Upcoming 2021: Local Search Predictions
2020 was a challenging year. But every obstacle can be a new opportunity for growth if the right measures are taken. Rocketdata analyzed the market and collected the most important statistics of Internet searches in 2020 to understand how to develop your local business based on new user behaviours.
As we come to the end of 2020, the worldwide digital landscape is already very different from what we saw at the beginning of the year. And it continues to change without slowing down. The reason is the pandemic, which has affected various aspects of people's lives. Although restrictions have already been lifted in numerous countries, fresh digital habits developed during the quarantine have persisted, leading to a significant digital activity increase. And this manifests itself in very different ways.

As we can see in Yelp's research, only 24% of businesses have reopened out of the 175k that were marked temporarily closed in April. Two industries that depend on in-store foot traffic have experienced the highest closures — they are the restaurant and retail businesses.
Source: Yelp
Consumers responded to all these changes by searching for curbside pickup, contactless deliveries, dine-in visits, and other queries related to the pandemic. New consumer habits and search behaviours totally transformed customer experience, which, we suppose, will stay for long. Today, we see the decrease in such searches, but they are still a lot more than ever before the pandemic.
Source: Google Trends
Due to the April quarantine restrictions, many countries have seen a surge in internet-connected devices' popularity. However, recent data suggests that the upward trend in such devices' popularity continues today, even though restrictions are beginning to loosen. GlobalWebIndex's latest research on the impact of coronavirus on different markets shows that 7 out of 10 internet users still spend more time on cell phones than they spent before the pandemic.

So, it is important for brands to optimize their online presence with local SEO if they want to be on the wave of post-pandemic success. But before any predictions, let's discover what ranking factors will influence local SEO the most in 2021.
2021 Local SEO Ranking Factors
According to the recent Whitespark's report, there is a list of changes in local SEO rankings today. Their research explored the following areas: Google My Business (GMB), Citations, On-Page, Links, Behavior Signals, Reviews, and Personalization.
Local SEO Ranking Factors
As we can see, Google My Business (GMB) searches already make up over one-third of Google rankings for local companies. The company has invested a lot of funds into the GMB ecosystem, including various novel tools like posts about the pandemic and promotional assets. A corporate GMB account can be viewed as a one-in-all marketplace that provides customers with answers to their questions. A GMB profile enables users to collect all important info about a company, without the need to go to the company website.

Today, citations are not so important as they were before. They dropped in value to 7% in 2020 (as opposed to 16% in 2013). This isn't a call to drop them entirely, it's just that quality is now much more important than quantity. Companies should make sure to be on top listings (Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps, Bing, etc.). This will help your business development and is a worthwhile investment of your time.
Well, let's get down to the local SEO predictions 2021:
GMB is here to stay. For long
As one of the most important tools of Local Marketing, GMB will remain influential for your brand.

For a start, ensure your brand profile at least includes your company name, correct business category, address, website, working hours, and description. If you allow inaccurate or missing information, this will seriously hurt your search ranking. Also, remember to enable the messaging feature, since messengers and chatbots became the preferred communication B2C method. Potential clients don't like to wait around for their inquiries, regardless of communication method, so when you allow them to contact you directly on GMB it will assist in connecting with them fast and be more productive. This tool allows to attract more clients and drive engagement.
Brand Reputation and Reviews are Equally Important for Local SEO
Reviews make up over 15% of local SEO rankings, which put them in second place of essential factors. Keywords in native reviews, your company's star-rating, and the number of text reviews are top-3 review signal ranking factors.

Reviews from customers are a direct reflection of your brand reputation. Based on them, search engines decide whether your company is to be trusted, is relevant to people, and has authority. That's not all. You also have to respond to reviews, because it makes your brand seem more "alive", thus creating another great opportunity to communicate with your target audience and better understand their wishes and needs. Tips to develop your business review management:

  • Follow on tier-1 directories and review networks for industry analysis (Google, Yelp, Facebook, Instagram).
  • Develop various review templates for your customers.
  • Provide smart reviews' scanning for deeper insights. Reviews show you what you should pay attention to and help your brand to respond directly and quickly.
Change of Search Habits: adapt to Voice Search
Voice assistants were growing rapidly before COVID-19 with the consumers, but the pandemic intensified the trend to interact even further. 76% of smart speaker owners do weekly searches. The most widespread ways for customers to use voice technology today are contactless deliveries, questions about COVID19, and product offerings.

Adapt your content with conversational phrases, long-tail keywords and the right keywords to answer questions with voice assists. You can make FAQ pages on your website and local pages to rank for featured snippets using this voice-friendly content.
Mind Apple Maps
Recently, Apple Maps updated its mapping application with features including an ETA sharing button, an interactive map, and 3D views. They have their own assessment system as their largest update. In the past, Apple relied on integration with third parties as a conduit for feedback and images for users, such as Foursquare, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.

Users have the capability to have their own scores, feedback, and pictures in Google Maps for several years now. This is also why Google Maps is the most common mapping system, but this latest update may enable Apple to compete more successfully. Google Maps may have one of the biggest user bases, but this is just the beginning of the progress of Apple Maps. With the evolution of AppleMaps, brands must concentrate on being present in Apple Maps effectively and consistently.
Source: 9to5Mac
So, what does it mean for companies?
Now that we went through all these stats, it's important to know how you can use the "new normal" to benefit.

Resist the temptation to make categorical predictions. Just as digital television has not replaced television, working from home is unlikely to replace the office, and e-commerce will not replace all physical stores. However, human behaviour is changing. It's important to understand how these changes will affect the demand for your brand's products and services and how you will need to adapt your marketing efforts to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. We advise you to take a "balanced approach" in everything related to digital advertising tools and use every opportunity to learn about what your audience cares about.

Track unobvious trends. There's a lot of media coverage of technology focusing on platforms and devices, but more important is how people use those technologies. Many behavioural tendencies manifest themselves gradually, without a visible "tipping point" that forces us to pay attention and act. For example, the changes in search behaviour mentioned above can have significant consequences for brands in almost all categories, but search engines are still not going anywhere. Behaviour patterns are constantly changing, so there is no "quick fix" that can give you a permanent advantage in local SEO. With an integrated online presence at local SEO, brands that look forward to achieving post-pandemic success continue to be increasingly relevant.
Is your business ready for the changes? Contact RocketData to plan or refine your local search strategy. We'll be happy to help you prepare for the future.
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