"We are here to awaken from our illusion of separation." – Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist teacher

Photo credit: Maulvi

My warm New Years greetings to all of the local business owners and local SEOs who read my column today. Add to this my sincere solidarity with what we went through together in 2020 – we will not soon forget, and our stories from the trip contain important lessons for our market and our industry.

I often find that the best local SEO takeaways come from real-life anecdotes from colleagues and friends, and these are what you can find here today along with my personal predictions for the year ahead. Let's study!

Real-life lessons from local SEOs

In a year of being physically apart in unprecedented ways, I've found unforgettable lessons in how local business owners broken down barriers to keep communities connected. I asked four wonderful colleagues to share with me a personal anecdote about a local business they had done business with before and during the pandemic. As you read these short stories, make sure you can identify six general topics that run through them.

Amanda Jordan, LOCOMOTIVE Agency's director of local search

“One of my favorite stores that I used before and during 2020 is Pete & # 39; s Diner. I first met them by driving past them, but they have been in the church for decades.

Before the pandemic, my husband and I had breakfast with his parents at a different local restaurant every Saturday. It became one of our regular breakfast spots because the food is great and it's pretty close to our house. They also had a hard-to-find, high-quality olive oil that we would buy in bulk while we were there.

During the pandemic, we decided to do our best to keep supporting local businesses. Pete & # 39; s has really adapted to the current climate by offering online orders and deliveries without significantly increasing prices or compromising the quality of food. Starting in 2021, I recommend that local companies continue to offer delivery and online ordering even after the pandemic has ended. Use Google Posts to keep customers informed about special offers or new services and products. "

John Vuong, Founder of Local SEO Search Inc.

“I discovered my favorite Vietnamese pho restaurant three years ago. I was looking for something close to my house that was family run that had an amazing Vietnamese bone broth noodle soup that reminded me of my childhood (my family immigrated to Canada from Vietnam).

Like many SEOs, I found it through Google search. I always check the google reviews to see what a company's online reputation is like. When I first stepped into their restaurant, they realized I was new. They took the time to explain their business and tell me their favorite dishes. They took the time to develop a personal relationship and a relationship with me by asking my name and sharing theirs. It felt like there was a real personal touch to it. And of course the food was amazing, the service was quick and they topped it off with a free dessert. I was addicted!

I used to go to this Pho restaurant every week until the pandemic. I didn't visit them in a little over three months when the lockdown first went into effect. But when I did, I was so happy to see that they had taken all the necessary health precautions to make their customers and employees feel safe. I noticed a huge influx of takeout orders.

I think my best local marketing advice for 2021 would be to take care of your customers! Listen carefully to them and go beyond what you normally would. Treat every single customer like your family and they will feel the love! Don't expect anything in return and you'll be rewarded when you least expect it! "

Niki Mosier, Head of SEO at Two Octobers

“There's a local coffee shop / café near me that I visit often, especially for the homemade donuts on Fridays. The proximity to the location (two blocks away), the quality of the food, and the customer service made me a regular customer.

The company offered delivery quickly (even two blocks away) which was amazing – who wouldn't want Irish coffee and fresh donuts delivered to their doorstep on a Friday morning? They also added other fun take-away options such as: B. homemade cookie dough, meals and a Thanksgiving cake and beer collaboration with the brewery on the street. Think outside the box and don't be afraid to turn around. Focus on customer service and your customers will stay loyal. "

Garrett Sussman, Marketing Director at Grade.us

“Some might argue that Wegmans, the northeast food chain, has a cult following. It's easy to see why. I first discovered the shop from my father. He raved about the way they had specialty baked goods, quality products and a selection of branded products. I was living in New Jersey at the time and loved it after my first visit. Maybe it was the takeaway sandwiches, the fresh sushi, or the large and open layout of the shop – and it didn't hurt that they were about five minutes from my apartment at the time.

Since then I have learned more about the brand and appreciate their philosophy: "Employees first, customers second." I want to go to a shop that cares about their employees. They even invested $ 5 million in employee grants. How cool is that

In 2020, they adapted to the pandemic by being one of the first grocery stores to introduce mask policies, glass splash protection, and social distancing. They raised their employees' wages by $ 2 in March and had hand sanitizer at the entrances very early. If I had to give them some local advice on search engine marketing, I would recommend using Google Posts more often. Adding a post every few months is better than nothing, but it's a great opportunity to get more customers into your grocery stores. "

6 common topics for the local SEO strategy 2021

Image credit: RJP

Did you discover the similarities in the four stories? When I break them down into local SEO topics, I see this:

1. Significant local companies are very important

When I asked for a story about a favorite shop, Amanda, John, Niki, and Garrett all settled on one essential business – a restaurant or grocery store that fed them! Eating is the most basic of all activities, as recent times have shown us all. One of my key takeaways from 2020 that I will bring with me by 2021 is that operating a substantial business that meets the basic structural needs of a community is the smartest business strategy.

As you adjust your business model and inventory, start a new business this year, or advise local entrepreneurs, you'll learn to map key elements of the community and create a business plan that puts the basics before luxury.

2. Local business discovery occurs through multiple channels

Finding is the first step in any local business transaction:

  • Amanda found a restaurant during the drive
  • John looked at Google listings and reviews
  • Niki needed a place in the immediate vicinity of her workplace
  • Garrett heard from a family member

To be there for the customer means to be found both online and offline via vehicle, pedestrian traffic, web-based local business platforms and word-of-mouth recommendations. Your visibility strategy for the coming year needs to cover all of these basics.

3. Local businesses can deliver several types of value

The local businesses you market have the best chance of success if you uncover the secret of what customers value most. You can find these examples in our four anecdotes:

  • Large selection – Amanda's Olive Oil, Garret's Bakery, John's Pho, Niki's Irish Coffee.
  • High quality – of course, all of these foods are particularly tasty!
  • Convenience – everyone wanted something close by.
  • Brand Affinity – John wants a family business, Garret wants their employees to be looked after, Niki likes companies that work together, and Amanda likes a brand that maintains quality without raising prices too much.
  • Brand Adaptability – All four brands have made security adjustments to continue serving the public.

This year, find out what your customers and prospects value most and join forces with them.

4. Pandemic adjustments encourage loyalty

The four companies our contributors highlight have successfully weathered an incredible storm thanks to the laudable changes they have made to continue serving the public safely, such as:

  • Implementation of new hygiene policies
  • Implementation of digital commerce
  • Delivery to your home
  • Doubling of the take-out service
  • Increase in workers' wages
  • Try new things, such as meal sets
  • Formation of new cross-sales partnerships with other companies

Taking maximum safety precautions, delivering to the curb or front door, making online shopping easier and experimenting with new ideas are all must-have items for 2021.

5. Good local brands can do even more

I asked our experts what they would suggest if they could give their favorite companies local SEO advice for 2021. They recommended:

  • Retention of all new sales and service channels even after the hoped-for end of COVID-19.
  • Consistently use Google Posts as a communication channel.
  • Listen carefully to changing customer needs.
  • Put customer service first.
  • Customers feel loved.

6. The most important local SEO factor is the human factor

These are the parts of the stories I like best because they feature companies where we feel less alone despite our necessary distancing.

  • Amanda found a place where a family feels so welcome that she made it a regular hangout for generations.
  • Niki has found a place that, with its creativity, gives life a sense of fun.
  • John found a place where not only was a favorite dish served from childhood, but where staff took the time to develop a personal relationship with him.
  • Garrett found a place where he can be comfortable shopping because they really care about their employees.

Philosopher Thích Nhất Hạnh could say that each of these companies found a way to destroy the illusion of segregation amid a pandemic by making each of these patrons feel like valued members of the community. Any local business you market in 2021 can definitely do the same.

My own local SEO predictions and tips for 2021

Let's go!

1. Your local company website is more important than any other year before

Photo credit: Robbert Noordjiz

It's hard to believe that three years ago I felt compelled to publish an article on why you still needed a website and push back the narrative that the number of zero-click SERPs made websites irrelevant. No one can say so in 2021, and the latest statistics from Moxtra's Small Business Digital Resilience Report make the "why" clear. Consider:

  • 66% of respondents said that due to the pandemic, they are more likely to do business with SMEs in the future (and I've seen higher numbers than this in other surveys).
  • However, in 2020 consumers grew by 30%, which required the provision of digital features to facilitate transactions (think e-commerce and tele-meetings).
  • And 84% said that if those skills were lacking, they would consider looking elsewhere for a brand to serve them online (84% is a huge number!).

The local digital sales will be there in 2021. Therefore, finding the best possible e-commerce provider for all relevant brands should have top priority. Don't worry too much about zero-click SERPs this year. Yes, Google has its shopping engine and in 2020 even rolled up the "Nearby" filter. However, focus on getting as much traffic as possible into your website's own shopping cart this year. This goal will build a stronger bridge between local and organic search engine optimization than ever before. Hence, this is the time for locally focused agencies to double their organic skills.

I'm also watching with interest the rise of medical devices and apps that monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs. A revolution is taking place in telemedicine that should be incorporated into other professional services that could improve customer comfort through secure tele-meetings when face-to-face appointments are not absolutely necessary.

Has anyone ever really enjoyed sitting in a waiting room for hours talking to an accountant, advisor, or banker? I do not believe that. In 2021, websites for professional service providers should be optimized to enable online bookings for as many remote meetings as possible.

2. The triumphant return of the milkman and the supplier of everything!

I've been predicting the milkman's return here at Moz for many years, and 2020 made it happen. Thousands of customers signed up last summer to place standing orders with Alpenrose Dairy in the Portland area after 40 years of no home delivery service. Under new management, the old dairy invested in a fleet of trucks, drivers, branded delivery boxes, and even dog biscuits to throw at the barking pups along the way. As their success grew, Alpenrose began working with other local brands to deliver all kinds of goodies and groceries. Your social profile will be rewarded with nostalgic, happy praise from locals and a ton of transactions.

What I think is absolutely crucial to this story is that Alpenrose manages the delivery internally. They don't outsource to third parties and lose around a third of their sales. If a local company you market can deliver, they definitely should.

Additionally, I would like to urge digital marketing agencies to have important conversations with customers in the first quarter about the issues associated with outsourcing the customer experience to third parties. As I've learned from both restaurateurs and grocers, it is generally too costly and risky to put another business between you and your customers. This means that a key problem that needs to be resolved in the coming year is that Employment and transportation of in-house drivers.

"Oyster man. Oyster Manny-Manny-Manny! "

An old cookbook tells me this is the song that mid-century New Orleans residents heard every day when a fish cart came through their streets. As I look through 2021 and beyond, my best inspiration is exploring the past with its numerous trucks turning the laps and ladies coming out on porches to deliver gumbo file powder. Ask your elders for reminders to inspire the possibilities of 2021 as everything old becomes new again and when I inquire, customers who have had a glimpse of home delivery want to know about the hoped-for end to the pandemic goes out.

But here's one problem I need help solving: When I predict the further expansion of delivery and look back in time, I see many households with someone available to take perishable orders. As of June 2020, 42% of the U.S. workforce was working from home, but if and when we return to formal jobs, who will be on site to bring in meat and dairy products before they spoil?

Does the milkman's return require the return of the cool box in the open air, or at least some form of it, like a refrigerator on the porch, a cooler that the driver knows how to fill, a cool box of an apartment complex? Inventors, please get in touch because there is no way I will let Amazon into my house.

3. My tossed salad with predictions for local search marketing

Image Credit: Slice of Chic

The solution to local digital sales and deliveries are the two biggest stories I'm focusing on in the year ahead. However, here are my mixed greens of other developments that I think we'll see in the next twelve months:

1. Google's Core Web Vitals is comingand it will be felt on local business coasts. However, the truth is that as recently as 2019, a third of small businesses said they didn't have a website at all (hence nothing that could be tweaked for Google's latest initiatives). While local SERPs make it clear that it is entirely possible to classify a locationless local company in even moderately competitive packages and finders, 2020 made the lack of a digital presence a serious disadvantage for the smallest brands. Even a free website is going to be better than nothing for the year ahead.

2. Google will push Google Messaging moreBrands and agencies have to decide whether they should be invited to this extent for customer communication. Should Google Messaging ever fully launch, I wouldn't be surprised if Google Sunset saw questions and answers as a result.

3. Google's purchase of Pointy should become more apparent as the key to their strategy for a local transaction future. I firmly believe that Google's greatest potential for growth is to enable local online shopping through a dedicated user interface, and I expect the game plan to become more apparent by the end of 2021.

4th Reviews will continue to be absolutely centralHowever, when Google stops doing to verify the quality of the reviews and Q&A from its Local Guides program, the searcher's experience suffers. We won't see a massive erosion of trust that could jeopardize Google's dominance of reviews in 2021, but review spam and bad content will continue the trust leak in a slow aggravating trickle unless Google joins it.

5. When Apple launches its search engine this yearthe necessary hyperfocus of the local SEO industry on Google could see a welcome variation. Moz Local already sells to Apple Maps. So if you're a customer you're ahead of the Apple game, but the coverage of Optimizing for Apple Search deserves your best early bird attention.

6th Nextdoor's rise in local business visibility will reach a new highand hopefully lead the company to develop more agency-friendly solutions. Nextdoor is the structured citation platform I'm most interested in in the New Year. Moz Local is now offering a top tier agency solution that allows all clients to access Nextdoor (a feature not present in the platform interface). Check out this year's Moz blog for more information!

7th Local medical and personal service providers may need to expand their settings (at least temporarily). Once a really successful COVID-19 vaccine becomes widespread, expect a flurry of bookings from customers who have postponed all kinds of appointments during the lockdown. Now is the time to research good booking software and also evaluate Google's options for it, as online reputation is hurt by the ability to see customers in a timely manner as soon as it is safe to do so.

8th. Affinity with public brands will mark conscientious local businesses. Focusing on what interests your local public most will become increasingly important in the year ahead. Whether through brand activism or affiliation with important movements like Black Lives Matter or the fight against climate change or the careful support of local programs to fight poverty or to increase diversity, equity and inclusion – the company's reputation is further tied to actions for the common good .

in total

To sum up, I would like to say that there has never been a more difficult year than 2021 to make marketing predictions. How many of us foresaw the harsh realities of 2020? However, when I look at the sunrise of a vaccine and combine that with several surveys showing how much the public is willing to support local businesses, I think there is both reason for optimism and real opportunity ahead of us.

2020 reminded us how much we are all dependent on one another for the basics of daily life and for human support, encouragement and hope. Everyone benefits from living in well-resourced, sustainable communities, and if your brand or agency can help, the future is yours.

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