If Google Is So Smart, Do I Still Need Local SEO?


Many are the articles that dare to speculate whether SEO and Local SEO in particular have already become obsolete or inadequate to the ever-changing Google search environment. Titles like:

  • “Is SEO Dead?”
  • “Is Technical SEO Only Makeup?”
  • “Do I Still Need Local SEO?”

...are constantly popping up on industry blogs and news sites and confuse SMBs as to how up-to-date their digital marketing strategy is.

Believe it or not, all of those posts are noting but fluff. It is easy to take someone’s fear (in this case the fear of not being able to catch up with Google’s algo updates, requirement innovations, AI revolution) and use it to your advantage to get your 15 minutes of fame. But in the end that’s about all such articles can achieve.

Google being smart and you having spotless online presence are two quite separate things.

You need to understand Google’s priority list. Let me tell you a ‘secret’: the well-being of your business is not at the top of that list. Google is not being smart with the sole purpose of helping your business rank high in Local SERPs, right on the contrary. It is trying to find your weak spots and actually assess whether you are worthy of showing up at the top.

You need to prove your worth, you need to do it on a daily basis, and you need to do it better than your competitors … well, and better than the spammers in your vertical.

The last one is quite a challenge even for a diligent SMB owner who has a history of quality performance, excellent customer support and feedback. And that’s exactly why your business needs an extra boost.

Let’s discuss whether in the modern world of search you still need Local SEO and why is that so:

Google Is Smart, Google Spammers Are Smarter

Google is smart. As a worldwide preferred search engine (with few country exceptions), it has elaborated a strict system of quality guidelines according to which it assesses the actual value of the available online resources. The so-called ranking factors used by Google are in their majority revealed to the public, though their exact weights are still open for speculation.

And as many ‘smart’ techniques Google uses to weed out the real and authority websites from the fake and low quality ones, it faces constant opposition by a wave of online hackers and spammers, who try to earn money on the expense of random loopholes in its algorithm.

It is OK to trust Google to fight the spam in its own search results, but it is really naïve to believe that it is successfully managing all the threats, spam campaigns, the unfair competition, and hacker attacks against regular sites.

There is always a ‘smart geek’, who prefers to employ his skills into tricking the system for quick and lucrative profit. We see it all the time in Local Search: verticals like locksmiths, cleaning, plumbing, and even high-end niches like legal advice and representation are overspammed. As a result common SMBs find it almost impossible to attract first page leads without investing in AdWords or into partnering with lead generation companies, the listings of which are already ranking on top of the given local search results.

Google is indeed quite active when enforcing penalties aiming at such spammers. Unfortunately such campaigns have a lot of casualties and often affect regular businesses that don’t understand how to properly manage their online presence, than real spammers who actually try to trick the system. What is even sadder is that spammers quickly rise from the ashes and switch to another strategy to revive their fake empire, while the standard local SMB victims struggle with months of zero SERP representation, inbound traffic, calls and leads.

So while you calm yourself to sleep with the notion: “Google is smart,” be honest with yourself and plan accordingly because spammers are often smarter. Can you risk it all, do nothing and hope that Google will figure out that you ranking on 2nd or 3rd page of local search is due to the numerous fake local businesses that have gamed their way to the top? I hope not.

Google Maps Are A Mess

Google Maps are a mess. Even Googlers admit it.

"Maps is a mess. It’s known at the highest levels, but we don’t talk about it publicly"

Google’s reluctance to invest reasonable resources into the Maps project opens it up to constant hacker raids and spammer attacks. There’s much to be said about Google maps spam, the most important of which is that countless fake business listings dominate the local SERPs. As a result the unaware online users fall victim and get ripped off by those unvetted and unliecensed contractors. What s more, the legitimate local companies start losing their business due to the decreased site traffic and inbound calls (which are stolen by the fake practitioners).

Bryan Seely has been a Google top contributor and for years has been trying to fight the persistent map spam. His efforts and tips though were not recognized by Google. Disillusioned by the search engine’s lack of interest in protecting the quality of its map service he tries to reveal publicly how easy it is to fake one’s way into the top local results. Again his improvised ‘cry for help’ meets no adequate reaction.

He even structures a list of advisable strategies to resolve the map spam problem in his recent book: Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies , but still there is no evidence of whether his work has reached its target audience (Googlers).

Map Spam is still an issue and your business could find it really hard to rank in the local search, especially if you are operating in one of the hot verticals mentioned above. Do you need Local SEO to boost your business above that unfair competition - I’d leave that decision at your discretion.

Google Starts To Aggressively Monetize The Local Results

Google starts to aggressively monetize the most lucrative of its search niches: the local search.

What started as home service ads for local businesses like plumbers, cleaners, electricians and so on is now revamped to a top organic local search result, saying “Call Google to find a trusted local …”

Both ad formats completely replace the standard local pack, so any attempt to pop up and grab the attention of the online user, if you are not paying for top placements, becomes harder than ever.

Then there are the ads above the local pack called ads of nearby businesses and the ads within the local pack, due to which the standard 3 pack is now known as 2pac (1 ad listing + 2 local listings).

But wait there is more: let’s not forget the “promoted pins” in Google Maps and the standard ads on top of the search results that grew from 3 to 4 earlier this year.

In such ad-heavy SERPs the non-paid standard local results are hard to be reached, let alone noticed if your business is way behind your competitors. Adequate Local SEO strategy is what can give your local business the edge and the ability to emerge from the cloud and reach its target audience, not Google.

Google is smart to profit from its local search, so instead of leaving the fate of your business in Google’s hands, be smart too and invest in a contingency plan: your own Local SEO strategy.

* Adapted lead image: Public Domain Dedication (CC0) Public Domain, pixabay.com via getstencil.com

About the Author: Nevyana Karakasheva

Nevyana Karakasheva is a digital marketing strategist at OptiLocal - an SEO agency, specializing in Local SEO. Nevyana often shares her experience of Content Marketing, Reputation Management, Local SEO and Link Management in her posts here at SEP and on other respected industry blogs online.


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