Pandemic Effect On Local Marketing

To say that the last 12 to 18 months have been challenging for marketers would be the worst of understatements.  But as optimists who are energized by the ideas of what’s next, we are drawn to the silver linings of the many dark clouds that the pandemic blew our way. As ravaging as the pandemic has been, it has also highlighted many consumer shifts that are already transforming the future of marketing. With local marketing, there have been three major shifts that should be recognized and addressed.

Local Search

From 500%+ growth in “Can I Buy” local mobile searches to 3,000% growth in “Curbside Pickup” and 8,000% growth in “Who Has” or “In stock” searches over the past two years — consumers have shown that their new normal is to ascertain what business have the items they want in the digital space before venturing into a physical location. With Google now identifying almost 50% of all searches as having ‘local intent’ this equates to approximately 28 billion monthly local searches — a staggering amount of opportunities for businesses to connect with consumers.

Consumer Activity

By August of 2020 buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) grew by 259% year over year, additionally, eight in ten consumers expected to increase their use of this service throughout 2021.  Ecommerce went through about ten years of growth in the last year, powered by immense growth in grocery sales, which now make up 12% of ecommerce sales.  This growth is unprecedented and not likely to slow down anytime soon. Google research shows 67% of consumers plan on confirming an item is in stock this holiday shopping season before visiting a store to make a purchase.  These shifts, this merging of physical and digital retail, has created a new concept: phygital retail.

Local Ranking Factors

Since the advent of local search, the most important local ranking factor has been proximity, how close a given searcher is to a given location. As revealed by the MOZ Local Search Ranking Factor report in 2021, this is no longer the case. For the first time, proximity dropped out of the top spot into third place. The top two spots are now Google My Business (GMB) signals and review signals, meaning for the first time ever the most important ranking factors are those that are most controllable by local businesses. This is one of the most significant shifts in local search and is in line with Google’s overall shift in serving as more of the consumer journey themselves, with the Google SERP serving as a “one-stop” for local searchers.

Key Takeaway

Businesses, regardless of size, need to lean into Google’s changes and take advantage of the new opportunities to influence their ranking.

  • GMB is now just table stakes to play in the local game. Claiming, verifying and optimizing business profiles is no longer an option.
  • Utilize all profile enhancements and attributes available for your business and create a regular schedule of weekly activity: posting photos, update posts, Q&As and offer posts. 
  • For retailers, Google Products (i.e. See What’s In Store) is the most powerful tool to influence your ranking in the local pack. Uploading your inventory to each GMB profile can skyrocket performance

Local SEO: How to be Present

Google has reported that over the last two years, mobile “open now near me” searches have increased 200%, and searches containing “buy” terms have increased over 500%.  Additionally, 82% of smartphone shoppers conduct ‘near me’ searches and 76% of local mobile searches result in a store visit within 24 hours

It is clear that current and potential customers are on the go, on their phone and looking for specific locations.

Local SEO is different from SEO or paid search as it is based on a unique algorithm and set of conditions. Even with a robust SEO and SEM program, there can still be gaps in the search engine results when it comes to local search.

For local information and results, Google relies primarily on information through the Google My Business platform. Apple Maps is powered by primary data partners and other third-party sites, Siri uses Google as a data source and Amazon’s Alexa gets a good portion of location data from Yelp. Additionally, each of these platforms check and verify the location information with other platforms.

The foundation of local search centers on basic information: name, address, phone number and website URL. This information powers what appears in the listings, however, the NAP (name, address, phone) is only the foundation of local SEO.  Additional strategies such as location information syndication across the local ecosystem, content-rich individual location pages on the website, sponsorship and links to local organizations, location-based social media and review management are all key components to the local ranking algorithm.

A local search program is no longer an option for retailers; brands that are not present online for most consumers is equal to not existing.

For more information on utilizing Local SEO in your campaigns, contact us here.

Keeping Google My Business Listings Safe From Hijackers

The issue of hijacked Google My Business (GMB) listings — when a person other than a business owner or representative gains control of the local profile — continues to grow. 

Unethical marketers are phishing through many listings in the hopes of hijacking, ultimately succeeding through using the “claim this business” or “manage this listing” link on a local profile. Clicking on this link generates an email request for control over the listing that is sent to the registered owner of the profile. Business owners that are unaware of what these emails mean could unwittingly surrender control of their business listing and find their location marked as closed, as well as other objectionable changes to their local information.

Google is aware of the growing issue and advises business owners to remain cautious. A Google spokesperson recently told Search Engine Land, “If a merchant ever receives a request to manage or to transfer ownership from an unknown person, they should decline the request.  The rights to own or manage a Business Profile can only be granted if the verified merchant accepts the request or the requester proves their affiliation with the business.”

Why does it matter?

It is obvious to say that any form of false information in Google Maps and Search is not ideal for both companies or consumers. However, these phishing attempts in order to hijack Google My Business listings are significantly bad for small businesses. False online information can lead to a negative impact on sales, especially during COVID when the majority of consumers are obtaining information through a Google search.

How can you be proactive about this issue?

To start, as Google suggests, decline any request to manage or transfer ownership from an unknown person. Beyond that, this growing trend highlights the importance of a strong local SEO management program and agency partnership that can keep on top of listing status and puts your business’ security first.

For more information about True Media’s Google Search and Local Search marketing capabilities, contact us.

New Google Testing for Local Ad Options

Google continues to evolve with its local campaign options, which in turn continues to improve the value for advertisers. Earlier in the year Google added call clicks and driving directions as additional conversion options to original store visits. Additionally, they introduced the option of audience targeting or exclusion — a change that offered additional controls for advertisers. Most recently Google has been testing auto-suggest results within Google Maps.

On October 15, Thibault Adda tweeted that as he typed a search for “seafood restaurant” in the search bar, an ad for the seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster appeared in the auto-suggest results before his search query was even complete (see photo example).

Tests such as this are nothing new to Google, but it does seem to signal that local campaigns are now a permanent part of the Google suite of Paid Search campaign types. This is good news, as several True Media clients have already seen incredible results with local campaigns.

When examining results for Q3 year over year, one Farm and Home client saw a 1,250% increase in impressions, as well as a 86% increase in-store visits with 98% of all impressions coming from the local campaign.  Another client in the same industry saw similar results with a 2,623% increase in impressions.  Additionally, a Regional Banking client testing local campaigns saw similar results with September 2020 impressions showing a 236% increase over the previous year.

While advertisers do still need to be ‘whitelisted’ for Google local campaigns, retailers with physical locations who want to drive store contact via visits or calls, local campaigns can provide an unparalleled opportunity for brand reach and exposure.

For more information on implementing Local Search Campaigns in your media strategy, contact us.

Google Limits Search Terms Reporting

Earlier this month, Google announced a new policy change to limit Search Terms reporting. This shift is aimed at increasing user privacy, but the response from practitioners in the SEM world has been swift citing concern over losing visibility into advertiser spend.

While Google has shared limited information so far, here’s what was released in a recent statement: 

In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.”

While this change will bring more freedom to Google’s Smart Bidding algorithms to enhance performance and take steps to protect user privacy, this change will prevent advertisers to see exactly where their Paid Search spend is going. Advertisers won’t be able to see all searches that trigger their Paid Search Ads, rather they’ll only be able to monitor searches made by a significant (as defined by Google) number of people.

There is no opt-out option at this time, but we’re working closely to monitor the situation with our Google Premier Partner Reps to better understand the changes and proactively ensure limited client impact.

If you have any questions or concerns about your paid search campaigns in the meantime, please contact us.

Search Trends During COVID-19

Businesses around the world have been working quickly to adapt to the dramatic changes in consumer demand, behavior and expectations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly true in the Healthcare space, which has been uniquely impacted by the pandemic. Patients and health care professionals alike have been turning to Google during these unprecedented times for information.

The graph below shows the volume of Coronavirus searches. A steady increase in February & March, after the World Health Organization declared a Global Health Emergency, with volume peaking in the US around mid-March, when a national emergency was declared.

As to be expected, this year telemedicine has seen 4x the search volume so far compared to the same time frame in 2019. While the overall volume has increased, it is also important to call out that the tone of the queries has changed. In early 2020, queries were education-focused and information seeking (what is coronavirus, how is coronavirus spread). However, as time progressed the queries shifted to take a tone of more concern, preparation and statistics (how many people have died from coronavirus, how many cases in the us, when will coronavirus end). 

The symptoms and treatment category search volume, particularly related to COVID, has increased in the first 6 months of the year, with cold & flu category seeing +125% YoY growth, seasonal allergies seeing +37% YoY growth, multivitamins seeing +49% YoY growth, vaccines & immunizations seeing +48% YoY increase and trauma & stress disorders seeing +40% search volume growth. 

Conversely, categories including dental health, lupus, arthritis, and certain types of cancer have seen YoY decreases in Search volume. 
For more information on paid search strategy and your campaigns, contact us here.

Why You Need to Have a Mobile-Friendly Website

Mobile devices have changed the way people Search.​ In 2019, Mobile devices accounted for 65% of Google searches while the use of personal computers continues to decline. Having a mobile-friendly site is an absolute necessity for both your SEO and SEM efforts.

Why is having a mobile-friendly website so important?

  • SEO ranking — In 2015, Google announced that they will be making mobile-friendliness and mobile site speed ranking signals for SEO. Five years later and they are two of the most significant factors in how your website ranks. If your website doesn’t perform well in these areas, you could be penalized.
  • Your customers are using a mobile device — As mentioned above, 65% of Google searches are via mobile devices.
  • Your competitors are mobile-friendly — According to Google, 70% of websites are now offering a mobile experience.
  • Build trust with your customers — 57% of online users have said they won’t recommend a business with a poor mobile experience.
  • Keep your customer’s attention — Attention spans are shorter than ever and if your website takes more than 3 seconds to load, 57% of mobile visitors will abandon your website. And when these mobile visitors leave, 41% of customers go directly to a competitor’s site.
  • Improve conversion rates — A mobile-friendly website means a better browsing experience which ultimately leads to more conversions.
  • Be seen locally -— 97% of searches for services or products in a customer’s local area are on a mobile device. 49% of those searches are done without a specific business in mind. This is a high intent search as the majority of customers act on the search results within an hour.

What makes up a mobile-friendly website?

  • Fast loading time
    • Load time of 3 seconds or less.
    • Compress your images and CSS. Compressing your image file sizes will improve loading time without hurting the quality of what people see on your website.
    • Don’t use Flash. This will slow down your loading speed and there are many browsers where it doesn’t work.
  • A responsive website
    • Automatically resizes the website to fit the device of the user.
  • Information is easy to find
    • Think about the information that people on mobile devices are most likely to be looking for when visiting your website. Make that information easily accessible.
    • Contact information would be a key example of information you would want to make easily accessible. Consider using a click-to-call button.
  • Large font sizes
    • It’s recommended to use a font of at least 14px.
  • Buttons are large enough to click on mobile devices
    • Test this out yourself on a variety of devices, if you had trouble, it’s time for an update. This can save your customers from a frustrating experience.
  • The option to switch to desktop view
    • Some of your customers may actually prefer the desktop option. Give them the option to view your website in a way that enhances their experience.

How to ensure your website is operating as mobile-friendly?

  • Browse your website and ask employees to do the same. Assess your experience as if you were one of your customers and gather feedback from employees. Test this out on tablets and mobile devices. Discuss what could be done to improve the mobile experience.
  • Check your site speed in Google Analytics
    • Page load time for a sample of page views. Can view how your pages loaded through different perspectives such as different browsers or countries. Available in the ​Page Timings​ report.
    • Load time of any hit, event, or user interaction that you want to track (how quickly images load, response time to button clicks). Available in the ​User Timings​ report.
    • Review the speed suggestions report. Tips tailored to your website to make your pages load faster. Behavior > Site Speed > Speed Suggestions.
  • Google offers tools that will tell you within seconds if your website is mobile-friendly and what you can do to improve.

Search Tactics & Viewing Patterns

The old list of ten blue links on a Google results page has been replaced by a variety of results, leaving users with no idea what to expect when they search for a new inquiry. A study by the Nielson Norman Group reveals how users have been navigating Google’s new layout — the Pinball Pattern.

While this pattern isn’t exactly new, it is evolving — much like the way Google SERPs are evolving. The new SERPs and how people interact with them is the main reason Google did away with the traditional position in paid search. 

Knowing the pattern consumers tend to make in even a single Google search leads is an important factor in implementing effective media campaign tactics, which ultimately leads to reaching more of your paid search audience. 


Our True Expertise:

Senior Search Strategist Steve Sherfy offers his expertise on Google’s SERPs and the evolving viewing pattern of users:

How does the way people are viewing pages when they search affect how the Search Team executes campaigns for clients? 

The changes in viewing pattern paired with the removal of the average position and it being replaced with top of page impression share has an effect on how we execute campaigns.  Many clients in the past liked to use the average position as a metric of success and we have had to steer away from that. Also knowing that the SERPs are evolving and how clients need to be present in many sections of the SERP is one reason why our clients should utilize True Local.  It changes how we approach what tactics we will use, the need to be much more strategic in our spending, as well as lays out more specific KPIs when on-boarding a new client or starting a new campaign.

What are your thoughts on the pinball pattern? how do you see it evolving?  

If nothing else Google is very consistent with the idea of testing and changing things.  The most important factor with search right now for clients is mobile optimization. Mobile site compatibility is now a major ranking factor not only for organic results but also it plays heavily into the paid search quality score which is the biggest determiner of how high an ad will rank or how often an ad will show.  Additionally, both of these play into voice search. It is imperative to stress that “voice search” is not exclusive to home devices such as Alexa or Google Home. The vast majority of voice search is conducted on mobile devices, therefore voice and mobile are going to continue to be the main things influencing SERP results. However, the one thing that will remain consistent is Google making sure paid search ads will feature prominently in the results.

As an expert in this field, what are some key things you take into account in order to provide the client’s the best results from Search? 

Relevancy is and will remain the most important factor when determining both paid strategy and tactics for clients.  We have many tools at our disposal to help us determine the best keyword sets to advertise on in order to present the most relevant ad to the right searcher at the right time. The good news is that with the changes in SERP we now have searchers spending more time on a SERP page which translates into a greater opportunity to catch attention and earn a click.

What is True Local?

At True Media, innovation is one of our four core values. Each month we award teams who demonstrate internal or client innovations, and at the end of the year we award one overall Innovation Award winner that stood out amongst other winners. This year’s Innovation Award winner is Senior Search Strategist Steve Sherfy for his leadership in the True Local initiative. 


True Local is a management services and review monitoring platform that enables you to view and respond to customer reviews in one place. It gathers information from your stores, uploads and maintains listings. This includes changes to hours, new stores, and consistent brand information. True Local also provides a single platform from which you can reply directly to customer reviews — an essential practice for improving local search result performance. 

Who Needs It
  • Any brand with brick and mortar locations needs a local SEO program which extends beyond the search platforms to other directory sites like Apple Maps, Foursquare,, Facebook, etc.
  • With Google now incorporating GMB location activity into the paid search metrics, along with the store visit conversion paid search metric, a local SEO program is more important than ever for your brand. 
Successes – Client A
  • 27% increase in total views of their listings
  • 16% increase in views on search results and a 43% increase in views on map results
  • Total interactions with the listings increased 60% with a 59% increase in clicks to the banking website, 15% increase in clicks for driving directions and an 82% increase in clicks to call a bank location
Successes – Client B

Within first 90 days on the program we were able to show our client:

  • Over 1.1MM views of their business listings
  • Approximately 12,000 store visits
  • Estimated 7,800 in-store purchases
  • Worth an estimated $297K
  • ROI of 94:1