“Local is the new global” may sound cliché, but it’s not just slang.
This means the search giant processes 2.53 billion local searches every day.
Google took notice of its users’ preference for local search a long time ago.
In response, it launched two big SEO updates: the Vince algorithm to improve trustworthiness and the Venice algorithm to tackle relevance.
Let’s uncover precisely how your website can benefit from these local SEO updates and reach more local searchers.
Vince and Venice in Perspective
Google launched Venice in February 2012 “to find results from a user’s city more reliably.”
Other notable local search updates followed the Venice update including Pigeon in 2014, and more recently, Possum and Hawk. Google’s intent for these updates was to give searchers more accurate, relevant and useful local search results.
And it all started with Venice.
Google’s motivation for this algorithm update came from its users’ behavior. The search giant figured that users searched for services and products within their geographical location, and Venice was their response.
Until Venice launched, Google Places showed users local results only for searches that reflected local intent directly (such as “where is X in [city name]” or “closest X to [city name]”).
But local intent isn’t always reflected directly in the search string that’s used.
In the past, when users’ queries didn’t reflect local intent directly, Google returned only results that were optimized for the keywords. The search engine couldn’t interpret users’ intents.
Venice was a step towards correcting the semantic misalignment in search results.
When Venice launched backed in 2012, you had the option to control your search results by manually setting your preferred physical location. Alternatively, Google used your IP address to determine what local content should appear in your search results.
Of course, Google has since stopped searchers from manually controlling their physical location and now picks it up automatically.
As a result, Venice makes search results super-relevant to your location and needs.
If you’ve overlooked the need to build your local brand, think again.
The Vince algorithm update is purposed towards Google’s quest for truth and authority, rewarding businesses that have built out their brand identities (and indirectly punishing those that haven’t).
The search engine prioritizes content from brands because it holds brands as more trustworthy and authoritative. The thinking behind this is that you’re less likely to do anything online that might ruin your reputation if you’ve spent money building it, than if you don’t have a reputation to protect.
The Vince update, in short, is about trust and brand authority.
How Vince and Venice work together
Google wants to serve relevant content from trusted sources. Venice (for improved relevance) and Vince (for improved trustworthiness) get the job done.
When Vince was launched in 2009, and up until Venice was launched in 2012, Google weighed brand authority over relevance.
In fact, comments from WebmasterWorld confirm this position:
So, to push for local relevance in response, Google launched Venice.
Venice opened the door for smaller brands to rank side by side with (or even outrank) big brands in the SERPs for highly competitive, short-tail keywords. Before Venice, large brands monopolized the search engines for competitive keywords—they had the advantage in Google’s eyes and the ability to employ advanced SEO tactics.
Venice equalized the playing field for big brands and small brands. Small brands with dominant local brand authority can now outrank big brands with national and international authority.
So how can you turn all these juicy local SEO updates in your favor?
Local SEO Updates: Hacks for Benefiting from Vince and Venice
How to Become a Local Brand and Win Favors from Vince
Brands still carry a lot of weight in Google’s algorithms. The Vince update favors brands that people trust—you want to be that brand.
It’s important to brand your business to resonate with Vince, with the goal of getting more mentions, backlinks and brand awareness.
Here are six ways to win love from Vince.
#1: Earn and keep earning implied links
When the Vince algorithm update launched, it couldn’t track implied links. The system relied on already established offline authority.
But that’s about to change (or has changed already. No one knows for sure what Google is up to these days). Since Vince is all about authoritativeness, and linkless mentions are becoming the new SEO vote of confidence, it’s safe to say that you can build your brand using linkless mentions (i.e., implied links).
Bing already says that they use linkless mentions. And Google has a patent that suggests they’re working on implementing a linkless mention algorithm. Google’s Gary Illyes also hinted that they’re taking linkless mentions seriously and weighing them as links:
If you publish high-quality content that is highly cited on the internet—and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that. Then you are doing great.
Here’s how to gain control of your implied links:
Monitor brand mentions across the web, not just on social media
This is becoming just as important as monitoring your backlinks. The problem is, a lot of mention monitoring tools focus on social monitoring alone and ignore the web.
But you need to monitor everything. Mentions on forums, blogs, review sites, news sites and others carry a lot of weight now.
You can use a number of handy tools like Mention, Awario, Brand24 and Hootsuite for this purpose. These tools also have sentiment monitoring features to help you know how your brand resonates with your audiences so you can respond when negative mentions happen.
Use social selling and customer service
Social selling alone can boost your sales by as much as 400% and also solidify your brand authority.
Customers are using social media to ask questions and make complaints. This is a space you can really exploit profitably, especially because the gap between your competitors’ belief and reality is wide.
Companies that respond quickly to customer comments and questions stand a 71% higher chance to receive brand recommendations from these customers. Companies that don’t respond promptly have only a 19% chance of getting customer recommendations.
In fact, companies that engage with their customers on social media enjoy 20% to 30% more spending from these customers.
Thanks to social media, satisfied customers can become your informal brand advocates. And unsatisfied customers can shame your brand faster than ever.
Notice this short 21-second video of a bad customer experience at Pizza Hut has been viewed over 500 times and retweeted 10 times. It’s also attracted the attention of Pizza Hut themselves.
Monitor your competitors
Just like you’d monitor your competitors’ backlinks, you should also monitor your competitors’ brand mentions. This helps you know where you can get brand mentions as well.
Thankfully, the tools for monitoring your own brand mentions can also help you monitor your competitors’ implied links.
Do your mentions outreach
Like you’d do with link building outreach, you can also reach out to blogs that cover complimentary topics where you’re an authority and add some valuable information in exchange for a mention (not a link).
Blogs and websites are more likely to accept this offer over giving you a do-follow link.
#2: Get listed in local directories
Google relies on local directory listings to rank your website for local search.
In fact, directory listings influence seven out of the eight local pack ranking factors identified by Moz. Apart from personalization, which carries only a 10% weight, everything else is affected by directories and what happens there.
The first step is to make sure your business is visible on Google My Business, social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, and large directories like Yellow Pages and Yelp.
Google takes into account your Google My Business reviews and votes from third-party sources when determining your ranking, so you should encourage high-quality, positive reviews from your customers.
You also need to make sure your contact information is consistent across every business listing. If you’re a local business, people are searching for you because they want to reach you. Your name, address and phone number (NAP) must remain exact-matches on all the directories you’re listed on.
Don’t confuse search engines with inconsistencies or misspellings in your business name, phone number, street address and the like. If search engines can’t determine the correct information about your business, they’ll either list false information or delist your business altogether.
The next step is to get listed in more industry-specific local directories.
Local directories give you both a do-follow link to your website and implied links for your brand. Some directories in themselves can confer a tremendous amount of authority to your site. Just imagine all the search engine blessings a juicy DA 80+ directory backlink would bestow on your site!
So, get on as many authoritative directories as you can. Start by finding all the authoritative directories in your city, using search strings like:
- [Industry] directories in [city or town]
- [City or town] + [industry] directories
- [City or town] + [industry] trade listings
- [Industry] business listings in [city or town]
- Business directories in [city or town]
- [City or town] + business directories
For example, I searched for the term “law firms directories in Dakar.”
Look at what I found.
You can also check with your city’s Chamber of Commerce and local newspaper websites to find any other local directories you can list your business in.
To help you get off to a good start, I’ve identified 131 local directories (with their DA) that you can put your business on right away.
One of the lesser-known directory gems where you can get a listing is Yahoo! Small Business, which I’ve included in the free resource above.
On the surface, it’s a paid service, but there’s a free option if you know where to look. Here’s a short video guide from Eric Shanfelt of Local Marketing Institute to help you list your business on Yahoo! for free.
In all your directory listing efforts, remember to focus on just your niche and general city directories. Do not spam directories. List your business only on the ones relevant to your industry.
As with all SEO updates, Google will keep tweaking its algorithms for even more truth.
#3: Join trade associations and participate in local events
Of course, you’ll want to do this online and offline. The more the merrier.
Events and trade associations give you brand exposure and grow your network. You want to focus on the most relevant industry events, and you can either participate in events or organize your own.
Here’s a quick process for using events to build your brand authority:
Decide on the kinds of events that will favor your brand the most. You can do this by answering a set of questions.
1. Are you a recognized or certified expert? If yes, then you’ll want to find speaking opportunities at these events. Speaking at events can almost instantly shoot your mentions rate to the sky! You could be trending on Twitter and everywhere else online.
2. Are you capable of being a paid sponsor of an industry event? Paid sponsors get more attention and can easily spark discussions that raise their brand awareness.
3. Are you willing to create free content to support relevant events without speaking at those events? I had a client who created and distributed free hardcopy mags at industry events he attended (with the consent of the event organizers). On more than one occasion, those mag distributions earned my client leads that landed six-figure deals! Not bad for the thousand dollars he paid to produce the mags.
4. Are you willing to stand out? Even if you won’t be doing a mass distribution of mags, giving your new acquaintances memorable gifts can go a long way to helping your brand. You could use white label services to make branded USB flash drives to give away to acquaintances at the events. Apart from being a memorable business card, it’s something that puts your brand in front of them all the time. They’d remember you. And what’s a brand if it’s not memorable?
You can also search for relevant industry events on Google using strings like:
- [Industry] trade events in [city or town]
- [City or town] [industry] trade events
I searched for “plumbing trade events in Toronto.”
And I found a number of useful resources.
You can also join and participate in industry associations. Industry association meetings may not be announced openly online, but they contribute to your local SEO strategy!
You can find relevant industry associations in your city. Just use Google search.
Look what I found.
The idea is to find and join local associations, or national or state associations that have a local presence. Then, use the same influence-building tactics that I identified in the decision stage above to start gaining brand awareness for your business.
Another reason to belong to associations and attend events is that you can network and meet local journalists, which puts you right on your way to the next point: winning local press.
#4: Win local press
Getting featured in the local media is one of the best ways to quickly gain brand authority.
Here’s a strategy you can use to do it:
1. Research your local press
Know the newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and magazines in your city. Find out who makes the press decisions there. Get their contacts.
You want to know what kinds of content these media outlets publish and who their audience is. This helps you decide if they’re a good fit for your business.
2. Craft a story that sells
The big challenge with this is that journalists are inundated with pitches—40% of them get 20 pitches a day!
You have to stand out to win their attention.
Your starting point would be to craft an amazing brand story that’ll sell newspapers. In fact, it’s worth the cost to hire a professional to help you here. Take this seriously, like you would if you were hiring a lawyer.
A fascinating story is your key to winning press attention. Often it’s not about the story itself, but how it’s told.
3. Offer opportunities
Who doesn’t like opportunities? Offer them, and people will notice—including the local media.
There are many types of opportunities you can give. Here are some ideas:
- Run a competition and give away one of your products or services as a prize. You can maximize publicity by running these competitions on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, your National or Independence Day, and other holidays.
- Offer a scholarship (for as little as $500 to $1,000) to students studying courses related to your business or industry. Scholarships can get featured in local media as well as on university websites, scholarship listing websites and even government websites.
- Offer to contribute a weekly column to your local media, or answer their readers’ questions relating to your field (for example, you can offer to answer law-related questions if you’re a lawyer). You could even hold a weekly radio program or podcast.
- Give free consultation to heads of media houses in your city. Tell them that you’re giving free consultations to a select group of people and that they’re on your list. This tactic can be used to gain an entry door to a media feature.
- Give free consultations and promote it on social media. Or create a free downloadable resource targeting people in your locality that you can give out on your website. Promote the free resource on social media or via local media outlets in your town or city.
- Give financial support to student organization programs on campuses within your city, or conduct free monthly Q&A sessions with students. Encourage the students to share the events on social media and on their blogs.
4. Plan and set goals
So you have an incredibly catchy brand story, a well-designed local landing page and a media kit to go.
Now is the time to plan out your strategy and set specific goals to guide your brand awareness growth. Create a checklist like the one below and use it to guide your effort.
5. Reach out to your local press
From step one, you have a list of the best people to reach out to for press in your city. Now, start reaching out to them or scale up your outreach if you’ve already started reaching out to them.
Pitch your story in a way that gets them sales. Don’t pitch stories with only your own goals on mind. Publishers want to sell their publications—great stories do that for them.
Examine your campaign results for what worked well and what didn’t play out well.
Refine and double-down on those activities that made the most impact.
#4: Earn authoritative links from local government websites
The government doesn’t endorse brands. But if you earn a link or a mention from them, then that makes your business appear a lot more authoritative.
You can do that by creating and listing an event on your local government’s events website. You could even list the Q&A sessions you hold with local university students, if you went in that direction.
Visit your local government website and see if they accept events submissions, like Hartsville in South Carolina does. You can use a simple search query to help here:
“site:.gov “submit event” free [city or state or country]”
For example, I searched “site:.gov “submit event” free New York:”
Alternatively, if you know the government website but can’t find their events submissions page, use this search string to crawl it up:
“site:[NameofTheWebiste.gov] intitle:submit event”
For example, I searched “site:nyc.gov intitle:submit event:”
From both search strings, I found the events submissions page for New York City’s government website.
#5: Get on influential local forums
Gaining brand awareness means people are talking about your business and brand. So, you want to get involved in forums and community discussions.
Join the biggest online forums in your locality. If you don’t know your city-focused forums, use Google to find them. A simple search for “[your city] community forums” can help you find a number of useful options.
I searched for “Boston community forums:”
And that led to discovering the Boston Enterprise Sales Forum, which would be a great local forum to get involved in!
#6: Leverage local influencers
Almost every state and city has local influencers whose websites, tweets, videos and Instagram posts reach huge audiences in their locality.
Find these people on social media, reach out and offer them something in return for a shout-out, and get them talking about your business.
How to Dominate Local Search and Win Favors from Venice
If Vince gives priority to brands that people trust, Venice serves the people content from those brands.
Do you want your content served?
Thankfully, the Venice update gives local brands the opportunity to rank alongside national and multinational brands for short-tail keywords.
Use these five tactics to dominate local SEO within your niche for your city or community:
#1: Create relevant location pages
If you serve multiple locations, create unique landing pages for each of them. Make sure to create unique content for every landing page and to completely focus on the audiences from the city you’re targeting on that page.
Google wants to serve the most relevant results to searchers. Your goal is to be the most relevant result.
Start by paying attention to what searchers see when they find your site on the SERP.
Your title tag should be between 50 to 60 characters and your meta description between 160 to 200 characters. You want to make the most of these characters—be descriptive about the page and entice users to click through.
#2: Get on Google My Business
Claim and optimize your business listing on Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. This can give your business a tremendous advantage since both Google and Bing use these listings in their ranking factors for local businesses.
In fact, if you do a good job, you can find your business in one of Google’s local three-pack:
You can claim your business for free on Google My Business, but you have to be verified first.
To get verified, Google will send a postcard bearing a PIN to your physical business address—a P.O. Box address won’t be accepted. When you’ve received the postcard, you can log in and enter the PIN on the card to verify your business.
Once you’ve claimed your business, you can optimize it for search.
That optimization will include having a solid description of what you do, your business category, opening hours and all. You should also upload your logo and other business-related photos, like photos of your products, office building and space.
Make sure you populate every section of your listing to the fullest. This helps search engines to fully understand your business and rank it appropriately.
#3: Use schema markup
You see this SERP?
Isn’t it engaging? You can even search the website right from the SERP!
That’s schema markup, an incredibly powerful SEO technique that only 31.2% of websites are using right now.
Search engines love structured data markup, because it makes your website content easier for them to understand.
Google takes this seriously. It even has a Testing Tool for you to test your site’s schema markup.
If you want to read more about schema markup, check out this post.
#4: Proactively encourage customer reviews
Reviews are powerful.
In fact, 85% of searchers trust online reviews like it’s a personal recommendation from someone they know. And 93% of searchers would read an online review to determine whether your business is good or bad!
So, ask your customers for reviews and make it easy for them to give their reviews and ratings. Yelp, Google and Facebook are the most trusted review platforms, so you’ll want to make sure you’re using them.
Pay close attention to the reviews people are leaving for you, especially on Google and Facebook. These reviews appear in search results and also contribute to your ranking, working in the background while showing up on the front-end.
If you’re not actively encouraging reviews from your happiest customers, you can hurt your rankings.
You can use reputation management tools to track, respond to and even gain reviews. Trustpilot, Reputation Loop and GetFiveStars can help you reach your customers and generate reviews, while monitoring tools like Hootsuite and Mention are helpful for tracking and managing your reviews.
#5: Earn backlinks from local TLDs
Google values backlinks from your country’s Top Level Domains (TLDs) over generic TLDs like .com, .org or .net, especially if you’re thinking of local SEO.
So, you’ll want to pour most of your link building resources into building local TLD backlinks from credible local sites that relate to your niche.
To get an idea of how you’re stacking up, you can find the TLDs that are already linking to you with Monitor Backlinks. From the Your Links tab, simply filter your backlinks by ccTLD:
If, for example, you’re a UK-based local business and you don’t have many .uk TLDs linking to you, then that’s where you need to be focusing your link building efforts to improve your relevance for the Venice update.
Hawk and Possum Refine Local SEO
Hawk and Possum are Google’s refining SEO updates for local search.
Google launched the Possum algorithm in September 2016 to change how it filters results. Possum extended the filters from just removing businesses that listed more than one phone number or website, to removing businesses that were in the same geographical location.
So, businesses that offered the same service (like hotels and restaurants, even banks) could be filtered out of SERPs simply because they’re in the same geographical area.
The original intention behind Possum was to remove duplicate listings from local search. But it overextended its purpose—it removed entire competitors from search!
Hawk refined Possum’s results. It returned businesses within the same location but removed those that were at the same address. Additionally, businesses that used a virtual address got filtered by Possum and haven’t been fixed by Hawk.
To stay in favor with Hawk and Possum, make sure to use your own office space. Don’t share office space with competitors—or at least, don’t list shared spaces in your Google My Business listing. The key here is to show that you’re a real business with your own space.
Ready to Profit from These SEO Updates?
According to Google, SEO algorithm updates are happening constantly.
Considering the billions of local searches that happen every day, you can safely assume that a good number of these updates are local updates.
So, use these updates to your advantage—starting with Vince and Venice.