We are just beginning the end of a year in which the ongoing pandemic has led to budget cuts, strategy issues, and resource shortages challenging SEO professionals at every level.
Many are more focused on preparing for the pivot than having a solid plan for the year ahead.
This is especially important in local search, where consumer behaviors change quickly and Google updates can have rapid and widespread impacts.
What trends and technologies should you have on your radar to inform a more flexible and adaptive local SEO strategy going forward?
Joy Hawkins is the owner and founder of a local SEO agency Sterling Sky. She’s a product expert on the Google Business profile, a well-known and respected industry writer and speaker, and a faculty member at local u.
In this Q&A-style interview, Joy shares her advice on where marketing leaders should focus their attention on local SEO this year, which SEO techniques to get excited about, how to build a career in local SEO, and more.
Local trends to watch in 2022
Miranda Miller: “What local SEO trends should CMOs really watch this year?”
Joey Hawkins: Google released an algorithm update near the end of 2021 that caused some serious volatility for local businesses.
We called this the “Vicinity Update” because the biggest impact at the time seemed to be the customer’s ability to order away from their physical location.
Google seems to have given significantly more weight to the company’s location and proximity.
If this update continues, it’s important to look at your customers’ closest competition—especially if they’re now showing up in the three pack—to see what they do and your customer doesn’t.
Google has been ramping up its LSA (Local Service Announcement) program in the past few years, so there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see this platform continue to grow and expand throughout 2022.
If your clients aren’t using this outlet, I recommend giving it a second look.
We’re also seeing more Image results in SERPs More than ever, whether on mobile or desktop.
It would be wise to pay attention to the images you use, especially on your top performing pages.”
Local improvements to focus on (and where to go)
Miranda Miller: “Are there any homegrown improvements or tactics that you feel marketers tend to take longer than they should — or even something we should abandon entirely for 2022?”
Joey Hawkins: Until the Vicinity algorithm update, there was an understanding that having a keyword-rich name was a huge boost to customers wanting to appear in 3-packs for a wide geographic reach.
But this is no longer the case.
From the data we looked at, businesses with keyword-heavy names combined with a high affinity took the biggest hit.
It’s too early to say for sure that adding keyword descriptors to names no longer works.
But for now, I’d say it’s a tactic that marketers can certainly stifle again.
There is another tactic that we have proven time and time again to be worthless Geotagging of photos.
When you geotag photos, the information is stripped from the photo during the upload process, so it’s pointless to spend time adding it.
It’s time to let that person die.”
Embrace AI content creation technology
Miranda Miller: “Are there any new or developed local SEO techniques that you are particularly excited about?”
Joey Hawkins: “Content is an important part of SEO, especially creating valuable, high-quality content.
But it can be difficult for content creators to come up with unique things to say about certain topics.
For example, how much can you really write about concrete repairs?
Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed a huge improvement in AI capabilities when it comes to writing content. There are now a number of AI typing services on the market to choose from, such as Peppertype.ai, Rytr.meor written.
We’ve found that these services are a great way to help our content writers get started when they feel blocked.
I wouldn’t turn content writing entirely over to AI, because the content they create still needs to be cleaned and refined. But these services are incredibly useful as a starting point.
Another tool we’ve just started using is Transparency Corporation.
Fake reviews are a really difficult – but common – challenge in the local search space.
It’s great to have a tool that helps you identify competitors who might be buying reviews on Google.”
The pros and cons of a local SEO job
Miranda Miller: “What are the most challenging and enjoyable parts of the work you do day in and day out?”
Joey Hawkins: “The best thing about my day is the people I work with. I work with an amazing group of people who care about giving their all to our customers and who invest in what we can bring to our customers.
Working with them and echoing ideas off each other is definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of my work day.
I’ve always been someone who enjoys mining data, looking at numbers, trying to figure out mysteries, that sort of thing.
SEO is this ever-changing puzzle to be solved as the pieces keep changing shape, size, and color. I find it challenging and fun at the same time trying to work out how these puzzle pieces fit together.
And as challenging as it is, I can also say that it’s really hard sometimes to balance running a business with all the volunteer work I do.
being Google product expert Means I am constantly helping users in the Google forum. This often leads to a lot of people emailing me or tagging me on Twitter as well.
Being a volunteer and managing expectations is not something for the faint of heart.”
Tips for building a local SEO career
Miranda Miller: “What tips or advice do you have for those who are just starting out with their local SEO jobs?”
Joey Hawkins: “SEO is constantly changing. If the November update taught us anything, it’s that you can’t count on a strategy to work forever.
If you are getting into the SEO industry, it is important to read about the latest and greatest trends so that you have an understanding of where the industry is and to formulate strategies using that information.
However, it is important to stick to these strategies with loose hands. At some point, there’s a good chance they’ll stop working and you’ll have to adjust.
I always recommend using a number of different SEO strategies so that if one stops working, you won’t have all of your eggs in this basket.
I would also suggest networking with others in the industry as much as possible.
There are some really excellent minds in the SEO world, and it’s a great opportunity to be able to learn from them through blogs, forums, conferences, and even social media posts.”
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Featured image: Courtesy of Sterling Sky Inc.