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The newest addition to the marketing mix’s Ps: Proximity
Columnist Brian Smith explains the impact of proximity on local searches and provides advice for how marketers can make it work for them.
Any marketer worth their salt, or at least one who has managed to stay awake during Marketing 101, can rattle off a long list of marketing mix “Ps.” You know what I’m talking about: product, price, place, promotion, people, processes and physical evidence.
Unfortunately, those old pillars of marketing don’t quite hold up under the weight of today’s digital marketing needs. Our aging mnemonic sorely needs a renovation. It’s time we add proximity into the mix.
Digital puts you in the center of the map
Long gone are the days of unfolding a paper map to find out where you are and where you want to go. Back then, when you ran off the edge of the map, you either got a new map or assumed that “here be monsters.”
You’ll find no edges on today’s digital maps. You are limited only by the power of your zoom and the reach of your click. By default, you are the center of the digital map. The world fills in around you, depending on the whim of your search.
Proximity — the distance from the user to any given location — is a heavily weighted ranking factor for all “near me” searches. Only when you specifically move the focal point from yourself to an area without you in it does proximity seem to loosen its grip on rankings.
And it makes sense that digital maps should be organized this way. Something closer to you is usually easier to get to than something farther away. For marketers, the further a potential customer is from a store, the less likely it is that the customer will visit the location.
Since most people find businesses through local search and digital maps, proximity needs to be a major aspect of every marketing strategy. If you get everything else right but fail to optimize for proximity, you’ll have a hard time leading customers to your brick-and-mortar locations.
Local SEO: Tipping the scale of proximity in your favor
You can’t control where your customers are when they search, but you can put a finger on the scale of proximity to help you rank above another similarly distanced location in your business category.
How? You have two options: You either purchase a higher rank with PPC, or you optimize for organic and hope that the user is searching in an area wide enough that the map needs to filter out locations.
Google and the other major search platforms are making it harder to win the organic hustle with each passing year. But there are still things you can do that will help you improve your rankings on the map.
First, give yourself a chance to show up in local search results by doing the basics. Make sure that your location information is accurate and properly distributed to all the major location data aggregators. Specifically, your name, address and phone number (NAP) need to be accurate, and your geocoordinates for each location should lead customers to the right place.
But the bare minimum doesn’t really cut it anymore. It’s 2017, after all. If you’re relying on the incompetence of your competitors to win at local search, you’re in trouble.
So how do you tip the scales in your favor?
You increase the weight of your local credibility and authority.
Local citations, reviews and Google My Business attributes
Proximity’s influence diminishes as the map zooms out. The more area within your field of vision, the more important it is to filter out locations on the map to avoid clutter. If you’re only looking at the area covered by a city block, good luck trying to shake proximity’s influence. However, if you zoom out just a little, other ranking factors increasingly come into play.
Recently, Andrew Shotland and Dan Liebson gave a presentation about local search ranking factors at SMX West. Some of the most important factors they uncovered outside of proximity were local citations, reviews and optimizing for Google My Business (GMB).
Local citations are important in that they give Google a strong indication that your location is where you say it is and that you have enough clout to attract backlinks.
Meanwhile, reviews help establish the local authority of your brand. The more people vouch for your location with positive reviews, the more comfortable Google feels about sending customers your way.
Finally, Google My Business is critical for helping your cause in local search. This is especially true for filling out your GMB attributes. We’ve begun to see the proliferation of Google My Business fields for each business type. For example, a restaurant will have the opportunity to fill in fields ranging from payment options, takeout, delivery, patio seating and anything else you’d want to know about a location.
You can expect GMB attributes to become a significant ranking signal going forward, thanks to digital assistants and voice search. Why? Because digital assistants and voice search are allowing for much more discerning answers when it comes to helping us find locations.
Voice search and digital assistants
The way we ask questions is changing. Thanks to digital assistants and voice search, when we talk to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri, we give these search engines much more information than we typically do with a typed search.
We’re often terse when typing in search queries, mainly because we grew up having to do precise keyword matching if we wanted to see relevant search results.
But Google and the other search engines are getting much better at understanding the meaning of words. More importantly, they’re getting better at interpreting user intent. As a result, exact keyword matching is no longer as important — much to the chagrin of advertisers. However, this allows questions and answers to be much more nuanced.
The growing intelligence of search engines is fueling the rise of voice search. Instead of typing a simple query on Google like nearby Mexican restaurants, we’re much more likely to get long-winded with voice search and say, “Okay Google, where’s a good nearby Mexican restaurant with patio seating and a short wait?” Thanks to the blossoming artificial intelligence of search engines, these nuanced questions are becoming much easier for digital assistants to answer.
But just because Google can understand the intent behind more complex questions, it doesn’t mean that Google has the data to answer them. It’s no mystery why Google is crowdsourcing business attributes through Google Maps by asking users about their recent trips to a location. Google is gathering as much information about a location as possible to have the data to answer more nuanced questions.
This presents marketers with an opportunity. If you meet the nuanced criteria of a user’s question by filling out as many applicable attributes as possible in GMB, your location can leapfrog businesses that might be closer but fail to meet the search criteria.
After all, there may be only be a handful of restaurants in an area that meet the criteria of my previous voice search question. Proximity is still a factor, of course, but you at least lessen its tyranny and raise your odds of ranking higher organically.
No matter what marketers do, thanks to the way digital maps are organized, it’s hard to escape the influence of proximity on search results. That’s why, even though our list of marketing mix Ps is growing long, it’s time that proximity joins the list.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.