Local SEO: When Making it Big Means Thinking Small By Sigrid Tehrani on September 10, 2015

It may be the world wide web, but when it comes to making it big online today it's time to think small. It's time to think local.

Nowadays when people go online to search for information, their hunt is increasingly "local," and search engines are rushing to serve their needs. Today's search engines geo-locate users to serve up local results no matter what the device: tablet, smartphone, laptop, or desktop computer.

Google statistics highlight the rise of local. For starters, a 2014 study notes that four out of five consumers use search engines to find local information.

4 out of 5 search for local information online

Another discovery: While on the go or sitting on the sofa with a tablet, people are grabbing what Google calls "micro-moments" to search for local information, and it's not just movie times. Searches that you may not expect — such as "dermatologists near me" — are popping up.

Other local search statistics: 

  • The "uber local" search phrase "near me" has exploded. Usage has shot up 34 times since 2011.
  • Thirty-eight percent of consumers searched online specifically for a doctor or dentist in the previous 12 months, according to a BrightLocal 2014 survey. 

38% searched online for a doctor or dentist in the last year

A Window of Opportunity

For healthcare providers, Google and local search is a match made, if not in heaven, at least in the Googlesphere. That's because:

  • Ranking in local search is easier than on a national or global scale. You are only competing with other practices in your local area, not the entire web.
  • Local search is a glove fit for doctors and dentists because it matches local practices with prospective patients right in their backyard. In fact, we'd call it a "perfect" match: People in your area looking for your services … right now.

You Still Need to Compete

However, although local search reduces the number of practices you are competing against, you still need to compete.

What better way to stand out in a crowd than with the latest technology: an engaging and interactive virtual tour of your practice? This virtual "walk through" is Google's "Street View" moved inside. Previously called Google Business View, the name is being transitioned to Street View Trusted.

You can experience a tour now. Just click on the image below, which will take you to a sample tour. Once at the tour, you can move around the reception area and down the hall by clicking and dragging on the image. 

As we mentioned last week in a post introducing the technology, Google's virtual tours are a fast and affordable technique that gives prospective patients a reassuring tour of your practice, all from the comfort of their living room. Any time of day.

And don't mistake these virtual tours for the typical 360° picture anyone can grab with a smartphone. Like video game technology, this virtual tour is interactive, allowing potential patients to "walk" around your practice.

Imagine the impact of a website enhanced with a virtual tour compared to one with the standard website fare: text and a photo. Which would you remember the next day?

Your Website … and Beyond!

The advantages an eye-catching virtual tour can add to your website are obvious. 

Less obvious — but definitely strategic — is the ability of a virtual tour to enhance your presence elsewhere in the Googlesphere, not just your website.

With the proper implementation, Street View Trusted virtual tours appear in Google's own properties as well as on your website.

This is increasingly important now that the visibility of individual websites is decreasing as ads and directories dominate the top of search results pages. 

If your website is stuck "below the fold," it's time to think outside the box and beyond the confines of your own website. Instead, consider adopting a multi-pronged strategy that enhances your presence throughout the land of Google, multiplying your appeal.  

Virtual tours are a glove-fit for this sort of multi-pronged strategy because they appear on Google properties in addition to your own website. 

So where else does your virtual tour appear?

Google Maps

A Street View Trusted virtual tour is linked to your Google Maps location, which is prime territory when it comes to local search. By definition, anyone starting a search with a map is looking locally.

Not only are map users looking for local information, but Google's research has found that local searchers are typically "ready to act," such as phoning a practitioner to schedule an appointment.

To persuade prospective patients to pick up the phone and call you rather than one of the other dots on the map, they will need a reason to select your practice over the neighboring one. A virtual tour helps you stand out from the crowd. Just the fact that you are willing to "open your door," may be all the impetus they need to pick up the phone and call your practice.

The image below shows how selecting your location on the map opens Google's Knowledge Panel, which includes vital information about your practice along with an image link to your tour.

Virtual Tour via Google Maps

Google Local Packs

Another Google outpost to set your eye on: Google Local Packs.

A Local Pack is Google's highlighted mini-directory listing that is distinct from the organic listing of websites on search results pages. The implication is these Local Pack businesses are special. Their placement certainly is since the listing sits above organic listings, which get shoved down the page.

The image below shows a search results page with the Local Pack featured prominently near the top of the page. Clicking on an entry opens the Knowledge Panel with its link to the virtual tour. 

Unfortunately, entry into this select list just got tougher. What used to be seven entries in the Local Pack has shrunk to three, increasing the level of competition for this prime real estate.

Another hurdle: You can't buy your way into Local Packs. You need to earn your entry by winning the attention of prospective customers and Google. It's a longer term strategy, and requires an overall local search engine optimization (SEO) action plan, but the extra visibility it garners is well worth the investment.

So how can a virtual tour help?

Virtual Tours & Dwell Time

Virtual tours that are embedded in your website have a great capacity to increase your website's crucial "dwell time,"  a metric including user engagement, session duration, and click through from a search results page. In plain talk: It measures how engaged people are with your website and how long they stay.

Here's where a virtual tour can help. A virtual tour is by its very nature interactive. The imagery encourages visitors to click and spend time touring your practice, improving your site's dwell time.

In the world of Google, these prolonged visits build your credibility. By spending time on your website and interacting with it, people are "proving" to Google that they value what you have to offer. Consider these "votes" for your website.

On the other hand, people that land on a website and promptly leave (bounce) indicate to Google that the content wasn't helpful for that search request. That may cause Google to hesitate before showing that website, or showing it as high in the search results, the next time a similar search is requested.

A Long-Term Strategy

Local SEO is a unique subset of SEO and has its own subset of needs. As the competition at the local level ramps up, we find virtual tours are producing significant results for practices when adopted as part of an overall Local SEO strategy.    

The truth is, SEO is always shifting, as the shakeup in Local Packs shows. And it's obvious that Google is not averse to changing the rules in the middle of the game.

So what's the secret to success when the rules keep changing?

Be Agile

Be agile and leverage every advantage. And remember: The early bird gets the worm.

What we've seen over and over again is that Google rewards early adopters by giving them a boost in search results. But this "window of opportunity" doesn't last forever.

Once the unique content or technology — such as virtual tours — becomes commonplace, the benefits ebb. (Learn more about " Turning Google's Changes into Your Competitive Advantages.")

You also need to take into account the changing marketplace.

As traditional resources, such as phone books, disappear and as word of mouth itself goes online via social media and reviews, you can't ignore the reality that your "virtual practice" takes on greater importance every year.

  • If you missed last week's post, here's the introduction to Google Street View Trusted virtual tours.
  • If you would like to know more how virtual tours and Local SEO intersect, don't hesitate to call ( (800) 606-0003) so we can answer your specific questions. Or, simply fill out the form below and we'll be in touch.

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