Local search just got more important to achieving digital marketing success in 2016, especially for businesses dependent on SEO, PPC and content marketing. Not using the right keywords can bring you more stress than you think, so underestimate their power at your own peril. Failing to cater to the right audience with befitting content when they look for it will only tantamount to less traffic, lead generation, customers, and a lowering bottom line.You don’t want that!

I spoke to 10 industry experts, who emphasized the role of local search in 2016 and highlighted some of the challenges that still need solutions.

The question that I put forward to each of them was:

Q. Which major challenges continue to remain unresolved in local search?

Casey Markee
Founder, Media Wyse

“2016 will be a difficult year for local SEOs. Google will continue to push-out more home services ads and move SMBs to a pay-to-play model. Expect to see substantially more of these type of ads across multiple verticals and in turn, you’ll see the value of Google My Business optimization decrease.

Because of that, local business are going to have look more offline to more effectively market their products and services to local customers. One such avenue that should be ripe for growth is the use of BLE Beacons (bluetooth low-energy). These beacons can be used by SMBs to hypertarget offers to the existing customers and new foot traffic as it comes by their store. Eddystone with their open-source functionality that can work with and without an app should be the big winner in this space in 2016.”

Joy Hawkins
Local SEO Product Consultant, Imprezzio Marketing

“I would say the existence of so much spam is the #1 thing that is yet to be solved in local search. Google has lots of great guidelines that tell business owners to not keyword stuff their business name or not create fake locations, but businesses and SEOs do it anyway and seem to get away with it since there is no real penalty. Unlike algorithms like Penguin or Panda that leave offenders without traffic for endless months, there isn’t enough of a reason for people not to break the Google My Business (GMB) rules so you see it done with great frequency which seriously hurts the players who are trying to actually follow the rules.”

Nyagoslav Zhekov
Director of Local Search, Whitespark

“I believe one of the toughest things in local SEO that still remains a major challenge for most in the industry is citation-related work. This includes citation audit, citation clean-up, and to a smaller extent – citation building. One of the main reasons for that is that most people do not understand that they have a problem to start with. However, even the ones that do know that they have problems with inconsistent citations are unable to resolve them, mostly because there is currently no single tool that could do a citation audit for you, so it is a heavily manual, very time-consuming process.”

Mike Ramsey
President, Nifty Marketing

“There are 2 in particular that still need a lot of work

Attribution: While there are  advancements being made I think it is still one of the biggest problems for small businesses. One of the big problems is the need for companies to keep their phone number consistent across all different directories and websites. If this one thing could change small businesses would be able to track calls coming from all types of sources (which would be hugely helpful in businesses knowing where to spend ad dollars. Instead, the only place they can get this without risk is Google Adwords. So, as you can imagine I don’t think Google is in a hurry to see that change.

Spam: Contrary to popular belief, spam still works across Google organic and maps. Sure, updates like penguin and panda have made it more inconsistent for companies to do well but for every one website that gets penalized there are more that don’t. It doesn’t take too much digging to find instances. Google is not the only issue. Other local search directories are riddled with false businesses, reviews, and other data with no clear way to fix things.

Both of these issues make it very hard for small businesses to rely on outcomes the way they could with phonebooks of yester-years. I think if you were to ask businesses they would prefer dealing with a salesman where they knew what they were going to get along with the cost and outcome. In today’s atmosphere there are simply no guarantees that money can buy.”

Krystian Szastok
Independent Freelance SEO Consultant, krystianszastok.co.uk

“Scaling with quality is still a challenge when you work for a franchise business for example.

Most of local SEO tools give a lot of false positives when finding possible citation sources.

Reviewing your citations is also a challenge when they are in hundreds.

I believe that people often opt in for a quick solution, automate their local visibility and then get discouraged after a few months.

I often hear ‘I’ve got all the citations I can get’. It’s only because software ‘told’ them that.

A solution is to invest into a more manual process, prioritisation of locations and branches of the business and a good organised approach.

At the same time – proving to the client that this approach will pay off in the long term is a challenge itself!”

Casey Meraz
Founder, Juris Digital & Ethical SEO Consulting

“Local search has it’s fair share of challenges. One challenge that I think puts some local businesses between a rock and a hard place are city based limits. Where this becomes a problem is if a business is right outside of the official city boundary of a city but has a city mailing addresses. A city like Denver for example has a very weird shape. Go ahead and Google the city on Google Maps and you will see the outline. However may people that are in between the cracks still have Denver Mailing addresses but lose the ability to rank for City+Keyword searches within that city. That’s a pain and a real problem for businesses.”

Matthew Hunt
Partner, Powered by Search

“Local search is always a moving target, which is a shame because local is really important for SMBs and they are usually the least educated about how local search marketing works.  There seems to be many shuffles that happen every year in local search results pages.  The best way for businesses to protect themselves from these changes is to: 1st invest in their websites.

1. Make sure they have a primary landing page for every location they have.
2. Make sure their websites are mobile friendly and note this does not mean that having a responsive website meets that criteria.  Remember that people have fat thumbs and technologically handicapped, so make it so damn easy to use and make sure all your most important info is there.  This usually means you need to clearly list your: phone, address, and business hours.
3. Make sure your website loads super fast!
4. Have a claimed My Business Listing(s)
5. Have NAP (name, address, & phone) consistency across the web
6. Get reviews on 3rd party review sites.

If you get those items covered you have a good chance at winning.

Just remember that people like to research online, but still want to buy locally, therefore search that has local intent = revenues!  Businesses should not under estimate revenue dollars local search can drive compared to many other digital marketing channels.”

Nick Neels
Head of Local Search, Location3 Media

“Local search has come a long way over the years, but many challenges still remain for brands and marketers alike. One major challenge that remains unsolved, particularly for multi-unit and franchise systems, is shifting marketing budgets and tactics in real-time according to performance metric analysis.

Establishing digital marketing campaigns across hundred or thousands of locations is a massive undertaking by itself, but once setup is complete, the real work has just begun. New or established campaigns need to be continually monitored and optimized to ensure peak performance and ultimately ROI.

It is at this point that marketers for multi-unit businesses run into two issues:
Knowing how each location is performing across each marketing campaign (PPC, SEO, Local Listings, etc.).
Understanding how budgets can be shifted across locations and/or how tactics can be updated to get best results

Most digital marketing efforts include reporting at the location level. But with digital marketing often fragmented across several vendors, a marketer rarely has a holistic dashboard showing the overall performance of each location. This makes it difficult to see which locations are winning the local search battle and which ones need some serious help.

If a brand is able to view performance across all locations and for each digital marketing effort, then the next step is to shift strategies and provide extra attention to specific locations. Some common reasons to shift focus (budget) and tactics across locations include:

  • Underperforming campaigns
  • Increased local competition
  • Forecasted sales goals
  • Opening or closing of locations

Once the desired adjustments are determined, the challenge is execution. It’s common for adjustments to be made to one type of campaign, either by the brand in-house or by its partner agency. Making changes across campaign types and locations are where the complexities lie, and these adjustments can’t be made in real-time, which is the ultimate goal.

Marketing for multi-unit and franchise systems is full of challenges, but as local search marketing tactics mature, so will the solutions and partners available to solve these challenges. ”

Gerry Downey
Local SEO Consultant, DGDMarketing

“I suppose the fundamental thing we can all see is the umpteen times Google has just gone ahead and moved the goals posts on us in relation to Local Search.

So first off personally I think just looking to Google is a big mistake, and not using AdWords as a backup is another one. Yahoo and Bing are still worth a good first page placement for added benefit.

My thoughts for challenges in local search in 2016

  • Mobile Is Going to Be Top of Google’s Bing and Yahoo’s Agenda.
  • Cross Device Tracking and Audio Watermarks “Crazy Stuff Look It Up”.
  • Mobile App Development Should Be On Your List of Priorities.
  • Look up what Google and Firefox are up to with a new approach to the mobile web. “Service Worker””

AJ Ghergich
Founder, Ghergich & Co

“Many people expect an SEO to say that earning links and citations is the biggest challenge in local SEO. I do believe link building is vital for local SEO. However, for small sites I think getting reviews is actually the most challenging.

I think the process just feels overwhelming. My recommendation for people is to pick one or two sites to concentrate on. Don’t just think about the sites that may affect your rankings. If Amazon is important to you, then by all means focus there.

1. Make sure you respond (nicely) to every single bad review and offer to correct the issue. Bad reviews can actually help people trust your good reviews. Also, seeing that a business monitors and responds to reviews and criticism goes a long way to earning trust.
2. Focus on customer service. Improve that and you will improve the volume and positivity of your reviews
3. Provide value, then ask for reviews. Usually you don’t want to just email a customer and ask for a review. You need to think about the proper time to send your request. When you do, you need to provide value to the customer first.

For example:

Hi Heather,

I hope you are enjoying your new immersion blender! Did you know you can use it for a lot more than just soup? We just released a detailed guide with tons of creative ideas I think you will love. (Link)

We would love to hear more about how you are using your immersion blender on Amazon (Link) or Google Reviews (Link).”

The above answers should enable you to derive several insights on what local search is all about. A few experts have offered solutions to some of the most common local search challenges, which should prepare you for what lies ahead. I hope you find them useful.

Finally, I would like to thank our experts for sparing their valuable time to provide us with the answers to our pressing question and share their experiences as well.

If you too have some helpful advice about bettering local search that you’d want to share with our readers, feel free to mention it in the comment box.