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Ninety-seven percent of consumers do research online before shopping locally, according to research by BIA/Kelsey. The same study showed that almost half of consumers use Internet Yellow Pages and other similar online directories to find stores before purchasing local goods or services. For convenience stores, this visibility is essential as customers turn to digital devices to search for information on local businesses.
Convenience store retailers need to make sure they can be found when consumers search online for a place to grab a bite or get gas. The goal of local search engine optimization (SEO) is to put businesses in front of those local searchers before they make a purchase, at the very moment they are compelled to make a decision. Local SEO increases search visibility and ultimately drives motivated buyers into stores.
Local SEO has a high return on investment compared to other marketing investments. A survey done by Sherpa in 2013 found 54 percent of marketers surveyed said local SEO positively impacted their businesses.
Businesses that invest time and energy into local SEO see a return in the form of in-store sales. This was proven by data released by Telmetrics through xAd's Mobile Path-to-Purchase study. The researchers found that 90 percent of mobile searchers looking for either gas stations or convenience stores online converted into sales. Sixty-six percent of those local searchers said they wanted to buy something locally within an hour.
There are several factors that go into local SEO rankings, including directory citations, on-page signals, on-page optimization and local reviews. Businesses looking to make an impact should start their local SEO strategy in directory syndication and search engine listing management.
SEARCH ENGINE LISTINGS
The three biggest search engines — Google, Yahoo! and Bing — all have their own, unique local listing opportunity for businesses. Claiming a listing on each of these sites can improve local visibility for businesses when users conduct local searches.
- Tip 1: Claim All Available Listings. While Google dominates the search industry, there are millions of local searches done every day on Yahoo! and Bing. Businesses should start with Google business listings when engaging in directory management, but they should not ignore the power of other search engines.
- Tip 2: Complete Each Profile Entirely. Businesses must make sure each profile is complete, meaning it includes not just the address, but also business category information, images, links to social channels, hours of operation and more. Even the options that may seem less relevant, such as maximizing the photo allowance, can make a difference if done with strategically selected keywords. In essence, the more complete the profile, the more likely it is to show up and rank high in local searches.
The dozens of local directories that house local data on businesses other than search engines also make a difference when it comes to local SEO success. Each directory is a mention of a business, and the more mentions each specific location has, the more credibility it is given by search engines.
The local search directory ecosystem is both vast and intertwined. Large data aggregators, such as Infogroup and Localeze, will populate the popular and niche directories like Citysearch and TripAdvisor. Additionally, the search engines look to these data aggregators as an influence on their own local results.
Some things to consider:
- Consistency Matters. Similar to search engine listings, it’s important for directory information to be accurate and consistent, because any small differences between the directories will make search engines question the authority of the results. Watch the use of address abbreviations and call tracking numbers as data points that are commonly inconsistent.
- Advance Planning Is Necessary. Business owners should know it takes time to update and change information in digital directories. Therefore, they should look to update, add and remove information as it changes, if not ahead of time. When possible, update pricing, hours of operation, store openings and closings, and phone numbers.
- Don’t Set It and Forget It. Once all of the data is sent to the directories, it’s important to be watchful and stay on top of the listings. Businesses should not only stay on top of each directory to make sure the listing appears, but also to make sure they show up accurately.
GOING LOCAL WITH NAVIGATION DIRECTORIES
For c-stores and other local businesses, getting listed in navigation-oriented directories, such as Apple’s Siri, TomTom and MapQuest, can make a big difference. Navigation systems often operate differently than search engines, which take information from multiple sources to give an authoritative answer. Some navigation systems use their own databases to give directions and addresses.
People making searches via these mediums are looking for something local and specific, and they're looking to make a purchase that moment. If a business isn’t in one of the directories, the potential customer may be just a block away, but never know it.
With more than 10 billion searches done every month in the United States — 2 million of which are local searches — there are tremendous opportunities for convenience stores and other local businesses to put themselves in front of local consumers. Without proper placement inside search engine listings and on online directories, local searchers won’t be able to find the local businesses they’re looking for.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.