Last week I wrote a post detailing what you need to know about recent updates to Google local search. From changes to the Local Pack and Google+ to isolated testing with review filtering and sponsored listings, Google has been making some substantial updates to the way businesses can rank in their local markets.

While last week’s post was rather in depth and a lot to take in, I wanted this week’s post to make local search a little less overwhelming while giving you a more personal glimpse of the storEDGE team. I met with Lydia Fuqua, our local search specialist, to learn how she approaches local search, what mistakes storage operators are most commonly making, and what predictions she has for the future of self storage SEO. Check out our interview below and let us know if there are any other aspects of local search that you’d like us to cover more on the storEDGE blog!

Amy: I’ll just jump into it. How do you keep up to date on changes that happen in local search and Google Maps specifically?

Lydia: I spend a ton of time on different blogs. That’s the easiest way for me to stay in touch. I follow what’s going on in Google Forums, but there’s also many different local search blogs or marketing blogs that have a local search component to them. I spend a lot of time reading and watching webinars with organizations like LocalU. There’s also Mike Blumenthal, who’s known as “Professor Maps.” He’s the go-to guy for Maps issues. I’ve actually corresponded with him for certain projects, and I follow his blog and webinars. I also highly recommend Linda Buquet and Search Engine Land.

I’ve set up Google Alerts for topics related to local search. I get blog posts sent to my inbox every day, sometimes two or three times a day. I try to peruse the web and see what’s going on, because local search is much more extensive than you would ever imagine. It’s crazy how complex it is and how many things go into the process of visibility in Maps.

Amy: I bet. I jumped into it last week and was surprised by how many different aspects of SEO it affects.

Lydia: Especially because of the constant updates. There have been a lot of them in the last month. I have a lot of articles that I bookmarked for you so that you could get a good headstart on what’s going on. I can send you those after this.

Amy: Thank you! That’s awesome. The next question I have has two parts to it. What are some things that you want storEDGE clients to know about what you do? And then, if it’s any different, what do you want non-clients to know? People who would maybe just stumble onto the blog and not know anything about us.

Lydia: I think it’s important for our clients to understand the relevance of local ranking, what it means to to be found in Google Maps, and how claiming their listing really does impact their business. It’s a way to be verified and recognized as a business that users want to utilize. It starts with something as simple as claiming a local listing.

I do whatever I can to make sure that process goes as smoothly as it can and as painlessly as possible for our clients, because it is tricky and Google isn’t exactly transparent. There are situations where it gets particularly hairy because self storage facilities change hands so often. Some of the practices that Google utilizes make it tough for local listings to be claimed and verified in this industry. But my number one goal is to get each client’s Maps listing claimed, verified, and updated so that they can start to generate traffic to their website. My top priority is the client and making sure their business is seen.

And to the people who aren’t clients, no matter what kind of business owner you are, it’s so important to recognize the value of local search and what it can do for your business. It’s crazy how something as simple as a map pin can make a difference in the kind of traffic you get and ultimately the revenue you generate.

One other thing I would say for self storage folks is don’t forget about Bing and Yelp. Google is obviously the authority on search and there’s no way around that. But there are other areas where we’re generating traffic for our clients as well. I think Bing has something like 20% of the search market share, so it’s bigger than you think.

Amy: Yeah, especially for being so new.

Lydia: Definitely. Are they going to take over Google? No, probably not. But it is out there.

Amy: And it’s still 20% of searches, so you wouldn’t want to miss that.

Lydia: Right, for sure.

Amy: Your answers are great so far! You started jumping into this topic, so I wanted to know: In your opinion, what role does local search play in the self storage industry specifically?

Lydia: It’s the key that opens the door between a business and their customers. It all starts with that listing pulling up when a user performs a search query. When people go to search for self storage, that local listing is going to connect them to your facility, so it all begins with that. That’s where the leads come from, that’s how storage facilities generate attention to their facility, and that’s how they get their business. That optimized local listing really opens the door to their business for customers looking for self storage.

Amy: And the local listings are displayed just above organic search results. So one thing I find important is just having your business listed and verified in Google Maps. It puts you above the fold, even above that top spot everyone is fighting for. Involving yourself in local search is such a simple way to get your business higher up on the page and closer to the eyes of the user.

Lydia: Exactly. Google just released a significant Maps update, showing three results in the Local Pack instead of seven. So now it’s even tougher to get recognized in the Local Pack. The competition is even stiffer, making it more important to claim and verify your listings.

Amy: How do they choose which three businesses show up in the Local Pack?

Lydia: The results come from an SEO algorithm designed to evaluate and determine the significance of your website. One of those factors is your local listing. It needs to be claimed and verified to signal to Google that you’re an open and active business where you say you are. Google checks that the information on your listing is all correct by comparing it to your website and various citations around the web. They look at the content of your G+ page, the activity on the page, and reviews of your business.

With this new update, a lot of businesses have seen fluctuations in their visibility in search results and they can’t figure out why, but the best thing to do is to keep posting content to your G+ page and to keep asking for reviews from your clients.

Amy: Yeah. Reviews on your G+ page are becoming super important for many different elements of local and organic search.

Lydia: Exactly. They’re really essential. What’s even more important than posting to your G+ page is getting those reviews because people trust people. If your clients say that you're good, people who are looking for storage will believe that and view those opinions as valid.

Amy: Anything that your customers say is more credible than anything your business would have to say.

Lydia: Yep, because your customers don’t have an end game. They don’t have anything to gain from supporting your business. It’s not like they’re getting rewarded for supporting you. So their opinions are powerful word of mouth.

Amy: Well, apart from the obvious mistake of not claiming and verifying listings, what are some common things that you’re seeing operators do that could be negatively affecting their rankings in search results? And what could they do to pump that up? I would assume not posting on their G+ page, not getting reviews, and maybe not responding to negative reviews.

Lydia: Yes, those are common mistakes. Another mistake is a lack of photos of the facility. Google pulls pictures from the internet to display on that bottom bar when you click on the map and view a business. If there aren’t photos of your facility out there, they won’t populate there. Users want to see and they want to be familiar with a business before they visit it. That means photos are essential.

There’s also a certain layout that is most optimal for a listing. The hours need to be correct, the web address needs to be there, and the description needs to be laid out in a very particular way. It needs to be thorough and describe the business to the best of its ability.

I think another thing would be inconsistent information across the web. We take a lot of care in ensuring that isn’t the case, but that’s something that could hurt a business owner. All of these aspects aren’t monumental, but they’re small things that, combined, could have a big impact on your site’s rankings and your business’ success.

Amy: Do you have any predictions about what’s going to happen with search in the future, whether it’s general self storage SEO or local search specifically?

Lydia: Based on what I’ve been seeing, I would expect to see organic results becoming more important and more sought after. With this new addition, or I guess subtraction, to the Local Pack, I would also assume that pay per click will probably become more important. Google has started inserting PPC ads above the 3-Pack, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google shift away from local listings and move toward charging a fee to have your listing displayed in the Local Pack, which would make organic results and your website’s SEO even more important.

That’s my anticipation. I know Google is testing it in some places. And the thing is changes to self storage searches generally occur about six months after an update is released. So we can see changes in the self storage industry anywhere from six months to a year from now, but it could be quicker. It depends on the success Google sees with what they’re testing now.

Amy: That’s interesting. Would you recommend storage operators, then, to watch other industries? It seems like they could expect to see those changes roll out to the storage industry down the line and it’d be nice to not be surprised by them.

Lydia: Yes. I try and keep an eye on the entertainment industry: restaurants, hotels, and businesses of that nature. The updates seem to hit those industries first, so watching those can give us an idea of what’s coming for self storage. I’d also recommend watching home service businesses. Changes to SEO usually hit them just before they affect self storage. You can watch the wave and prepare for the future.

Amy: In a way, it’s really nice that it rolls out so much later, then.

Lydia: Yeah.

Amy: Theoretically, storage operators could watch these trends and tweak anything they need before updates come down the pipeline.

Lydia: Mhmm, they can anticipate the changes and so can we at storEDGE, so when Google makes updates to self storage search rankings, businesses will be prepared. No matter what, it’s a very interesting time in local search because everything is up in the air right now. It could go in a lot of different directions.

Amy: Well, cool. Thanks so much for all this information! I love hearing your take on local search since you’re our resident expert on the topic. I think readers will find your perspective very helpful as they process all these changes.

Lydia: Of course. I’m happy to help! Thanks for meeting with me.

So, storage operators, what do you think of Google’s latest changes to local search? Has any of the information in this post and last week’s post surprised you? Is there anything you want to know more about? Leave us a comment with your thoughts below and we’ll address them here on the storEDGE blog!