SEO 101: How Local SEO Changed in 2014 and How to Get Ready for 2015

Here’s an interesting piece of information you should be aware of as we head into 2015: Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times every year. As Moz points, however, that’s nothing to be worried about. Most of the time these are minor changes, but every now and then Google shakes things up significantly – think Google Panda and Google Penguin.

Regardless of the size of the update, Moz recommends marketers be aware of “the dates of these Google updates,” because it “can help explain changes in rankings and organic website traffic and ultimately improve search engine optimization.” And, since Google owns over 67% of the search engine market, whenever it does make a change, we have to pay attention.

While 2014 saw updates regarding Panda, as well as the removal of Authorship, it was also a very interesting year in regards to local search. This past year alone we experienced the launch of Google My Businesses, a major Pigeon update, and some significant changes with Carousel.

We’ll take a look at how these three changes have impacted local SEO and then provide a couple of tips to take with you into the next year.

Google My Business


Mark Mitchell notes on the BrightEdge Blog that “Google Places was first introduced with Google Plus (Google+) in 2011,” which became Google+ Local by 2012. This past June Google announced that this free service had been renamed to Google My Business.

Sarah Perez explained on TechCrunch that Google My Business is a suite of tools “for business owners, offering them a one-stop shop to update their business information, add photos, read reviews and, of course, use Google+.” The idea behind Google My Business is that business owners can easily update and increase their visibility on Google search, Google Maps, and Google+ through one dashboard.

In fact, as Ashley Zeckman states on SEW, you can now access the following applications on one screen:

  • Google+: You can share new text, photos, links, videos, and events.
  • Insights: Once you verify your business you are able to gain insights into your visibility, engagement, and audience.
  • Reviews: Each business is given a Google rating and you are able to manage your reviews on Google and view other reviews around the web.
  • Google Analytics: Quick access directly to your Google Analytics dashboard.
  • Start a Hangout: With the click of a button you can start or join a Hangout.

By the end of October the Google My Business App – available on both Google Play and iTunes – was beefed up so business owners could read and respond to online reviews. AsBusiness News Daily states, this means you’ll receive an alert whenever someone posts a review on Google+ Local and be able to respond to that review in a timely manner. The update to the app also works with AdWords Express so you can track ad campaigns from anywhere via your mobile device or login via desktop.

Key takeaway: Google My Business can be used by small business owners to engage their audience in one convenient location. Because of this, you can now respond to reviews quickly and keep your customers in the loop.



On July 24, Google turned the local SEO community on its head with the algorithm update, “Pigeon” – Jim Yu stated in SEW that many believed it was “the biggest Google update to the local search results since the Venice update in 2012.”  One of the biggest impacts was “directories were now being favored in the results above local businesses.” And while that may have been welcoming news for sites like Yelp, it wasn’t exactly a great day for top-ranked websites.

According to data from BrightEdge, via SEW, here were the industries hit hardest by the Pigeon update:

  • Jobs (68% decline in Google Places results)
  • Real estate (63% decline in the Google Places results)
  • Movies (36% decline in the Google Places results)
  • Insurance (11% decline in the Google Places results)

That’s not to say that it was all doom and gloom for business owners. The Pigeon update helped improve queries for the following:

  • Hospitality (28% growth in Google Places results)
  • Food (19% growth in the Google Places results)
  • Education (13% growth in the Google Places results)

Other winners included Spa (+4.64%), Shop (+4.32%), Law (+3.55%), Medical (+1.83%), Transportation (+1.31%) and Fitness (+1.12%).

What else did Pigeon have an effect on? According to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors 2014, it also changed the importance of ranking factors. Following the update, here are the ten most important ranking factors:

  • Domain Authority of Website
  • Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)
  • Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  • Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Landing Page URL
  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Maps Reviewers, etc)
  • Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  • City, State in Landing Page Title
  • Click-Through Rate from Search Results
  • Page Authority of Landing Page URL

Here are the factors that have decreased in importance:

  • Proximity of Address to Centroid
  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Individually Owner-verified My Business Page
  • Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  • Proximity of Address to Centroid of Other Businesses in Industry
  • Location Keyword in Business Title or Title Modifier
  • Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  • Quantity of Native Google Maps Reviews (w/text)
  • Geographic Keyword in Website URL
  • Proper Category Associations

Key takeaways: Despite all the changes with the Pigeon update, you shouldn’t neglect the four main areas of local: website, links, citations, and reviews. However, after a through 5,000 page case-study, Adam Dorfman shared the following on Search Engine Land: Pigeon has not improved SERPs, strong domains are important, location matters, and you shouldn’t over-optimize your site.



In June 2013, Google debuted the Carousel feature for desktop searches. These interactive, horizontal listings included images you could scroll if you searched for something like “Seattle restaurants.” Search marketer Matthew Hunt, via Search Engine Land, discovered that “48% of searchers surveyed clicked the Carousel results, while only 14.5% clicked on the map” in 2013. Because of the popularity of this feature, it was suggested that you should use high-quality images of your business.

That was all well and good until Google decided to start shifting away Carousel over this past summer. Instead, the Big G now prefers to have a format that more closely resembles mobile searches. By mid-November, local searches for hotels, restaurants or nightlife options were replaced by a “three-pack” of ads – Bing, however, is now using the interface for local searches. Lisa Raehsler, founder and principal strategist at online advertising company Big Click Co., informed SEW that:

“Clicking on the organic results leads to a new details page where initiating a second action, like hotel reservation search, is a sponsored ad. This opens up opportunities for SEO/PPC to be more integrated and see more interactive ad units in search results.”

Key takeaway: As Tom Dibble states on Econsultancy, “this move will affect your organic traffic ranking and volume of traffic,” especially if you’re in the hospitality industry. He also notes that “the new Local 3-Pack is going to make the lives of independent and boutique properties a bit more difficult.”

Local SEO Tips for 2015


To help you prepare your local SEO strategy for 2015, here are a handful of general SEO tips.

Be Mobile-Friendly

According to research conducted by Google, in conjunction with Nielsen, consumers are spending over 15 hours per week during research on their smartphones. As smart phone usage continues to grow, it only makes sense for your business to be mobile friendly. If not, competitors could take away 68% of your smartphone traffic.

Jay Taylor argues on SEW that having a mobile-friendly site can improve click-through rate and increase both rankings and revenue. To make sure your site is mobile-friendly you can use this handy tool from Google.

Optimize Google My Business

You also want to optimize your Google My Business. Google suggests you do the following:

  • Make sure your business location is entered correctly on the map
  • Double check your business name, physical address, and phone number(s)
  • Add information such as hours of operation and payment types
  • Add your official website on the local Google+ page
  • Use specific categories, keywords and descriptions of your business
  • Encourage reviews

Get Listed

Besides being listed on Google My Business, you should also be listed on the following business directories:

Moz has an extremely useful guide on how to get local citations if you need a little more assistance in this area. And, don’t forget to make sure that your N.A.P. is consistent as well.

Be Awesome

Here’s some simple, and effective, tips on how to be successful with local search in 2015 courtesy of Greg Gifford on Search Engine Land.

  • Have useful content on your homepage
  • Include relevant and informative content on every page
  • Stop spamming keywords
  • Your title tag should summarize the page
  • Include your city and state in your title tag, H1 heading, URL, content, and alt text on images
  • Earn quality links

In short, these tips aren’t all that different from the good ol’ fashioned local SEO tactics you’ve probably used in the past.

Stay Alert

Miriam Ellis created a 6-point Pigeon-proofing checklist for local businesses for Moz that starts off with this piece of advice, “Stay tuned in to local blogs and fora and monitor the SERPs on a regular basis to watch things progress in the coming weeks and months.” She says because “the dust has not settled” on the Pigeon update, you shouldn’t “react with a complete 180 in your marketing strategy.”

Was your local SEO campaign affected by any of these changes that Google implemented this year? If so, how did you react? And, how are you planning your local SEO strategy for 2015?

LinkedIn Reveals Top 25 Skills Of 2014, SEO In The Top 5

LinkedIn recently revealed the top 25 hottest skills of 2014, which was determined after analyzing data in over 330 million LinkedIn member profiles to determine which were the most in-demand skills.

Some good news for those of us in the SEO industry— our skills came in at number 5! Marketing, programming, and other web-related skills also made up much of the top 25.

Here is the full list:

The 25 Hottest Professional Skills Of 2014

1. Statistical Analysis and Data Mining
2. Middleware and Integration Software
3. Storage Systems and Management
4. Network and Information Security
5. SEO/SEM Marketing
6. Business Intelligence
7. Mobile Development
8. Web Architecture and Development Framework
9. Algorithm Design
10. Perl/Python/Ruby
11. Data Engineering and Data Warehousing
12. Marketing Campaign Management
13. Mac, Linux and Unix Systems
14. User Interface Design
15. Recruiting
16. Digital and Online Marketing
17. Computer Graphics and Animation
18. Economics
19. Java Development
20. Channel Marketing
21. SAP ERP Systems
22. Integrated Circuit (IC) Design
23. Shell Scripting Languages
24. Game Development
25. Virtualization

It’s interesting to note that LinkedIn released a similar list last year which saw social media marketing and mobile development in the top 1 and 2 positions. Now social media marketing is nowhere to be found, and mobile development fell to number 7.

Here’s what this year’s report had to say about SEO/SEM in particular:

“Marketing is back in vogue. Interestingly, another quite popular profession on the list is marketing. The focus this year was on SEO/SEM specialists, campaign managers and digital marketers – it sounds like companies are focusing on improving the performance of their efforts and focusing on digital innovation.”

LinkedIn’s report of the top 25 skills also offers a breakdown of the most sought after skills in each country. You can view the full report here.

New Year’s Resolution E-Commerce: 4 Insights From Bing Ads

Following the holiday season, many people invite positive change into their lives as they resolve to kick off the New Year with a fresh start.  And they willing to pay for it, ringing up $5.6 billion in resolutions. New Year’s rings out with opportunities for marketers as well, as they empower people work to make their dreams a reality – or at least drop a few pounds in the process. The weight-loss industry will see the greatest spend annually at $20 billion in revenue.

While nearly half of Americans (45%) usually make a New Year’s resolution, by the end of the first week, only 75% have kept their resolutions.  Needless to say, timing is critical for marketers.

The top New Year’s resolutions from last year include:[1]

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Stay fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

As you resolve to up your digital marketing game this New Year’s season, here are considerations to ensure your campaigns stay fit and healthy like those New Year’s resolutions. (And for more insights, see the SlideShare presentation at the bottom.)

1. How To Design A Winning New Year’s Season Ad Strategy

To design an effective campaign, it is important to understand the search habits and shopping behaviors of consumers during the New Year’s season. Our research shows that New Year’s-related searches begin in December and remain strong through January.

While people generally begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions as December draws to a close, their behavior and search activity is different depending on the type of resolution.

Fitness – Fitness searches on tablets and desktops was strong in both December and January, jumping within the week before Christmas and again around the first week of the new year. Some of the most popular searches on the Yahoo Bing Network were for Planet Fitness gym and Lululemon. [2]

Fitness Searches_SEJ_4

Weight loss
– Search volume increases a few days before Christmas, with strong volume throughout the month of January. Most popular searches on the Yahoo Bing Network included Weight Watchers and Garcinia Cambogia (a dietary supplement). [2]

Weight Loss Searches_SEJ_4

Smoking cessation – These searches surge a couple of days before Christmas and continue to grow and remain strong in January. The most common searches were around Chantix and quit smoking on the Yahoo Bing Network . [2]

Smoking Cessation_SEJ_4

2. Get in shape with new trends in fitness – like wearables

This year fitness wearables, apps, and mobile devices will be important players in the fitness game. Nearly half of internet users in the U.S. (48%) would use a fitness device to improve their overall health, while 41% specifically would keep an eye on their nutrition and diet. [3] With an increasingly robust selection of health and fitness tools that allow people to monitor their sleep, stress, diet, and exercise, consumer behavior and habits are sure to follow suit.

3. Design your mobile strategy – more fitness searches take place via mobile

Mobile traffic is exploding. In fact, on mobile devices, more post-holiday fitness searches take place via mobile, whereas the search activity trends for smoking cessation and weight loss are similar to the desktop. [2] Having a device strategy can help you reach prospects at the right time with the right contextual message.

Mobile continues to be a strong influencer on in-store purchases, especially in the personal improvement game. They play a role in 50% of purchases of sporting goods, games and hobby materials; mobile influenced 35% of health and personal care dollars spend in stores. [3]

With 70% of mobile conversions occurring within five hours of mobile search, digital marketers have a tremendous opportunity at their fingertips.[4]

4. Leverage Key Tools For Campaign-Building

Whatever your objective this New Year’s, be sure to take advantage of some of the tools offered by Bing Ads and Google to give your ads greater impact. Numbers show that about 19 million people used the Yahoo Bing Network for some 85 million health-related searches; an opportunity to reach 34% of your potential health and wellness customers,[5] and at a lower average cost-per-click than Google.[6]

For marketers in this space, the opportunities are ready and waiting.

  • To highlight key information in your products or site, check out Sitelink extensions. These additional links in your ads that take people to specific pages on your website and can boost click-through-rates by 12% within the retail category and 8 percent within the health and wellness category.
  • To help drive foot traffic into your store, use call extensions in conjunction with location extensions. Your phone numbers will be displayed as well as directions to help customers find your store. And don’t forget to layer in location targeting to ensure optimal customer experience and the most relevant leads.
  • Test ad copy early, beginning in early December, and then select the terms that perform best. Remember to use dynamic insertions in your ads, which allow you to offer searchers more relevant text while using a single ad for multiple keywords. Additionally, you should employ a clear call to action, such as: “Contact us today for a custom diet plan.” During the New Year’s season, shoppers are often looking for a deal, so make sure to highlight offers.
  • Finally, Product Ads allow you to showcase your product online, including a relevant product image and product details.

Start the New Year right by crafting search campaigns that help both you and your customers achieve your goals this New Year. Cheers to a new year of digital opportunity!


For additional vertical and seasonal insights, check out our New Year’s seasonal insights deck on SlideShare.

[1] University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2014

[2] Microsoft Internal Data, December 2013 – January 2014

[3] eMarketer Healthcare survey, April 2014

[4] Microsoft Research, Telmetrics mobile path to purchase study, 2013

[5] comScore qSearch (custom), US, June 2014

[6] AdGooroo, Google Adwords vs. Yahoo Bing Network – Average Cost per Click by Industry, Q1 2014