The holiday season is here, and with it, challenges for local businesses. Kanika Thakran, former SEO Director with Milestone Internet Marketer, has tons of actionable local SEO advice for this season.
This holiday season is unique for local businesses due to the pandemic. Kanika provides a slew of actionable ideas that both reflect the foundational local tactics you should always include and 2020 specific suggestions that will help you stand out this year when it’s more important than ever.
Gear up, strap in, and prepare because this is the information you need if you’re going to help your clients compete.
- [1:56] Four areas of focus.
- [15:43] A two-fold strategy for leveraging reviews.
- [18:33] Inspiration for the upcoming season.
- [23:14] Kanika’s causes.
Four areas of focus for Local SEO holiday preparations
Right now, all holiday preparations are happening in the context of the pandemic.
Kanika notes that this has hastened the pace of some changes, but certain things remain the same. To get the most out of your Local SEO holiday prep, she urges marketers to focus their attention on four distinct parts of the process.
#1 - The basics
“When I look at the basics, I’m talking about your technicals.”
What does she mean by technicals?
“You’ve got to have a good, strong, technical website. It should load fast, be secure, be mobile friendly. All those good things still matter.
Your content needs to be unique. It can’t be the same content you used last year, or what your competitors are doing. Schemas. Structured data is super important. All of these things still matter. You’ve got to do all these things straight in order to have a minimum benchmark to compete for this holiday season.”
When she speaks of basics, she’s also speaking of off-page basics like your GMB page.
At the recent Whitespark Local SEO Summit, one of the topics covered there were local search ranking factors and the role that a strong GMB plays in helping SMBs stay visible.
Kanika stresses that one should pay attention to citations, whether or not their importance has reduced as a ranking factor.
She also points to industry directories, like TripAdvisor for hotels, as another basic that must be addressed.
#2 - User behavior
“It could be temporary, but this holiday season we’re seeing really visible changes.”
What changes? First and foremost, whether or not customers feel safe. To demonstrate this change, Kanika points to Mike Blumenthal’s post: How One Business Made a Mess of Masking.
Kanika mentioned how Google has launched safety attributes on GMB.
In addition to things like ‘in-store shopping’ or ‘curbside pickup,’ businesses can choose attributes like “Masks required for customers or staff,” “temperature checks required for customers or staff,” or “appointments or reservations required.” Kanika urges marketers to ensure these attributes are in place.
“All of this will set the stage for our customers willing to open up and transact with you from a health and safety standpoint.”
She also recommends paying attention to recent reviews, to see if there are any themes of people not feeling safe or secure while doing business with your company.
#3 - Awareness
This holiday season marketers will need to be hyper-aware of what their customers are going through.
“A lot of people lost jobs during 2020, due to Covid. A lot of budget cuts were done. We’re dealing with customers who are going to be very price sensitive.”
She notes that the keyword best affordable has really picked up.
“That indicates when we are putting our holiday bundles or deals together we have to keep in mind that affordability would be a factor that would play heavily on the customer’s mind.
No matter where we’re promoting our offers or campaigns, you have to make sure the price point really stands out.”
She says not every brand has to compete on price, but
“keep an awareness of where your customer is coming from.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that we’ve all lived through a period of stock shortages. Nobody has forgotten the toilet paper.
“The 2020 experience may have them more scared. We’ll see a trend of early holiday shopping.”
She recommends talking about stocking situations and shipping policies.
“Google supports shipping schemas now. If you have free shipping I would really leverage the new schema markup on products so people really know what can be expected when they’re buying. What shipping times and what costs they can expect.”
She says you can do a great deal of this by using Google Merchant Center.
#4 - Align with values
2020s upheavals haven’t just centered around the pandemic. They’ve centered around social justice, too. Kanika says you can turn this to your advantage.
“Support for local businesses. Support for businesses where my values align with what that business has to offer. If you’re a woman-led business, or a veteran-owned business, or a black-owned business, please make sure you are telling the world.
You are going to find customers who are going to pay extra to do business with you. That connection you build through these values is going to be way stronger than coming down on price points or free shipping or whatnot.”
A two-fold strategy for leveraging reviews
“If you’re not asking for reviews, educate your staff, and have a proper way of collecting reviews. If you don’t have a way, find a way now, before it’s too late.”If you’re already collecting reviews?
“[Know that] responding to reviews is just one piece of the puzzle. Are you actually analyzing what is coming across? What is the sentiment that is being shared by users online?”She says she believes a lot of companies really miss that sentiment analysis portion of the exercise.
“When I say analysis: users have positively shared something over and over again as a sentiment? Make sure your holiday strategy has that reflection in it. Your content strategy is driven from those review sentiments.”When you find negative sentiment, Kanika says you have to do something about it.
“Take a step internally. Find the stakeholders. Or the department where the problem is coming from. Really take it on, because one department could impact the whole experience with the customer and the revenue of the company.”
Inspiration for the upcoming season
Kanika speaks of an Indian brand whose values align with hers.
“They’re into health and nutrition. They’re driven from Ayurveda. I practice yoga. I am into Ayurveda.
They’re saying to come up with a hashtag and share selfies on Instagram and social media, along with a good picture of you. They’re going really bold with their female audience to say: this holiday season we really want you to shine through your inner beauty.”
She also brought up REI’s campaign #OptOutside.
“They said this is what they believe in. They took that messaging and they literally went: people are going for this consumerism, but on that biggest day we will take a different approach. That’s how you pay attention, take a bolder step, and differentiate yourself.”
She says this year she hasn’t seen any other holiday ads or themes that have excited her, but she’s continuing to watch.
“For all types of business, think about the basic solution you’re providing through your product, what problem you’re solving for the user, and try to develop an emotional connection if you can.”
What's your right now cause?
Kanika’s cause of choice is education, specifically, Teach For India.
“You can donate, or you can go and help them as a teacher. You can help teach underprivileged kids.”
It’s a cause that her relatives are involved in, and one that’s very near and dear to her heart.