Local Optimization Drives Conversions, But Your Local Page Won’t

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When people in the online marketing community talk about the mobile shift, they usually do so in the context of one of these three things:

  • user experience, specifically, how yours will suck for smartphone users if you don't have a mobile version or don't use responsive web design (RWD);
  • tasks, specifically, how your mobile users are trying to accomplish different things than your desktop crowd, and what that means for your website; and
  • page load time, and what that means for your smartphone crowd (CliffsNotes version: if it's scary that desktop visitors have the patience of a lit match, just note that your mobile visitors have only a fraction of their patience).

Those are all important topics, and they're definitely worthy of the attention they're getting. However, let's not forget the other big shift mobile is affecting — online marketing for local visitors.

Your Traffic is Turning Local; Get Your Schema.org Game On

I use Google's figures below (as I do, please bear in mind that it's not a neutral player in this space). Saying local is sort of important to Google is like saying that your lungs are sort of important for breathing. Nevertheless, the numbers are impressive:

  • four in five consumers use search engines to find local information;
  • 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search with their smartphone visit a store within a day; and
  • local searches lead to more purchases (18 percent for the study) than nonlocal searches (7 percent for the study).

Think about what that means for a second. This behavior is beyond your control — users will look for local goods and services online whether you want them to or not. The choice you have is whether you'll learn all you need to learn about using tags to get your name, address and phone number optimized.

Learning schema.org for local business is no longer what you need to do to stand out — it's the price of admission in this more localized ecosystem. Learn about it. You'll get more attention at the top of the funnel and have a bigger pool of visitors to convert.

Local Signals Don't Need to Be Explicit; a Local Page Won't Cut it

There's a wonderful presentation by Will Critchlow about the nature of search queries. The short version is that in the past, keywords and queries were identical, whereas today, the actual words are just a part of the equation.

Google and other search engines used to rely solely on the words people typed in to try and find the best match. Fast-forward to today: when you use your Galaxy S5 in Venice to do a voice search for "lunch," Google knows you're not researching what the word means.

Think of "lunch" as the explicit part of the query, and then think of all the other signals as the implicit part of the query — the location, given by the smartphone; the time of day; and the device. For that search, Google will serve up restaurants nearby, and you can filter further using your next query.

Now, think about that across different industries. Think of shoe stores with a brick-and-mortar presence in Detroit, or door knob retailers in Chicago. Whereas before, having the vicinity in the title tag might have gone a long way, today, you can't have a "page" for the local query.

Your whole website needs to be optimized in such a way that it's easy to reach for that click to call if the user wants to have a conversation with someone from your business. If a visitor lands deep in your site, you still need to give them access to your store locator since local was one of the things that drove them there. Your form needs to be pre-filled for local options by default.

The Local Shift

Local was already in play before the iPhone changed the online marketing game in 2007, but the mobile shift has raised business capabilities and, more importantly, visitor expectations. Some of the things you need to learn to cope will be brutal, especially if you have limited resources, but it's time to start allocating some of that budget to local optimization now.

This article originally appeared in Tim's Retail Online Integration column July 31, 2014

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