Local SEO Trends, Tips & New Technologies: Q&A With Joy Hawkins


We’re just coming off the back of a year in which the continuing pandemic resulted in budget cuts, strategy issues, and a lack of resources to challenged SEO professionals at every level.

Many are focused more on being prepared to pivot than having a plan set in stone for the year ahead.

This is particularly important in local search, where consumer behaviors change quickly and Google updates can have swift, wide-ranging impacts.

What trends and technologies should you have on your radar to inform a more agile, adaptive local SEO strategy going forward?

Joy Hawkins is the owner and founder of local SEO agency Sterling Sky. She’s a Google Business Profile Product Expert, a well-known and respected industry writer and speaker, and a faculty member at Local U.

In this Q&A-style interview, Joy shares her advice on where marketing leaders should focus their local SEO attention this year, which SEO technologies she’s getting excited about, how to build a career in local SEO, and more.

Local Trends To Watch In 2022

Miranda Miller: “What are the local SEO trends that CMOs should really keep an eye on this year?”

Joy Hawkins: “Google rolled out an algorithm update near the end of 2021 that caused some serious fluctuations for local businesses.

We dubbed this the ‘Vicinity Update’ since the greatest impact at the time seemed to be a client’s ability to rank further away from their physical location.

Google appears to have given significantly more weight to where a business is located and to proximity.

If this update sticks, it’s important to look at the competition closest to your clients – especially if they are now appearing in the 3-pack – to see what they are doing that your client is not.

Google has been ramping up the LSA (Local Service Ad) program in the last few years, so there’s a good chance we’ll continue to see that platform continue to grow and expand throughout 2022.

If your clients aren’t using this outlet, I would recommend taking a second look at it.

We’re also seeing a lot more image results in SERPs than we ever used to, both on mobile and desktop.

Paying attention to the images you use, particularly on your best-performing pages, would be a wise decision.”

Local Optimizations To Focus On (And Where To Let Go)

Miranda Miller: “Are there any local optimizations or tactics you feel marketers tend to spend more time on than they should – or even something we should let go completely for 2022?”

Joy Hawkins: “Up until the Vicinity Algorithm Update, there was an understanding that having a keyword-rich name was a huge boost for clients wanting to show up in the 3-pack for a wide geographic spread.

But that is just no longer the case.

From the data we’ve looked at, businesses that had keyword-heavy names coupled with a large proximity reach took the biggest hit.

It’s a little early to say with certainty that adding keyword descriptors to names no longer works.

But for the time being, I would say it’s a tactic that marketers can definitely throttle back on.

Another tactic that we’ve proven time and time again offers no value is geotagging images.

When you geotag images, the information is stripped from the image during the upload process so it’s useless to spend time adding it in.

It’s time to let that one die.”

Embracing AI Content Creation Technology

Miranda Miller: “Are there any new or developing local SEO technologies you’re particularly excited about?”

Joy Hawkins: “Content is such an important part of SEO, especially creating valuable content that is of high quality.

But it can be a challenge for content creators to come up with unique things to say about certain topics.

For example, how much can you really write about concrete repairs?

Within the last year or so, we’ve noticed a big improvement in AI capabilities when it comes to content writing. Now there are a number of AI writing services on the market to choose from, such as Peppertype.ai, Rytr.me, or Writesonic.

We’ve found that these services are a fantastic way to help our content writers get started when they are feeling blocked.

I wouldn’t turn content writing fully over to AI, since the content they create still needs to be cleaned up and refined. But these services are incredibly useful as a jumping-off point.

Another tool we just started using is the Transparency Company.

Fake reviews are a really tough – but common – challenge in the local search space.

It’s great to have a tool that helps you determine what competitors might be buying reviews on Google.”

The Pros & Cons Of A Local SEO Career

Miranda Miller: “What are the most challenging and enjoyable parts of the work you do day-to-day?”

Joy Hawkins: “The best thing about my day is the people I work with. I work with a fantastic group of people who care about giving their all for our clients and who are invested in the gains we can make for our clients.

Getting to work with them and bounce ideas off of each other is definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of my working day.

I’ve also always been a person who enjoys digging into data, looking at numbers, trying to figure out mysteries, and that kind of thing.

SEO is this constantly shifting puzzle to be worked out as the pieces keep changing shape, size, and color. I find it both challenging and enjoyable to try to determine how these puzzle pieces fit together.

As far as what is challenging, I’d also say it’s really hard sometimes to balance running a business with all the volunteer work I do.

Being a Google Product Expert means that I’m constantly helping out users on the Google Forum. This often results in a lot of people emailing or tagging me on Twitter, as well.

Being a volunteer and managing expectations is not for the faint of heart.”

Local SEO Career-Building Advice

Miranda Miller: “What tips or advice do you have for those just getting started in their local SEO careers?”

Joy Hawkins:SEO is constantly changing. If the November update taught us anything, it’s that you can’t count on a strategy to work forever.

If you are getting into the SEO industry, it’s important to read about the newest and latest trends so that you have an understanding of where the industry is at and to craft strategies using that information.

Even so, it’s important that you hold those strategies with loose hands. At some point, there’s a good chance they will stop working and you will have to adapt.

I recommend always employing a number of different SEO strategies so that if one stops working, you don’t have all your eggs in that basket.

I would also suggest networking with others in the industry as much as possible.

There are some really excellent minds in the SEO world, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to learn from them through blogs, forums, conferences, and even social media posts.”

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Featured Image: Courtesy of Sterling Sky Inc.





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Local SEO Trends, Tips & New Technologies: Q&A With Joy Hawkins
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