A First Hand Account by an SEO Expert
I work in SEO. In March of 2020, the pandemic shut businesses down. Want to know what happened to our digital marketing business?
Our phone rang off the hook. Calls were not so much from small business clients. Calls were from someone else and by their very nature, they told us SEO and Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) was now the most important job on the planet.
Phone calls increased as a steady reminder. Calls increased past March. Calls for a digital marketing expert poured in through April. May. June. The need for an SEO expert doubled by July. Demand intensified as COVID continued. Where we had received five requests a week in March for SEO help, by July and August calls had risen to ten.
If it wasn’t all small businesses searching for SEO help with marketing strategies during those first months of COVID who was it?
The calls for SEO assistance were from recruiters on behalf of big businesses around the globe. Enterprise SEO knew the answer. It was a simple marketing strategy. Pivot resources to online sales needed to fill the gap. Their answer wasn’t all hands on deck. It was add more hands on deck. A lost online sale meant a competitor was squeezing market share. COVID could kill business as quickly as it was taking lives.
Enterprise-level business boomed when COVID Hit Delaware, Philadelphia and the US
This truth was due to the obvious. In response to the COVID-19 lockdown, people could not leave home to get their essentials out of fear or government mandate. Sure you could drive on empty roads all around Delaware, but no one was open. Wants and needs could only be fulfilled online.
Improving online sales was no surprise early on. Then it became clear that the online marketplace was about to become a lot tougher environment. Getting found above the fold on Google searches became life.
You had three ways of getting there. Organic results, Paid, and Local 3-Pack. One could argue it’s four with the People Also Ask (displayed later in the article) results if you can find an angle to get a call-to-action click result from a search result that discourages that very activity!
The demand for SEO experts was on the rise. The ability to implement the best marketing strategies down to a segment or niche was critical to draw in-home shoppers for everything from toiletries to medical supply inventory.
Enterprise businesses attempted to scoop up the best SEO specialists to expose latent search intent (LSI) data. They wanted SEO analysts who build Google Analytics dashboards, audit in SEMrush, and understand technical SEO beyond schema. They were now deep diving for talent in Python and SQL query territory.
Smart SEO Marketing Starts Locally
SEO is a complex beast. Auditing, finding gaps, filling gaps, monitoring, various channels, identifying trends, the list is indeed long. The most vital business for ninety percent of businesses, large or small — is right outside your doorstep.
With more to unpack later, why not start at the beginning? The remainder of today’s article will focus on something huge. It’s also hugely overlooked. That is Local SEO in response to COVID.
Use These New SEO Keys to Unlock Online Sales Success
By April 2020, COVID was a keyword. Yet, the secret was not merely capitalizing on the keyword, COVID. The secret wasn’t merely hiding in mobile-first either. Where is the secret to what COVID can to actually benefit your business hiding? In plain sight of course. The real secret was and is local SEO.
Before you decide you have that covered and there’s no more you can do, can you answer this question?
What does this mean? Perhaps the question should be asked more specifically. “Do you have a Google My Business (GMB) account established?”
Most every small business owner like yourself is assumes that because you own a website property, your listed physical address on your website means Google has you established automatically in their Google local listing. Right?
Try not to gasp. Or maybe you should. Local SEO is critical. Even Microsoft has a local listing with Google. What is this mysterious local SEO and how do you conquer this SERP beast?
If that was at all unclear, let’s restate the Google My Business question in two parts.
Do you have a GMB account that you created/established with YOU listed as the business owner? If you don't have an account created then claim your business immediately.
Have you verified the physical address of your business with Google My Business? This goes hand-in-hand with ownership but emphasized to illustrate how most owners have no idea they've orphaned their GMB listing. Google verifies you as owner by sending a postcard to the physical address you want to be listed. These must match. The postcard will include a code to use. Until that code is entered, you can't add, edit or delete any information about your business in Google's directory.
Google My Business?
Google My Business or GMB is the contemporary version of what was once known as the Yellow Pages. Phone companies made an industry of gouging businesses for placement, encouraging you to pay for ads that reached full page. For now, Google lets you fight it out for placement against organic search results and paid ads.
Make It Into The Local 3-Pack Through Your GMB
One coveted section of real estate on the SERP is called, the Local 3-Pack. You want to be in there. You can leverage your way in through paid ads (PPC) with no guarantee, or practice good SEO to get in organically. You’ll need GMB to do it. One more reason to leverage GMB. How so? Well, those five-star reviews in GMB seem to add weight.
Just what is the Local 3-Pack? The Local-3 Pack is a search results section (see image below) on the SERP that only includes …three results. They are laid out in a space-saving review style format. Someone in UX design was way underpaid when this idea became a staple in data visualization.
Understanding The Local 3-Pack Results In Action
Please forgive me, reader, we are going to use voice search in this exercise, but we are not going to delve into schema’s part in all this. Not yet.
Let’s go with a search for some frozen pizza on your phone using a voice search. (Or type in the same words on your desktop)
Hey Siri / Hey Google “Pizza near me.”
Note that by searching pizza near me and not pizza shops near me, Google has to interpret which you mean. With so many people being and not emphasizing pizza shops, the poor guy looking for frozen pizza is going to get less and less relevant results for his own pizza cravings. You could answer, “Okay, then search with the full term.” True. But that is not what is happening in the real world. Get it?
Let’s use you in an example as a spice shop owner. Your goal is to be found in searches for spices. Think in terms beyond the word spice. Expand into related search topics a.k.a. Latent Search Intent (LSI).
Imagine. You are cooking and realize you are out of taco seasoning. Would you conduct a voice search of “spices near me” or “spice shops near me.” Sitting at your desk to consider search terms is often different than what people request in real world settings. Google has preached the word intent for years. Let’s do this right.
What you will see below should open your eyes to the secrets of SEO as you see things from a new perspective. You can exploit this and other areas of SEO ethically to improve your placement in search results.
Look what happened when we searched for Taco Seasoning Near Me while physically located in Delaware. What can you learn from this? See below.
The one outlier above isn’t an anomaly. Instead, think of it like a tell in poker. If you are a casual SEO reader this may need some time to digest. If you are in the business, you’re welcome.
GMB Ranking Factors
Only business owners who have claimed their business can manage their GMB listing. Make sure you’ve claimed yours. You can assign managers to assist. A manager can be a store employee, your cousin, or an SEO expert.
Here is where voice search and the “Near me” query pays dividends if you can make the Local 3-Pack. You will only be in it if you strongly craft keywords to your business. LSI is your friend along with some schema tricks. White hat of course.
Yeah. Best Buy is going to clobber you if you’re a mom & pop computer store. Here again, good SEOs have the answers in this category.
Are you asking why you’re not being told how to do this yourself? Good. The answer is expert SEOs grind countless hours to learn the smallest advantages. Some things are worth paying for. The good news is you can pay, and it’s not expensive.
You Must Not Ignore This Key After COVID
Surviving to the end of government lock-downs is not the answer. Think smarter. COVID has changed the landscape of commerce. COVID’s impact on SEO marketing is a secret that lies in the open. Many will miss out on this change and find their business may never recover.
Improve your Delaware Listing with Smarter Google Maps Marketing
Location-intent or location-driven intent defines a lot in this segment. How many times have you conducted a voice search with ‘Near me”? If you’re not in the Local 3-Pack, add this goal to your to-do list. You want to be in that crowd of answers. If someone beat you to the punch, try another angle using schema or structured data.
Schema and Structured Data
In the same way that using untapped LSI to jump ahead of others in search results (low-hanging fruit), you can do the same with some forms of schema. See the PEOPLE WHO ASK results for the same Taco Seasoning Near Me query below.
Adding three or four FAQs with JSON schema with trial and error testing can pay huge dividends. Don’t have the knowledge or resources? A good SEO specialist will put you right. Meanwhile, here are two in action just below.
SEO MARKETING FAQS
Business websites should have a blog for SEO purposes but more importantly to communicate and engage with customers and employees. Consistent posts impact SEO and public standing.
It's a misconception that Delaware's size implies less ability. Competency exists everywhere. Judge by quantifiable results.
Curate Your Google My Business Reviews
Structured data plays into reviews. However, without going too deep there, one thing you can do is simply reach out to your best customers and encourage them to repeat the truth about your business.
Avoid a flood of reviews at once. Google is thought to consider this and penalize you for the inconsistency.
Unfortunately, you may make mistakes and some customers will slam you with a bad review. Dissatisfied customers may even speak in hyperbole. The good news is if you can change those customer service experiences to a positive outcome, then get those customers to update their reviews. These customers will often tell both sides of their experience that can improve traffic.
Bring Google Home With GEOtagging
Embed Google maps into your contact or directions page. Confirm it’s mobile responsive. As of 2021, Google is mobile-first.
GEOtag your images. It’s not just for social networks. Just be sure to learn the privacy ropes, like don’t geotag pics with anyone under-age. By now you may be asking, “How do I add a GEOtag to my GMB?”
Begin with an image that is GEOtagged to your business location. Be cool. Don’t use a photo of a cute kitten with latitude and longitude coordinates of it being taken at your business unless the kitten was actually photographed at your business.
The best way to do this is, take a picture of the kitten at your business with a smartphone with settings (For Android go to Location under Settings or pull up your camera app and find it in your camera settings) allowing GEOtagging. You can also use an app to change your GEOtag information in photos you’ve already taken.
Once you have your photos all set, you then log in to your GMB account and add your photos to showcase your business.
In Our Next Article on How COVID Made Digital Marketing Critical To Business
We’ll overview AMP and mobile responsive in response to Google’s mobile-first search results becoming law of the land in 2021. We’ll dive into some data analysis. Techniques in COVID have impacted working with trends to how to use COVID going forward in techniques in conversions. Yes, we are local to Delaware, but we also know the Philadelphia metro region well. Our services extend through The I-95 corridor serving Washington D.C. Baltimore, through Manhattan New York.
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