When introducing new strategies in response to the ever-shifting business landscape, executives must take care to align them with the larger picture of where their organization is heading — the company’s “vision.” That’s because when vision and strategy are at odds, employees, shareholders, and customers may lose confidence. To achieve this alignment, executives need to evaluate whether proposed short-term strategic shifts are consistent with the longer-term vision and resist the pressure to those strategies that run counter to it.
Given the time and effort it takes to develop and execute new strategies, it’s best not to introduce them too often. But there are instances when short-term strategic shifts are unavoidable — especially in today’s ever-changing business context. Take, for example, the need to respond to calls for social change or demands from investors to turn around poor financial results.
When responding to these kinds of pressures, executives must take care to align the strategic shifts they introduce with the larger picture of where their organization is heading and what it aspires to accomplish in the future — the company’s “vision.” After all, strategy — overarching decisions about priorities and resource allocations — should be all about translating that vision into action. When vision and strategy are at odds, employees, shareholders, and customers may lose confidence that management has a coherent and consistent plan for moving the company forward.
To achieve this alignment, executives need to evaluate whether proposed short-term strategic shifts are consistent with the longer-term vision and resist the pressure to those strategies that run counter to it. This process itself can help leaders assess whether their vision is sufficiently clear and compelling or may need to be sharpened or revised.
Let’s look at how this plays out in different contexts in practice.
Responding to Social Change
Connecting short-term strategic responses to a long-term vision is particularly important when companies are responding to social movements. These can put pressure on companies to act quickly and publicly. But when company leaders implement strategies that aren’t tied to a larger vision, those strategies can wither on the vine.
For example, in the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, many firms raced to come up with strategies to convince their people and their customers that they stood firm against systemic racism. But the results of their efforts have been decidedlymixed. While some have pointed to the inefficacy of widely implemented anti-racism training as the culprit, I believe that these strategies fell short of their companies’ rhetoric because they were not supported by a larger vision of how the companies themselves needed to change.
Take a counterexample: For some companies that already had a robust vision for building inclusion and diversity, the new strategies were supported by a pre-existing framework, and have proved more successful. At Johnson & Johnson, for example, by the summer of 2020, the pharmaceutical firm already had a detailed vision — “to maximize the global power of diversity and inclusion, to drive superior business results and sustainable competitive advantage” — and was actively engaged in initiatives that would move the company in this direction. So in November of 2020, when J&J responded to the increasing awareness of social injustice by pledging $100 million to address racism and health inequities, the strategy — which included support for mobile health clinics in communities of color, and a 50% increase in hiring people of color into leadership positions in J&J — was clearly part of an ongoing commitment, and not a one-time, knee-jerk response to social pressure. This consistency is perhaps one reason that employees from often-marginalized categories feel highly positive about the company’s culture and work environment, putting it in the top 10% of companies with over 10,000 employees on Comparably, a workplace rating site.
Leaders whose companies feel compelled to take immediate strides in response to social action should consider whether they have this kind of longer-term vision in place as well. If not, they should develop that vision in parallel with their more immediate strategies. PepsiCo’s response in the summer of 2020 was future- and big-picture focused in this way. The company vowed to add 100 associates of color to its executive ranks within five years and has already achieved at least a quarter of that goal. The company also said that it would double its spending with Black-owned suppliers in five years and has made tangible progress in that direction.
Responding to Business Pressure
Aligning short-term strategies with a longer-term vision also is critical in responding to financial pressures, as executives often feel like they have no choice about pursuing change when the numbers demand it.
A case in point is GE which, starting in 2005, had a compelling, long-term vision for reducing environmental impact at a global scale called “ecoimagination.” This vision drove GE towards investments in wind and water and initiatives to lower carbon emissions technologies for jet engines and other products. The vision was generally well received. But the pressure to maintain and grow revenues led GE to a strategy of selling the water business in 2017 and doubling down on acquisitions in the non-renewable energy sector (see, for example the $9.5 billion 2015 purchase of Alstom’s power business, including the manufacture of coal-fueled turbines, and the 2016 merger with Baker Hughes, which provides services and equipment for oil drilling). These deals gave lie to GE’s green image and mired the company with an unmanageable debt load — problems that could possibly have been avoided by staying true to ecoimagination.
In contrast, Merck CEO Ken Frazier kept his company’s actions focused squarely on the company’s ultimate vision despite immense pressure in the early 2010s from shareholders to cut back on research and development as a strategy for increasing profitability and share price. Frazier pushed back on that strategic shift and even budgeted more for R&D because he saw it as key to the company’s long-term vision to “use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world.” Despite taking short-term heat for his decision, Frazier kept the company focused on the vision — a strategy that led to the development and approval of a blockbuster immuno-oncology drug, a robust research pipeline, and, by the time Frazier retired in 2021, a stock price that had more than doubled.
Use Change to Accelerate Your Vision
No matter where the pressure to change your strategy comes from, think not only about whether you can align the changes with long-term vision, but also how you can do it in a way that accelerates your company’s pursuit of that vision.
For example, a large technology firm that had a long-term goal of attracting more women to its high-tech jobs used the abrupt move to remote and hybrid work as a way of proactively speeding up its gender diversity vision. From previous studies and observations, executives at the company had realized that women, who still bore the brunt of childcare, often had a hard time breaking into the company’s onsite tech teams where men stayed late or went out together after work; and that many women valued flexible work hours more than camaraderie. Driven by these insights, they intentionally leveraged the lessons from the remote and hybrid work arrangements necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic to make the co-located office teams less essential; and they are now empowering managers to continue creating flexible work arrangements both for new and current employees. Although it’s too soon to know for sure, early indications across the industry are that this is making it easier to recruit and retain women.
Check Your Vision
Aligning your strategy with your long-term vision of course presupposes that you have one. But that’s something you should test — especially when you are faced with the pressure to change your strategy.
A quick way to do this is to first ask yourself how, in the next 3–5 years, your company (or department of unit) will set itself apart from the competition, attract great talent, and be financially or operationally sustainable. See if you can put this down on paper in no more than a few sentences. Then ask three of your direct reports and a few other stakeholders (like a board member, a key customer, or a partner) to answer the same question.
If you can’t articulate the vision easily, or you don’t get a reasonably consistent response from others, then either you don’t have a clear and exciting vision, or it hasn’t been well communicated or understood.
If indeed your vision doesn’t pass this test, then take some time (even if it’s just a few days) and try to clarify the longer-term vision. There are various ways to do this that I have written about previously in the HBR Leader’s Handbook; if you’re not the CEO, then you can still go through a similar process just for your area. In either case, putting your long-term vision front and center is a critical first step for incorporating short-term strategic shifts into your plans.
Without a vision to guide you, responsive strategic shifts will get you somewhere, but not necessarily where you want to go.
But equity rounds aren’t the only way for a company to raise money — alternative and other non-dilutive financing options are often overlooked. Taking on debt might be the right solution when you’re focused on growth and can see clear ROI from the capital you deploy.
Not all capital providers are equal, so seeking financing isn’t just about securing capital. It’s a matter of finding the right source of funding that matches both your business and your roadmap.
Here are four things you should consider:
Does this match my needs?
It’s easy to take for granted, but securing financing begins with a business plan. Don’t seek funding until you have a clear plan for how you’ll use it. For example, do you need capital to fund growth or for your day-to-day operations? The answer should influence not only the amount of capital you seek, but the type of funding partner you look for as well.
Start with a concrete plan and make sure it aligns with the structure of your financing:
Match repayment terms to your expected use of the debt.
Balance working capital needs with growth capital needs.
It’s understandable to hope for a one-and-done financing process that sets the next round far down the line, but that may be costlier than you realize in the long run.
Your term of repayment must be long enough so you can deploy the capital and see the returns. If it’s not, you may end up making loan payments with the principal.
Say, for example, you secure funding to enter a new market. You plan to expand your sales team to support the move and develop the cash flow necessary to pay back the loan. The problem here is, the new hire will take months to ramp up.
If there’s not enough delta between when you start ramping up and when you begin repayments, you’ll be paying back the loan before your new salesperson can bring in revenue to allow you to see ROI on the amount you borrowed.
Another issue to keep in mind: If you’re financing operations instead of growth, working capital requirements may reduce the amount you can deploy.
Let’s say you finance your ad spending and plan to deploy $200,000 over the next four months. But payments on the MCA loan you secured to fund that spending will eat into your revenue, and the loan will be further limited by a minimum cash covenant of $100,000. The result? You secured $200,000 in financing but can only deploy half of it.
With $100,000 of your financing kept in a cash account, only half the loan will be used to drive operations, which means you’re not likely to meet your growth target. What’s worse, as you’re only able to deploy half of the loan, your cost of capital is effectively double what you’d planned for.
Is this the right amount for me at this time?
The second consideration is balancing how much capital you need to act on your near-term goals against what you can reasonably expect to secure. If the funding amount you can get is not enough to move the needle, it might not be worth the effort required.
Elon Musk said Sunday he “somewhat agonized” over the font designs for his companies Tesla and SpaceX.
The billionaire businessman added he “loves fonts” and has tweaked the logos over the years.
He revealed the SpaceX logo also holds a hidden meaning, representing a rocket’s arc to orbit.
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In a series of Sunday tweets, Elon Musk said he “somewhat agonized” over his choice of fonts for his businesses and revealed a hidden meaning behind the SpaceX logo.
Responding to a tweet about serif and sans-serif fonts, the billionaire businessman took a break from posting cryptic memes and discussing politics to say he loves fonts and put significant consideration into how his companies are presented to consumers.
“I somewhat agonized over the Tesla & SpaceX font design (love fonts tbh),” Musk tweeted. “There are some similarities, particularly use of negative space. We’ve made many little tweaks over the years.”
The Tesla logo — a T-shaped design with a custom, sans-serif font spelling out the brand name — is meant to resemble a cross-section of an electric motor. The SpaceX logo, written in a similar font with an extended X, references the reusable rockets made by the company.
“The swoop of the X is meant to represent the rocket’s arc to orbit,” Musk tweeted.
Other business logos have also held hidden messages: Baskin Robbins, a chain that sells 31 flavors of ice cream, has a secret ’31’ hidden in the letters of its logo. Likewise, Amazon’s arrow logo is meant to represent a smile, while the circular ‘B’ logo for Beats by Dre represents a person wearing the popular headphones.
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The internet has revolutionized the business world and changed how we conduct business. Any business that aims to increase its visibility and boost profit needs to pay much attention to top ranking factors, including local SEO — which introduces the topic of the local search algorithm.
Local SEO is one of the top practices that help boost a business’s visibility and generates more sales.
However, achieving better local SEO rankings is not a walk in the park, especially due to increased competition. To appear higher on local results, businesses and marketers need to understand how the local search algorithm works.
Knowing this helps guide the steps for improving rankings in the local pack.
The competition gets stiffer as more businesses open and optimize for local searching. Besides, Google is updating its algorithm consistently, meaning only businesses that can keep up with these updates can appear at the top of local search results.
Luckily, you have come to this post as this article looks at everything you need to know about Google’s local search algorithm and what you can do to get that top spot in the local pack.
Understanding the local search algorithm
Google aims to provide the best results that match a specific local search query. It constantly updates the local search algorithm to determine which business to rank on top of local search results.
Ideally, Google wants to provide local content that is relevant and valuable to users. As with search engine optimization, keyword stuffing cannot give you that top spot in local search results.
SEO specialists and marketers should consider Google’s local search algorithm updates and make the necessary changes to rank higher. Failure to consider these updates means losing your local search presence, resulting in fewer leads and conversions.
Local algorithms check the Google My Business (GMB) listings to determine where to rank a business in local search rankings.
Ideally, Google’s local algorithm ranks businesses with information that matches a searcher’s query. And the higher a business ranks in local search results, the more chances a potential customer will click on it.
This post looks at the three major pillars that determine local search results to better understand the local search algorithm: proximity, prominence and relevance.
Of course, other factors make up Google’s local search algorithm, but since we cannot identify all of them, we’ll focus on the most crucial ones in this post.
By understanding these pillars, marketers can better position themselves for local search success.
Proximity is one of the major ranking factors when it comes to local search. That means the distance between a business and a searcher is a ranking factor in local search.
When a searcher searches for something, Google considers how far the searcher is from the location of the term they use in the search. When a searcher doesn’t specify the location, Google calculates the distance based on the information they have regarding their location.
Ideally, Google aims to provide the most relevant results to a search query. For instance, why would Google provide a list of coffee shops in Los Angeles if the searcher is searching from Colombia?
That would be irrelevant local search results that won’t benefit the searcher.
Unfortunately, while proximity is a major local search pillar, it’s one of the factors that businesses have little control over. After all, you cannot change where your business is located, right?
You can only ensure your business location is as clear as possible, so that it appears for related nearby queries. Here are steps you can take to achieve this:
Claim and verify the Google My Business listing
Ensure local listings are accurate and optimized for local products or services
Get the Google Maps API Key and optimize for your location and routes
Set up your profile correctly (for Service Area Businesses) to avoid violating Google’s guidelines
Users can perform several types of local searches, including:
Users will perform geo-modified searches when they are planning to visit somewhere. For instance, a searcher in Los Angeles planning to visit Toronto, Canada, may search for a “coffee shop in Oakville.” The results will differ from if they searched for “coffee” while physically in Oakville.
To be specific, geo-modified searches are mainly based on relevance and prominence as opposed to proximity when a user searches for something when outside the city included in the search.
Searchers perform this type of search when looking for something around them. For instance, a user in Los Angeles performing a local search for “coffee.”
Ideally, the user only needs to search for something and is shown results based on proximity. They will get the results that are closest to them.
“Near me” searches
“Near me” searches have been so popular in recent years. Although their popularity has significantly declined, users still perform this type of search when looking for something locally.
For instance, some users could add “near me” when searching for a coffee shop, hoping to get the most relevant results near them. As we’ve stated, this trend has lost popularity because when you perform a local search, you are searching for something near you.
It is not necessary to add “near me” to what you’re searching.
Prominence refers to how important Google thinks your business is, which gets factored into the local search algorithm.
In other words, it refers to how well a business stands from the rest in various aspects, including directories, links, reviews, mentions, among other things.
If search engines view your business as trustworthy and credible, they will likely show it on top of related search query results.
The local search algorithm views businesses/brands with a stronger online prominence as credible and trustworthy. Some of the factors that determine prominence include:
A local citation is the mention of a business’s information online. The mention can include the partial or complete name, address, and phone number (NAP) of a local business.
Citations are an excellent way for people to learn about local businesses and impact local search results.
A business with high-quality citations can rank better in local search results, although businesses must continually manage citations to ensure data accuracy.
Backlinks play a crucial role in local business prominence. Gaining relevant backlinks from high-quality sites is an excellent way to build a business’ online reputation.
If you’re trying to outrank your competitors without much success, your backlink profile could be the reason.
In that case, you should check your competitor’s backlinks and compare them with yours. When doing this, pay attention to the number and quality of their backlinks.
As a rule of thumb, aim to have high-quality local backlinks pointing to your site to improve your page’s authority.
Next, you need to pay much attention to reviews to improve local prominence. Many customers look at a business’s online reviews before deciding whether to engage more with the business or not. Besides, many positive online reviews can increase a business’ ranking factors.
Consider this scenario. A potential customer is looking for a pub around Oakville. When they perform a search, they are presented with two results: one with over 100 reviews and another with less than 10 reviews.
Which business do you think the searcher would trust? The one with 100 reviews, obviously.
As with search engines, customers need to trust a business before they decide to do business with it. Similarly, search engines can view online reviews and analyze them to determine a business’s online prominence.
That said, here are strategies you can use to boost your online review signals:
Have a strategy
You won’t have a strong online prominence if your products or services are not of a high standard. So, the first step to having many great reviews is to develop great products and services.
After that, develop a strategy to encourage your happy customers to leave honest but valuable reviews of their experience doing business with you to help boost your online reputation.
Monitor and manage the reviews
Having many reviews is one thing; you need to develop a plan to engage with your customers for better results. Responding to reviews shows people that you care and are genuine about your products and services.
People will avoid businesses that don’t respond to customer reviews (whether positive or negative).
Search engines, too, can tell whether you engage with customer reviews or not and will use the information to determine where to rank on local search results.
When responding to online reviews, pay special attention to negative reviews and how you respond to them. While no business likes getting negative reviews, how you respond to them can positively impact your business — respond positively to turn the negative reviews around.
As earlier stated, Google wants to provide the most relevant results to a local search query. This key ranking factor will determine a business’s position in local search results — how well does a local business match a search query?
Even if your business ticks the above pillars (prominence and proximity), if the content on your page isn’t well structured and doesn’t cover the topics that a searcher is looking for, you won’t appear on top of local search results.
Here are factors that businesses should consider to create a relevant listing:
Local page signals
Local listing categories and attributes
Social posts and responses to online reviews
Local listing signals and categories
A business GMB listing and category can impact its relevance score for local searches. As such, complete your business profile carefully and continually add quality content to the web page to ensure it is relevant for proximity searches.
More specifically, ensure that all information on all listing pages, including Yelp, Bing, and Google, is complete and accurate. Aside from these factors, here are two crucial features you should pay attention to:
Selecting the right categories for your local business listing is among the crucial factors for ranking locally. With over 4000 GMB categories, you want to choose categories that best describe your business — ensure they are relevant and specific.
Here are guidelines to follow when selecting a category:
Describe your business as opposed to your services
Be specific to minimize competition
Reduce the number of GMB categories to describe your business better
Without a proper description, users won’t know what your business is about. This section is about adding an introduction to your business so that customers and search engines can know more about your business.
However, don’t use this section for marketing your business. Just give users and search engines descriptive info that can help determine whether your business matches their needs.
Local page signals
Another way a business can improve its standing in the local search algorithm is by optimizing web pages for specific keywords. For multi-location businesses, it’s essential to have separate, localized pages for each location, with relevant information and contact details for customers to reach you.
Performing competitor research is advisable to determine what terms or keywords to use for a specific query. Here are top on-page signals to consider when trying to gain relevance for a given topic:
Keyword research — Before creating local content, you need to find keywords that matter to your business. Perform keyword research to determine highly relevant keywords with high intent. When finding relevant terms to use in your content, base your research on the customer perspective; think about what they search for and the type of content they are looking for.
Create local content — After finding the right keywords, it’s time to create your content. Google values the quality of content more than the length of the content, so keep this in mind when creating content. Another crucial thing to pay attention to is localizing the content. For example, you can create content on local news and events or use your city’s name within your content.
The goal is to create a connection between what’s happening in your local area and your business. Also, use pictures with your specific geolocation to increase your content relevance.
Creating quality and relevant content is only the start. You need to optimize your content for on-page signals so local search algorithms can discover and rank them better. Here’s how you can optimize your local content for on-page signals:
Meta descriptions — Include keywords in your meta descriptions to encourage searchers to click through and increase visibility
Title tags — Title tags are some of the factors that search engines use to determine where to rank content. Incorporating keywords naturally in your title tags can help boost local rankings
Image tags — Another way to improve local rankings is by including relevant keywords in your image tags. Including geotags also comes with an added advantage
Headings — Users and Google value pages with clear structures. Consider creating headings within your content to capture readers’ attention and encourage them to read on. However, ensure your heading tags describe the content that comes after them well. Also, include keywords in your heading tags to help search engines understand them and their importance.
Off-page local signals
Gaining high-quality backlinks is a great way to boost credibility and trust. Backlinks refer to external links from another website to your site. Aim to have more high-quality backlinks to boost your website authority.
Ideally, having many quality backlinks shows search engines that your website or page is credible and trustworthy, which boosts the chances of ranking it higher in search engine results.
Guest posting is one of the best examples of link-building strategies you can use. Finding great guest posting opportunities provides an excellent opportunity to share your content to a new but relevant audience, which helps boost your website authority.
Another strategy you can use is to create longer and better content than what is already available on the web. When your content is high quality and relevant, it will be easier to get high-quality backlinks.
Review and social signals
Online reviews can also help boost relevance for your local business. Aim to get as many positive reviews from your happy customers as possible.
Remember, when customers perform a local search, they get not only the relevant businesses but also reviews related to the search. The more positive reviews a business has, the higher chances a potential customer will do business with them.
Closing thoughts on the local search algorithm
Ranking on top of local search results can seem daunting, but it shouldn’t when you know the vital things to focus on. As you have seen above, the local algorithm is based on three pillars: relevance, proximity, and prominence.
Of course, other factors determine local search rankings depending on your industry and competition.