Posted by Casey_Meraz
“Local SEO is just too hard.”
Those were the first words of a conversation I had earlier this week coming from a potential client we’ll call “Luke.” Luke had been working on building his own local SEO presence internally for his dental office for over a year and had not seen the results he expected in a popular top 100 US city. We talked about citations, his trouble getting reviews, and how hard it was for him to get links. He told me he had followed the best practices but had not seen the kind of #1 ranking results he was looking for. Luke was a bit defeated, so I dove a little deeper and asked him more specifically what he’d done. He told me that he had done the following:
- Optimized his Google My Business profile
- Gotten a handful of reviews
- Built the basic citations
- Removed the citation issues I found
- Gotten a few links
- Posted new localized content from time to time
So I prodded a bit further and tried to get some details about his competition. I asked Luke what his competitors had done. He told me that they had done the exact same things he had done. He told me that he watched them and tried to just “replicate” on his own site what he saw from the top performers. This perked my interest and caused me to ask him a real-world question.
“Luke, if you’re doing the same things as everyone else, why do you deserve to be rewarded or ranked higher than them? What makes you better?” – Casey Meraz
This basic question had major implications and he finally understood why I’d started asking about the rest of his website’s health. As an SEO, it’s easy to make assumptions as to what’s causing ranking gains, but keep in mind you can never really know the whole picture. We don’t know what links they disavowed, and we sure don’t know which links Google sees but that other link detection tools are not picking up.
It’s time to break free from local SEO tunnel vision.
In this article, I’m going to talk about some tactical things you can do to market your business and increase your local SEO presence. To do so, we have to break free from our tunnel vision a bit and bring in new strategies on a constant basis. But why should we do this?
With the recent local pack shake up and 2016 around the corner, I think it’s time that SEOs and marketing managers start to look to the future.
What do I mean? Almost any post you read online pertaining to local SEO is quick to point out that you need the basics, such as a strong citation profile with no duplicates, quality links, and some local on-page optimization. But does it really stop there? Should it stop there? Or should we be looking at the signs Google’s been giving us? It’s no secret that Google has been moving towards taking on more organic signals. What does the future really hold for us and how should we be advising our clients?
What I’m going to be covering can be broken down into three main sections:
- Don’t ignore the basics.
While I am telling you to think outside of the box, I’m not saying you should ignore the basics. Having a strong basic foundation to local SEO is key to your long-term and short-term SEO success.
- Think more about traditional organic ranking factors.
We are going to do a deep dive here where we’ll talk about the reasons and implications of having a solid website with more of an organic SEO mindset.
- Don’t stop believing in citations and links.
We know that links are important both for local and organic SEO. Why stop with the basics? As long as they’re healthy, keep trucking along.
1. Don’t ignore the basics in local SEO.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time covering this, but it’s important to reiterate it. Local SEO is built on a strong foundation of best practices. These include everything from having consistent and non-duplicated citations — which consist of your NAP (Business Name, Address, and Phone Number) on the top directories and data aggregators — to ensuring your landing pages are properly optimized.
Worry about the basics first, then move onto step 2 — traditional organic ranking factors.
To get an idea of what I mean when talking about “the basics,” read these cool resources:
2. Think more about traditional organic ranking factors.
Google really loves their traditional organic ranking factors. How do I know this? Well, whether it was Pigeon, Mobilegeddon, or other updates, you can see that Google is trying to provide users with the best online experience. They don’t want to show non-mobile-friendly results when a user is searching on their phone.
It’s no secret that Google’s algorithm is getting more sophisticated every year. As they do this, it becomes clear that they want to provide a great search experience, as well as a great user experience.
This is why we need to take a step back, shake our heads, and start looking around. If you want to be competitive for your clients in the long-term, it would be wise to start taking steps toward the future now.
Below are a list of some of the most common issues I see. For a full list of items to audit, check out Steve Webb’s SEO audit here.
Common on-page errors that hurt or hinder local SEO efforts
- Not having a mobile-friendly website
Ok, seriously. You’ve heard of Mobilegeddon (which was a bit over-exaggerated). But if you’re taking your time and still haven’t built a mobile site, you need to fix that ASAP. With so many searches being mobile now and with Google caring more and more about organic ranking signals, don’t be surprised if you’re not rewarded in mobile search results if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website.
- Using a bulky and non-SEO-friendly theme
The problem with buying a website theme without testing it for speed considerations first? Page load time. We’ll talk more about that in just a minute, but it’s a real problem. The reason that websites range from as low as free to thousands of dollars is typically because great websites require a great deal of work. Minifying the code and ensuring that every element loads quickly and properly on browsers is essential. Check out this handy web developers cheat sheet to get a better grasp on the factors that are most important.
- Having slow site speed
Recently I was consulting for a client in the dental field who had atrocious site load times. Google cares about the user experience — if your site takes forever to load, you can bet that will have a negative impact on you. Not to mention, this might mean the Google crawlers will spend less time checking out your website.
- Having a lot of 404 errors
Log in to the Google Search Console and run a site crawl with Screaming Frog to figure out where 404s exist on your website. If you have a bunch of broken pages, you’re both missing out on their link juice and you’re showing that you’re not taking good care of your website. Show that you care about your site and clean these babies up.
- Using 302 redirects
302 redirects from the outside in aren’t passing that valuable link juice you need. Since we know link equity is a ranking factor, we need to keep as much of it as we can. Do not use 302 redirects for permanent changes. Fix these and update them to 301 redirects.
- Using 301 redirects internally
If you update a link on your website and it creates a broken link, don’t take the easy way out and just create an internal 301 direct. I see a lot of issues with these where, over time, webmasters will lose sight of them and multiple redirect levels will take place. Use a tool (like Screaming Frog) to identify these errors and their source. Make sure to clean them up to prevent issues. Remember, if your links are taking multiple hops, you’re diminishing their link value.
- Missing title tags
If you’re using WordPress, you can easily add title tags in a number of ways. I prefer the Yoast SEO Plugin. It’s solid, it’s regularly updated, and it works to easily update title tags on your pages. Make sure all of the pages on your site are taking advantage of title tags and localized title tags.
- Missing H1 heading tags. Seriously, check this.
Not having local-centric H1 tags is a common problem I see with local pages. One of the problems is that you might think you have H1 tags on your WordPress theme, but in reality they’re not coded that way. Sometimes there are disconnects between developers and SEOs, and this sort of thing occurs frequently. Use a tool like the MozBar browser plugin and page analysis tool to quickly point out if your web page is using an H1 tag. Make sure they’re localized, too. 🙂
- Not having enough hyper-local text content
Remember that Google is very granular on location detection now. If you list that you serve or do work in surrounding local neighborhoods, you’re going to get some benefit out of creating content around these areas. It really proves that you know the community and you’re a part of it, as well.
- Not taking advantage of hyper-local images and videos
Hyper-local content is not just text on a page. It can be a localized video or photo, as well. If you’re serving a specific geographic area and creating content around it, you can tie local visitors into the content and get them to engage further if you’re using photos of places they recognize. Localized photos are a great way to create unique content that’s relevant to your local audience.
Common off-page errors that hurt or hinder local SEO efforts
- Citations using 301 redirects to other 301 redirects to…
I feel like this is a pro tip, but it really isn’t. This is an interesting one that I actually find is commonly overlooked. Let’s look at a common scenario for this one:
A common issue is when your citation or link sources were set up years ago, yet you’ve changed your website landing pages at some point since then. In this case, you probably would have created a 301 redirect so links from your citation sources redirect and pass link juice to the appropriate page. However, what if you’ve done this several times? What if you built strong links to these old URLs and then redirected them multiple times? It’s a link value loss and it needs to be rectified.
The solution is to update your links and citations to point to the proper landing page URL when possible.
- Stop adding new citations due to their citation value alone
Everyone is quick to tell you that the top citations carry the most weight. I don’t disagree with that. But I also think there’s not a hard-and-fast decision that says you need to stop building citations. Most citations also have a link source to add a link. Nofollow links seem to help local SEO. Why ignore them? If you find quality directories, localized websites, or other places that you can get listed on, be sure to take advantage of them.
- Not getting enough reviews
It’s cool to rank in the top three results, but our click test studies have shown that many users will bypass the first or second result and click on the third if the number of positive reviews is greater. You need to have a solid review strategy in place in 2015. If you’re running a great business and don’t have a program for online reviews, then you need to get your act together.
If you need a review solution, check out Get Five Stars — it’s a review platform that allows you to easily acquire customer feedback and encourage online reviews.
- Your competition is spamming you in Map Maker
In this post, Linda Buquet over at the Local Search Forum pointed out one way that businesses were scoring a Google One Box by cheating. Basically, either intentionally or through a data update, businesses were taking advantage of the Google Map Maker Alternate Names tab and keyword stuffing them with localized keywords, as you can see in the example below. If you see this, be sure to report it and get them addressed. You can search for these in Google.com/MapMaker by viewing the alternate names.
Something you need to overcome
They can be “exact match domains,” “similar match domains,” “keyword-rich domains,” or whatever you want to call them. The reality is that if your competition is beating you because of this little trick, you need to step up your game. There is no denying their benefit in local organic SEO; you need to create enough signals to overcome them. Below, I’ll discuss how you can do this. With some hard work and elbow grease, you can beat out your competition in this area.
3. Don’t stop building citations and links.
So you’ve taken care of all the SEO best practices and you’re still not winning? Where’s your elbow grease? Do you think your competition stopped? Do you think they stopped because you’re winning? If so, you’ll be up for a rude awakening when they surpass you. It’s far easier to maintain superiority than to fight to get it back after you’ve lost it.
This is one of the most common SEO mistakes I see resulting from tunnel vision. As a marketer, when you start thinking, “Well, I’ve done everything I need to and it’s working, so I’ll just sit back and relax,” all I can say is no, no, no. This is a detrimental mindset to both you and your clients’ success. Always keep building the exposure and the brand. Never stop. Please don’t stop believing, and please don’t ask me to sing that at karaoke… because I will.
Now, let’s get tactical with some things you should be doing outside of the usual.
- Don’t forget video creation & its benefits
Did you create a video or two and lose steam? Did you forget how powerful videos can be and how easy they are to make? You can get a legitimately good video made on Fiverr for $50 that will blow your clients’ minds. The key to this is doing your due diligence and not taking shortcuts. Create the outline, write the text, and order a well-made video. Whether you have a news announcement or want to just repurpose content on your website, video is a great medium. Good video will help your site flourish; don’t produce crappy video.
So, what can you do with a video? You can upload it to a number of sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and DailyMotion, earning a cool-looking citation and links to your local landing page.
- Don’t stop with competitive citation analysis
Competition analysis is easier than it ever has been. We have tools like Whitespark, Brightlocal, the N.A.P. HUNTER Extension, and Places Scout to easily identify competitors’ citations. There is no reason not to keep a running list of these and a small commitment of, say, 10 new additions per month based on your top ten competitors in a space.
If you don’t have access to the tools listed above, you can also just do a Google search and see what listings come up for the competition that you don’t have.
- Start getting new links & don’t stop
Luke mentioned during our conversation that “getting links was too hard.” Let’s think about that statement for a moment. If links were easy to get, wouldn’t everyone go for them? Or perhaps they already earned the easy links. Of course, you can always gain links the traditional way by seeking them, for which I’ll show you a couple of good resources below. However, some of the best companies are always newsworthy.
The attorneys Sutliff & Stout ran a drunk driving campaign for the holidays. It got them on local news stations complete with real interviews, great links, and a very positive impact on their local visibility. These were real business actions they were taking that resulted in media attention.
If you need ideas, here are some you can take home with you right now. I suggest reading these posts and making a schedule or a goal. Go after a couple a week. But don’t just stick to one link building idea. Diversify, and be careful with your anchor text.
– 11 Ways for Local Businesses to Get Links – Written by yours truly on the Moz Blog
– Building Links with local events from Kane Jamison
– 8 Local Link Building Tactics Beyond Business Listings – Whitespark
– Get Five New Links a Week (Lawyer-centric) – Juris Digital Blog
- Integrate your offline marketing and your online marketing
How many times have you participated in an offline initiative, but didn’t coordinate it with your online efforts? Real companies tend to be active in the community or have a presence. Whether that means they sponsor a Little League (link opportunity), they host an annual event (event link building), or they get local TV station interviews, these efforts and signals should be coordinated to have the maximum SEO benefit.
And finally… Set realistic goals for your efforts
If you’re quick to promise results, make sure you can deliver on your timelines. I work mostly in the legal field with personal injury attorneys. In this field, you’re competing with some of the best SEOs, people who have been doing this a lot longer than many of the “fly-by-night” guys. This means that, even though we’re doing the right things and following best practices, we still need to be promoting the business everyday. Even taking this approach, the results will take time. It’s a long-term investment and you have to stick with it. Set realistic goals up front with your clients and make sure they understand the competition.
With this knowledge, time, and power, you should have the resources you need to think outside of the box and dominate local SEO.
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