The growing trend of near-me queries in SEO
Of all the SEO search engine trends we are seeing take off in 2018, the biggest and most important by far is the search engine trend of capturing near-me queries. There has been a huge growth in these search engine terms and SEOs are finally waking up to the huge potential in terms of traffic that these searches can bring.
What are “near me” searches?
You’ve probably used a near-me search recently in a search engine. These are the searches someone makes when they are looking for a particular business or service near them. For instance, if you were in a new city, you might search for “restaurants near me” in a search engine at lunchtime or “coffee shops near me” if you want your daily fix. Rather than search for a specific place, such as Seattle or Pike Place, you search for the general phrase “near me” and rely on Google’s search engine to determine your location.
Are these searches becoming more common?
These kinds of searches are becoming more common. A quick look at Google search engine trends proves this beyond all doubt.
As you can see from the graph above, near-me queries started gaining popularity in the search engine in 2015 and haven’t stopped since. They are now vastly more popular than other local searches such as “nearby” and “nearest”. Not only does this graph show just how much this search term has grown in popularity, it also shows just how important the “near me” term is compared to other locally focused terms. There is no point trying to rank for “nearby” or “nearest”. All the effort should be put into ranking for near-me queries. This does make it simpler from an SEO perspective as we only need to focus on one term. But it also makes it much more competitive.
You better believe that at least some of your competitors are already starting to take advantage of this SEO trend. While smaller businesses will be the last to catch on, huge internet companies have already jumped on the bandwagon. Just look at this part of TripAdvisor, which is blatantly taking advantage of this new search term.
This may be overload but TripAdvisor thinks it is worth doing. The question isn’t, therefore, whether you should be doing this kind of optimization. It’s how you should do it.
How to rank for near-me queries
Naturally, there has been a lot of talk in the SEO community about how to rank for near-me queries. Like with most SEO chatter, there are some things we agree with and some things we disagree with. Anyone who has worked with us before knows that we like to forge our path in the SEO world. That’s why below we’ll recount the general advice when it comes to ranking for near-me queries and provide our insight into what works and what doesn’t. That way, if you’re a client you can see why we aren’t doing something you may have heard of and if you are thinking about becoming a client you can see the amount of thought we put into campaigns. We don’t just blindly follow the consensus.
Add “near me” to the title tags of your location pages
One of the recommendations made by many SEOs is to add “near me” to the title tags of any location page. The idea here is to trick Google’s search engine into ranking sites for the “near me” term rather than the actual location that the user is searching from. We don’t believe that this is a viable tactic. Nor do we believe Google’s search engine will fall for this for very long. Rather, we recommend optimizing for the overall location to give websites two bites at the cherry: one for users searching for that specific location and another for users using “near me” but searching from that area. We trust Google’s search engine to correctly work out where a user is searching from and use that location when ranking websites.
Add “near me” and popular keyword variants to the text of these pages.
As well as adding “near me” to the title tags of pages, many SEOs recommend adding near me” and other popular keyword variants to the text of these pages. While we don’t think there is any need or use in adding “near me” to title tags given the way that Google’s search engine works, there might be use in adding “near me” and similar terms to the body copy. In our opinion, this will very much be a client-by-client approach. What works for one may not work for the other and there is no sense spamming your website copy with near-me queries if it doesn’t work. If you’re a client, you can trust us to only use this tactic if we believe it will work for you.
Get backlinks to your location pages with geo-specific anchor text
A third proposition that many SEOs make is to add geo-specific anchor text to backlinks. This is slightly hard to control but the idea is that the more backlinks to your site that contain your geographic location, the more Google’s search engine will associate your site with this location. Backlinks are still the single biggest ranking factor for Google’s search engine so it makes sense that including a location in the anchor text can make the even more powerful. We agree with this point of view and are actively working to achieve this for a number of our clients already. The benefit of this is two-fold. Not only does it achieve more backlinks to your website (thereby increasing its overall rankability), but it also increases the chance of Google’s search engine associating specific locations to your site when it analyzes backlinks.
Add “near me” to the anchor text of the internal links to these pages
While getting locations to be included in the anchor text of backlinks is tricky, unless you are creating poor-quality backlinks yourself, adding “near me” to the anchor text of internal links is something you can do yourself. That’s why many SEOs also suggest using this as a tactic. As with the recommendation above, we agree. TripAdvisor has already started using this tactic and we can take this as proof of its effectiveness. From our research, we believe that it is particularly powerful on your store location pages if you are a multi-location brand.
Other ways to rank for local near-me queries
The methods discussed above centre around ways to actively target near-me queries by using the terms in content or throughout the site. But other broader methods can help websites rank for “near me”, “nearby” and other local searches. We provide our opinion on them below.
Have a mobile-friendly website
Most of these local-based searches are made on mobile devices, whether the user is speaking to Siri or typing in the search on Safari or Chrome. As Google’s search engine shifts to a mobile-first results page, the consensus is that websites need to be mobile-friendly to get found. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly it will be much harder to rank for these hyper-local terms.
Our view: We wholeheartedly agree with this opinion. We have long pushed for our clients to have mobile responsive websites—long before Google’s search engine effectively made it mandatory. We know the power of mobile-friendly websites and make sure all of our clients have them.
Complete and optimize Google My Business profiles
When searching for local businesses, many searchers will turn to the local map pack first. That makes appearing in those top three places incredibly important. Completing and optimizing a business’s Google My Business profile gives them the best chance of appearing in those results. That means completing all of the information on there, providing images and getting reviews for your business.
Our view: Again, this is a strategy we completely agree with. We also believe in going one step further and using the information from your Google My Business profile to list your business on relevant online directories that can also help you appear in the map results.
Create more local pages and landing pages
If you want to be found locally, you need to have local-focused content on your website. It makes sense, right? The more local-focused blog posts and landing pages you have, the more Google’s search engine will associate your business with these areas and rank you higher in related searches as a result. It’s not just enough to have “near me” in title tags, you need to have the actual target area (Tacoma, for example) in the content and throughout your site as well.
Our view: As anyone who has worked with us knows, this is one of the things we are very hot on. We don’t just make sure you have area-focused landing pages, and blog posts that contain target areas throughout, we go one step further and make sure your social media profiles and any other online properties target these areas too. That way you have the very best chance of ranking locally and for near-me queries in these areas as a result.
As you can see, we certainly don’t agree with everything the SEO community has to say about near-me queries. But we do believe that a lot of websites will be able to benefit from optimization for them. As with everything we do, the merits of this optimization will be made on a client-by-client basis to ensure that we only implement things that are right for each client. We never make sweeping changes or jump on trends for no good reason. When you work with us, you can be sure that we have carefully thought about how every SEO trend affects your business. For more advice on near-me queries or for a consultation on how we can help your business get higher in the rankings, please feel free to get in touch today.