The simple answer is probably: 'Not entirely'. But to understand this it is important to look at the overarching logic of search.
First: what are consumers looking for when they search for a business?
There are two main types of search:
- Specific search: where the consumer knows the business they are searching for. They search on the business's name - Joe's Pizza. they may be simply looking for its phone number or address, or they may be looking for more specific information about the products and/or services that the business provides. They may have pre-existing knowledge of the business, or they may be responding to the business's marketing; they may have been recommended the business by a friend or colleague. In the main they are looking for the business's own website
- Generic search - often called 'local search': where the customer knows what kind of business they want - Pizza - but they are looking for more information - before they contact a specific business (or make a shortlist)
Specific search and SEO
It is rare, these days, that a specific search does not turn up the result the consumer - and the business - require. With more and more searches being made from devices that know the location of the searcher, it is highly likely that searches for multi-location/branch businesses will return the local branch of the business searched for - Joe's Pizza in Highgate.
So: no investment in SEO needed here. Just make sure that the details Google holds on your business - business name, contact details, opening hours - are correct and up-to-date.
Generic - local - search and SEO
This is where the bulk of the investment is currently made by businesses. There may be twenty pizza restaurants in any given area, and Joe's want to rank high in that list - local search.
So they invest time and money - it doesn't matter whether it's their time or their web designer/SEO agency's, it still costs the business money - in SEO.
And there is one thing that no web designer or SEO agency will do, and that is promise concrete results for Joe's spend. Why? Because no-one knows, for certain, what needs to be done to ensure that Joe's Pizza ranks above their competitors.
Why? Partly because all the web designers and SEO agencies working for all the other Pizza restaurants in the area are working towards the same aim: top ranking. And - self evidently - only one can achieve that at any given time. But more importantly: the algorithm that everyone is trying so hard to figure out is Google's equivalent of the recipe for Coca Cola - if it were ever figured out Google would cease to be viable as a search engine overnight. The word on the street would soon be: 'Don't use Google, their search results give priority to the business with the best SEO.'
Back to Basics
At the start we asked what consumers want from search. The simple answer is:
"They want the best business"
So how does Google deliver that 'best business'? It doesn't - yet - quite. But it has the tools - and the information - to do so:
- Reviews - its own on G+
- Reviews - independently verified - through agencies like HelpHound
- The Review Filter
Our clients' review scores show in organic search, alongside their Google reviews and their rich snippets...
in mobile search...
and in G+/Maps
It is a simple - and unarguable - fact that the best guide to a business is the opinions of that business's customers. Until the advent of the web it was called word-of-mouth, now it's called reviews.
By combining those reviews with their Review Filter (enabling users to discard businesses with less than great review scores - or no scores at all) and then dovetailing with G+ Google can, in theory, provide consumers with near perfect results:
- Businesses that are highly regarded by their customers (great review scores)
- Without muddying the waters with less than perfect businesses (those that score less than 4.0 or have fewer than 5 reviews)
- Combining the above with G+ - so consumers can source reviews written by people they know
So: what strategy should businesses adopt?
We are not advocating dumping SEO spend overnight, but we are recommending:
- Getting great reviews on your own website - Google will show your score in search
- Getting great reviews to Google - they will show in every search for your business
- Doing everything you can to ensure you score more than 4.0 - avoiding the Review Filter
- Making your G+ listing sing - with great content - and that includes reviews
It will happen - it's just a case of when. And when it does, HelpHound clients will look even better than they do now, because they have done all they can to future-proof their images in search.