In an industry born within the mystique of secret search algorithms, it’s no surprise that the lack of understanding of the role and function of Search Engine Optimization held by most local business owners leads to what can only be described as exploitation by many SEO consultants and agencies. That’s a pretty bold statement, especially coming from an SEO consultant, but bear with me and I’ll try and explain what I mean.
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SEO Market Size
Today the SEO Industry is a $70 billion behemoth enjoying meteoric growth from its humble beginnings in 1998. Its purpose is to help website owners design web pages that will appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for the keywords used by their customers to find products and services online.
Until around 2009, several search engines played a role in standard SEO tactics. The main players being Google with 60%, Yahoo! at 20%, and MSN (now Bing) and AOL with 8% each. Today Google dominates search with 92% of all search traffic worldwide, meaning the only search engine website owners need to optimize for is Google. If you want to dig in to the history of SEO here’s a great article from Rellify that details it very well.
Full Service Local SEO
Let’s be clear here. There have always been reliable white hat SEO agencies and consultants. That’s especially true at the high end of the market. SEOs that optimize multimillion-dollar sites for clients tend to have robust controls and almost always work for company staff who understand and indeed specify the work to be done.
The problem comes when some SEO agencies take advantage of the lack of knowledge most small business owners have on the subject. A typical scenario we’ve seen many times is the site owner responds to an SEO ad or an agency email because they’ve heard SEO is important and they’ve never actually done any. The agency responds with a quote that includes some impressive sounding functions including;
- Full SEO site audit
- On-page optimization
- Off-page optimization
- Meta tag and page title optimization
- On-page content optimization
- Building backlinks
- Utilizing social media
Many owners agree to a contract at that stage simply because they feel they need SEO services and this agency is clearly providing things. There are however a few key signs you should look for to gauge if the SEO agency you’ve hired is effective or you’re simply being taken for a ride by an unscrupulous bunch who’ll prey on your lack lack of knowledge for four to six months then move on to their next victim. Neil Patel has written an excellent article on the questions and behaviors to look out for in your SEO agency.
Our Local SEO Philosophy
Google moved the goal posts for local companies selling to a local audience around 2014. A positive bias toward websites with physical addresses located near the searcher was created and manifests itself in the Local Pack at the very top of SERPs. Figure 1 shows one of the keywords our site ranks for in our local city.
Google’s intent is based on their well-documented search customer’s desire to be prominently shown local vendors with the products or services they search for. Google takes the geo location provided by the searcher’s smart phone (in fact any connected device with GPS) and gives SERPs favor to companies located near the searcher. The important point in all of this is it is so much easier to rank in the Local Pack than it is to get to the top of standard organic search. That makes it a no-brainer for every company selling to a local community to make sure their website is optimized for Local SEO.
Get your site into the Local Pack!
You may be surprised to know that what’s important for national SERPs ranking is equally important if you want to rank in the Local Pack, with one key exception; competition is very light by comparison. That means a website doesn’t need to be the best in the country to rank at the top of the Local Pack for a very competitive keyword, it just needs to be better than the competition. Basically, if there’s a company registered with a Google Profile that has a few keywords mentioned on their website, that company can rank in the Local Pack so long as its website has more authority than local rivals. That’s a huge advantage, and it means the very first assessment any SEO agency should perform on a site with aspirations of joining the Local Pack is competitive position. When you’re being chased by a bear you don’t need to outrun it, you just need to outrun your friend who’s in the woods with you!
Boost your chances of Local Pack ranking
You’re going to need the usual suspects to rank in the Local Pack, meaning well researched keyword targets, especially those long tail keywords your local audience are using to search for your products or services. Add great content for the target keywords and backlink to that content from high authority sites and you’re almost done. It’s ironic that secondary factors like meta data, alt text and SEO site audits are the elements most of the bad SEOs concentrate on, simply because they’re easy to do and much of it can be automated with good SEO tools.
Of course, pay attention to regular on-page SEO like meta data and SEO audit problems, just don’t spend more time there than time spent creating and backlinking excellent local content.
Compare content with the competition. Pay particular attention to pages that attract decent traffic volumes and look at ways to beat them. If you don’t know how to do that, read Brian Dean’s famous Skyscraper Technique and discover the secrets of writing the type of content Google wants to see and that’s quite easy to backlink.
Write in Local Voice
Create City pages where you not only mention the keyword and the city like [seattle local seo] but you describe the city itself, add images of local landmarks, even local streets and join in the celebration of life in your community. Create blog posts that talk about local events, change in the weather, the coming seasons, school football teams, etc. You name it, there’s a whole lot of content that can be added to help develop your local voice. Write it like you’re talking to friends so it’s not too stuffy or contrived. In other words, mean it and you’ll be rewarded by Google, especially if you note the competition isn’t making the local effort.
Monitor your SEO performance
The point of being top dog in search for a particular keyword is to get more visitors who will buy more goods online and in your brick-and-mortar store. The more keywords you rank for the more this positive cycle builds. Results from SEO can take a few months to fully develop which is another unfortunate reason there are so many bad SEO consultants and agencies out there. It takes eight weeks before any real progress is seen so they can say with some credibility, results take time and continue milking their unfortunate client. Some ranking positions change faster than others though and we always recommend figuring out a simple way to check on progress every week.
At MPR Studio, we use Local Falcon to help keep a watchful eye over the changes we’ve made. This is a highly visual tool that lets us see local rank trends, especially if our clients have targeted neighboring cities to expand their reach and grow into. Figure 2 shows a Local Falcon plot.
The numbers inside the colored dots represent SERPs position inside the Local Pack and the center of the plot is the client’s Google Profile physical address. Numbers 1,2 and 3 are shown in the Local Pack. We can see this site is doing well in search locations west of her home address, but not so well for those further east and north.
To monitor progress, we look at change in rank in the target area. As a quick reminder, the target area is the city that is subject to new SEO activity. Experience shows SEO improvement is seen over the entire north to south range, and up to three of the east to west 1mile bands shown by the dots. We are trying to expand rank from existing locations into new ones. Figure 3 shows progress four weeks after publication of new content and a supporting press release in this case. Figure 4 on the next page shows the target areas at higher magnification.
MPR Studio created a proprietary algorithm to assign a numerical value to these scores. The Raw Local SEO Score is the weighted, summed traffic level seen across the entire 7×7 block. The Target Area Score is where the expected rank change will take place. The maximum score for all 1’s in the 49 dotted locations is 1568. The numerical info makes it easy to quantify and calibrate the change while the visual indicator is great for quickly seeing patterns of both ease and difficulty of improvement.
Once this technique is shown to be successful, it’s a simple matter of rinse and repeat of the entire process with a new keyword and/or a new city.
There is ample evidence of rogue SEO consultants and agencies who are willing to take advantage of the limited knowledge of the SEO function in small companies, particularly those companies who could operate much more successfully if they were to claim a spot in Google’s Local Pack.
The message is clear; find a Local SEO expert and thoroughly question them to make sure they will provide the expected value they promise. Do not sign SEO consultancy deals without knowing which questions to ask to monitor progress.
At MPR Studio we are very proud of our record helping small companies get to the top of search via local SEO and the Local Pack. In our opinion there is no better marketing investment for a small business than using Local SEO to find new markets a few miles along the road that can double and triple available qualified traffic with more certainty and more efficiency than running an Ad campaign. Once the work is done, all SEO campaigns retain their effect, sometimes for years without change. An ad program ceases to provide leads as soon as spending stops.
Sign up for an exploratory look at your Local website. Tell us your market expansion plans and we’ll assess how best to get qualified traffic into your digital sales funnel or through the front door of your store.