As captive insurance agencies grapple with increasing online competition and growing product commoditization, they are constantly looking for any competitive edge they can get.
One advantage many captive insurance carriers overlook is connected to what may seem like a disadvantage — consumer preference for online research. When a consumer searches for products or services, the consumer typically starts with an online search, and the insurance industry is no exception. In fact, research from PWC found that 71% of consumers use some form of digital research before buying insurance (e.g., price comparison or social media).
Where the local captive agent wins is in physical proximity to nearby consumers. On Google and other popular search engines, this is the most important local SEO (search engine optimization) ranking factor. Therefore, in a search-driven world, carriers with a large network of local agents near millions of potential insurance buyers have a major advantage over online-only carriers, which cannot rank in local search.
How Local SEO Drives Leads for Local Agents
The first thing most consumers see when performing searches, after a few paid ads, is the top three organic results from nearby businesses: referred to as the Google 3-Pack. Local agents should make every effort to show up in the Google 3-Pack as this coveted real estate drives the most traffic and calls. In fact, a recent study of billions of search results found that 55% of Google search users click on one of the first three organic search results.
This being the case, the savviest insurance carriers focus on growing their share of voice for the proximity discovery keywords that matter most - i.e., "best car insurance" or "affordable car insurance." More specifically, they are focused on Google, which accounts for 94% of the mobile search market in the U.S.
Factors That Drive Local SEO Ranking
To increase organic search rank for important keywords like "auto insurance" and improve how frequently local agents appear in the Google 3-Pack, carriers need to optimize for the five known controllable signals that determine local search rankings via a process called Proximity Search Optimization (PSO). Effective PSO requires managing the five known signals:
- Local Listing Accuracy — information accuracy and consistency across all networks not only improves proximity search rank, it also helps customers find businesses in the real world.
- Local Profile Completeness — ensuring all applicable fields are filled out on each discovery network gives customers a more complete picture of your business, while improving proximity search rank.
- Ratings and Reviews — maintaining high customer rating scores and being responsive to reviews not only affects proximity search rank, it also influences buyers’ decisions on which business to choose.
- Local Facebook Publishing Activity — frequent posts containing important keywords can improve your proximity search rank and help brands drive local community connections.
- On-Page Local SEO — alignment with Google’s assessment of webpage quality helps determine where those pages and the associated listings rank in local search.
See also: 5 Ways Tech Can Draw Young Talent
Best Practices to Win in Local Search
Recently, my company, MomentFeed, conducted an audit of the top six captive insurance carriers to see how they perform against the five known PSO signals. Given the industry’s marketing maturity, we were surprised to find unimpressive performance on these metrics.
The good news: There is a huge opportunity for any captive insurance carrier willing to invest in a more comprehensive local search strategy. With even a small improvement, any carrier can dominate in local SEO. Here are some important tips for optimizing for proximity search:
1. Make sure your listing data is accurate and up-to-date.
This may sound obvious, but with so many pandemic-driven office closures over the last few months, a surprising number of businesses across consumer industries have not kept their listings up to date. Local insurance offices are no exception. The average local insurance carrier was found to have inaccuracies on 55% of its data.
Best practice: Make sure to claim all listings and ensure local listing information is accurate and consistent across the internet. This includes summaries of the business, contact information, address, hours, photos and more.
2. Make sure all applicable fields are filled out on each discovery network.
When analyzing Google and Facebook, two of the most prominent discovery networks, we found that captive insurance carriers failed to complete 3% to 15% of applicable fields, such as hours and photos. While this may not seem like much, even the slightest margin of error seems to knock carriers out of the Google 3-Pack. Both of the carriers that performed poorly in this category saw a lower number of locations appearing in the Google 3-Pack as compared with others in the study.
Best practice: Review all your Google My Business listings and Facebook pages, and ensure that all fields are filled out.
3. Reply to most if not all of your reviews.
Over the last decade, online reviews have become a common part of the insurance buyer's journey. Now, reviews are also a major factor for online search ranking, as well; a poor response rate or lower star rating can bump a local agent out of the Google 3-Pack. This means less visibility for insurance agents not focused on this critical metric.
Best practice: Respond to all reviews, both positive and negative within 24 hours. Ideally, maintain a response rate higher than 90% and aim to achieve an average star rating of four or higher across all critical networks.
4. Post to local social sites at least nine to 10 times a month.
Another way to ensure your agents are visible when local insurance buyers search is through local social media content. Agents who post more frequently to their social media pages are more likely to be successful at reaching local audiences.
Best practice: Local agents should create local social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and post at least nine to 10 times a month. These posts should include geo-tagging using location hashtags like #SantaMonica, #Seattle, #Boston, local photos (note - photos taken with a GPS-enabled device will embed the photo itself with geo-tagging information) and of course the named location tag. Agents should also include keywords that the agent is trying to rank for, i.e., “car insurance” or “affordable insurance.”
See also: Are Insurers Ready for Voice Search?
5. Optimize your local agent website’s on-page signals in the categories graded by Google.
On-page signals refer to the characteristics of a location’s webpage that help search engines and consumers use the site. Three of the most important website categories that Google grades are: accessibility (ability of the page to be operated by literally anyone); best practices (overall code of health - security, page load time, load without errors, etc.); and SEO (factors that help search engines find and understand the page).
Best practice: You can run a website assessment on your pages through Lighthouse, a free Google plugin, to see how you are performing across the three categories.
Now that the vast majority of consumers are going online to research insurance options, a comprehensive local SEO strategy is essential to make sure your local agents are showing up in the top three search results. The payoff for agents that get it right is substantial: improved local marketing performance and a higher volume of interested and engaged prospects that can ultimately lead to more successful customer acquisition.