Local search in 2024: Key trends and tactics for marketers

Location-based businesses must focus on five areas – discovery, relevancy, experience, engagement and conversions – to drive impact today.

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Local has evolved from listings management to real experience and engagement. Today, consumers are looking for more personalized experiences and relevant conversations across all touch points. 

The behavior of a local consumer is changing rapidly in the world of AI-powered search. Based on the searcher’s intent, search engines strive to surface results that will meet the searcher’s need – in other words, content that will engage them and provide a great experience. 

Whether you are a multi-location brand or a small local business, the biggest challenge is providing a personalized experience across all channels and touchpoints.

With cookies going away, this challenge becomes even bigger. As you think about digital transformation, consider integrating various disjointed systems to centralize customer data as your golden currency.

This article discusses the top areas location-based businesses need to focus on in 2024 and key metrics to measure performance and success. 

Local is more about experiences than listings management 

Below are the top five areas that location-based businesses need to focus on in 2024. 

5 Focus Areas for Location Based Businesses 
5 focus areas for location-based businesses

1. Discovery

It is critical to be discovered for brand and location-based queries by:

  • Creating the most comprehensive listing on Google Business Profile (GBP) and vertically specific authoritative channels.
  • Having proper schema structure on your website.
  • Publishing relevant, timely and engaging content such as local events, rates, menus, hours, and maps. 

Here are the core ingredients for discovery: 

  • Understand your customers’ needs by leveraging their search data effectively. Use this data to train diverse large Language Models (LLMs), enabling you to comprehend searcher intent and behaviors more effectively. Google’s recent introduction of AI in maps exemplifies this approach, harnessing LLMs to interpret conversational queries and recommend relevant places tailored to users’ interests.
  • Create topical, entity-rich content that meets the searcher’s needs, enhance your existing content and ensure new product/solution releases are aligned with your audience’s needs.
  • Strong technical SEO foundation is necessary to ensure proper crawling and indexing of your content. 
  • Deploy and maintain rich error-proof schemas to help search engines and AI to understand your content better.
  • Prioritize visual optimization: The importance of images and video in local search has only grown over time, according to SEO expert Greg Sterling. The latest multimodal AI models and LLMs (like Google Gemini) are designed to understand text, images, video, PDFs and code to provide the most comprehensive result.
    • Futureproofing for increasingly visual SERPs in 2024 involves:
      • Enhancing your landing pages to include various elements like images, hours of operation, address, FAQs, video, PDFs, reviews, etc. 
      • Ensuring you have a meaningful number of high-quality, authentic images that will boost search visibility and conversions. 
      • Making sure images are optimized and pass Google’s safe search standards.
      • Matching images with search queries and customer intent. 
      • Avoiding the use of stock photography. 
    • Futureproofing your digital assets for evolving SERPs includes three steps:
      • Centralizing your images: Use the same image everywhere instead of making different copies for use in different channels.
      • Optimizing the images using Google NLP.
      • Converting images into discoverable entities by tagging them with relevant schema and image tags.

Dig deeper: Future-proofing digital experience in AI-first semantic search

2. Relevancy and authority

Some of Google’s algorithm updates have been aimed at ensuring that brands are creating helpful content that offers expert opinions on products and services and delivers value. 

For brands, it is not about creating more content; creating topical, entity-rich content aligned with your channel and audience strategy is critical. 

Robust content strategy helps build relevancy

  • Developing a strong content strategy involves identifying gaps in your content and your competitors’, as well as meeting consumer expectations. Ensure your location page includes more than just basic details like name, address, phone, and hours of operation – it should fulfill all audience expectations.
  • Your audience would also want to know what products/services are offered at that location. For example, a searcher looking for hospitals may need to know doctors at that location, insurance options, specialties, and more.
  • Content should be localized and personalized based on audience segments like age, past behavioral signals, information you already have about the visitor and more.
  • Engage your audiences with location-specific content such as posts and events. 
  • Use AI tools judiciously. Service area pages and local landing pages are examples of content that AI can effectively generate at scale (with oversight by human subject matter experts).
  • Hyperlocal content strategies that start with basic location name insertions are easy and cost-effective but risk lower rankings due to their duplicative nature, according to Andrew Shotland. Creating unique, optimized pages for each location is futile if the content isn’t genuinely useful. Google has penalized even well-made unique pages if they appear SEO-driven rather than user-focused.
  • The goal of an effective content strategy should be getting close to the customer or end-user and engaging them. AI streamlines content customization for various regions, enhancing efficiency, speed, and scalability. Still, humanizing content with your brand’s voice and perspective is vital.

Robust reviews help build authority

Reviews are an important trust signal and help build local authority for brands. 

The top three things that impact local business in 2024, according to Joy Hawkins, will be: 

  • Quality of your website.
  • Reviews on the Google Business Profile.
  • Customer interactions with the business. 

“We still see traditional SEO factors on the website along with content moving the needle the most for small businesses. Reviews need to be constantly sought after as review recency is a ranking factor and customers also scan reviews and are most likely to see the first few that are listed. We also see that Google rewards businesses that get searched a lot and clicked on a lot.”

3. Experience

For location-based businesses, providing a connected experience is critical. The challenge is providing quality information to a brand-loyal customer looking for a location-specific query. 

Here are six must-haves to consider as you think about experience: 

Consistent information

The details of your brand, particularly location data, must be uniformly presented across every platform, be it the systems for content creation, distribution, or customer relationship management. 

For brands with multiple locations, the best strategy to ensure uniformity is to have all platforms draw from a single, authoritative data source. Whether it’s your main website, directories, advertising campaigns, public relations, or other channels, they should all rely on this centralized source for accurate brand information. 

With the rise of AI-driven search technologies, the demand for consistent and high-quality data becomes even more critical to prevent errors or discrepancies.

Site architecture

It is important to create the right site architecture to ensure information about each location is available easily. Location information must be qualitative, relevant, engaging, and current and include local and regional searches. 

Here is an example of how multilocation businesses should create localized experiences.

 Site Architecture and location landing Page Must Have 
Site architecture and location landing page must-haves

Google typically allocates a limited crawl budget for every domain. Your site architecture should enable seamless information flow between the main brand page, countries, states, cities and location pages to ensure crawl budget is used effectively. This will also ensure that your content is easily indexed in search engines.

Localized experience

Make sure your location page incorporates elements that anticipate and address the local audience’s needs. 

Depending on your industry vertical, these could include Content such as FAQs, videos, events, rate calculators, itineraries, menus and more and presenting the information in multiple languages. 

Consider adding related searches, product reviews, bios of subject matter experts, etc., to the page to demonstrate local expertise, relevance and authority. 

Dig deeper: How to create a perfect location page for SEO and visitors

Location, backlinks, website, GBP, video 

As Shotland put it, in 2024, the most critical factors for local online performance include the physical location of the business, as relocating can significantly impact local search rankings. 

Backlinks, while less influential for local pack rankings, remain important for organic search results. 

Lastly, brand demand is key, with searches and clicks on your brand directly improving rankings across the board. 

To optimize control, businesses should maintain a simple yet effective website, optimize their Google Business Profile with accurate categories and services, garner positive reviews, engage in regular Google Business Profile posts, and incorporate video content into their profile.

Personalized experience

Ideally, every visitor accessing your website should feel like the site and content were meant for them and not for the masses.

By connecting various channels, such as organic and paid, with travel intent and customer data platform, you can personalize experiences for searchers. Experience can easily be personalized based on:

  • Location.
  • Channels (such as organic and paid).
  • Search intent and behavioral signals.
  • Information from past interactions captured in CRM and third-party data.

The objective is to tailor the user experience to the audience’s intentions and meet the business’s requirements.

Delivering a personalized user experience involves adjusting everything from visuals and text to prompts for action. This approach is designed to enhance engagement on your site and increase the likelihood of converting visits into actions.

Here’s how personalized experiences can help increase engagement.

Personalized Experience 
Personalized experience

Technical SEO

All the rich content that you have created needs to be discovered and understood by search engines. The goal is to ensure at least 95% of your site content is crawlable and indexable with no issues with redirects, canonicals, multiple hops, broken pages, etc. 

However, just having your content crawled and indexed isn’t enough. There are some technical SEO tips to maximize the visibility of your content:

  • Page experience: Ensure all pages pass Core Web Vitals, such as the Interaction to Next Paint (INP) metric. INP assesses a page’s overall responsiveness to user interactions by observing the latency of all click, tap, and keyboard interactions. Speed, mobile friendliness and security should conform to search guidelines and should be better than your competition. 
  • Global and local: Multilocation and multilanguage sites need to be configured properly to avoid any gaps and overlaps. If the same information is served in a different country or language, hreflang canonical and alternate tags need to be configured properly.
  • Delivering content at scale: Employing a content delivery network (CDN) facilitates the efficient delivery of your content and digital assets. 
  • Schema markup: Tag all your content and visual assets with advanced, nested schemas to help search engines understand their context and feature them in the SERPs and rich results.
  • Domain vs. subdomain: It is always good to have all location information configured under the main domain. Sometimes, it can be challenging for brands to move fast and update regional information easily. In situations like this, a subdomain strategy can be an effective option. Regardless of the approach, it is important for brands to combine and centralize various data sources and channels as explained earlier in this article. This will ensure consistency of all business-related information and images across touchpoints and channels. 

Dig deeper: 8 steps to a successful entity-first strategy for SEO and content

4. Engagement

Customer engagement is an important signal for search engines. Metrics like time spent on the site help search engines determine whether the content meets the searcher’s needs. 

Alternative channels like TikTok, where Gen Z is spending a lot of time, are a threat to Google’s market share. Improving customer engagement needs to happen across channels. 

Strategies like engaging a community of influencers, active digital PR, adding interactive and informative videos, customer reviews, and a robust social channel strategy can help increase brand engagement. 

5. Conversion

Maximizing conversions is the end goal of all marketing efforts. Here are four power tips to maximize local conversions:

  • Paid marketing: To get the most conversions from your local marketing efforts, compliment your organic marketing with paid marketing efforts. With AI powering both organic and paid search, your website content and structured data are important to improve quality scores. 
  • Target audience segmentation and personalization: Use audience segmentation and targeted display to reach well-defined audience personas. Combined with on-site personalized experiences, these can bring highly qualified visitors, engage, and convert them more effectively. 
  • Co-optimization: Finally, make sure your paid and organic teams do not work in silos. Co-optimization of paid and organic marketing efforts can help you reach expensive but high-converting paid audiences through organic marketing and optimize paid budgets to improve ROI.
  • Business intelligence and analytics: With performance data often siloed between channels and systems, how do you effectively measure the performance and effectiveness of your marketing strategies? To avoid data discrepancy, it will be important to capture all data into a central source of truth. All performance reports and dashboards across channels should be built from this central data source. 

Rethinking your SEO KPIs and success metrics

As search evolves and Search Generative Experience rolls out, traditional SEO metrics used to track local performance will become less relevant.

  • Organic listings will get pushed lower down the search results page.
  • Local results are and will show more engaging and relevant content such as images, posts, reviews, etc.
  • More Google properties will occupy SERP real estate – like SGE, People Also Ask, image listings, video listings, local listings and more. Saturating these will be important to get your brand in front of the audience.
  • As more content is delivered within the search results, click-through rates from informative queries are likely to drop. 

We need to start adding new metrics as part of our tool kit. New KPIs need to be adopted to measure success. These include:

  • Top of the funnel: Rich results and impressions. 
  • Middle of the funnel: Phone calls, driving directions, appointments (where applicable), messaging, reviews, and clicks.
  • Bottom of the funnel: Time on site, conversions, bookings, transactions.

Local is no longer just about listings management. Today, it is about creating a well-integrated strategy to cover all audience touch points and optimizing for discovery, relevancy, experience, engagement and conversions. 

Centralizing information and data will be crucial for multi-location brands to drive consistency across touchpoints, deliver a meaningful localized and personalized experience, and track performance across channels.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Benu Aggarwal
Benu Aggarwal, founder and president of Milestone Inc., is a highly recognized expert in digital marketing solutions, voice search, SEO and local. Benu oversees product development, client services, technology and strategic vision for the company. Under her leadership, the company has prospered as it launched a suite of SEO-first software products and thousands of websites of which dozens won design and technology awards. With her technical marketing experience, entrepreneurial spirit, and motivating attitude, Benu has the ability to translate technical ideas into tangible practice that drive results for customers.

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