home.

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