There was once a time when searches were all practically the same. They were performed in the same way, on a desktop, and two identical queries from two very different people would still yield identical results. Obviously, this isn’t the case anymore, but the degrees of personalization added to search have been relatively well-defined. Mobile searches generate slightly different responses than desktop searches, when a device can detect the location of a user, local-specific searches become possible even without local keywords, and when a user is logged into Google, his/her search history can have an influence on results.
Now, as we move into 2015 with new technologies, more advanced search algorithms, and a more demanding audience, these lines are beginning to blur, and customized searches are starting to become normalized and ubiquitous.
Mobile search wasn’t always taken seriously, but the rising trend of searches being performed on mobile devices have prompted Google and popular webmasters everywhere to take action. Google offers a more concise search results page, lending an easier search experience for its mobile user base, but more importantly, it has implemented a reward system for sites optimized for a mobile experience. Essentially, when a search is performed on a mobile device, Google increases the rank of sites that are optimized for mobile—either in a responsive format or in its mobile-specific form.
The idea makes sense. Mobile users demand a mobile experience—otherwise, it’s hard to read, see the full content of the page, and even click buttons. Rewarding the sites with mobile features means that more mobile users will get an ideal experience.
Local searches once relied on local-specific keywords. For example, in order to find a veterinarian in Raleigh, you would need to search specifically for “veterinarian in Raleigh” or something similar. Today, as long as your device can detect your location, the local portion of the search is applied automatically, and a search of “veterinarian” is sufficient to generate local-specific veterinary results. It has made things dramatically easier for local searchers looking for restaurants, hotels, or other services.
Last year, Google also unveiled the unofficially nicknamed “Pigeon” Update, a major algorithm overhaul made to improve local search results. Now, the presence and reputation of businesses in local directories and local rating sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are factored into search rankings. Essentially, this means that better-reviewed local businesses are more likely to rank high for a local search. More people are making local searches due to the expanding presence of local businesses online, and users are far more satisfied with the results.
Two major factors are responsible for the merge of local and mobile searches.First, mobile devices are popularly enabled with location services, which inform the device of the user’s location. This information enables local searches to happen automatically, whereas browsers rarely come with this option as a default and not everybody logs into an account before they search. The bottom line is that searches performed on mobile devices are more likely to have local results as a default.
Second, the number of local searches performed on mobile is staggering, partially due to a rising trend of mobile searches and the nature of mobile devices. According to a recent survey, 56 percent of all mobile searches have local intent behind them. People are more willing to use their mobile devices when searching for something local, in large part because many local searches are needed when en route or otherwise away from home.
As a result, the majority of local searches are now being performed on mobile devices, and the majority of searches performed on mobile devices have some kind of local intent. Those two pieces of data, both trends still growing, are reason enough to declare that the worlds of mobile and local search are starting to merge into one.
If you’re currently wondering how to juggle all the facets of a successful optimization strategy, take a deep breath. Despite the increasing complexity and sophistication of Google’s ranking algorithm and emerging technologies, SEO has actually gotten simpler over the years. The combination of local and mobile search is just another step in that simplification process, and as a search marketer, you stand to benefit.
First, you’re going to need to make sure your site is optimized for mobile. By now, that should be a given, and regardless of whether or not mobile and local searches are interrelated, it’s going to continue being critically important. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you aren’t going to show up in mobile searches, so optimize your site if you haven’t already—fortunately, this is a one-time process.
Next, your local SEO efforts need to be increased. Even if you have multiple locations, or if you don’t consider yourself tied to your specific location, it’s important to engage in a local SEO strategy. The potential rewards are enormous and increasing, with less competition and higher search volume than ever before. Claim your profiles on any relevant local directories that you can, publish local-specific content whenever you can, and actively cultivate positive reviews online when possible. Increasing your local relevance will greatly increase your local web traffic, and will set you up nicely for search developments down the road.
That’s it. For the time being, the phenomenon of increased mobile and local searches isn’t going to have much of an impact on your strategy other than an increased need for ongoing, local-specific updates. However, as we look to the future, this trend could evolve, and new means of searching could completely revolutionize the industry.
Wearable technology is on the horizon. Augmented reality with Google Glass and seamless interfaces with the Apple Watch are going to spark a new trend in compact, flexible, hardly noticeable technology. That’s going to make waves in the world of mobile search, as hands-free, on-the-go searches become a critical space for online visibility and integration from the real world to the search world is going to define your success or failure.
It’s hard to say what specific changes are in the pipeline, especially since Google keeps its algorithm secrets under lock and key, but it’s reasonable to speculate a handful of potential developments. Local searches will start to become hyper-local, focused on detail down to a city block rather than a broader city or region. Mobile searchers will need results instantly, with less of a need for content and more of a need for immediate answers like directions, hours, and ratings. And local businesses who reward mobile searches, perhaps with integrated onsite functionality, will earn the greater share of mobile search traffic—and potentially foot traffic as a result.
The separate evolutions of mobile and local searches are starting to align, especially as the next wave of mobile technology begins to enter the scene. Stay ahead of the curve by maximizing your local search visibility, and taking advantage of the latest mobile devices when they start to emerge in the marketplace. As always, the bottom line is user experience, so give your users what they want and what they expect, and you’re going to be rewarded as a result.