30-second summary:

  • 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19.
  • Making your local SEO strategy a top priority for small retailers and those with multiple locations.
  • Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.
  • Local retailers should focus on creating in-store experiences online and pick up.
  • Understanding your local audience and optimizing at the hyper-local level is key.
  • Jim Yu, Founder and CEO of BrightEdge highlights five great ways your business can use local SEO to dominate search and translate it into sales this holiday season.

A shorter than usual shopping season, last-mile shipping uncertainty, and ongoing health and safety concerns are just a few of the factors driving wild shifts in consumer behavior in the lead-up to holiday season 2020. Given how wide-reaching and long-lasting the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be, we couldn’t possibly have predicted or envisioned the circumstances we now find ourselves in. Local businesses already pushed near the brink may find this shopping season more competitive than usual, making your local SEO strategy a top priority.

This holiday season more than ever, marketers need to keep a hand firmly on the pulse of their market and opportunities. Activating as much relevant, real-time consumer data as possible is going to be key.

1. Offer payment options, COVID precautions, and other key conversion information front and center

We know what the important issues are for shoppers this season:

Consumers are browsing, researching, and shopping across online channels. They are more value-conscious than before and are looking for reassurance that their privacy and data are protected when making purchases online.

Get ahead of frequently asked questions by updating your website, social profiles, local listings, and landing pages with answers. These are critically important optimizations—so much so that Google, Yelp, and other listings platforms are highlighting this information for consumers on business profiles. If consumers can’t find what they’re looking for on your listing, they’ll simply move on to the next.

2. Really get to know your audience this holiday season

Planning campaigns based on historic data simply won’t cut it this year. Agile marketers and smart automation will come together to power the messaging and experiences it takes to convert in upended markets.

Nielsen released consumer profiles late in October based on research and surveys undertaken in different periods throughout the COVID pandemic. It’s impossible to predict just who you’ll find at your door (or in your online shopping cart) this holiday season, but expect to see each of these consumer types in the mix:

local search this holiday season - consumer expectations

You can see the very different motivations and types of shopping happening this year. Those who’ve escaped a direct impact from COVID may be compensating for luxuries they’ve forgone this year—trips that were canceled, or large purchases put on hold due to the initial uncertainty. At the other end of the spectrum, you see consumers who are affected both financially and physically, having less money to spend and also constrained by lockdown measures.

Understanding both your macro market and micro opportunities, at the individual web visitor level, is key to capitalizing on your opportunities to convert this holiday season.

3. Feed browsing behavior with high quality, engaging content that complements holiday season search

In our recent research, BrightEdge mentioned that 60% of consumers have been shopping online more often since COVID-19. It’s a behavior that 73% of those plans to continue after the pandemic. Shoppers are browsing more frequently and making more purchases, although they are smaller in value.

Feed browser behavior with engaging, quality content to rule holiday season with SEO

This holiday season, it’s critical that the content on offer is personalized and engaging; that it is an accurate reflection of their needs, intent, interests, and behavior in the moment. Activate your search insights with dynamic content optimizations to keep in step with changing consumer behaviors.

Think like your COVID-weary customer—what is giftable this year? As Nielsen points out in their recent article on the consumer types retailers can expect this year, “From a necessity that can no longer fit the budget, to a product that has been harder to get in stores this year, the definition of a ‘gift’ will look very different this year.” Help shoppers understand how your product/service delivers comfort, entertainment, security, or is otherwise a necessity for that special someone in their life.

  • Use all of the tools available to expand and add interest to your search results.
  • Upload new photos and videos often.
  • Use Google Posts to highlight promotions, in-store and virtual events, products and services, etc.
  • Make sure your on-page SEO is on point and that pages have proper schema markup.
  • Work closely with your paid search team to ensure your organic and paid strategies complement, not cannibalize, one another.
  • Keep it interesting and get more traction across channels by switching up your content types.

4. Focus on creating experiences

Consumers have been spending significantly more time watching and reading the news, participating in hobbies, and engaging with TV, movies, and games at home. They are hungry for experiences to fill at least some of the void left by closed restaurants, shuttered concert venues, canceled events, and the inability to travel.

Even outside of the influence of the pandemic, the customer experience was expected to surpass product and price as the key brand differentiator. Regardless of how much thought or planning you put into it, customers are having an experience with your business. It’s a worthwhile place to focus your efforts on the eve of this holiday shopping season.

July 2020 survey insights from YouGov show that consumers have been engaging with product demonstrations, pop-up shops, and installations. Some of these experiences translate naturally online—product demonstration videos, for example. Events you used to hold in-store could work as Facebook Lives or omnichannel promotions.

Focus on creating smooth omnichannel experiences to rule holiday season with SEO

Give traditionally local shoppers ways to engage, such as QR codes in the window to drive them to an online experience when in-store shopping is not possible (perhaps preferable for them).

Whatever the format and channel, think about the experience you are curating for your audience. How do you show them you are invested in their satisfaction and happiness? How do you facilitate their moving from one piece of content or channel to the next? How do you capture and keep their interest?

Think of your customer interactions not as touchpoints but within the context of their overall shopping journey. Grow My Store is a tool from Google that assesses any retail site, whether for an online or a physical store and brings back recommendations to help improve the customer experience.

5. Highlight your local relevance

Recent Yahoo! Small Business Research found that the vast majority of shoppers (75% of those surveyed) want to shop at and support small businesses. Another survey, this one by Alignable, found that 32% of respondents said they would be spending more money at locally owned businesses in Q4 2020.

How do you make your local relevance clear to shoppers and the search engines you rely on to get you in front of them?

  • Make sure all locations are claimed, verified, and optimized.
  • Localize your content. Engage audiences with on-location photos and video. Refer to local landmarks, get involved in local events and organizations, and build links from within the local community.
  • Do local keyword research and optimize your listings, landing pages, and website.
  • Make clear the fulfillment options you offer local customers: BOPIS, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery.
  • Make the most of your local reviews with close monitoring, rapid response, and highlighting positive reviews across other channels.

Use Google’s Local Opportunity Finder to quickly assess your local presence and get tips and hints for optimizing your GMB.

If you want to keep nearby shoppers off Amazon and away from major box stores this year, focus on meeting customers where they’re looking for products and services like yours: in local search. Keep them reading and browsing out of entertainment, not in an effort to find information that should be readily available. Proactively head off concerns about payment methods, COVID precautions, special hours, and more by keeping your site and local listings up to date.

This promises to be an unusual shopping season for many. Local essential is for small retailers and local SEO for multiple locations is vital for enterprises and Now that you can’t count on previous experience, it’s critical to tap into your search insights.

Customers are telling you what it’s going to take to win their business. Are you listening?

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge, the leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform.



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