Local search in 2023: Key trends and tactics for marketers – Search Engine Land

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Search Engine Land » SEO » Local search in 2023: Key trends and tactics for marketers
Local is no longer just about listings, but omnichannel experience and engagement.
Today’s consumers want a personalized experience and engagement with local businesses through digital storefronts.
To gain the trust of local consumers, brands must focus on delivering quality interactions and relevant information.  
This article will cover local trends that search marketers must know and do for 2023, along with insights from leading industry practitioners Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal, co-founders of Near Media, Joy Hawkins, Founder of Sterling Sky, and Dixon Jones, CEO of inLinks. 
Consumers are moving from buying in-store to home shopping. Still, about 49% of consumers want to buy from businesses with a local presence. 
Google is likewise focusing on delivering a phenomenal online shopping experience and bringing a variety of local businesses to shoppers. 
The resurgence of local retail is among the top trends that will continue to evolve in 2023. 
As we see a shift in consumer buying behavior, the need for high-quality, relevant content assets – from videos to real-time reviews and messaging options for consumer interaction – has become a must-have local tactic for 2023.  
Local represents up to 40% of organic traffic for location-based businesses. 
But the customer journey for local search is far from linear, encompassing various touchpoints and stages.
As a marketer, it is critical to think through all the stages and touchpoints, stitch data across multiple channels and then create the best customer experience possible. 
Connecting various systems, from awareness to advocacy, is challenging but needs to be thought through to ensure a consistent omnichannel experience.  
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Local search is becoming more visual and interactive. 
According to Sterling, TikTok has become an experiential search engine and Google sees the social platform as a competitor.
Younger audiences are looking for a visual experience and prefer to use TikTok over Google. 
Google SVP Prabhakar Raghavan has previously noted that younger audiences go to Instagram and TikTok to find shopping and dining suggestions based on peer reviews – completely overlooking Google Search and Maps.
This is not the only reason why visuals are important. 
Blumenthal found in a study that 36% of mobile SERPs are occupied by images. Hawkins shared that custom images on Google Posts got 4x more conversions than stock photography. 
This means marketers must break their reliance on stock photos. Rather, use original high-quality images and videos for each product or category on Google Business Profile (GBP).
Google uses AI to understand entities, objects, logos, facial expressions and sentiments in images. Pictures of the same object can be understood differently.
It is good practice to validate the quality and relevancy of your images using Google’s Vision API to see what it understands the image to be. 
Google’s AI algorithm rejects images categorized as too racy and might be false positives, but it is still crucial for a marketer to know the difference.  
To yield better results, invest in high-quality images and centralize all photos to help establish quality scores based on image quality, relevancy, and entities for each image.   
Videos can deliver relevant traffic. Yet, most businesses are not leveraging them in their marketing strategy.
Since video search is localized (based on the searcher’s location and the device they are using), video results can change. Once a video is clicked, it takes you directly to a website. 
Darren Shaw of Whitespark shared how adding video to your GBP can significantly increase engagement and drive more traffic.
So to build solid discovery traffic, consider creating videos about:
Hawkins shares that simply adding discoverable videos can surge your traffic and help you secure quality traffic from channels like Google Discover. 
A prime example is Instagram and TikTok, which got massive attention in 2022. Consumers preferred going to Instagram and TikTok to find restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.
Social media directly influences decisions based on experience factors through videos and images. 
Searchers rely on reviews and ratings to make purchase decisions. Reviews also play a critical part in Maps. 
But with the increase in fraudulent activities, algorithms have the burden of enforcing stringent guidelines.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) killed review gating and said, “You cannot selectively publish reviews and suppress other reviews.” The FTC warned reputation platforms not to facilitate this in terms of fake reviews.
There’s also a growing concern about missing reviews. Google has rolled out clear guidelines for qualitative reviews and explains why reviews can be flagged and removed. 
While businesses are encouraged to ask for reviews, Blumenthal noted that missing reviews are more frequent with newer listings. Thus, it’s a good idea to go slow in asking for reviews.  
The helpful content update should be a key consideration for every marketer and business as it addresses low-quality content and spam issues.
For location-based businesses, accessible, relevant, and fresh content is the golden key to winning. Ryan Levering, a Software Engineer at Google, shares the importance of ensuring your content is crawlable and relevant.
We have seen a significant impact in discovery traffic by adding location-based events with schema or FAQs. It is essential to judge current content and scores which do and don’t perform.  
Google started rolling out the helpful content update in August 2022. In December, they updated their quality rater guidelines and introduced E-E-A-T which stands for: 
How do you audit your content to make sure it is compliant? Let’s go over a five-step process to help determine if your content is helpful. 
Businesses need to know if their content is relevant, qualitative, accessible, authoritative, and experiential.
The first step for all content is to map your audience’s personas, goals, and touchpoints with a helpful content scorecard that covers:   
By implementing topical entity-first content, brands significantly increase their visibility. 
All forms of content, including videos, FAQs, relevant images, PDFs, and expert advice should be included in the helpful content strategy.
Map your present content across the touchpoints of the customer journey as part of your content strategy plan and work to fill any content gaps. 
For multi-location businesses, scaling content can be challenging. 
Here are simple steps to help you scale. 
Google is using deep learning and AI algorithm to surface local SERPs. Businesses can leverage AI models and ChatGPT to help with a few main industry problems. 
Using an AI model to automate manual tasks is good, but we must remember that deep strategy or finetuning content will still require a human touch. 
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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