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Multilocation retailers understand the importance of location marketing and making the most of local SEO—– especially in the era of “near me” search.

“Near me” searches — localized mobile searches for brands, business locations and products close by — have exploded. Today, 65 percent of all Google searches happen on a mobile device, and 70 percent of these mobile searches are “near me” searches. This means that some 46 percent of all Google searches have a local intent. More than ever, as search engine and smartphone technology has advanced, consumers are prioritizing proximity and convenience.

And this emphasis on “near me” search is especially important during the holiday season. These searches are mostly unbranded, meaning the “what” matters more than the “who.” And given the short holiday sales cycle, immediacy and product availability are critical. Finally, there’s an especially high conversion rate this time of the year (5 percent), compared to a rate of less than 1 percent at other times of the year.

With that in mind, here are a couple of things that those retailers, and the digital agencies that support them, should consider as they get ready for the holidays.

Fragmentation

Today, consumers consult a variety of platforms, apps and directories before deciding where to make an offline purchase. According to a study from Salesforce and Publicis.Sapient, 87 percent of consumers check online listings before they visit a store. They rely on search engines like Google and Bing, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, or review platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Each listing features critical information about a retailer, from addresses and phone numbers to photos and store hours.

With critical listing information readily available on a wide range of platforms, the fragmentation of technology has become more important than ever. Google found that six in 10 Internet users start shopping on one device, but continue or finish on a different one. And today, most customers just aren’t willing to give you their undivided attention. Fifty-one percent of last-minute shoppers aren’t sure where they want to buy. That’s why it’s important to build a strong online presence with well-maintained, accurate and consistent local listings. According to the Google My Business help section, local results “favor the most relevant results for each search, and businesses with complete and accurate information.”

Unfortunately, almost half of business listings are either inaccurate or incomplete. This is a data problem that can hurt retailers in many ways. While incorrect data negatively impacts local SEO rankings, inconsistent or missing information reduces brand trust. This is especially important during the holidays when store hours can change. It’s precisely when consumers are counting on businesses to have accurate opening and closing hours so they can plan store visits around their busy lives.

But inaccurate and incomplete listings aren’t the only problem. Many smaller multilocation retailers also have unclaimed or duplicate listings online. In fact, nearly 60 percent of local retailers haven’t claimed the appropriate Google My Business pages, according to the LSA. Unclaimed and duplicate profiles can be edited by third parties, resulting in a negative impact on the brand and hurting their search ranking.

A priority for retailers in advance of the busy holiday shopping season is to make sure that retail location data is being optimized and cleansed to deliver perfect location information for all stores.

Social validation

Customer reviews are among the most important types of content for retailers to optimize online reputation. In some ways, they’ve become the new currency. More and more, consumers are turning to the advice of their peers (84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations), along with brands who have done the best job of earning their trust before they buy. Human interactions are a key component of social validation. In the age of “near me,” it’s not all just about data and digital knowledge — it’s also about interactions and the human element.

According to a Dimensional Research survey, 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a store. Reviews are especially important during the frenetic holiday shopping season when consumers are researching where to buy. By tapping the power of reviews, retailers not only improve the customer experience but also their location marketing.

Customer reviews influence rankings in local search results, resulting in increased clicks, visits, prospects and sales. According to Google, “Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.” In fact, every time potential customers use words like: best, top, great and highest-rated, Google will show them businesses with a review rating of 4.0 or higher in the results first. With users having the power to select the highest-rated businesses in a given area, reviews have become a major ranking factor in local search. The higher the review score of a business location, the more likely it is to reach nearby consumers.

Are you monitoring and managing your clients’ reviews in the best possible way? A retailer’s reply and the speed of the response will influence local search rankings and help build a positive online reputation. This holiday season, retailers need to take complete control of their online brand image by having a voice in those conversations. They — or the agency managing that process — need to be proactive, responding to reviews in a timely manner.

With the holidays right around the corner, retailers need to make sure to focus on their searchability and discoverability, as well as their reputation management. By focusing on these areas, they can show up on the platforms that matter at the right time. In turn, they will see increases in clicks, visits, sales and leads.

Norman Rohr is senior vice president of marketing at Uberall.