Local SEO remains an important yet highly underused part of digital marketing.

According to Google, 50% of people who conduct a local search on their smartphone will visit a store within a day. Similarly, research by ComScore suggests that 56% of ‘on-the-go’ searches have local intent, while 78% of location-related mobile searches will result in an offline purchase.

Despite statistics like this, it appears many businesses are still failing to understand and properly execute local SEO programmes. The experts interviewed for Econsultancy’s Local SEO Best Practice Guide suggest that up to 90% of Google My Business (GMB) profiles remain unclaimed and unverified. This means that the businesses in question could be losing out on significant traffic to offline stores, office locations, and brand websites.

Local SEO Best Practice Guide

The good news is that as Google starts to take local intent more seriously – with localised search results now sitting directly above organic results – so too are brands and businesses. Google’s focus on local search is also giving way to new tactics and technologies that are worth thinking about alongside the basic technical optimisation of a website.

So, how is local SEO changing and what trends will impact it in future? Here’s just three to consider.

Live inventory feeds

Local information and directions can certainly be effective for converting search queries into actual sales, but perhaps only to a certain extent. The odds are likely to be much higher if real-time information is included on top, particularly details about inventory and stock.

This is where Local Inventory Ads come in, which is something Google has been testing within the Knowledge Panel in the past year or so. Essentially, Live Inventory Ads enable retailers to promote products available in their locations via inventory feeds submitted to Google, to users searching on both mobile and desktop.

Recently, Google has also teamed up with a start-up company called NearSt to take this one step further. Its live inventory technology connects to retailers’ point-of-sale systems to determine what it has in stock at any given time (as well as pricing information).

NearSt’s aim appears to be to bring the focus back to independent and local high street stores, which is something that has been noticeably lacking when it comes to online search results for products like books and household supplies. In this sense, as well as helping to engage searchers, this kind of technology can help local retailers to compete in a space largely dominated by the likes of Amazon.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is typically thought of in terms of gaming and other entertainment-driven apps like Snapchat. But AR technology is also relevant in the context of local search, largely because it could be used to help bring to life information relating to what’s around you.

For example, let’s take a typical local search query such as “where is the nearest pub?”. If a business has optimised their website for local SEO, it’s likely that it will appear in Google’s ‘local three-pack’ (which are the three local businesses displayed above organic results), along with other details such as opening times and directions.

With the addition of AR, however, the results could also include rich and detailed visuals of the location in question, its menu, or food and drink offerings. When it comes to engaging consumers – especially those searching on-the-go or in a moment of need – this could prove to be highly effective.

Alongside listings, AR could also help enhance navigation. With people often searching for directions as well as information, the technology can allow users to explore and navigate their way to a location with 3D visualisation.

Blippar’s AR City, an augmented reality map app, has already shown what this could look like. And as well as providing users with enhanced navigation tools, AR could also give businesses the chance to tap into insightful data, such as how customers move through a store or specific location. In turn, the technology can theoretically result in greater in-store sales (as well as online to offline conversions).

Tracking footfall to measure ROI

Despite Google’s increasing focus on local search, and subsequently the appearance of more relevant and contextualised search results, it can still be difficult for businesses to know whether this is transferring into sales and conversions. As such, gaining a real picture of ROI from local SEO is still something many struggle with, as well as to justify in relation to investment.

As it stands, the main way to track in-store footfall is with beacons and in-store sensors. However, it seems a very small portion of businesses are actually making use of this. (Just 10% according to research from Moz). But again, with Google’s growing focus on local SEO, this does look set to rise, especially if businesses begin to realise the potential of improving on and investing in local strategy. In the meantime, despite it still being difficult to join the dots between local SEO and conversions, there are other things businesses can do to track the effectiveness of strategy, such as monitoring click throughs and search ranking.

All in all, with recent research suggesting that over half of UK consumers want to shop locally rather than from large and online-focused brands – the time to invest in local SEO is very much now.

For more on this topic, subscribers can download Econsultancy’s Local SEO Best Practice Guide.