NAP, User Experience, and Local SEO
Most business owners are aware of the trend toward mobile usage, but another user behavior affecting search engine rankings is that users are increasingly searching across more than one device. In fact, the number of people using a single device has decreased from 32 percent to 14 percent (Google Consumer Barometer).
What does that mean for a local business and its position on a search engine results page?
It means that as users move between devices, parts of the Local Pack and local algorithms will change. The biggest factor is the proximity of the business to the searcher.
You are probably aware of the importance of building NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistency and its influence on your local rank. Particularly, establishing a consistent NAP to your Google My Business listing can have a profound effect on local search ranking.
Reasons for Inconsistent NAP
The main causes of inconsistent NAP are business changes and simple human error: changing a business location and not updating citations; having a store address and a registered business address and using both online; generating different phone numbers.
Not only will these errors have an effect on your search engine ranking, they can lead to poor user experience, which in turn leads to lost leads and lost sales. You should keep in mind that user experience doesn’t end at the local pack—it includes the business website and how the local journey is conducted.
Business owners know that tracking and reporting on the success of Internet marketing activities is crucial—you have to know what’s working and what’s not so you can duplicate successes and avoid failures—but there is a case for over reporting when it comes to local SEO.
NAP and User Experience
But a consistent NAP is important to more than just Google; you have to remember that the information is also being used by human beings. The are a part of what is called the user journey.
What is the User Journey?
The user journey begins when someone takes one of the following actions that will eventually lead to a purchase:
- Uses a search engine
- Visits a business or store
- Visits a retailer website
- Uses an app
- Uses a map
The user journey as it pertains to your business truly begins when a potential customer encounters your brand. This could be in the Local Pack, on the search results page (SERP’s), on a map, or at your physical location.
Obviously local search is a major catalyst as for many users, as the journey that will culminate with them becoming a customer begins when they search for a product or service online. Impressively, almost 80 percent of those who conduct a search with local intent will visit the physical location within twenty-four hours.
Because users can find a business through a variety of online portals—and these portals can vary according to the device from which they are searching—NAP consistency becomes more important than ever. As a business owner, you cannot assume that a user journey will begin at your Google My Business listing or website.
Search is the first place a user can encounter your brand personality, but it’s at the point that they click through to your content that they really begin to form an impression of your business.
Worthwhile Local Content is Critical
You can negate your Local SEO efforts if users land on a thin, haphazard local page when they click through.
Doorway pages—a page created for the sole purpose of ranking highly for a specific search query—offer little value to users. They are sometimes used to funnel visitors to the “actual” or relevant portions, of the site. Because doorway pages lead to a poor user experience, Google doesn’t like them.
Google’s 2016 Possum Update attempted to counter this type of poor user experience, because Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the best possible experience to its users. The takeaway here is that Google is trying very hard to punish those who game the system, and it is becoming increasingly to savvy to tactics such as using the same page for a variety of locations, with nothing changed but the city name.
What Does Good Local Content Entail?
Google defines content as either main content or supporting content, so when a user searches for a local business, it must break the query into main and supporting sections.
For example, assume a user searches for “Myrtle Beach Search Engine Optimization” There are two elements in this query. “Search Engine Optimization” is the main element, and “Myrtle Beach” is a supporting element. When Google’s algorithms decide which results to serve to a searcher, it takes both of these factors into consideration, and you should too.
Another example of this would be, assume a user searches for “Myrtle Beach Dentist SEO” There are two elements in this query. “Dentist SEO” is the main element, and “Myrtle Beach” is a supporting element.
So, your content should mirror this formula. Your main content should describe and discuss the service (or products) you offer: masonry. You can build local relevance around that core through local guides, resources, blog posts, and so on.
Many businesses use a unique phone number with every directory they submit their business to. It’s easy to see how this technique makes it easier to track ROI, but it can also lead to a lot of citations with an inconsistent NAP.
Some directories generate a Google My Business listing based off the data the business owner inputs, which leads to multiple GMB listings with different phone numbers and sometimes different pinned locations. It’s easy to see how this can become confusing for users who are faced with multiple listings, only one of which is correct. It is also forcing them to go to extra lengths to engage with your business – they have to somehow figure out which location is the real one.
A similar situation can arise when businesses create an additional phone number to divert spam callers to; the number ends up diverting people genuinely interested in the business as well.
The information above details how to avoid common pitfalls when it comes to NAP and user experience as it relates to local search and by extension, local lead generation and conversion. Much of it boils down to weighing the pros and cons of keeping a consistent NAP and using multiple phone numbers as a tracking tool. This comes down to user experience versus marketing. Similarly, creating spam local content, doorway pages, and so on is an example of prioritizing gaming the Google system over user experience, because you are forcing your users to wade through a page that is of little value to them.
There is value to some of these techniques, but it is often at the expense of user experience.