Think about the traditional brick and mortar business situated on Main Street in your city or town. What are they doing to stand out from the competition and entice customers to enter their store? There are some obvious examples that come to my mind immediately—like those sidewalk stands announcing some sort of deal or those lit-up neon signs in the window alerting passers-by the place is open.
In a similar sense, search engine results pages (SERPs) are like the “Main Street” of the internet. In the same way that customers walk down the street to window-shop at various stores, they search for a keyword and scan the blue links that pop up, and scroll down the list of options to find the ones that best match their intent.
And just like how it is getting more difficult than ever for Main Street establishments to attract business owing to competition, SERPs are getting more populous and customers have higher expectations than ever before.
In this article, I will outline the latest technical strategies for local SEO that you can deploy to take control of the SERPs that matter most to you, help your target market quickly satisfy their buying journeys, and generate more highly qualified leads to your website.
Optimize for Search Engines to Reach Your Customers
Source: Search Engine Journal
When you reflect on the (roughly) 25-year history of search engine optimization, you realize that the technical elements of SEO have now come full circle. In the late 1990s, the bar was set fairly low. You just had to ensure that your site was crawlable and indexable. Over the next few decades, other factors like the quality and relevancy of content came into the fold. But with the explosion of content, more complicated websites, and more sophisticated customer demands, the technical aspect has come back into focus in recent years.
In short, to (a) help search engines crawl, understand, and index your website faster and (b) present more information in the search results for target customers, you need to leverage one of the latest technical SEO initiatives.
Endorsed by Google in 2014, structured data is the preferred method of communication between your website and its search bots. It ensures that Google’s search engine spiders are able to understand everything about your website so they can match your content with all of the applicable queries your target customers are making in their search engine.
The Benefits of Structured Data for Local Businesses
#1 Qualifies your content for a new organic search experience called rich results
Rich results enhance the standard blue links you are accustomed to seeing with embedded features like frequently asked questions, ratings, reviews, product availability and more. These features (a) help customers find what they are looking for faster and (b) entice them to click-through to your website because of their utility and how prominently they stand out compared to the other links on the results page.
#2 Creates opportunities for voice search
Voice search is powered by structured data. Google, for example, currently has a “speakable” markup in beta giving publishers the opportunity to answer topical news queries with up to three articles when searchers inquire about a relevant topic. Also, consider the request you make to a phone assistant like Siri for something basic like a restaurant phone number. That voice command is powered by structured data too.
Anticipate that uses cases for voice will expand quickly over the coming months and years. Start thinking about the types of questions your target customers might ask via voice search, organize content accordingly, and layer it with structured data markup. In this way, you are effectively future-proofing the information for changes in the way your target customers utilize search to do business.
#3 Enhances the capabilities of your chatbots
The running theme in this article is that you have to start optimizing for all types of digital assistants now. Chatbots, in particular, rely on structured data to recall information based on the interactions they have with customers. For example, they will use this type of data to retrieve a list of frequently asked questions, hours of operations, or the contact information for a customer service representative.
Examples of Rich Results for Local Businesses
There are over 30 types of rich results currently supported by Google. This number is expected to increase over time. Not every local business will have a use case for each of these rich results, but here are a few of that most businesses share in common and are expected to utilize.
Local Business Listing Rich Result
Sample Features: Address, Image, Map, Hours of Operation, Phone Number.
Review Rich Result
Sample Features: Stars, Overall Rating, Number of Votes, Multiple Sources
Product or Service Rich Result
Sample Features: Pricing, Availability, Ratings, Description
Event Rich Result
Sample Features: Date, Time, Address, Location, Pricing, Availability, Purchasing
Rich Results are Vital for Local Businesses
In Google’s 2019 research review, they concluded the following about the changing nature of search results pages.
“Being there to satisfy people’s immediate needs is the new battleground for brands. The winners will be those that save people time and get them what they want as quickly as possible”
As I mentioned at the very beginning of this article, getting attention on SERPs isn’t just critical, it’s hard to do. It’s even more difficult without utilizing structured data to qualify for rich results. Both Google and customers are demanding your business to include more information in the search results. This is evidenced by the rise of zero-click searches and in general, what Rand Fishkin refers to as “On-SERP” SEO.
You can’t wait to take control of your local business in the SERPs. Fortunately, the formula is pretty straightforward. Use structured data to give Google more insight into what you are all about, what the key elements of your business are, and what kind of content you have to offer directly on the search results pages. You can use a schema scanner and generator tool to do this at scale for your website.
Doing this will help qualify your content for rich results that attract target customers to your links in search.
In the zero-click world that we live in, customers expect answers directly in the search results. And they don’t just click on the first blue link either. They pinball across the page looking for distinct features like ratings, reviews, and videos that might satisfy their queries faster. They are basically internet “window shopping” going back to the reference I made earlier about Main Street-styled businesses.
So, if you take nothing else from this article, put your most important information out there on the SERPs from here on out. Hours of operation, phone numbers, addresses, product/service pricing, and availability – include everything that Google is willing to embed in there.
Search is changing fast. But you don’t have to be a victim of this change. Take control of your visibility and appearance with structured data to stay ahead of the curve.