Category: Author: Kaycie Smith
As we come to the end of the year, let’s take a look at the current status of local search.
First, for those who may not know, let’s explain what we mean by local search. There are two broad categories of search engine optimization or SEO. One is general search, which is the basic SEO that has been from the beginning of internet search. Local search, or local SEO, came into existence later, with the advent of online business listings and maps. If you search in a maps search engine or on a phone or do a “near me” search, the local search algorithm comes into play. Local SEO also populates the little box with a small map that we call the three-pack that appears at the top of general searches.
A Brief History of Local Search
Google Local was launched in 2004. Google Local was a directory that combined name, address, and phone number for a business, along with a URL of the website for that business, if one existed. Then in 2005, Google Maps was released and with that the Local Business Center in March of 2005 which synced the data from Google Local with Maps.
Then in 2009 Google Local was given the name Google Places. In 2011, Google+ was launched and then in 2012 Google+ Local. With Google+, Google was giving a social media twist to individual and business profiles, but that was phased out and 2013 saw the advent of Google Places for Business (different from Google Places) and finally 2014 the emergence of Google My Business (GMB). Each transformation included some new features. Some of the old features stuck and some went by the wayside.
With all of this, it is easy to see why keeping current can be confusing. Local SEO is a search engine optimization strategy that allows potential patients and customers to find you based on the location they are searching from. While many details of the local search algorithm have changed, the basics have remained constant. That basic element is that Google rewards businesses with accurate and complete online data about their business in the many online directories that exist. This voluminous online data needs to be accurately maintained and optimized. You want someone working on this who is thorough, detail oriented, and has their proverbial “nose to the grindstone.”
This Year’s Changes in Local Search
At Infinity Dental Web, we regularly participate in online webinars to keep us up-to-date. Earlier this month, Local SEO expert Mary Bowling conducted what she called a Master Class titled “The State of Local Search in 2020,” in which she brought participants up-to-date with everything that has happened the past year. We were privileged to be invited to that class and will summarize some of what she said.
One of the areas Google has been continuing to develop is their Knowledge Panel. Back in 2012, Google introduced what it called the Knowledge Graph, a database where it stored snippets of information in order to answer questions people might pose to a search engine. It then began to display this information in a box in the right-hand column of search engine results, the Knowledge Panel. For your dental practice, this box will display information gleaned from your website, patient reviews, photos you and others may have submitted, and other possible sources. The box contains a button people can use to ask questions. In 2019, Google continued to develop and refine this feature.
One feature of this Knowledge Panel that was added a couple of years ago and has continued to develop is the opportunity of publishing Google Posts. This is a social-media-style post that can be used by a dental practice to present information about the dentist or services offered. Some of our clients have asked us to create these for them. Research data from 2019 shows that these posts improve conversions and seem to enhance website search results.
Another area of continued development is in what is called Schema markup. Google, in collaboration with other search engines, developed a coding system for reading data on your website. With the proper markup, the search engines can now read your physical location, your hours, main phone number, and other data. Google has continued to roll out new details that can be coded with Schema and thus read and interpreted. Restaurant menus, book reviews, events, and products listed for sale are just some of the data that can now be coded with Schema. One of the areas Google worked on in 2019 is policing the markup for reviews because people have been trying to game that system with supposed reviews that aren’t genuine.
Your Plan of Action for 2020
The first piece of advice we have for you for 2020 is to relax as far as any worries about your SEO and concentrate on taking care of your patients. We view our role as worrying about your website for you, and that is why we are working to stay current with all of these changes. You can rest assured that anything new that comes out from Google, we are on top of it and are in touch with leading experts as far as their impact.
Our second piece of advice is that we are recommending optimizing all the features Google is offering, even when you aren’t sure of the impact. Don’t be tied to old paradigms. Realize, for example, that there are some patients searching for you who won’t even click on the link to your website—they feel that they get the information they need from the Knowledge Panel. Local search expert Mike Blumenthal wrote in 2017, “I like to say that Google is your new home page.” In the article, Mike cited a study by Moz that reveals over 34% of all searches end with the Google page, meaning that the searcher gets the information they want without having to click on any of the results. These searches are called “zero click” searches. While that doesn’t happen much for people searching for a dentist, people are reading these Knowledge Panels. Make sure the information displayed there is correct and complete.