Every year brings change, and in a fluid industry like search engine optimization, that change is almost a certainty.
Search engines must respond to the shift in the way people use technology, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the local level. Here are five major changes to expect from local SEO in 2017.
More Mobile Than Ever
More consumers conduct local searches on smartphones than any other device. That means the majority of the people looking for your products or services are on a 6-inch-or-less display, quite possibly on a wireless network. The year 2017 will see an even bigger emphasis on mobile. So how can you rank better and cater to these customers?
First, you should really have a mobile-optimized/responsive website by now. Ensuring that your website is as easy to navigate as possible on mobile means that users spend more time on it, lowering your bounce rate and letting search engines know that your site is providing value to those who visit.
If you've made your website mobile friendly, concentrate on decreasing load times. This is another factor that search engines take into account, and bear in mind -- long load times on home broadband can feel like an eternity on some mobile Internet connections. Search engines will not look kindly upon websites that force mobile users to wait. On that note...
We're going to see an even bigger emphasis on AMP pages in 2017. For those unfamiliar with the acronym, AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP is a technology co-developed by Google and Twitter to make mobile Web pages incredibly quick to load, and we're undoubtedly going to see a big AMP boom in 2017.
How can you implement AMP? You can find tutorials on the open-source AMP Project's website (https://www.ampproject.org/). And if you're on WordPress, a very helpful plugin called AMP for WP takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting for you (https://wordpress.org/plugins/accelerated-mobile-pages/).
We've already covered the fact that more people are searching locally from smartphones than from any other device. Now consider features like Siri and "Hey Google," and the fact that our homes now have that same functionality via platforms like Amazon Alexa and Android TV.
We're poised to see a breakout year for local voice search in 2017, which means that businesses need to start optimizing for spoken search terms. No one holds up their phone and says, "Siri, pizza Bristol Tennessee." That's not how users are trained to give voice commands. Instead, you'll want to rank for searches like, "Siri, show me pizza places that are nearby." This means less emphasis on the search terms themselves and more making sure your local SEO game is on point.
If you haven't already, reserve your business listing page on the major search engines, ensure the information is correct, and move on from there.
What About Link Building?
Old-school link building used to consist of placing your carefully crafted link and anchor text everywhere humanly possible. Remember our "pizza Bristol Tennessee" example from the last section? It wouldn't be uncommon to see such a term linked on a totally unrelated website. And then Google's Penguin update happened, heavily penalizing those who were trying to game the system.
Suffice to say, such tactics don't work well generally anymore, and they definitely don't work at the local level. But here's where things get tricky.
Websites targeting a national/global audience are advised to seek backlinks from relevant, high-authority websites. So that's what you should do, right? Not necessarily. What works for those websites won't necessarily help your website rank better locally.
Instead, it will actually benefit your website more to receive backlinks from other local websites, even if those sites aren't considered high authority. Whether it's a local news outlet doing a story about your business, a local review site critiquing your services, or even a local blogger just talking about his or her experience with you -- these are the links you want if your goal is to move up in local search results.
Paid Listings Invade Map Results
In the coming year, you'll not only have to beat paid listings in normal search results, but in local map results, too. When you visit Google and search for "pizza," you're bound to see an embedded Google map with what's called a "three-pack" underneath it -- three local search results. In the past, three local businesses had a shot at showing up in this section.
With advertising, that number has dropped to two. If a company is running ads in your area, there's a very good chance that you'll see that company take the first spot, leaving only two organic listings for non-paying local businesses.
As we've discussed already, mobile is already thriving and is set to be an even bigger driver of search queries in 2017. A search engine like Google could see that growth and decide that two paid ads are far more lucrative than one, which makes it all the more important that your business works to achieve that top-ranked organic search result for local search.
Do you agree or disagree with our five major changes to expect from SEO in 2017? Tell us about it in the comments below!
About the Author
Travis Bliffen is the founder of Stellar SEO, a Web design and marketing firm located in Franklin, TN. Travis and his team are equipped to handle any size SEO project and have helped numerous businesses to date build a rock solid online presence. When you are ready for more leads and sales, it is time to get #stellarized. Connect on Facebook or Twitter @theseoproz