As the holiday season approaches, people start plotting their plan of attack for seasonal shopping. At the same time, merchants are too planning how to drive more of those customers to their store to make the most of the year’s most lucrative sales season. However, just as it’s important to drive customers to your online store, it’s equally important if you have a physical store to drive traffic in that direction also. A key way to do this is by employing a seasonal local SEO strategy.
Why local SEO is important for Black Friday and the holidays
Search engines are huge when it comes to discovery. In the last year, 93% of consumers say they used the internet to find a local business, with 34% searching every day. The importance of local businesses to users is made especially evident as a recent study suggests that more than a third of all SERPs in the US contain the local pack feature. This means that Google has determined these searches typically have search intent that suggests the user is most interested in a local business.
It isn’t just leading on discovery, but on action taken by search users who have this local transactional intent. According to Google, 76% of people who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a physical store within 24 hours and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. Customers’ shopping habits are also trending more toward omnichannel as their expectations change to prefer more fluid customer experiences. They know they can search online and find a product in store, or see a product on social media and purchase it there and then. Search is part of that omnichannel experience, and many in-store purchases will begin with search. Whether that’s finding out opening hours from Google, or purchasing online to collect in-store.
It’s also valuable as stores start to approach online order deadlines. The last-minute market is huge for those merchants with a brick-and-mortar store - in 2020, 64% of last-minute shoppers said they planned to shop in-store. As many as 79% of consumers also leave some of their holiday shopping to the last two weeks before Christmas, and search data also shows that terms including “store hours” peak on Christmas Eve. Having a local SEO strategy means you’ll be able to get an edge over your competitors, and grab the attention of those last-minute shoppers looking for a flexible, reliable store to shop with.
1 - Consider what your local customers want to know
Search engines are always concerned with showing their users information that’s going to be useful and relevant to their query. That means your content and SEO strategy should take this into account also, and that starts with considering what kind of information local search users will be looking for around the holidays.
The key information you should cover includes:
Stock availability - With fast moving stock over BFCM and the holidays, customers want to know the most up-to-date availability information so they don’t feel disappointed or as if they’ve wasted their time.
- Promotions and offers - Will you be running the same promotions in-store as online? If so, let customers know and equally inform them of any exclusive in-store promotions that may pique their interest.
Collections and pick-ups - As we approach the holidays, people shop in-store more so they can do so faster without relying on courier services and avoid order deadlines. Especially for last-minute gifts, they prefer to do this in a brick-and-mortar store. They’ll want to know if they’ll be able to collect an order if they order online, especially if this is after your order deadline.
Opening hours and holiday closures - There’s not much worse as a customer than rushing down to a store that appears to be open on Google, only to find closed shutters. They need to know if your opening hours will change over the holidays including extended shopping hours as well as any days you’ll be closed.
Customer support - Just as your online-only customers have questions, so too will your in-store customers. They want to know where they can go to find additional support for their purchases and how these will be handled.
- Returns and exchanges - Especially around the holidays, there are a number of reasons why a customer may need to return an item - incorrect sizing, duplicate purchases etc. How will these be taken care of in different situations e.g. purchase online, pick-up in store.
Understanding what information customers actually need and want will help you to better optimize your local SEO to attract your target audience. It means that if a user searches for “buy [product] near me” then it’s more likely that Google will determine your store to be a useful result as you have plenty of locally relevant information.
2 - Think about online-to-offline fulfillment
The way people shop relies on omnichannel more than ever, especially in the run up to the holidays where brick-and-mortar stores become busier. It’s important that you consider these purchasing journeys and the role your physical store will play. One way to set yourself apart from competitors is to offer and promote online-to-offline experiences that will better serve your local customers throughout the holiday season.
These options include “Buy online, pickup in-store” (BOPIS), which has seen significant growth in use over the past 12 months. To make it easier for customers, display stock availability and fulfillment options on product pages, as well as advertising the ability to collect in store in cart and checkout pages. As we get closer to the holidays, create site-wide announcement banners that let local customers know when collection options are available until.
Another complementary online-to-offline option to offer that will help your customers is “buy online, return in store”. It’s an option that to many customers makes sense; if they buy an item online and need to return it, they may want to do so if they’re local to the store in question. 92% of customers say they’re more likely to make a future purchase if the returns process is easy and 62% say that they’re more likely to buy online if they can return in store. Again, advertise this on key pages throughout your store such as product and cart pags, and ensure these options are made clear on your Google My Business listing.
These fulfillment options offer greater flexibility, better service, and an overall easier experience for your customers. They help them to avoid issues that can lead to frustration and disappointment, which then also have a knock-on effect on retention and loyalty. Especially if you already offer these O2O options, then you want local search users to know you offer these. When they search for where they can purchase items to collect curb-side, you want Google to rank your store above your competitors.
3 - Keep on top of your NAP and Google My Business profile
If you’ve ever searched for a local business, checked their opening hours, and went only to discover they’re closed, you’ll understand how frustrating it can be. Now imagine it’s Christmas Eve and you’re desperate to collect that last-minute gift you just ordered online. That stress and disappointment may mean you never want to shop from that store ever again, and leaves you in a tricky situation. That’s why it’s so important to keep your NAP (Name Address Phone number) and Google My Business profile up-to-date throughout the holidays.
Your NAP isn’t just relevant to your Google My Business profile and website. If you have a physical store, chances are it’s listed on more than just Google. Every industry has its third party directory sites where their business is listed and potential customers may visit those first. If your NAP is consistent across different trusted sites, this shows search engines that the information and therefore your business is trustworthy.
You’ll likely already know which directory sites your store is listed on, so go through these ahead of the holiday season and ensure they match up with your current operating hours and location. For example if you’ve recently moved premises or changed your opening hours or phone number, you’ll need to update these. This also applies if the site allows you to add seasonal hours.
Google My Business
What better way to target local SEO than to use the tools Google themselves created to help businesses? The best way to make the most of Google My Business is to fill in as many details as you can, and keep these updated throughout the holiday season.
Keep your description up-to-date, including a couple of your most important keywords. Use a neutral tone and keep it succinct and relevant.
- Add your products to your listing so that search users can get a snapshot of what you have in-store right within Google.
- Update with any seasonal opening hours and closures.
- Add any additional services or features you offer in-store that may add to the customer experience such as curbside pick-up.
- Answer questions in the Q&A section so customers get a more official response to their queries and any future search users will be able to see this information also.
Use Google Posts to share in-store sale activity, exclusive deals, unique holiday promotions such as gift wrapping, and any other relevant updates that customers would like to know like last-minute gifts available.
- Respond to reviews - more on this shortly.
Being proactive with your GMB profile is a great signal to Google that you’re active and engaged with search users in order to provide them with the most relevant and recent information. It also demonstrates to potential customers that you’re concerned with their interests and needs around the holiday season.
4 - Encourage and respond to local reviews
Whether it’s your ecommerce storefront or your physical brick-and-mortar store, reviews play a huge role in both SEO and customer experience. 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 94% say positive reviews make them more likely to visit a business. Around the holidays, customers will be paying even more attention to reviews as they try to decide which businesses they want to shop with.
However in order to reap the benefits of reviews for your store’s SEO, you first need to encourage customers to write them. The more reviews you can gather in the run-up to the holidays the better, as 73% of consumers say they only pay attention to recent reviews.
In order to gather reviews specifically about your physical store, you’ll need to create a separate review strategy. For customers who shop in-store you could include a review request on their receipt or a separate piece of printed marketing material included with their purchase. However a more ecommerce led option would be to ditch paper receipts in favor of email receipts, and this allows you to create an email segment for in-store customers to contact for reviews. Another segment you should create are customers who buy online for in-store collection. Target these segments asking them specifically about their in-store and online-to-offline experience. Please note that you cannot offer discounts or freebies in exchange for positive Google reviews, as this is against terms of service.
Once customers start leaving reviews, it’s time to demonstrate that you actually care that they’ve taken the time to write them. Responding to reviews shows search engines and potential customers that you’re a proactive and engaged brand. Customers generally trust Google reviews more so than on-site reviews, as brands cannot delete negative reviews. Therefore if someone does leave a negative review, it’s important to respond and attempt to explain and resolve the issue.
5 - Create local blog content and a landing page for the holidays
If your seasonal content plan doesn’t include something for your local customers, then you’re missing out on potential gains for your store’s local SEO. As with everything in search, search engines want to show their users the most relevant content possible. For your local customers, that will be what you’re doing over the holidays in your physical store. There may be slightly different promotions, extra services available, exclusive products, or in-store events. Whatever the case, you want them to know this information.
The best way to do this is by creating locally minded blog content, and a local landing page. Local blog content should focus on targeting long-tail keywords related to your local SEO strategy as well as seasonal keywords. For example if you’re usually targeting “canvas backpacks Boston” then you want to add some seasonal modifiers such as “canvas backpacks Black Friday Boston” or modifiers which target intent around local purchasing like “canvas backpacks collect in store Boston”. The content itself may be articles about what you’ll be doing in-store over the holidays, such as events, extra services, and any online-to-offline fulfillment options.
If you already have a local landing page, give it a seasonal spruce up by adding some extra information and seasonal content that your customers may want to know such as opening hours, in-store offers, and any upcoming events. If you do offer “buy online, pick-up in-store” then include details of that on this page for example how the process works, and until which date customers will be able to use this service ahead of the holidays. You should also include some recommended products based on store data for both in-store purchases and BOPIS orders.
Another consideration here is if you have several brick-and-mortar stores. In this case, if you haven’t already done so you want to create an overview page with summary information about your different locations. Include their opening hours, seasonal closures, and other information such as contact details and address. If every store will have the same in-store promotions, then add some seasonal information to this overview page with what those promotions will be and any extra services you’ll be offering in-store. Alternatively, you can create a seasonal landing page with all of your holiday promotional information and direct users to find their local store on a map or through a list included on the page. If every store will have different services and promotions, then create separate landing pages for these that branch off from your overview page. Be mindful of your site’s architecture and use SEO best practices when creating these new pages.
Your store and its potential for local SEO is vital to your brick-and-mortar success over the holidays. By having a seasonal local SEO strategy, you can help more customers discover your brand and bring them to your store to give them a memorable holiday shopping experience.