Driving Organic Growth Through Locations
We’ve been managing digital marketing for healthcare and retail clients for many years. About two years ago, we saw a shift in how search engines were presenting results—location and proximity were clearly becoming significant signals, particularly for service-based businesses.
Today, we see this shift in full effect as mobile phones drive new behaviors and expectations of consumers. Mobile phones are constant companions, being used to find everything from an open seat at a nearby restaurant to the closest immediate care clinic. Marketers need to understand the impact of these changing expectations on their marketing programs, and on their digital properties.
As Kevin Madden explains, “For service businesses, there are no longer “head” keywords as search results become more local.”
Google has long been testing new ways to provide the most relevant search results to users. With mobile phones and the plethora of personal information gleaned from search histories and social profiles, we’re exposing our intentions before we even get search results. Google can understand intent from search queries and use that to determine the most relevant result.
This brings us to the combination of a query about a service and the location of the user.
In early 2015, we crafted a strategy for one of the largest healthcare systems in the US that resulted in significant organic growth. The strategy centered on a site redesign that organized content around locations rather than service lines. This was a major shift in the structure of the site and the user journey it created.
The results were immediate and telling. Here is how our strategy unfolded:
1. Organize Content Around Locations
Once upon a time, websites were optimized to target top-level (head) keywords like “oncology.” At a practical level, this meant optimizing a single page or top-level category. But this type of targeting, especially for service business with locations, no longer works.
Why? Because Google now considers the context of a search, and not just the keyword phrase. The algorithm has moved well beyond the “what” and now accounts for the “who”, “when”, “where” and “how.” A user’s location, the way the query is phrased, and the user’s own search history are all heavily weighted signals. As Kevin Madden explains, “For service businesses, there are no longer “head” keywords as search results become more local.”
For a business offering similar services across many locations, this is a major shift in thinking. Instead of optimizing one page for your service, you now must optimize hundreds, if not thousands of pages for your service. Not to mention the social profiles that are needed for each… but I digress. Back to the strategy.
2. Traffic Shifts Quickly to Location Pages
The effect of this change was immediate. From the moment the new design was launched, traffic shifted immediately from the service pages to the locations pages. This is interesting and important for several reasons.
First, there was almost no delay in the shift. Google immediately understood the change and responded in kind. While we weren’t surprised that the shift happened, seeing it happen so quickly was eye-opening (and reassuring).
Second, this created a better user experience on the site. Instead of trying to find the location for the service, users immediately landed on the location page for that service. This meant that users could more quickly find what they needed and start booking their appointment.
3. Location Pages Drive Growth
Finally, because these pages were more relevant in Google’s “mind,” they began to garner more organic traffic than their service page counterparts had done before the shift. This drove overall organic traffic growth to the site.
4. Overall Growth Accelerated
Driven by the increased visibility of the location pages, total organic traffic increased. Even though we saw declines to other parts of the site, those declines were more than offset by gains from the location pages.
5. A Better User Experience
An unexpected result was that the home page, easily the most trafficked page on most sites, saw modest decline in traffic during the same period. We believe this is a result of Google now presenting deeper location pages for queries that were once dropped on the home page. Google now has better pages to land users on, and that typically means a better experience.
Location, Location, Location
As Google continues to shift toward a “mobile first” paradigm, proximity and location are the clear winners. With those signals in mind, every service-based business with locations needs to carefully consider how their content is organized.
So what do you do about this shift?
If you are a service business and you have locations, make them a central part of your search strategy. Take a long look at every location page on your site (or that should be on your site) and shift accordingly.
And if that fails, give us a call.