I can see a day when local businesses do not get clicks to their websites from organic search. This is already beginning to happen. Google’s consuming of all available space on the first page SERP (Search Engine Ranking Page) means that fewer people even see your website's link.
What does that mean for small businesses and local brick and mortar stores?
Well, to start with, your organic traffic won’t account for much. Clicks to your website for search terms like “organic cafe near me”, for example, will be a thing of the past. Everything a customer needs to know will appear on the search results page.
Potential clients will get your business’s phone number directly from the SERP and be able to initiate a call directly. They will be able to reserve a table using something like OpenTable or a Google equivalent. They would read your menu directly on the search results page. Google is even pulling reviews of your business from sites that do that kind of thing (The future of these sites is something else to consider – nobody yet knows what will happen).
People will get directions from Google Maps and live traffic data will help them decide if it's worth travelling to your place of business. Customers will know when your cafe is busy and when is the best time to visit. Pricing will be displayed prominently and so will your competitors.
Only truly curious people, old school internet users, and friends of the owner will actually click the organic listing. By the time these changes are implemented in Google search, these people might even have to scroll quite far or click through to page two on Google to even find a link to your website.
But is this a bad thing?
Organic Clicks vs Real Visits
Ask yourself if you want clicks to your website or people to visit your store. I’m sure there are a few vain egoists that would prefer the latter but the vast majority of people don’t care about website traffic and social media stats. What they care about is making money and keeping their customers happy. If Google can provide people with an easy way to find you, even if it means zero clicks through to your website, it won’t matter.
The next metric to keep an eye on will be Google My Business clicks. As long as your business appears for the right local search terms in Google Maps, snippets, and in the 3-pack, everything else is incidental.
Publishers such as bloggers, news sites, and non-local businesses, will continue to rely on organic traffic. Whether the majority of traffic comes from Google, Bing, Pinterest, Amazon, or some other search engine will vary. But Google’s competitors are making serious inroads into the organic search results Google has dominated for the last 15 years.
Many bloggers rely almost entirely on Pinterest traffic to make money, for example.
Facebook’s local business search services are nothing special at the moment, but the potential is there. The amount of information Facebook controls means that if the company does decide to create some sort of local business search engine, they could easily take a huge chunk of Google’s core business.
What do you need to do to prepare for any possible fallout from these changes?
Google My Business
If you care at all about your results on Google, you must have Google My Business set up and optimised. Even if it never becomes the main channel for users to know about your company, it will keep increasing in importance.
- Add Google Posts on a regular basis – there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that this helps with rankings
- Create a useful and precise description. Don’t just throw lots of words down here. Think about how your visitors might look for your services. Instead of bragging, talk about what you can offer clients. You might be tempted to say “we’re the best gym in London”, but it might be better to say that you “offer the best training programs to help people lose weight”. Don't mention prices or offers. You get 750 characters so there's
plentof space for natural language descriptions.
- Put your business in the right category and make the business phone number a local number. 1800 phone numbers won’t cut it here.
NAP – Name Address Phone
Make sure that your business listings are consistent everywhere on the internet. Your street address, phone number and business name should be exactly the same across Yelp, Facebook, Google My Business, and anywhere else.
Don’t know where you’re business is listed? Do a search for your business name like this in Google:
“Your business name” -yourwebsitedomain.com
As an example, for Fat Frog Media, I’d use
“Fat Frog Media” -fatfrogmedia.com
This will display any results that Google finds relating to the business brand name where it doesn’t appear on the website.
To go even deeper, you can use Brand Monitoring Tools to find out where your website is mentioned on the internet. These tools send alerts if someone (employee or blogger) writes an incorrect business address or phone number anywhere on the internet.
Local businesses with no reviews do badly in the search results. It’s a simple fact. You could have the best service or product, optimised website and web presence, but without those reviews, your business will not get the attention it deserves.
Google wants to see that people trust your business. In the end, the big Gs business model is based around providing the best answers to customers. If lots of people like a business and talk about it, Google knows other people will like it too.
Reviews are also perfect examples of social proof. How many times have you made a decision about a restaurant based on the rave reviews or negative reviews of previous clients? It’s quite a common thing to base your decision on someone else’s tastes and whims. That’s just human nature.
How does a business get reviews?
The first thing to know is that incentivizing positive reviews is against Google’s terms of service. Most other platforms and networks (Facebook and Yelp included) shun this kind of practice too. There’s also a grey area where even incentivising any kind of review will get you into trouble.
Use your mailing list to remind customers that they can leave a review on Google, Facebook, and the other review sites.
ReviewShake is a great product to consolidate and manage all of your reviews. It also allows for email triggers when someone signs up to your list or you add a new subscriber. Use these triggers to send off emails that contain a link to the various review sites.
Google isn’t the only channel for success and many people are starting to realise that. Many people have built successful businesses on Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, Amazon, and other places that Google has little influence over.
However, for small businesses and especially local brick and mortar stores, Google’s local listings are the lifeblood of their revenue streams. Without foot traffic, these businesses will not survive. And until something drastic changes, following the changes in local SEO factors should be a priority. Don’t be left out.
Keith is the founder of Fat Frog Media. He has worked in the tech, fitness, food, and hospitality industries. Keith helps businesses improve their marketing and conversion rates.