How Google is Hindering the Organic Growth of Local Startups
Let’s be honest—running a successful startup with a local market is not an easy proposition. As if simply generating the initial capital, building and maintaining good relationships with customers and vendors, and managing day to day finances weren’t difficult enough, there’s also the matter of getting your company’s name into the public eye.
When it comes to spreading information, the Internet is the king of marketing arenas. When consumers are looking for a particular product or service, they generally turn to Google, typing the name of what they seek into the popular search engine. The higher on the results a website is, the more likely it is to be seen, with the top listing receiving about 33 percent of the traffic. Traffic drops dramatically after that, with the second result only receiving 18 percent of traffic and the third spot receiving just between 12 and 13 percent.
Unfortunately, ranking in the top spots is difficult for local startups, as they are competing for those spots with large, national and international chains. Both the notoriety of those large chains and the amount of money they are able to pour into search engine optimization make it difficult for smaller, local companies to compete.
One advantage that local companies have in this arena is something called the “local stack,” “local pack,” or “stack pack.” Google reserves a chunk of space at the top of its results for options that are local to the user. The bad news is that it’s actually getting harder for local companies to grab those coveted top spots. Before October 2009, this local pack contained 10 results, but that year, it was reduced to seven. Then, in August of 2015, it dropped from seven to three.
In April of this year, Google began testing a further decrease, lowering the number of local results to just two and replacing the first of the original three replaced by a paid advertisement. Google has stated that nothing has been finalized on whether this change is permanent, but it does not bode well for local startups. Should this effect become permanent, local companies will now be competing for just two slots, meaning it will be that much more difficult to break into the top results.
The good news is that there are still ways for local startups to maximize their search engine results.
1. Keep Google’s primary ranking factors in mind
According to PatientPop, Google’s algorithm focuses on three main factors when determining its search result rankings: relevance, distance, and prominence. Each of these can have an impact on how high an organization appears in the results. Relevance applies to how well the organization matches the user’s search terms, and distance is based upon the organization’s physical proximity to the user. Both of these are improved by ensuring that your business’s information on its website and online accounts is up to date, so that Google can accurately assess these factors.
Prominence is the difficult factor here for startups, because organizations that are well-known rank more highly. It is far from impossible, however. This is where SEO best practices come into play. Organic link building, keyword research, and the production of high-quality content that will drive traffic to your site can make a big impact, even for local startups.
2. If you have multiple locations, give each location a distinct web page
Because proximity is one of the key factors Google looks for, you can boost your chances of being selected for the local pack by making sure that each location is distinct. If you only have your main location listed, but the user is several miles away from that site, your chances of showing up in their results are limited; however, you may have a satellite location within a mile or two. By creating a page for each site, you can make sure that Google will take note of those locations and share them with potential customers.
3. Optimize your website for mobile
Google keeps track of which websites are set up to work well on mobile devices, and it can impact your site’s ranking. In order to achieve this designation, make sure that your site is mobile-friendly. Avoid software that is not compatible with most mobile devices, arrange your links so that they can be accessed easily on a touchscreen, and size images and text so that they don’t require a lot of zooming or scrolling.
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