Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign

Sep 6th
posted in

Local SEO has the undeserved reputation of being "easy" and "not a lot of work". The competitiveness of keywords might be less competitive than broader keywords but there still is a fair amount of work that goes into getting the campaign off and running properly.

On the whole, keywords targeted in local SEO campaigns are less competitive than their broader counterparts but there are also mitigating factors to consider when determining the overall difficulty of the campaign.

Consideration also needs to be given to how the following factors will effect the overall difficulty of producing a successful campaign:

  • relationship between keyword volume, difficulty, and conversion ROI for the client on both Google and Bing
  • prevalence of Google/Bing local inserts (need to factor in the wonkiness of these ranking algorithms as well)
  • appropriateness and value of setting up and running social media profiles for the client
  • link difficulty (depending on the client's niche)
  • availability of other online traffic generation options (buying exposure on other sites where the target market is)
  • the client's desire to engage in pre-campaign PPC to more accurately determine search volume for a more accurate setting of expectations
  • client's budget
  • your margins

Some of what I mentioned above doesn't really fall into the "difficulty" of ranking for keywords, but ranking is only a piece of the overall puzzle. You should have an idea of how difficult the entire process will be, because it's more than just rankings at this stage (and has been for awhile).

Building the Campaign Framework

There are a number of pre-campaign, post-campaign, during-campaign tools you can use for these kinds of campaigns but you don't have to go nuts. Local search stats can be small enough to make extrapolation without PPC or historical analytics data fruitless with respect to actionable date

When you begin to layout your campaign process you could follow a broader roadmap and adjust as necessary. For example, your specifics might change if you are working with an existing site rather than a new one (no historical data, no initial on-site reviews to do, etc).

While links are still and will continue to be uber-important for the foreseeable future, it is wise to consider the rise of site engagement, social signals, and online PR. This is why when we talk about "local SEO" we talk about things like strategic ad buys, social media plays, and PPC for research purposes.

Local SEO can be a lead-in to an entire marketing campaign as we discussed here, so we'll leave ongoing PPC, email marketing, offline ad integration, etc for those kinds of discussions but just know that once you get your foot in the door the door can open pretty wide. The more you can do and the better you do it the better your retention rate will be.

Keyword Research

The biggest thing to do is set expectations. If you come running in with unqualified keyword volume reports you are really starting from a level of distrust, even if the client doesn't know it yet. If the client isn't interested in some initial PPC then it's in your best interest to clue them in on the potential inaccuracy of various keyword tools.

For an existing site you can pull keyword search data from whatever analytics package the client has as well as from both sets of webmaster tools (Bing and Google). You can cross reference that with current rankings to see where you might be able to score some quick wins.

For a new site, set up accounts on Google's Webmaster Tools as well as Bing's. These will come in handy down the road for more keyword data, link data, and site health reviews.

We've talked about local SEO keyword research via PPC before and on top of that, or in lieu of that if the client isn't interested, you can get some local and a bunch of broader keywords from tools like:

In addition to keyword research tools, you can you a couple of free tools to help generate and populate local keywords:

The second tool combines search terms with local modifiers in a given radius of the area you select.

If you find local volume lacking I suggest the following steps:

  • Start with the targeted town's (or towns) name and/or zip code(s) as modifiers
  • Move up to a bigger nearby town or county if needed
  • If volume is still sparse, move up to state level keyword modifiers
  • Couple those bits of research with what the non-locally modified results show to see if you can find overlapping relationships between core keywords (medical insurance versus health insurance, or car insurance versus auto insurance, etc)
  • Move into Google Trends and Insights to further qualify the broader keywords by region and state
  • If no clear winner emerges, err on the side of where the broader volume is

Site Architecture and Content

Quite a few local sites are going to be your brochure-style sites. Site structure can vary quite a bit depending on the size and scope of the site. Since most local sites focus on a particular product or service (rather than being Amazon.Com) it is wise to keep the following in mind:

  • stay far, far away from duplicate and NEAR duplicate content (if the client is an insurance agent don't have similar pages like acmeinsurance.com/car-insurance, /auto-insurance, /vehicle insurance)
  • also, avoid using the town/city names as the only modifiers where no difference exists between services or products (acmeinsurance.com/town1-auto-insurance, /town2-autoinsurance, /town3 autoinsurance)
  • get the client involved in the content writing, they generally have lots of marketing or product material that you can pull from and give to a writer for topical ideas and industry jargon
  • consider hiring on a well-respected job board like problogger.net for specific content needs (finance, home/garden, food, etc)
  • don't overdo internal linking with keyword rich anchors, especially on navigation (try to keep it broad from a keyword standpoint...Car Insurance vs Providence Car Insurance as an example)
  • use tools like screaming frog and xenu to assess overall on-page health, structural integrity, and internal linking stats
  • microsoft also has an on-page assessment tool available on windows
  • write your page titles and meta descriptions with click-thru's in mind while mixing in broad and local keyword variations to help describe the site rather than simply to keyword stuff

Tools like Google's Page Speed and Yslow can provide you with detailed analysis on potential site loading issues prior to launch. I have found that printing these out before/after is a good way to show the client, who typically is a novice, some of the stuff that is going on behind the scense. Clients like before and afters (when the after is more favorable than the before of course).

Tracking

Tracking is key, naturally, so you'll need to pick an analytics package. There are some decent Google Analytics alternatives, if you aren't interested in dealing with the borg. That said, you can choose from some fairly full-featured packages

For ease of use and feature sets I tend to either go with Clicky, Mint or Google Analytics. I haven't spent much time with Woopra and I find Piwik to not be as intiuitive or as user friendly as the other 3 I mentioned (which is even more important when the client wants/needs access.)

Speaking of tracking, you should consider getting familiar with a cheap virtual phone number vendor (I would recommend phone.com) as well as Google's URL builder for tracking potential adverts and media buys down the road (as well as offline adverts if you end up servicing that aspect of the client's marketing campaign). If you use Google Analytics, another cool tool to use is Raven's Google Analytics configuration tool

I generally recommend staying away from tracking numbers because it can screw up your Google Places rankings and trust but when I use them I typically just make them images on whatever page they are being listed on and I never use them for IYP citations (listings on sites like Yelp, Yellowpages, Merchant Circle, etc).

Planning Out Link Building

For local sites, you'll want to attack link building on two fronts: 1. External links 2. Citations.

Before you get into any of the link planning, you should get the client set up in KnowEm. KnowEm will help get the client on all the relevant social networks and goes a long way in establishing the base for the client to control it's branded searches and branded SERPs.

You can choose from a variety of packages from basic registration to complete profile set up (bio's, pictures, descriptions, etc). Once these profiles are built, you can begin building links to them (and link to them from the client's site) to further the client's domination of their own branded SERPs.

For citations, I would recommend using Whitespark (we reviewed it here). Whitespark really is an essential tool in building citations, tracking citations, and doing competitive citation research. Speaking of citations, each year David Mihm releases the Local Search Ranking Factors and I would highly recommend saving each year's version and refer back to it when designing your citation building plan(s).

As for traditional link building, it's fairly similar to non-local link building with respect to the broader overview of link outreach but can be niched down to focus on locality for both link equity and qualified traffic.

Some of the things you can do at the beginning of the link planning process would be:

  • make a list of the vendors you use, find out if they have a site and would be willing to link to you
  • local papers tend to have really favorable online advertising rates, exposure runs a close second to links and part of how I like to approach the link building process is to be everywhere (online) locally; play hardball for a bit on the rates and you'll be surprised about the relatively cheap, local exposure you can buy
  • set up google alerts for your client's brand and for local topics relevant to their product/service
  • talk to other local businesses about co-promotions on both your site, their site, and your social networks (if available)
  • if you offer coupons and discounts to certain groups or demographics, get those posted on local sites as well; many local sites do not have sophisticated ad serving technology so you often get a nice, relevant, clean link back to your client's site
  • in addition to competitive link research you can pull the backlinks of local chambers of commerce and local travel/tourist sites to find potential link opportunities
  • run a broken link checker on local resource sites, specifically ones that deal with local events, news, tourism and see if there are link opportunities for your client

Infographic ideas for local clients, depending on the niche, can be found fairly easily and can bring in lots and lots of local links and exposure. Every state and many towns/cities have Wikipedia pages which link out to demographic statistics. There is a trove of data available and if you can be creative with the data + your client's niche there are lots of opportunities for you.

For instance, in Rhode Island insurance rates are typically higher than neighboring states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc). The reasons generally are things like exposure to coastal regions, proximity of towns to city center, accident history, etc. You could easily make a decent infographic about this. Local news and resource sites would probably be willing to gobble it up. If you were able to interview insurance company spokespeople you could find yourself with some pretty good exposure and some pretty solid links.

Expectations and Budget

The reality is that if you do not properly set expectations (maybe think about showing the client how the sausage is made pre-campaign) and you take whatever budget comes your way you will not be able to provide quality service for very long, the campaign will not succeed, and you may do irreparable harm to your brand in your local market.

If you have other results and testimonials to fall back on, as well as a solid plan mapped out (that can be explained to the client), then you've held up your end of the bargain with respect to providing a fair proposal for your time and effort. Sometimes the initial planning is the most time-intensive part of a local campaign.

Plan it out correctly from the beginning and you should be able to produce the results required to keep the client and build up your brand in your local market.

Local SEO as a Gateway Service

Aug 1st
posted in

Over the years we've encouraged the diversification of income-generating web properties to help webmaster stave off eventual onslaughts from Google.

Despite popular belief it's not just penalties and filters that cause said onslaughts, but also continued self-insertion by Google in its own SERPs. Not all insertion is bad, from a user POV, but when it consists of scraped content without source attribution it's a problem.

Recently I read about this idea that updates do not affect the best SEO's. So, here we can see what happens in saturated markets. That statement is meant to drive some kind of wedge between different types of SEO's or to somehow convince clients of an otherwise dubious claim.

I mean, what is "best" anyway? Does "best" mean to be so conservative that you never find the edges of your industry? Does it mean ignoring tactics over the last decade or so which could have generated a king's ransom and allowed you to invest in other areas of the business or start a new business or retire or what?

Accuracy Pays Off

If you have never been effected by a Google update then you've been overly-conservative and never pushed the envelope on things. How many of the best of anything get to be the best without pushing the envelope? It's like saying the best employees never call in sick (has nothing to do with talent, really).

It requires to much intellectual honesty and time, apparently, to break things down to risk/reward so things tend to get defined in broad terms (black/white hat). Some tactics die off, some take off, some become more risky, some become somewhat less effective, and on and on and on. What "best" really is, when used as a divisive and self-promotional tool , is high school trophy-ism at best.

Again, in saturated markets folks resort to making outrageous claims to put themselves or their company on a imaginery pedestal for clients to see. Saturated industries can become bubble-icious so it's wise to look for strategies to diversify away from where the bubble might pop.

I've taken an interest in real estate this year and I read an excellent quote in a really solid book by Gary Eldred:

During irrationally exuberant boom times, investors perceive little risk, but real risks loom larger and larger as prices climb higher and higher, rental income yields fall, and unsustainable amounts of mortgage debt pile up - even though rent collections remain too low to cover operating expenses and debt service

You could substitute a few words there and wrap up the current state of a good chunk of web publishing (from the view of a publisher) inside of Google. However, it's still a worthwhile business model to pursue, if you practice good SERP profiling and SERP competition analysis but it's as important as ever to continue to diversify your income streams so you can withstand such bubbles.

Local SEO Services

For web business options, becoming a local SEO provider is still a solid option for diversification purposes and for a business in general. Not necessarily because there are huge money keywords in every locale, in abundance, but because of the other services you can layer on to your SEO service.

Local SEO services are alive and well, as evidenced by our recent interviews with Adam Zilko and Jacob Puhl of Firegang and Darren Shaw of Whitespark.

Why Local SEO?

You'd could also diversify your self-publishing business by working with larger brands, which is a perfectly profitable model, but you'll likely have to scale up on staff and overhead. Again, zero wrong with that but before you jump into that ocean you might want to work with local businesses for a bit (especially if you haven't done a lot of formal client work in awhile) so you can:

  • work on establishing processes (billing, contracts, business processes, project management, crm's, managing information, etc)
  • audition staffers until you find your initial, trusted team
  • learn how to best integrate service offerings
  • have your hands in every aspect of their marketing campaigns, so you are not viewed as a commodity
  • hone your presentation skills by speaking engagements at smaller, local venues

It typically is a bit easier to be a full-fledged marketing agency for a smaller, local business because there is less red tape, quicker time to market with strategies, more willingness to allow you to run the SEO, PPC, social media, conversion optimization, and even offline marketing campaigns for them.

The more success you have, along with the more hooks you have into the business, the more likely the client is to spend more/scale more and recommended you to other business owners in the area.

Local SEO recommendations are *crucial* to success and they can spread like creamy, organic peanut butter :D (quickly and deliciously).

In local markets, trust is critical and it is pretty easy to be the big fish in the small pond, essentially becoming the default, go-to agency for local business marketing needs.

Margins are quite a bit lower out of the gate versus large brand work, but over time I've seen and experienced healthy spend increases once the initial fear of "oh no is this another cold SEO caller selling garbage services" is gone.

The Growth of Small Business as an Option

I suspect that as more and more "normal jobs" continue to either be cut, moved to part-time, or have measly wage increases new job market entrants will begin to start their own businesses, many probably starting out as local, rather than going to work for someone else.

Of course, this could be a few years out but not too far because the education bubble is likely the next bubble to pop and right now new college graduates can't afford to start a new business given the amounts of student loan debt many are saddled with.

Hopefully, this economic disaster will awaken upcoming generations to what's possible without large amounts of debt. This is likely years away though but in the near future there certainly needs to be more job growth at the small business level.

SmallBizTrends, an excellent resource for small businesses, published a post a few weeks back about children of entrepreneurs following in the footsteps of their parents. The post cited a study from 2010 from the Kaufman Foundation which states (among other things):

Nevertheless, the desire to start a business over other careers has risen slightly for young adults (18 to 21 years of age), from 19 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2010.

They have stats in there from the 8-12 year old age group, which I think is a bit early, but the overall trends for young adults and adults is trending upward. I can only imagine this will continue to rise as more and more parents begin to teach the new generation about how post-secondary education is largely a rip off when you look at the balance between debt ratios and income potential.

What this Means for You

This is a great time to be in our industry. The diversification options for earning income are wide open and while some models have shrinking margins and elevated risk, there are other pools you can dip your toes into where you can leverage many aspects of online marketing:

  • Create & sell digital products
  • Find private label products and sell them
  • Publish sites and monetize with contextual ads and/or ad space
  • Take on various types of client work if you are over-leveraged on pure publishing models
  • Create membership sites...and on and on

The beauty of all that is these can all be approached individually or layered on top of each other, mixed and matched, etc.

The point of this post being about local seo services further illustrates the wide range of services you can provide once you break the monetization methods I mentioned above down even further.

Local SEO might start off as a discussion about organic and places rankings but it can quite easily turn into a discussion about PPC, social media, conversion optimization, email marketing, and offline marketing as all of these practices tie into the end goal of increasing revenue and exposure for the business you are trying to take on as a client.

Reinforcing the Obvious

Jul 26th
posted in

Search is more complex than it's ever been. There are many factors which contribute to this increased complexity and where more complexity exists, specific advice is harder to find (and rightfully so BTW).

By specific advice I mean stuff that actually works a majority of the time rather than pie in the sky theories which largely consist of Google talking points.

You can find this kind of stuff from people who are not actively engaged in day to day SEO, or haven't been for quite some time. When you hear someone backing up their theories solely on the basis of "I talked to so and so" or "I see X, Y, Z" then you should take caution in clinging to that advice.

Surely there are conversations between SEO practitioners where information is shared and trends are spotted but usually it is a result of (at least) a two sided conversation between 2 people who are engaged in the actual practice.

I mean, would you want a dentist trying to fill a cavity who actually hasn't done it for years (or ever) but had someone tell them how to do it :) ? In almost any profession there is no substitute for experience.

Barriers to Entry

There is a huge barrier to entry to SEO but there is no barrier to entry for folks who want to dispense advice publicly and it makes cutting through the rubbish quite difficult.

The other issue for information seekers is that as any revenue generating model, like SEO, becomes more complex people tend to not share the specific advice which happens to be working for them because if they did it would take away the one remaining, unique tool one has in their arsenal (actual data).

In terms of complexity, the issues facing SEO now tend to be:

  • Faster, Far-Reaching, Less Forgiving (you might need to start over) algorithims
  • Google's continued domination of search marketshare
  • Double speak from search engines, lack of clarity or purpose in their "transparent" communications
  • The increased cost, indirect and direct, of bad advice
  • Google forcing its way into commercial markets
  • A swath of tools which are marketed to be THE TOOLS YOU NEED TO SUCCEED, when in reality most of them are simply also-ran's or essentially half-baked solutions to markets that have already been solved. Time-sucks are dangerous

I've seen quotes like "well years ago I told you social signals would blah blah links" or other beauties like the whole railing against exact match domains over the years.

You do SEO to generate revenue for a particular business in some way, shape, or form.. Having different types of sites that generate revenue in different ways (tools, AdSense, PPC, ad sales, affiliate marketing, and so on) is a great business model.

If you had followed the kind of advice I mocked above, then you left and continue to leave a lot of revenue, data, and experience on the table. This is what I mean by dangerous advice. Mocked in the sense that forgoing years of revenue for what might happen in the future (maybe it is happening a tad now). But again, no need to pick one or the other. Do both!

The truth is many of the age-old underlying tips and techniques are still the cornerstones of successful SEO campaigns, despite all the talk of brands, links, social signals, domain names, content, and all the rest.

By cornerstones I mean things like:

  • Market/Keyword Selection
  • Technical Expertise
  • Link Building and PR

The Matt Cutts Decoder Ring

There is nothing else that shows the desire of bloggers and/or industry people to find some magical way to differentiate themselves than an an update from Matt Cutts. When Matt Cutts says something you can rest assured blog posts and tweets will be flying about, trying to "read between the lines" to find that "ah-ha!" statement which is then bantered about as some type of holy grail.

People please, Matt Cutts is an extremely smart guy who is unbelievably good at PR. Matt generally offers some good talking points which are safe, practical, but are just not a reality with respect to ranking in quite a few competitive markets or outranking sites doing more "creative" things than you would be.

For example, this video in 2010 talks about the relationship between great content and great links. You can skip to around the 1:24 mark where he mentions "bugging people by sending out spam emails asking for links" :

Then he proceeds to talk about how great content naturally attracts links. No, it doesn't. There is an element of marketing involved, you have to "bug" people to showcase your "great" content otherwise you'll be rocking pages 7-10 in the SERPs forever.

This was the mantra for awhile; "Create great content and links will come naturally". This is a pipe dream *unless* you have a built in readership. Getting to that point is a solid goal indeed, but for many new sites or projects it is simply not the case. For people trying to get to that level of built-in branding this kind of advice is poor at best.

More recently, in what I thought was a really solid interview overall, Matt was interviewed by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting (a sharp guy) and the fallout from this interview was infographics possibly being devalued at some point. Platitudes aside, it's likely true but as with most things it comes down to variables.

In the me-first nature of the web, really thin posts starting popping up (presumably as...GASP..linkbait) about infographics being devalued at some point and what this means for the future of SEO. When, if you just read the interview, you'd understand exactly what he was saying.

The obviously shifty stuff will probably get dinged (infographics about kittens pointing to a pet site, later to have its embed code changed to point to a Payday Loans site) but a reasonable person would understand that infographics do have value when done correctly for lead generation, brand buzz, branded links, social signals, and so on.

What it boils down to is the argument between content and links, and there really is no argument. Arguments tend to get created.

Since 2008...

This site, specifically Aaron in this post, has been talking about mixing up your business model as an SEO and viewing SEO as part of a holistic approach since 2008. It's always been a good idea to get your business outside of just rankings in a search engine as part of your business model.

One cannot ignore what has been obvious for the past 4 years...which is this:

  • You can rank not great content with links
  • You cannot rank great content without links (putting aside sites with built in readership)

If you ignored that for 4 years then you left a lot, a lot, a lot of revenue & data on the table and if you continue to ignore the power of links for ranking inside of the largest search engine, which provides super-targeted traffic, then you continue to leave revenue on the table.

Maybe that is a business model folks would rather not pursue, that's cool, but giving people the idea that you have to spend lots of money/time on design, interactivity, promotion, content creation, and so on to rank in search engines, in lieu of links is flat out wrong and dishonest when it applies to SEO.

Link juice matters, anchor text matters, and content matters (to a lesser extent because content is subjective) to search engine rankings; fact not opinion. On the flip side, you can absolutely create great content furthers your business or your client's business even more. Do both, if you have the budget, and you'll be in a great spot.

What is the Answer?

The answer is both. As online marketers, and as marketers in general as online/offline continue to merge, it's important to maximize what works now and what you believe will work in the future when it comes to generating revenue for yourself and/or your clients. It's important up to the point where you want to fork off your business model into one or the other or a mix of both.

Let me give you a recent example:

Over the years I've learned and continue to learn some really cool, effective stuff from Wil Reynolds (CEO of SEER Interactive). I encourage you to follow him on Twitter if you do not already. I wasn't at MozCon but I was browsing through some of his slides and this is where I think some context needs to be added.

One of the first slides I viewed:

Links are a conduit to conversions and many of these other metrics mentioned in his slides when we view it in the context of SEO. Links help ranking, ranking brings traffic, traffic can be worked with to achieve success via the same metrics he is stating there.

Maybe he made those points, I don't know, but I do know that the person going through these slides looking for information from a respected source would get the same idea I did most likely and the idea is somewhat off.

The next couple of slides go through owning a conversion and he uses two of our favorite sites :D

Here the search is for SeoMoz vs SeoBook with a couple pieces of content from the SeoMoz.Org:

Fair points but let's look at some things that both links and product/content helped with:

Now let's circle back, since we are talking about SEO here, search volume for these comparative searches:

So what you can see here is that you have keywords that are way down the tail, likely towards the end of a buying process, and while they are valuable they are dwarfed by the volume of big money keywords. If you win those big ones, very few searchers will bother searching that far down (evidenced by the volume disparity).

This is my point, some link practices are crappy and harmful but links matter, link juice matters. How you acquire said links and PR is a separate discussion and certainly great products and great marketing will help, but so do links.

In the grand scheme of things, no, ranking for a term here and a term there is not evidence of anything other than success with that approach for that goal. Who knows, maybe rankings will change but for now and for a long time this ranking and associated rankings have been quite beneficial to the growth of this site.

The obviousness that I'm trying to reinforce is that it's not one or the other, for many sites and for many clients both practices are needed for long term success and for maximizing success. However, to throw out the benefits of links and link juice (and the algorithmic trust/authority they create) in the face of other metrics that links will help you get to is just wrong IMHO. Well, it's not even IMHO, the evidence is in the SERPs.

As mentioned above, it's been said for a long time here that thinking outside just rankings is a good idea (for years) and that SEO as part of a more holistic marketing approach is a solid move. Part of SEO, the ranking side of it anyway, involves links and their juice. You can utilize both methods together, to provide a powerful approach to SEO, rather than excluding one over the other (especially when the excluded approach still works very well).

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The Importance of Determining SERP Competition

Jul 6th
posted in

Great detectives are timeless and now is a great time to start stepping up your SERP sleuthing :)

SEO has long been a process in which instant financial gratification has been hard to come by (especially on a brand new project). I believe the "patience" trait required by the nature of SEO is what causes many projects to fail due to a couple of different things:

1. Many people getting into SEO get sold on "make a lot of easy money working from home" mantras and are lured in by otherwise dishonest marketers.
2. SEO has a lot of upfront cost that may not be recouped for months (or years)

As organic real estate continues to become more elusive and expensive inside of Google (and harder to evaluate thanks to *not provided*) it really has never been more important to appropriately evaluate your competition and your keyword market.

Mistakes now cost more, homeruns are harder to hit, singles and doubles are harder to evaluate based on Google "protecting" keyword data (not on AdWords...obviously).

When you hear the term harder you shouldn't be discouraged so long as you are willing to study, learn, evaluate, and build relationships. "Harder" is good if you are on the wheat end of the wheat/chaff separation.

Furthermore, one needs to approach a new SEO project with an open mind and allow the keyword research & competitive analysis processes to take place in a fluid way rather than coming to the dance with a keyword list you are unwilling to change (data be damned!).

Evaluation Points

You should consider the following points when addressing SERP Competition:

  • Strength of websites competing organically
  • Google's Knowledge Graph
  • Google Maps/Places Inserts
  • Google's Lead Generation Forms (Google Hotels, Google Flights, etc)
  • Google Serving Ads Off of Local Listings
  • AdWords Ads with Social Extensions, Site Links, etc further pushing organic results downward
  • Adding Google Carving via Video Inserts, Paid Inclusion, News Results, and so on

When evaluating a competing website you'll want to look at things like:

  • Domain Age
  • Appearance of Known Brands in the SERP
  • Anchor Text Profile
  • Quality/Size of Backlink Profiles
  • Spammy Link Practices (perhaps this is an industry where spammy links rule, you'll need to decide if you want/can go that route in order to compete)

Once you find a core keyword you can run through the SERPS (logged out, cookies cleared, and so on in order to avoid personalized results) to check it against the metrics mentioned above.

It is advisable to go in with your core keyword and different versions of your core keyword (singular, plural, synonyms, etc) because SERPS can be fairly different for each. Conversely, you might find that not only is the head term uber-competitive but the tail may be the exact same way; whereas this may not be the case for others.

The three type of keywords I usually come across are:

  • Keywords that look appealing based on the numbers (volume, existence of a long-tail, and so on) but are probably money pits based on brand bias + Google bias
  • Keywords that have minor differences which result in huge analysis swings (plural vs singular, car vs auto, broad match vs exact match for example)
  • Keywords with somewhat limited volume but are homeruns because they are the antithesis of the type of keywords described in the first bullet point

"Too Good To Be True"

One of the uglier areas right now is the travel space. So I was thinking of spending the weekend in Boston with my family recently and I thought it would be a fun exercise to use Google for the searches (rather than my usual search provider, Bing).

The keyword [boston hotels] is certainly a keyword that fits into the bucket of being appealing based on numbers. It's quite appealing based on the numbers for the core term as well as the volume and depth of its tail.

As with any major city there are many landmarks that come into play which are quite easy to tailor content and user experience for. For Boston you could get into waterfront modifiers, back bay modifiers, Fenway park & Faneuil Hall modifiers, reviews and so on.

When I evaluate a SERP one thing I do is to consider that at some point in the future, probably the near future, Google will do to the tail what they are doing to the head.

If it's just brand bias then you can probably hang with that to an extent but if it's anything like what I saw with [boston hotels] then you should dig a bit deeper, go lateral, or go somewhere else:

If you follow the green arrows, you'll see quite a bit of stuff that should give you pause about this market:

  • adwords with site links and +1's
  • google travel box
  • big, strong brands
  • google maps and google offers to the right
  • google monetizing their own local listings
  • a total of 3 organic listing

So not only is Google monetizing most of this SERP at the expense of organic listings but they've actually taken away organic listings below the fold.

This is SERP is pretty ridiculous but it is reality. Expedia is listed 3 times above the fold, the lack of choice here is apparent and unfortunate. I've used Expedia and I like Expedia but seeing it 3x is a bit much given that 7 other options were completely removed. Condense, monetize, and brand the SERP; these are the ones that would give me significant pause while conducting competitive analysis.

The key point is that not only is your competition fierce (in the top 3 organic listings) but once you include Google as your competition, and you most certainly should, it becomes being close to impossible to consider this keyword at all.

If you were to move down the tail you would see, while not as egregious, pretty similar stuff and one would likely be correct in saying that eventually the tail, especially the juicy part, will eventually look like the head.

Here is [boston waterfront hotels] (excuse the multiple maps, full screenshot on the non-visible part of the browser seems to have picked up the map twice)

Similar stuff but at least organics remain below the smaller places insert.

Here's [boston hotel reviews]:

Again, similar stuff except no Google Travel box (because it's not a commercial search, or as commercial as the other 2) and a total of 3 organic listings on the page as well as an extra AdWords ad (no doubt making up for the Travel Box removal :D )

Similar Keywords, Big Differences

Another group of keywords you will run across are keywords that have multiple versions (synonyms, singular versus plural, and so on) where one of the versions makes up a significant chunk of the search volume for that particular product or query.

Over the years Google has tied together the singular and plural versions of keywords, in so far as similar SERPS, pretty well but they still have a ways to go on synonyms or just similar meanings in general.

Singular and plural versions are easy enough to figure out and there are multiple ways to find related words. You can use:

  • Google's Keyword Tool and toggle the "closely related" option on and off
  • Wordtracker's related search tool (paid)
  • SeoBook's free keyword tool (powered by Wordtracker) and all the tools that you can link to from our tool
  • Online thesauruses and encyclopedia-type sites which give meanings, uses, and AKA's of words you look up and research

You might find situations where 2 similar terms produce significant search volume with similar competition levels inside of their respective SERPS. In those cases, you can use Google Trends and Google Insights to see the trend of each word (is one picking up steam and the other isn't, are they the same, is one better for my targeted region?) to help decide which keyword is more likely to continue to grow and produce volume long term.

Here you can see 2 such terms, car and auto insurance, over "all years" (pretty close)

Over the last 12 months it seems as if Car is trending up, vs Auto:

If you play around a bit with the regions it would seem that the East coast, particularly the Northeast, tends to use Car as do the bigger states in the Northwest/West Coast while the gap tends to close a bit, or go in the other direction in bigger southern states like Texas.

There are many examples like this where the data supports either/or and your decision is likely to be based on SERP competition. In this example, the SERPS for auto and car insurance are fairly similar with respect to brand bias but without the Google monetization built in (like we saw in the travel SERPS).

If went down the tail a bit, into a more commercial term, you can see where the singular/plural makes a huge difference in terms of volume and trends.

Search volumes for these terms are pretty juicy (as is the CPC and commercial intent) but as you can see there is a huge difference between the singular and plural versions:

Digging in a bit further you can see that the trend is certainly towards the plural version and this should help with your decision because all 4 SERPS are pretty strong (as are many insurance related queries).

Also take into account future localization of these SERPS; which is sure to happen at some point based on all the other localization Google is doing in the professional service industry.

Finding More Ideal Keywords

Another type of keyword is one that doesn't necessarily blow your socks off with volume, but upon further SERP evaluation does appear to be a solid target based on a few different factors:

  • Search volume
  • Appearance of Google verticals
  • Presence of organic listings
  • Lack of localization (unless that is part of your play)
  • Weaker sites ranking
  • Deep subpages of bigger sites ranking

Another thing to consider is predicting if your market is one Google will get into (like they do with travel and some areas of finance).

It's likely insurance is one of those markets based on how lucrative it is and Google's previous finance plays) as are other areas of finance and probably broader areas of e-commerce and comparison shopping. I would assume the latter is further down the road than the finance sectors are.

Tech is an area that is likely to (continue to) be a growth area with respect to portable devices and such. Tablets, ultra books, laptops, smartphones, and so on are all areas you could look in to find examples of these kinds of preferred keywords.

After running through some keyword research (remember to use Microsoft AdIntelligence as well!) I paired down my list to the following keywords:

  • ultrabook reviews
  • best ultrabooks
  • best gaming laptop
  • best gaming laptops
  • gaming laptop reviews
  • gaming laptop
  • gaming laptops

In looking at the SERPS, outside of some Google Shopping stuff in the upper right and some authorship imagery (present on ultra book keywords and the last 2 gaming laptop ones) the SERPS are fairly clean.

Lots of deep brand pages are ranking with some being for specific brands only and a couple subpages on weaker sites are ranking as well. Google Trends shows "ultra books" significantly outpacing "gaming laptop" in terms of trend while gaming laptop still has quite a bit more volume.

After evaluating the SERPS I like both markets here. I think the ultrabook market is more of a play for down the road (between the two), though depending on how fast they catch on outside of the MacBook Air it could happen quickly.

I also think that gaming laptops will continue to become popular as better technology will allow gamers to eventually replace the need for a big, beefy desktop to run their advanced video needs.

Coupling these thoughts with the search volume and associated tails, the lack of extreme Google SERP take over (by Google) and the lack of strong, dedicated sites (there is a decent ultrabook site but I think it can be beaten/outdone) to the topic would make me lean towards entering both markets.

Final Thoughts

There are tools out there that do a pretty decent job of evaluating competition from a metric standpoint but there is no substitute for your own eyes, brain, gut, and experience.

These tools ought to add a Google factor so you can see if you are up against multiple instances of Google vertical inserts and self-monetization plays. If you choose to ignore those as currently constituted, or ignore the possible presence of them in your SERPS down the road, you are doing so at your own peril and it's a big, big mistake.

Evaluating SERP competition, and including Google as your competition, should be at the top of your priority list at this stage of the game. All the volume in the world and all the longest tails will not save you if you are battling extreme brand bias, disappearing organic listings, Google lead generation, and ad-monteized local inserts.

If the travel example doesn't give you an idea on how Google feels about organic listings, maybe this does :)....Friday humor.

Local SEO Tips from Darren Shaw of Whitespark

Jun 8th
posted in

Based on feedback we get from time to time, there seems to be a growing interest in the area of setting up and running a local SEO business.

In addition to building local SEO tools, Whitespark also offers local SEO services. We recently reviewed Darren's Local Citation Finder, which is a must-have for any local SEO, and today he was kind enough to answer some questions on the local SEO market as a whole as well as specific strategies he recommends (and uses for his clients).

1. What are you advising your clients to do and how are you adjusting your local seo strategy in the wake of the latest change to Google Places (IE Google+ Local)?

Get active on Google+. You want to start posting content on Google+, and also start circling friends, family, influencers, and other businesses AS YOUR BUSINESS on Google+. If you’re engaging them, they’ll engage with your business and circle you back, +1 your content, share your content, etc. Use your existing Google+ business page if you already have one, as this business page will eventually merge with your Google+ Local page. If you don’t have one yet, then get one here. To use Google+ as a page, look for the dropdown under your photo. Also, now that Google+ Local pages are indexed, it’s a good idea to link to your Google+ Local page. There was no value in linking to the old place pages because they weren’t indexed.

2. A recent WSJ Article outlines an upcoming change to how Google will be interacting with SMB's. It appears to be tying back to G+ (of course) but also presenting a unified dashboard that SMB's can use to interact with all Google products. When you look at the local SEO landscape, how do you present to clients as the importance of singular keyword rankings become less and less important in the face of a more holistic, unified online marketing campaign?

It’s tough because the typical SMB often comes to you with the goal of ranking for particular keywords and doesn’t see the bigger picture. So, when we present to clients we make sure to discuss all the details of our local SEO work:

  • Google Analytics conversion tracking and custom reporting configuration.
  • Keyword research
  • Competitive analysis
  • Google+ Local page optimization (I’m going to have to revise our process now!)
  • Technical site audit
  • Keyword mapping and website optimization
  • Content strategy
  • Link building (developing linkable assets, digging through competitors’ link profiles looking for ideas, guest posting, press releases, interviews, researching business partners for link ops, infographics, videos, e-books, contests, wordpress plugins, selective social bookmarking to our own content and to content we get placed. I find myself referencing this great post by Ted Ives fairly regularly when coming up with link building strategies for clients.)
  • Citation audit and clean up
  • Citation building
  • Review acquisition strategy
  • Image geo-tagging, optimization, and uploading to appropriate sites
  • Video geo-tagging, optimization, and uploading to appropriate sites
  • Social strategy

We’re focused on content strategy these days and try to educate our clients from the start about what will be involved. That means getting a blog installed on their site if they don’t already have one and setting up a schedule of weekly blog posts.

There are plenty of quality writers out there that will write posts at a reasonable price for the business if they don’t have time. We brainstorm topic ideas with our clients, and then sort them into “our blog” and “guest posts”.

We then build out lists of prospects using our sister tool, the Link Prospector, and use Buzzstream to manage our outreach and relationship building. We work on creative ideas that will push our clients beyond what their competition is doing.

For example, for one of our legal clients, we’re creating a kinetic typography video (what’s that? ) about a new law being passed that will mean immediate loss of your license if you get charged with a DUI. The implications of this new law are serious: loss of job, family troubles due to financial strain, etc.

We’ll be posting it to our blog, doing a press release, pushing it through social, and outreaching to all the news agencies and civilian bloggers in the province. Expecting this to drive some great brand mentions and links for our client. We’re always touching base with our clients to learn about up and coming news in their business and industry that we can leverage with content like this.

If a client isn’t able to invest some time to work with us on content, and providing us with the info we need, we try to assess that as early as possible and not take them on, or end the relationship. It must be collaborative or we’ll have a hard time getting the results, and that frustrates us and the client.

3. Do you think Google's push to centralize these offers for SMB's will actually help local SEO/marketing companies (like yours)? It seems to me that it would, it seems like things will be easier to manage and report on. While Google will be able to make inroads in this market, I still believe that many local SMB's will just be more apt to search for a reputable provider that can manage all this stuff for them. SMB's love time-savings...What do you think?

I don’t know if it will make much difference. The typical SMB client doesn’t have much knowledge about online marketing.

They would be just as lost in a unified dashboard as they are in the current setup, and will look to bring in a consultant to help. As far as reporting goes, we’ll have to see what that unified dashboard provides. If it’s anything like the useless stats in the current Google Places dashboard, I won’t be very excited about it.

4. Local, blended, pack, whatever rankings can be difficult to deal with if you are not the beneficiary of a nearby centroid. Can you walk us through how you deal with this both at the proposal level (quote multiple services, quote more keywords, etc) and in practice?

What are some ways around being an outlier to the centroid of the more highly searched areas? Fortunately, Google has recently dialed back the importance of the centroid. I only bring it up with new prospects if they are way out on the outskirts of the city (can be a bit challenging to overcome), or in a suburb and want to rank in the big city (near impossible to overcome unless they open a new location in the city).

To overcome centroid bias you need an order magnitude more citations, links, and reviews. If your competitors have 50 citations, get 150. If your competitors have 30 reviews, get 100. When you look at cases where a business is way outside of the centroid and ranking well, it’s typically a numbers game like this.

Be sure to also focus on acquiring plenty of locally relevant links and citations from authority sites, but I’d have the same recommendation for any local campaign, not just ones where you’re working to overcome centroid bias.

5. Given the increased complexity of local SEO, and local online ads in general, how are you handling the quoting process these days? Custom proposals for everyone? Packages for some? Do you find, on average, better overall success (ROI and retention) with one method or the other?

I have a pretty standard, all encompassing, package that I use for all clients. If the client is in an  ultra-competitive market, I’ll charge more, but we do pretty much the same work for all our clients and just scale it up based on how competitive it is.

6. How deep do you get into the client's business? Do you get into managing SEO, PPC, online ad buys, email marketing, offline advertising, and so on?

Typically we just do straight SEO. Specifically, local seo. That’s more than enough to deal with right now, and it’s what I love doing. I’m not that interested in anything other than local.

7. Citations are important but what about social stuff and reviews? How do you help clients set up and stick to an ongoing social engagement and how do you get them to be all over the reviews (obtaining reviews, following up on them, and so on)?

Reviews are extremely important and we put together a review acquisition strategy for each client. We get one of Phil Rozek’s Review Handouts for each client. This is something that the business can email or print and give to each customer that provides easy step-by-step instructions on how to leave a review. He’s updating it for the new Google+ Local review process. We also encourage our clients to mix up the places they request reviews from.

Get some on Google, some on Insiderpages, some on Yelp, etc. We always research where the competition are getting reviews and base our recommendations on that. I think keywords in the reviews are a big ranking factor. We ask our clients to tell their customers to mention the service they had completed when posting the review.

Social, well, I don’t push too hard on it. Certainly, the clients that are engaged in it will reap the benefits, but so many small businesses are too busy running their business to bother with it. Looking at David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors, the local SEO experts surveyed don’t put a lot of stock into social factors. David’s just about to release the 2012 version and i would expect to see the same.

8. I know there's always a desire for one to find some magic pill for their problems, and that's no different in the local SEO market. Sometimes though, there are no "secrets" and it's more about leverage, quality of work, and consistency. Let's close it out by giving folks some "must-have" tips on running a local SEO campaign, or company, in the current local SEO climate:

In local, my number one recommendation is to do a citation audit and clean up job. It’s horribly painful work trying to find all the places where your name, address, and phone number are incorrect, but like you noted, there are no short cuts.

Put in the hard work on this one and it will pay dividends. I’ve seen many cases where you analyze the top ranking competition and the business with the best on-page optimization, Place page optimization, citations, links, & reviews is not ranking as well as they should, and when you dig a little deeper it’s because of messy NAP data all over the place.

Consistent NAP is important to your “trust score” in local. If Google is getting conflicting data about your business from multiple sources, it lowers its trust in your data. I’ll be doing a post on the Whitespark blog soon about how we do citation audits. Also, keywords in reviews seem to be very helpful to rankings. See what I said about this above.

Also, citations from city and industry specific sites really help associate your business with the keywords you’re going after. In our experience, local rankings take off after we submit to 30 or 40 of these. For example, for a lawyer in Chicago, get citations on sites like:

Thanks Darren!

How Selling Insurance Helped Me Sell SEO Services

May 29th
posted in

Post-Google update season is typically a boon for SEO providers (good ones and bad ones unfortunately). The industry isn't dead or dying, it's simply evolving. In fact, most things in the business world do not "die", they simply evolve.

I suppose dying versus evolving is a matter of personal preference. I prefer to view markets, verticals, and models as evolving because it helps me accomplish a few different things:

  • learn why certain practices and opportunities faded, or are fading, away
  • learn what is working now and why
  • combine those two basic pieces of knowledge to shape future plans and opportunities

If all you do is bemoan the fact that a particular area of your business is evolving past what may be working now then you'll surely miss the boat on the next wave of success. Even if you don't miss the boat completely you'll be stuck in a self-perpetuating game of always chasing something rather than being out in front of it.

Chasing successful models, rather than creating them, certainly can be profitable but you should strive to have a mix of both in your business. Whether it's a completely new business segment (say PPC if you largely do SEO) or just new tactics (more diverse link building for your own web properties, as one small example) you should be looking behind you, to your left and right, and in front of you.

Diversification Advice

If you are a solo SEO, or mainly run your own web properties, one smart way to diversify your revenue stream is to get into some client work. This can be a tough proposition, it was for me, because many of us who run our own properties are not too keen on scheduled meetings (especially frequent ones) or dealing with some of the timeless issues of client work:

  • billing
  • impatience
  • rapidly changing expectations
  • red tape
  • lots of chefs
  • writing custom proposals

Many of these items can be thwarted by having a clear, frank discussion about what you'll be doing and by setting parameters from the outset. Hopefully you're in a position where you don't have to sell to eat; meaning, running lean and avoiding debt-leveraging is the best way to be able to hand pick your clients (in my experience).

If you have to take on everyone who walks in the door then your results will suffer, your reputation will suffer, and your work will become a big burden to bear. If you have employees who deal with clients in this type of environment then you will likely lose your best people over time and your workplace will become nothing more than a sweatshop with computers.

In addition to all of those negatives, having to sell/sell/sell probably means your margins are thin which directly leads to client's not getting the appropriate service and attention, relative to what they are being billed for.

Selling, itself, might be the biggest hurdle for you. Before I got into this industry I was an insurance agent, Being an insurance agent helped me immensely with being able to sell an otherwise complicated product to folks who didn't have a full grasp of all the relevant subject matter (specific coverages, exclusions, and so on). Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for you and your SEO sales.

Similarities Between Insurance and SEO

I sold Personal Insurance (car, home, renter's, condo, jewelery, etc) and it was a weird product to sell. It's one of the few things people buy that they hope they never have to use and they have to buy it every year (assuming they have stuff they need to protect). There are some interesting parallels to selling SEO, oddly enough. The serious buyers in the insurance and SEO marketplaces are looking to protect a valuable asset; in insurance it may be their home, car, or life. In SEO it's basically their online presence.

As with any other industry, there are tire kickers and price shoppers. I would caution against excluding price shoppers from a "preferred" client list. They may require a bit more upfront work but just because the might be doing cost comparisons it doesn't necessarily mean they are cheap. In fact, they might be a dream client so avoiding the "well they are price shopping so they must be cheap" argument would serve you well.

Remembering that the sales process is some odd combination of value, facts, and emotion helped me avoid the (very easy to fall into trap) of selling price. I knew many insurance agents that sold on price and did pretty well short term. A more defensible strategy long term, and where agents really make their money, is on retention. If you set the client's expectation that your only benefit to them is price they will leave you, soon, for the same reason.

If you are looking to build a solid client base you have to be able to compete on price but not sell on price. You should be able to answer questions beyond price if you truly believe in the product you are selling.

Before I was an agent I was an underwriter and responsible for the profitable growth of an insurance agency's book of business. I managed anywhere from 50-75 agencies at a time. I can tell you, without equivocation, that the agencies who avoided the trap of selling (not competing) on price absolutely killed it on retention.

In the insurance world, as in the SEO world, retention is mission critical to long term success. If you let price define your business then you'll be participating in a race to the bottom and end up like barely profitable PC makers.

So, how did I compete on price but not sell on it?

  • framing
  • basic study of behavioral economics

An example here would be conditioning the client to understand the difference between best price, better price, and lowest price. A stripped down policy that doesn't cover everything they want to cover or need to cover, which is $300 cheaper that what I'm selling, isn't the best price or even a better price compared to my price. It's the cheapest but not the best.

In my experience, most people who have stuff to protect (new cars, homes, boats, jewelry, etc) will spend the extra money to get a quality policy from someone they feel they can trust and whom they feel is knowledgeable and those are the the type of clients you want!

A company or person who values their online presence and marketing initiatives should be willing to pay a bit more for more reputable work from a reputable company. If you have evidence to back up your claims of being that company then you will win more than you lose even if you aren't the lowest price.

Framing the Offer

What never worked for me in SEO sales was pre-packaged offers. I know it works for some agencies but I always felt like I was selling Hot Cakes and Hash Browns rather than an actual service. Plus, as time goes on and the market becomes more complex and sophisticated so do solutions.

Offering add-on services is great for ROI, so if you're an SEO firm maybe you start offering PPC, conversion, and social services. Add-ons make package pricing super-tough if you are doing it at scale. Packages significantly keep pace with increased RFP demand but are you really delivering the appropriate price for each client as well as for your bottom line?

I do not see how you could advocate for packages across the board because the core of the "for" argument would be that you can sell 2 different sites at the same price inside of different verticals. If you do that how are you maximizing value to you and the client? You aren't, it's that simple. Are they in the same vertical? Ok, but the competition is likely different, the search volume is likely different, and so on.

If you just sell a pre-priced packaged you will negatively affect quality in a variety of ways:

  • client being overcharged
  • client being undercharged
  • cutting corners to save margin
  • under-delivering and taking more margin to try and save the account
  • not maximizing the balance between client ROI and company profit

I do like using packages after customizing the quote, this is where the framing comes in. As an insurance agent we were generally pushed to try and get folks to prepay the policy for the year through a variety of methods:

  • full payment discounts
  • increased cost for use of credit cards
  • monthly billing fees

So if you were my client I would frame this as "billing discounts". Take a $1,000 policy as an example:

  • stipulating a normal $5.00 per month billing fee totaling $60.00 per year = 6%
  • most companies give a 5-10% discount for paying in full (cash or check), we'll say it's 5%

The discussion would be something like "We can save you over 10% per year if you pay in full with cash or a check via our cash discount option." Or you could frame the non-cash payment option, which removes the 5-10% discount as a convenience charge of some sort. The information is the same either way, but frame it in that way and you'll have much more success with those kinds of sign-ups.

If you go the custom quote route with SEO proposals you get all sorts of benefits:

  • built-in up-sell opportunities (more keywords/verticals, more competitive keywords/verticals, PPC, social, conversion, etc)
  • the ability to not only cross-sell services but explain the benefits as well. Explaining how PPC can benefit SEO (and vice versa), with examples, at the time of quote delivery is more powerful then just lumping it into a pre-packaged, pump and dump quote
  • paint a better picture in a more holistic campaign, specifically targeted to their business, versus a pre-packaged one (add and remove specific services that might not be needed or relevant after some initial conversations prior to quoting the service)
  • play quotes off each other (offer at least 3 options, shooting for at least the middle option)

Package pricing works far better in the insurance world versus the SEO world. Insurance options and coverages have specific costs to them determined by predetermined risk tables.

In SEO you have to evaluate competition against an unknown, ever-changing algorithm in addition to figuring out potential ROI in the PPC world against CPC's that could be all over the place from industry to industry as well as potential profitability from conversion optimization help you might be interested in offering.

Being able to customize quoting options puts you in a better position to frame your offers versus a more stagnant pricing model like you see in the insurance market (even though you can still introduce framing effectively there). Of course, custom quoting comes with its own issues like spending time of RFP's versus actual work.

One solution to the sunk cost on creating custom proposals is to, after your initial discovery call/feeling out call, charge a fee relative to a few hours of your time (or however long it takes you to do a mostly accurate proposal or even a ballpark figure if the client is comfortable with a range). If they balk at that then they probably aren't serious and they likely do not respect your time. If you have a solid reputation you can probably do this with some success, if you are new and unestablished you might need to bite the bullet for awhile.

What Makes Sense For You

There are so many variables that come into play when figuring out this piece of your sales process. You can have some packaged pricing for sure, many PPC companies offer a percentage of spend as a base fee as an example. With the recent, frequent (and substantial) algorithmic changes it really is important to be able to put together a package specifically for a client based on their situation, goals, and budget. It's going to be hard to base your business on selling SEO as a widget-type process (20 links per month, 10 articles per month, etc) going forward.

Some SEO's are all-client based, some just run their own properties, and I think there is a trend starting where SEO's are doing both. Each business model has its own pro's and con's, as well as many different variables, so one set of tips will likely not resonate or be specific to all. However, I think there are a few overarching points that SEO's looking to diversify into client work or who want to be more profitable on the client side should consider:

  • get to a point financially (cash flow, debt, margins) where you can pick and choose clients ASAP as it is such a beneficial position to be in on a number of fronts
  • if you are currently a packaged product seller start experimenting with custom quotes (and try to put out at least 3 options)
  • try a few different pricing options for the actual proposal work and delivery
  • be as clear as possible when discussing deliverables (my biggest mistakes have been because of this, bad for me and bad for the client)
  • before and during the design of your pricing strategy read Rafi Mohammed's books on pricing

Whitespark's Local Citation Finder Review

May 23rd

Local citations are a critical part of a local SEO campaign. In looking at David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors you can see that a majority of the top 10 factors focus on business information structure and links. Half of the top ten factors relate to items which local citations can help with:

  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
  • Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  • Quality of Inbound Links to Website
  • Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number

Making local citation building a part of your local SEO campaign has more benefits than simply "building citations". Think of all the ways it can help with both local search (see factors above) and web search in general:

  • Many of the better citation sources are actually good links (for your domain in general), from diverse domains
  • A good amount of folks searching locally are likely to use apps for searches in addition to Google (you want to make sure you are listed in as many places as possible)
  • Ensuring that your business data is structured in a similar way across the web helps with client communication and Google Places
  • Building citations naturally leads to other business enhancing activities you can offer your clients; things like helping them get their clients to leave positive reviews and provide helpful feedback to the company post-sale
  • A potential client is likely to do research on your or your client's business before they buy. Being represented, in a good way, across the web helps the company's reputation and clout with potential customers

Citation building can be tedious on multiple fronts. Finding quality citations that you do not currently have, comparing citation profiles (yours and your competitor's), and actually building the citations as well as following up on them.

Whitespark takes care of the first two, searching and comparing, quite well and provides the framework for building citations efficiently. Whitespark can also rerun your search queries to check on whether your citation has been completed or not.

Whitespark Pricing

Whitespark has 5 plans:

  • Free
  • 20$ per month - 20 searches per day, 5 projects, unlimited citations per search, comparison tool, monitoring tool, CSV export options
  • 30$ per month - 30 searches per day, 10 projects, and all the features of the 20$ plan
  • 40$ per month - 40 searches per day, 20 projects, same features as above
  • 100$ per month, 100 searches per day, unlimited projects, same features as above

I like how the pricing scales with projects and searches. The pricing is a great value for anyone doing local SEO at scale and there are options to support any size agency.

Setting Up a Project

When you first get inside the tool you'll be able to set up a search straight away. You'll be able to select the following:

  • Country (Whitespark supports over 30)
  • State/Province
  • City or Town (they pull from a database, when you start typing you'll be able to select your desired location)
  • Keyphrase (just the keyword)
  • A drop down to select your preferred search phrase
  • Project Assignment or Creation

Here, I've started a query for insurance quotes in Providence, Rhode Island

When you select state and city/town it sets the location inside of Google. However, sometimes you do need to add the state or state abbreviation to the query to get the best results (in my experience).

You have options on the final keyphrase. The dropdown, seen below, gives you the option to broaden the area, rearrange the order of the query, or create a custom query:

Once you click on that, you can add whatever query you want. In this case, based on my experience, I just added "RI" to the end of the query to help with hyper-local targeting.

Next up is the project creation (or addition). I haven't created a project to store this query in, but it's super easy to do from this page. Click on "Manage Projects" and you'll be able to create a new one:

You are then brought to the create project page. You can name your project and add your phone number (I added one for an agency ranking organically for the term) to check current citations.

*Important* - The formatting of the number is important. You should use (401) 438-8345 or 401-438-8345 as 4014388345 results in far fewer results than properly formatted numbers.

You should add the business name (yours or your client's) as the project name for more accurate citation mapping.

Now just go back and add that query to that particular project on the Search by Keyphrase Page and you are good to go. The tool will email you when the results are ready.

Ideally, you'll want to have a seed list of terms to start out with so you can check your results versus your competitions across your most important local terms. So for an insurance agency I might go with:

  • Auto Insurance Providence RI
  • Life Insurance Providence RI
  • Insurance Agent in Providence Ri

In a perfect world you'd want to do some keyword research on these terms, look at keywords your competition might be ranking for, look at the site's current analytics and PPC data (if available), and so on in order to find the best keywords to target.

Search by Phone Number

While we are waiting for those results to come back, let's talk about the search by phone number option. This is a great way of checking your own citations or that of a competitor, or even a prospective client (especially if their citations are a mess or missing).

So I added a competitor, their phone number and saved it to my project. Very simple, very straightforward. We'll let that run and circle back to it once the report is ready.

Working with the Data

It took about 3 minutes for our first query to complete :)

You can go back to your project and view all the searches assigned to it:

From here you can edit the name and phone number of the project, view the searches (I have the 1 keyword phrase search and the competitor phone number search) assigned to the project, and just view the citation opportunities for the business without the competitor information.

There are 2 components to a keywords search report. The first piece displays the top ranking (in places/maps) sites for the query. It allows you to see the total citations for each site and offers links to view specific sources for each site as well as a comparison of those sites:

You can view sources for each competitor or compare them against each other for total citation counts.

The second piece of the report are the actual citation sources. The citation sources have the following data points:

  • Site (the citation url)
  • Link to the submission page, if available
  • OC - number of times the citation source appeared in the SERP during the searches (higher counts are good indicators of domain authority)
  • Discovery - date the citation source was discovered
  • Site Type - the type of site (still in beta), could be social, directory, news, etc
  • AC - Majestic SEO's AC Rank
  • DA - SeoMoz's Domain Authority
  • Got It (checkbox) - used for when a citation is acquired
  • Useless - used when a citation source is not applicable or undesired

All columns are sortable, making it easy to manipulate the data however you'd like to spot the best opportunities.

When you view the report that includes the competition, you can click the plus sign to expand the URL of the citation source for more specific data:

You'll be able to see a spread of co-occurring citations on specific pages. This can be useful in spotting category listing opportunities on specific citation sources (for example, being listed on YellowPages.Com/Providence-RI/Homeowners-Insurance as well as your own listing).

If you have associated the search with a project, then for citations that already were acquired before the search was run, you'll see them as highlighted in green with the "got it" check box already checked:

When you check off one as "useless" it simply gets grayed out.

A cool feature here is that already acquired (citations found by Whitespark and citations checked off by you) carry across other searches in your project. At any point you can come back to the search and re-run it (after a citation building campaign is always a good time) to see the status of your citation profile.

Also, when you export the list it exports (2 options) the following criteria:

(Choosing Export as CSV)

  • Root Citation URL
  • SERP Appearance Count
  • AC Rank
  • Domain Authority
  • Submission URL (if available)
  • Got It and Useless check marks

If you choose "Export CSV (w/URLs) you get all of the above plus the url's of the actual citations.

Choosing the first option makes it incredible easy to hand off to a citation builder.

Darren's Pro Tips

I always like to go directly to the creator of a tool to get their thoughts and tips. Darren was gracious enough to provide his insights for us (see below):

The local citation finder has two main citation search capabilities:

  1. Search by keyword and the tool will find all the top ranking businesses, then find their citations, and present them in a big list for you.
  2. Search by phone number, and the tool will find the list of citations for that particular business. Use this to find your own citations, or a specific competitor's citations.

We use the data in three ways:

  • Use it to find places where your competitors are listed, but you're not, and then get listed in those places.
  • Use it as a competitive analysis tool to identify where the competition is getting citations. This extends beyond basic business directories as the tool will reveal competitor's citations from local blogs, newspapers, event listings, job sites, business partners, etc. Looking at their strategies will give you ideas for creative citation building tactics you can employ in your practice.
  • Use it to find citation sources focused on the city, or the industry

I think the best way to look at the tool is as competitive analysis. You run a keyword search, see who's rankings, then get a big list of all the citations they collectively have. You can click the "compare citations for this business" link to see who's listed where.

A great little hidden feature of the tool is to do a phone number search for your business, plus a keyword search, then in the Your Search Results section, check off the two searches and choose "compare" from the dropdown at the top of the table. This will show you all the places where the competition is listed and you're not.

I also like to use the tool to find hyper-local citation opportunities. Here's how:

  1. Run a LOT of KW queries on the local citation finder in the city/niche and associate them all with a project. So, for a lawyer in chicago: chicago lawyer, lawyers, attorneys, dui lawyer, robbery lawyer, criminal lawyer, etc.
  2. Go under “Your Projects” and ALL the citation sources from all the queries will be listed under “view sources”. Ctrl-f in your browser for “law”, “legal”, “chicago”, “illinois”, etc.
  3. Any niche or location related terms. Copy all the domains that match the Ctrl-f searches into a spreadsheet. These are your hyper local citations.

We found that getting listed on sites that had the city or keyword in the domain provided a big boost in the local rankings. The more you can find, the better. You'll have to pick through the list to pull out actual directories, as many of the results will be businesses with the city or keyword in the domain, but it's worth it.

Thanks to Darren for the insight and for making Local SEO a bit easier :) Give Whitespark a try for your local SEO campaigns, I think you'll like it :)

Citation Labs Review - Here's Why I Use it

Apr 12th

So what are we calling it today? Link building, link prospecting, content marketing, linkbait, socialbait, PR ? Whatever it is and whatever sub-definitions exist for the process of finding quality, related websites to link back to yours is difficult and time-consuming work.

As with most processes associated with SEO campaigns, or website marketing campaigns in general, enterprising folks have built tools to make our lives a little easier and our time more fruitful and productive. A couple of those enterprising fellows are Garrett French and Darren Shaw (from Whitespark.Ca) over at Citation Labs.

Garrett has a suite of link building tools available, many of them complement his flagship tool; The Link Prospector.

Link Prospector Review TOC

To help you navigate to specific sections of the review we've included in-content links below.

Getting Started

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So let's assume I've been contracted to embark on a link building campaign for SeoBook :) It's very easy to create a campaign and get up and running:

Create your campaign:

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Move right into the prospects section:

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Start prospecting :)

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Selecting a Report

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The nice thing about this tool is that it's designed for a specific purpose; link prospecting. It's not bloated with a bunch of other stuff you may not need and it's easy to use, yet powerful, because it focus on doing one thing and doing it very well.

The UI of this tool is right on the money, in my opinion. Garrett has built in his own queries to find specific types of links for you (preset Reports). Here you can see the reports available to you, which are built to help you find common link types:

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Customizing Your Prospecting

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As you can see, there are a variety of built in queries available which run the gamut of most of the link outreach goals you might have (interviews, resource pages, guest posts, directories, and so on). Once you settle on the report type it's time to select additional parameters like:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

Try to make your queries as relevant but broad as possible to get the best results. Searches that are too specific will either net to few results or many of your direct competitors. Here, you can see my report parameters for interviews I may want to do in specific areas of SEO (Garrett includes a helpful video on that page, which I highly recommend watching):

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Using Exclusions

The use of exclusions is an often overlooked feature of this toolset. Brands are all over the SERPs these days so when you have the Link Prospector go out to crawl potential link sources based on keywords/queries, you'll want to make sure you exclude sites you are fairly certain you won't get a link from.

You may want to exclude such sites as Ebay, Amazon, NewEgg, and so on if you are running a site about computer parts. You can put your exclusions into 2 categories:

  • Global Exclusions
  • Campaign Exclusions

Global exclusions apply to each campaign automatically. You might want to go out and download top 100 site lists (or top 1,000) lists to stick in the Global Exclusions area or simply apply specific sites you know are irrelevant to your prospecting on the whole. To access Exclusion lists, just click on the exclusion option. From there, it's just a matter of entering your domains:

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Campaign exclusions only apply to a specific campaign. This is good news if you provide link building services and work with a variety of clients; you are not constrained to one draconian exclusion list. In speaking with Garrett, he does mention that this is an often overlooked feature of the toolset but one of the most effective features (both Global and Campaign exclusions).

Working With the Data

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So I ran my report which was designed to find interviewees within certain broader areas of the SEO landscape. The tool will confirm submission of your request and email you when it's complete, at any time you can go in and check the status of your reports by going to Prospects -> View Prospects. Here's what the queue looks like:

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The results are presented in a web interface but can be easily exported to excel. From the web interface, you can see:

  • Total Domains
  • Total Paths (pages on the domain where relevancy exists, maybe we would find a relevant video channel on YouTube where it makes sense to reach out)
  • TLD
  • LTS - Link Target Score
  • PR of Domain
  • Export Options

LTS is a proprietary score provided by Citation Labs (essentially a measure of domain frequency and position within the SERPs pulled back for a given report).

If we expand the domain to see the paths, using Search Engine Land as an example, we can see pages where targets outside of the main domain might exist for our interviewing needs:

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This is where Citation Labs really shines. Rather than just spitting back a bunch of domains for you to pursue at a broad level, it breaks down authoritative domains into specific prospecting opportunities which are super-relevant to your query/keyword relationship.

If you are on Windows (or run Windows via a virutal machine) you can use SEO Tools for Excel to take all these URLs, or the ones you want to target, and pull in social metrics, backlink data, and many other data points to further refine your list.

You can also import this data right into Buzzstream (export from Citation Labs to a CSV or Excel, then import into Buzzstream) and Buzzstream will go off and look up relevant social and contact details for outreach purposes.

We recently did a Buzzstream Review that you might find helpful.

You can also utilize Garrett's Contact Finder for contact research.

Creating Your Own Queries

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Another nice thing about Citation Labs's Link Prospector is that you can enter your own query parameters. You are not locked in to any specific type of data output (even though the built in ones are solid). You can do this by selecting "Custom" in the report selection field

In the Custom Report area you can create your own search operators along with the following options:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

One of the tools we mention quite a bit inside the forums is the Solo SEO Link Search Tool. You can grab a lot of search operators from that tool for your own use inside the Citation Labs tool.

Garrett's Pro Tips

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Can you give us some tips on using the right phrases?

One objection I hear from folks who test the link prospector is "my results are full of competitors." This is typically because the research phrases they've selected don't line up with the type of prospects they're seeking. And more often than not it's because they've added their target SEO keywords rather than "category keywords" that define their area of practice.

The solution is simple though - you just need to experiment with some "bigger head" phrases. Instead of using "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" for guest post prospecting, try just "Divorce Lawyer," or even "Divorce."

And I'd definitely recommend experimenting with the tilde "~Divorce" as it will help with synonyms that you may not have thought of. So if you're looking for guest posting opportunities for a divorce lawyer your five research phrases could look like this:

divorce
~divorce
~divorce -divorce
Divorce ~Lawyer
"family law"

The link prospector tool will take these five phrases and combine them with 20+ guest posting footprints so we end up doing 100+ queries for you. And there WILL be domain repetitions due to the close semantic clustering of these phrases. This overlap can help "float up" the best opportunities based on our LTS score (which is essentially a measurement of relevance).

All this said there are PLENTY of situations where using your SEO keywords can be productive... For example in guest posting it's common for people to use competitive keywords as anchor text. You could (and yes I'm completely contradicting my example) use "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" as a guest posting research phrase along with your other target SEO KWs. The prospects that come back will probably have been placed by competitors.

How do you fine-tune your research phrases?

I often test my research phrases before throwing them in the tool. Let's go back to the divorce guest posting example above. To test I simply head to Google and search [divorce "guest post"]. If I see 4 or more results in the top 10 that look like "maybes" I consider that a good keyword to run with. The test footprint you should use will vary from report-type to report-type.

A good links page test is to take a potential research phrase and add intitle:links. For content promoters you could combine a potential research phrase with intitle:"round up".

I find that this testing does two things. For one it helps me drop research phrases that are only going to clog my reports with junk.

Secondarily I often discover new phrases that are likely to be productive. Look back at the list of divorce research phrases above - the last one, "family law," is there because I spotted it while testing [~divorce "guest post"]. Spending time in Google is always, always productive and I highly advise it.

What tips can you give us regarding proper Search Depth usage?

Depth is a measure of how many results the link prospector brings back from Google. How often do you find useful results on the third page of Google? How about the tenth page? There's a gem now and again, but I find that if I've carefully selected 5 awesome research phrases I save time by just analyzing the results in the top 20.

Your mileage may vary, and the tool DOES enable users to scrape all the way down to 1000 for those rare cases where you have discovered a mega-productive footprint. Test it once for sure, don't just take my word for it - my guess is you'll end up with tons of junk that actually kills the efficiency that the tool creates.

Any more expert tips on how to best use phrases and search operators?

You can addadvanced search operators in all your research phrases. Combine them with your research phrases and try them out in Google first (see tip 2) and then use them as you see fit. I use the heck out of the tilde now, as it saves me time and aids in research phrase discovery when I vet my phrases in Google. The tilde even works in conjunction with the wildcard operator (*).

So if you're looking for law links pages you could test [~law* intitle:links] and then add ~law* as one of your research phrases if it seems productive. It's not super productive by the way, because the word "code" is a law synonym... but I wouldn't have known if I didn't test, and if I didn't test I'd end up with link prospetor results that don't have anything to do with the targets I'm seeking.

Any tips on how to best leverage Exclusions (beyond putting in sites like google.com into your Global Exclusions :D )

If you have junk, not-ops that keeps turning up in your reports, add the domain as domain.com and www.domain.com to the exclusions file. Poof. It's gone from future reports you run.

You can even add the domains you've already viewed so they won't show up anymore. Be careful though - make sure you're adding them to your campaign-level excludes rather than Global.

How often do you update the tool and what is coming down the pike?

If you sign up and you find yourself asking "I wonder what would happen if I..." please write me an email. If I don't have an answer for you I will send you credits for you to do some testing. I will end up learning from you. I have users continually pushing the limits with the tool and finding new ways to use it.

We've added PR for domains, titles and snippets for each URL, blog-only search, and fixed numerous bugs and inefficiencies based on requests from our users. We're also bringing in DA, MozRank and an API because of user requests.

Thanks Garrett!!

Free Trial and Pricing

Citation Labs is currently offering a free trial. They have monthly and per credit (love that!) pricing as well. You can find their pricing structure here.

Review of Jim Boykin's Free Broken Link Tool

Mar 21st
posted in

Jim Boykin recently released a free, but powerful tool, that can help you check on broken links, redirects, in addition to helping you generate a Google Sitemap.

Being a free, web-based tool you might think it's a bit lightweight but you'd be wrong :) It can crawl up to 10,000 internal pages, up to 5 runs per day per user.

In addition to the features mentioned above, the tool offers other helpful data points as well as the ability to export the data to CSV/Excel, HTML, and the ability to generate a Google XML Sitemap.

The other data points available to you are:

  • URL of the page spidered
  • Link to an On-Page SEO report for that URL
  • Link depth from the home page
  • HTTP status code
  • Internal links to the page (with the ability to get a report off the in-links themselves)
  • External links on the page (a one-click report is available to see the outlinks)
  • Overall size of the page with a link to the Google page speed tool (cool!)
  • Link to their Image check tool (size, alt text, header check of the page)
  • Rows for Title Tag, Meta Description, and Meta Keywords
  • Canonical tag field

Using the Tool

The tool is really easy to use, just enter the domain, the crawl depth, and your email if you don't care to watch the magic happen live :)

For larger crawls entering your email makes a lot of sense as it can take a bit on big crawls:

Click Ninja Check and off you go!

Working With The Data

The top of the results page auto-updates and shows you:

  • Status of the report
  • Internal pages crawled
  • External links found
  • Internal redirects found
  • External redirects found
  • Internal and External errors

When you click any of the yellow text(s) you are brought to that specific report table (which are below the main results I'll show you below).

This is also where you can export the XML sitemap, download results to Excel/HTML.

The results pane (broken up into 2 images given the horizontal length of the table) looks like:

More to the right is:

The On Page Report

If you click on the On Page Report link in the first table you are brought to their free On-Page Optimization Analysis tool. Enter the URL and 5 targeted phrases:

Their tool does the following:

  • Metadata tool: Displays text in title tags and meta elements
  • Keyword density tool: Reveals statistics for linked and unlinked content
  • Keyword optimization tool: Shows the number of words used in the content, including anchor text of internal and external links
  • Link Accounting tool: Displays the number and types of links used
  • Header check tool: Shows HTTP Status Response codes for links
  • Source code tool: Provides quick access to on-page HTML source code

The data is presented in the same table form as the original crawl. This first section shows the selected domain and keywords in addition to on-page items like your title tag, meta description, meta keywords, external links on the page, and words on the page (linked and non-linked text).

You can also see the density of all words on the page in addition to the density of words that are not links, on the page.

Next up is a word breakdown as well as the internal links on the page (with titles, link text, and response codes).

The word cloud displays targeted keywords in red, linked words underlined, and non-linked words as regular text.

You'll see a total word count, non-linked word count, linked word count, and total unique words on the.

This can be helpful in digging into deep on-page optimization factors as well as your internal link layout on a per page basis:

Next, you'll get a nice breakdown of internal links and the text of those links, the titles, and the words in the url.

Also, you can see any links to sub-domains as well as external links (with anchor text and response codes):

Each section has a show/hide option where you can see all the data or just a snippet.

Another report you get access to is the image checker (accessible from the main report "Check Image Info" option):

Here you'll get a report that shows a breakdown of the files and redirects on the page in addition to the image link, image dimensions, file size, alt text, and a spot to click to view the image:

After that section is the link section which shows the actual link, the file type (html, css, etc), status code and a link check (broken, redirect, ok, and so on)

Additional Reports

The main report referenced at the beginning of this post is the Internal Page Report. There are five additional reports:

  • External Links
  • Internal Redirects
  • External Redirects
  • Internal Errors
  • External Errors

External Links

This report will show you:

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Where the link was first found on the domain

Internal and External Redirects

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Page the URL redirects to

Internal and External Errors

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Give it a Spin

    It's free but more importantly it's quite useful. I find a lot of value in this tool in a variety of ways but mostly with the ability to hone in on your (or your competitor's) internal site and linking structure.

    There are certainly a few on-page tools on the marketing but I found this tool easy to use and full of helpful information, especially with internal structure and link data.

    Try it. :)

    Interview with Local Marketing Experts Jake Puhl & Adam Zilko

    Feb 27th
    posted in

    Local SEO Interview.

    This is Eric here at SEO Book and today we're going to be talking all things local search with a couple of local search experts from Firegang.com.

    Jacob Puhl and Adam Zilko are joining us today, thanks for the time guys and we are thrilled to have you here.

    Adam: Thank you.

    Jacob: Thank you.

    For our readers (and listeners), this is quite a deep, informational interview so we've added a couple things to make the information perhaps a bit easier to digest.

    Below is an mp3 file which you can download or listen to at your leisure, and I've included links below to make it easier for you to jump back and forth between specific questions/answers. Also, there is a resource section at the end which contains links to any tool or resource mentioned in the post.

    MP3 Download

    (To Download just right-click and "save link as" locally)

    Play File (mp3 link)

    Eric: All right, so we've got a lot of questions to get through, here, so I'm going to jump right in. They're actually members here in the SEO Book Forums, and anybody who's listening to this who is a member has probably been amazed at some of the information that they give out. They're definitely experts at this, so we're happy to have them on and get some answers to some of the questions that you folks have been asking.

    Interview Sections

    Back to Mp3 Download

    Local Keyword Research

    Back to Topics

    So I think we'll start with probably a broader question that a lot of people have questions about typically. Running a local SEO campaign, the first part obviously, is how do you go about conducting your initial keyword research for a new site or an existing site? As we know, volume and information tends to be sparse. Do you have specific tools that you use? Do you look at competing sites? How do you do that?

    Adam: I can take that, sure. So what we do, if we don't have the data already, of course, is we try to assess competitive sites. We base keywords around services. So if you're, let's say, an attorney practicing in personal injury, then you have certain things you would focus on: car accidents, worker's compensation, to a degree, or wrongful death or things to that effect. So what we do is we build keywords around those service areas. The same thing with dentists: emergency dentistry, orthodontics, root canals, the list goes on basically.

    And then what we also have is an in depth intake form that all of our clients are required to fill out when we bring them on. So essentially what they do is they go through and they give us all of the services that they offer and then they tell us how they would search for them. That gives us a base for us to then start doing some research with. Then basically, from the services they mentioned, we can assess variations and if we need to, we can look at large markets and try to assess background profiles, basically based on their anchor text profiling and so on. And then we also try to look at their sites to see how they laid them out. If they've done it right, we can see what key phrases they've built their page copy around and their URL structure around and so on.

    Jacob: And carrying on with that, we also look at... Usually clients have Google Analytics already installed, so if they give us access to that, we can pull the past year and see what kind of long-tail traffic that they've just happened to pick up, so that gives us a good indication there.

    And then regarding keyword volume, that's an interesting one. Obviously, the best way and the most accurate way is to run a Pay-Per-Click campaign. We've run so many Pay-Per-Click campaigns in different cities that we have an idea based on population and based on business sector how much volume there is out there.

    So, for example, we'll take Cincinnati. There's about 1.7 million people here, and we know that a roofer, the roofing industry, there's about 30,000 searches there. I know that, just from past experience, for example, dry cleaners, there's about 5,000 searches. So you can use that to gauge, and then extrapolate on that, based on population size. And you're making assumptions here, but let's say that in a town that's smaller than that, half that size, then you can assume that there is half that volume.

    The other thing is looking at Impressions for Google Places. So we'll take a look at different clients in different industries. For example, Population 2 million. We may have about 1,000 to 1,500 Impressions on a fairly high ranking dentist, for example. So those are ways to really gauge different markets and then take population to create ratios and extrapolate that.

    Using PPC for Local SEO Campaigns

    Back to Topics

    Eric: Interesting. So you did mention PPC in there a little bit. I wanted to piggy back on that. Do you find that PPC is crucial for keyword research? Or is it more important on a new site versus an old site? Or does your model of sort of having this data about core industries based on your experience outweigh that a little bit? Or do you find that clients aren't willing to spend that money up front for PPC or how does that usually work?

    Adam: I'll take that. So, PPC isn't terribly important to do this whole process. We have a lot of experience knowing or having a good idea as to what services that clients will typically try to focus on for your main headings; your dentists, your attorneys, and so on. So we have a good feel as to what people typically search for when it comes to those. But again, we just try to focus everything back around those main services that those clients offer, and what those... You know, if you were to just section those out, PPC really isn't going to tell you anything more than what you should already have a good idea of.

    So when we have our core keywords, let's say for instance it was cosmetic dentistry in a given geographical market; what we can do is we can write out a page copy and whatnot and try to build a backlink profile with diversity in those keywords. But we don't need a Pay-Per-Click to tell us that people look for cosmetic dentistry if that's something that the client does, because there's only going to be so many variations to a decent degree of that: teeth whitening maybe, Zoom, Ambizonline, things to that effect, if they offer those services. If they don't, then obviously you're not going to go after that.

    So that just directly ties into your anchor text and we try to basically internally link our backlink profiles and our anchor texts to those pages that are actually built around those specific keywords, if that makes sense. Tell me if it doesn't.

    Leveraging Market Knowledge for Keyword Research

    Back to Topics

    Eric: No, it does. So you've got, say, for instance, you know, the core keywords sort of don't change from market to market, it's just obviously the geographical targeting, so it's not so much the volume. I mean, the volume is going to be what it's going to be. You're more interested in finding out what's actually relevant to the business and going from there, because you can't change the volume, but you can make sure at least the campaign is as targeted as possible.

    Adam: Right, and we'll still take their main services and run them through Google's Keyword tools or other tools that we have and we'll check other... I mean, depending on which market, some markets might type in dentists + city and other markets might more heavily type in the city + dentist. So we take that into effect. It typically is not the variation isn't so much that we don't have a good base to start with, if that makes sense.

    Eric: Right, yeah.

    Jacob: I would add to that too; sometimes we can comb through some of the long-tail in Pay-Per-Click and basically just see some insights that we didn't see before. For example, with a dentist, we've found that people are actually searching by insurance type, so we found those to be really fruitful keywords for us. A lot of times, just brand names, let's say you have Interior Designer or Interior Decorator, we find through Pay-Per-Click that they would search brand names. Each industry does have some long-tail out there that is easily discoverable through Pay-Per-Click, however, the business owner 9 times out of 10 can tell you those right off the bat.

    Eric: Right. So it's more of interviewing a little bit too, rather than going right to the keyword tool.

    Jacob: Right.

    Organic Strategy vs Places

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    Eric: So after you get into the keyword research and you look at the different things, obviously a big thing that you must deal with or that you have to deal with now is localization, specifically with maps. We get a lot of questions on ranking in maps, how that differs from ranking in the traditional search, if in some cases you can even tell the difference anymore. So what would you say the key differences are between the two when you're looking at your organic campaign versus your maps campaign?

    Adam: Right, and I'd like to preface this; we do have national clients, we have several of them, and we do have some real life examples as to the differences between the two. But with the maps, there's far more variations that you have to deal with. Organically, you can link build and assuming that you did it right, you can see a steady increase in results. But with the maps, you've got to worry road citations, dealing with Google's terms of service when optimizing your proximity results.

    So recently Google was showing maybe just a downtown of a city versus entire cities, so let's say you have an attorney that was just outside the downtown radius, they wouldn't show up anymore, so how do you deal with that? And again, there's no manual. Google doesn't say that, "Hey, we've just come out and changed these." You'll just wake up one day and the maps listings will be completely different.

    And so the main difference really is the ongoing management of your citations, and you've just got to try to watch it and watch it and watch it and when something changes, hope that you really already understand it. If not, then you've really got to network or just do a ton of research, get on the Google Places forums and really try to figure out what's going on and see if you can make some sort of effect.

    If Google goes to, let's say, a blended pack versus a seven pack, everything really changes and so then you attack that differently. Again, it's just a little bit more difficult to manage because of all the different variations you're now dealing with. There's not as much data out there as to how to handle these variations, so if Google were to change things, at any minute... We just saw them change a bunch of things in the last two weeks, and nobody saw it coming. It's just trying to kind of be a little reactive to it and try to make heads and tails of it so you can effectively get your clients to rank within those.

    Jacob: I want to add too, one thing we've found is if there is confusion with your name, address, phone number, any confusion whatsoever, really, it's going to act as a complete weight on your listing and traffic, long-tail and maps traffic. So the number one thing is to get all of your data exactly the same across the board, otherwise, you're going to be completely held down.

    Call Tracking Recommendations (Or Not?)

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    Eric: Yeah, we do see that a lot, especially with people who are trying to do campaigns with different phone number tracking, where they put different phone numbers in yellow and all these different places. Do you have anything? Do you use a specific type of call tracking application?

    Adam: No, we completely recommend against it, absolutely 100% against it. Any time you have any variations with your map, your name, your phone number, like Jake said, you're going to weigh down your citations, weigh down your listing, weigh down your trust with Google and that's been a big thing. We've seen, even without any other sort of off page efforts, just by cleaning up your citations across the web, we've seen a significant increase in rankings, many, many times because of that.

    Every now and again, you come across, say, a seven pack with dentists, you see one that maybe doesn't have a website, in a very competitive market. Typically, it's because his citations are so dialed in, he's been in one place for 30 years and the only data out there is exactly the same, so there's a lot of trust with the map. The same kind of rules apply. We completely recommend that you never use a tracking number, and if you have to use one on your site, you put it in the form of an image file, and we'll even go as far as to make the all tag on it their actual phone number. There's just no room for any confusion at all.

    Eric: Right, yeah, you must run into that if you do PPC campaigns and stuff; on landing pages with different numbers and such

    Adam: Right.

    Jacob: Yeah, the service we've used is Ifbyphone, and it seems to work really well.

    Eric: Yep.

    Jacob: But truth be told, it was such a headache that it was not worth it.

    Eric: Yeah, the traffic segments sometimes don't make a lot of sense to even start segmenting it out by phone number. You're just looking to try to get as many leads as you can and the campaigns aren't that much different. You should be able to tell where stuff is coming from in your Analytics, different goals, and things like that.

    Jacob: Also, I would mention too that if you don't use a tracking number, it incentivizes you as an agency and as their partner to really keep good communication up with them. We're constantly calling our customers and asking them how their phone calls are doing, but it's kind of a forced way to keep communication.

    Rank Checking Recommendations

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    Eric: Yeah, clients do like that, that's for sure. Speaking of, you were talking about keeping up on maps and changes and things like that, what type of rank tracking applications do you use to check your organic rankings in conjunction with map inserts and things like that?

    Jacob: Yeah, so that's a really good question and there hasn't been a ton of really good tools up to date, so we've tried almost everything. However, we haven't tried this one yet, but apparently Linda at Catalyst Marketing has come up with a tool called Places Scout, which we're hearing really good things about.

    But we actually track everything at this point manually, so we have an employee go in and change your location to whatever location the city is in and literally manually check it. It actually works really, really well for us because we're able to get a good idea of what the map looks like and make changes. Nothing replaces the human eye, so we do about four to five keywords per client and keep track that way. On the other hand, we keep track of very long-tail keywords through Advanced Web Ranking.

    Eric: Okay, yeah, that's a really popular app here at SEO Book. I know that sometimes too I've noticed between using Advanced Web Ranking, but more so I use Raven Tools, but when they have the blended results, those actually show up. I don't know if they can change the coding of the serves, or how they're doing it, but when it goes blended, it actually shows as an organic ranking in a rank tracker, rather than if it's a map insert.

    So you're right, you're almost better off having someone hand check it, because you don't know what you're looking at. Is this number two ranking a blended map insert or is it an organic ranking or am I ranking number two but there's a ten pack right above me and I don't know it?

    Jacob: Right.

    Adam: Exactly.

    Eric: All right, we'll link to that tool in the summary here. I'll have to check that out. I hadn't heard of that one yet.

    Adam: The Places Scout actually, I have played personally with it and it seems to work pretty well. We do have some of our team testing it at this point, to make sure that it works to what we need it to, but it definitely does allow us to track blended versus seven pack versus other variations to a good degree. So we're not 100% with it yet, but we're working towards it. If it can pan out, then we'll certainly bring it on board.

    Taking Over a Local Campaign, What Usually is Missing

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    Eric: Great, that's a great tip. When you take on a client, what are the two or three processes that you see which are often most neglected inside of a local SEO campaign?

    Jacob: Yeah, so taking on a client and onboarding them is actually interesting. I would say first off, not many small businesses out there right now are hiring folks to do a traditional campaign or to actually handle it day to day, so in that case you just have the business owner or somebody in marketing that's trying to handle it, kind of a do-it-yourself. In those situations, almost everything is neglected, which is good for a company like us, because we can come in and clean things up pretty quickly. So that's the first thing, is you don't really see those situations where there is a lot running.

    The biggest thing is definitely incorrect citations and incorrect data, for sure. So that would be a matter of going to the data sources, Axiom, Localeze, InfoUSA and getting that data correct. And then I would say, in my opinion, one of the biggest pieces that is neglected is the actual website being set up to convert. That means a big phone number, a big call to action, a big contact form everywhere on the site. We don't really see a ton of clients paying attention to that and we've found by just implementing that change they'll see a media increase in leads coming in.

    Eric: Awesome, yeah you're right. When I do searches, it's hard enough to find a local business that even has a website sometimes, right? And then you run into that issue too, where you get on the site and you don't really know what to do; it's hard to find contact information, etc. Those are good points.

    Jacob: I would also add too, Eric, a lot of the technical stuff is improperly managed. A lot of times there's no webmaster tools, there's no KML site maps, there's no site map at all, rich snippets, geomodifiers in the title tags, all of that from A to Z is usually neglected.

    And then one last thing; a lot of times people will try to take a shortcut, whether that be a bulk submission to UBL.org or something like that, and that may work sometimes, but oftentimes it just takes a very manual contacting of every one of these directories, which we see business owners just don't have time to take care of.

    Eric: All right, you're right. A lot of people do just do those mass submissions and then just sort of let it go and they don't really follow up on it, like you said, there's a lot of value in having correct data all over the place and you can't really substitute quality, hand-crafted work with the bulk stuff.

    Adam: Right.

    Duplicate Content Concerns, Same Services in Different Locations

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    Eric: And you're right, they certainly don't have time to do that. Another question that we get pretty often is how you deal with potential duplicate content issues, when you're dealing with say, a dentist who serves four or five different towns. Do you get into multiple sites type thing, multiple pages, how do you handle that?

    Adam: Well, typically most small businesses don't have the budget for multiple websites to be placed for areas that are... Say you're in a metropolitan area that has several sub-areas that you operate in; it really kind of comes down to if you actually have a business address in these other locations or not, if you operate in or around those areas. So that's really going to determine how we go after that.

    And what I mean is if you service people in a large geographical area, you can't necessarily get a Google Places listing in that area unless you have an address. So in that case, all we can do is to try to get your site to rank organically, but we typically can't get you to show up in the Google map because again, you don't have an address there.

    So what we'll try to do is if the areas are very close in proximity, we'll merge those into one page of content on your site, depending on what it is. If it's a sub-section, let's say, if you're a dentist, and you offer IV sedation, then we might put up a URL that says IV sedation in Town A and Town Z or whatever it is.

    However, if it's really a little bit further spaced out or if you really need to differentiate it because of competition or whatever, we may actually build out Town X dentistry and Town Y dentistry, so they're two separate pages on the site and then we attack that. And typically, in that case, that dentist only still has that one address so we'll keep that consistent across the board. But when we build, we'll try to incorporate those key words to the appropriate sub-pages so we can get those to rank appropriately. Typically, that doesn't have any effect on your map listing for the outside area, the other city that they don't exist in.

    Then when you get to the copy, we try to mention all the cities that they serve, and work all of your keywords to make sure that all your geomodifiers are consistent for all the areas that you service, as long as it makes sense. If they're serving national areas, then obviously, that wouldn't work. You'd have to create a bunch of sub-sites, microsites, and approach that differently.

    Marketing Local SEO Services & Client Acquisition Tips

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    Eric: All right, great. I think that covers a lot of the questions that we have on campaign stuff. A lot of the second part here is that we do get a lot of questions on the business side of things. People want to start building a local SEO business and then sort of grow it out from there to where people usually have most of their personal contacts and it's a great way to get started. Certainly, Google is pushing local all over the place, so it's definitely not a bad place to be.

    I think the first question that we would like to ask on that is how do you go about marketing your services and picking up new customers?

    Jacob: So yeah, this is the question we get all the time. It's like the Holy Grail question, right?

    Eric: Yep.

    Jacob: So the small business, or the SMB market, the way I see it is it's notoriously hard to penetrate. If you have a busy attorney, they're not typically on their phone calling out, asking for help for these things, right? So there's two ways to get to them.

    One is kind of the traditional way, which is to cold call them, and that's very, very difficult. However, there have been many companies that are successful doing that, who reach the locals and the yodels of the world are scaling out pretty wide, doing that type of sales. You can maybe pull up the old Yellowpages and see who's got the biggest ads; those folks are typically spending the most money, so they'd be a good place to start.

    However, we don't do that, because that's kind of the shotgun approach. For a smaller agency, we find more success with the rifle approach, which would be personal relationships, networking, establishing yourself in the different communities as an authority.

    One way to do that is to identify these connectors in this industry. Who are in these businesses' offices every day? So if you want to target attorneys, who are in their offices every day? If you want to target restaurants, who are talking to these guys? A lot of times that will be a secret, golden source are actually Yellowpage reps or old Yellowpage reps, because those guys and gals have relationships with so many business owners, I mean very, very personal relationships.

    The same thing with radio reps, radio ad reps, TV reps, even to the point, let's say, dental insurance, or a lot of these dentists will have people coming in selling them software. Those individuals have contacts with all the dentists in the entire city, so if you can get your hands on those folks, the connectors in the small business world, they will no doubt have people you can talk to.

    Eric: Right, and you can also do things like speaking, being active in the business community. Most Small Business communities have a Chamber of Commerce and things like that. If you do speaking engagements there locally, presentations, stuff like that.

    Jacob: Absolutely, stuff like that is probably the second biggest way. So personal contacts, and then speaking at a Chamber. Business owners are thirsting for this information, so most Chambers... And another good one, better than Chambers, are actual industry specific organizations, because you can go and speak to all the storage facility owners in your city, if you can get a hold of the organization that you're in.

    Eric: All right. So now, we've got all these customers with all those great tips.

    Jacob: The phone's ringing off the hook.

    Starting a New Local Business & Key Mistakes to Avoid

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    Eric: Yeah, the phone's off the hook, papers are flying everywhere... What do you see for new folks getting into this, as they're building up a client base, what do you see as the biggest struggle for them?

    Adam: Okay, so the first thing is not cutting corners. It's so easy to take the path of least resistance, but when you do then your results falter, if you will. So the big thing is that you've got to stay diligent, doing what works and doing it 100% of the time and just being really consistent with it, all across the board. And then building scalable systems; it's difficult, but it can be done and it's something that you certainly want to focus on is how can you put practices into place to keep yourself organized, but also be able to replicate those systems across 10, 20, 50, 100 clients so that everything gets done the right way every time and nothing falls through the cracks.

    And then the last big thing that is huge is finding a way to justify yourself when compared to 50 other people who claim to do what you do. These business owners have people beating on their door all the time, so what is it that makes you any better than the rest of them. Coming up with that is something that can be a little difficult, but once you find it, now you have a reason to talk to them that really sets you apart.

    Jacob: To add on that, communication with these guys is really, really big. These business owners are so used to...they've been ripped off a lot in their past by companies calling them from all over the country, promising them the next best thing. But if you can position yourself as their partner and keep constant communication going with them, and somehow scale your business out at the same time, which is the whole conundrum, that will do wonders for client retention and the business owner will hire you.

    For us, for example, we have contracts, but our contracts end, and at that point, it's the business owner's decision to keep on going with us. So we want to create a really high touch environment, where we're contacting them all the time and that leads to a very, very high retention rate.

    Adam: Another item that I would add is crucial for someone getting into this is really try to understand how local works, not just local SEO, but the local market. We don't know it all; we just try to pay really close attention. If we read and test, we're always trying to learn what's going on and we spend a lot of time, for instance, in the Google Places forums, helping and learning, constantly providing insights anywhere we can, and getting feedback from it.

    There's no industry guide put out by Google, so you have to either find someone who can help show you the way (which really doesn't exist in this area; very few people do it and are willing to share it) or you have to make your own path and figure it out as you go. The latter takes time, but it can work as long as you're diligent.

    Like Jake said, these business owners get beat on by hundreds of calls all the time; they're just inundated with it, with emails and other solicitations, so you can't be one of those guys that let's say uses tools that email blast them or just constantly are banging on their door with the same things that everybody else is saying. There really are no shortcuts and these guys just start to turn it off because now we're just looked at as another solicitation phone call, if you will.

    Taking that on to the next step, not all businesses are right for local and internet marketing, so you have to be able to prove your worth and justify your value and that's very difficult to do with businesses that don't focus on services where clients call them or email them. So for an example, it's extremely different to show a direct investment with a restaurant; how are you going to effectively track results? If they say, "Well, what did you do for me?" what can you prove to them other than, "Hey, we increased the traffic to your website"? How can you show that they actually got any business from it, because nobody's answering their phone, they just get foot traffic. Some restaurants, of course, may take reservations or get some calls, but again, it's very difficult to track.

    The next thing would be to find your niche and stick to it. Many companies try to do too much and spread themselves thin, so if you do one thing and you do it well, people will pay for it, and if you do many things mediocre, your term rate will increase and your results won't provide a good return on investment.

    The next thing I would say is to charge what you're worth. Don't think that businesses can't afford what you're doing. If you provide value and if your return on investment is very good, then you're going to be worth quite a bit of money. You look at industries' stats, an average client worth for a dentist could be anywhere from a $1,000 to $1,500. One dentist of ours, his average client worth is $1,434, I believe that is what he just told us. Every client we send him is worth that amount. You can take that into consideration when you're charging what you do; as long as it's fair, then people will pay it.

    Budget Myths

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    Jacob: I was going to say, interesting story there, about not really believing the business owners when they tell you they don't have money, because they will, if it brings them business; any smart person would.

    We had a client that was a prospect at the time, and never spent more than $300 for advertising a month, which was small for the guy. He was spending $40 a month on his website and thought that was too much, but come to find out, his website was a complete duplicate of thousands of other websites, so he was completely de-indexed and had never gotten one lead from the internet. So we went in and quoted him a couple thousand a month, because that was what it was going to take. We showed him exactly how he was going to get a positive ROI on that. Again, he's never spent more than $300 or $400 a month and sure as heck, he went with it, and he's very, very happy, still a client. So, again, don't be afraid to charge what you're worth.

    Eric: Yeah, I think a great point you made (though there were obviously a lot in that), but I think one of the biggest ones is the niche approach. You find certain people, like I know an agency that does work specifically with lawyers, and they do a great job, because they're used to dealing with... If you're somebody who deals with, say, insurance agents all day, and then all of a sudden you take on a lawyer client who's a bulldog, you're going to be like..oh no

    Jacob: Right.

    SEO & Non-SEO Tools the Help with Scaling

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    Eric: It's completely different. And I see that a lot. Some people work just with real estate agents or insurance agents or dentists or things like that, so that's a great point. I think that when we talk about scaling, obviously, and things like that, tools come into play. Everybody likes to talk about tools, right? Everybody wants to know what tools everybody uses. Funny thing is, the best ones are usually ones that are developed in house, and no one ever talks about them.

    Jacob: Right.

    Eric: So what type of tools do you guys use to help scale your business and keep communication flowing and all that?

    Jacob: Yeah, I mean one of the tools we'll use is... The number one tool that we use is Basecamp; I can't say enough about Basecamp. We also use Raven Tools for reporting, which works really, really well. Then internally, we use Google Apps, Google Docs for internal communications and then we also, actually, another one...

    We get every client to sign up for Dropbox. We have them transport files and pictures to use through Dropbox because their website has to have pictures of the proprietary, of their buildings, of their office, their products; so we use Dropbox for that. And we also train our clients to use Jing, a screenshot program, so we communicate with them through that.

    A couple other ones we just started using... A software we just started using is called ProofHQ, for proofing, so that allows our designer to show us proofs and us to comment on it really easily. We use FreshBooks for billing, and it's very, very easy. We use SalesForce.com for all CRM; we use that to manage our email list.

    And then finally, for sales calls, it's important to kind of go out there with information, so if you're going out to see a vet, for example, you want to run his website through maybe Website Grader. We'll use SpyFu, we'll use SEO Screaming Spider to run the website and find any 404 errors and kind of show them, "Hey, look, you have these errors holding you down. Customers are going to these pages and there's nothing on them." Then we'll use Google's keyword tool and Open Site Explorer, to show them why they're not ranking, why their competitors are ranking number one. So those are the tools that we use from day to day.

    Eric: Awesome. So will you join me in the call for Basecamp to integrate Google Docs at some point in the next 10 years?

    Jacob: Yeah. I just read an article that they're coming out with a complete revamped version very soon that hopefully will include that.

    Eric: Yeah, it's funny. I know a lot of people who end up doing their own internal project management app, there's usually a very large group that does that, but Basecamp is, I think of all the pre-built solutions, the best of the bunch. There's just little things, like the Google Docs integration, and the fact that if I was your employee, you go to the Dashboard and you can't see all my to-do's the way that you can see yours.

    Jacob: Yes.

    Eric: So it's just these little things that I hope they change with Basecamp next, because if they do, they've got like 90%.

    Jacob: Seriously. It's great; this ProofHQ, the reason we chose that is because it does actually integrate in with Basecamp very well.

    What are Business Owners Looking For in a Company or Campaign?

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    Eric: Awesome. I should check that out. I think I was using Notable for a while, which is similar. So a couple more questions here on the business development side of things and then we'll let you get back to developing your business, as it were. When you meet with your local clients, what are they typically after? What do they ask, what are they expecting? How do you manage all that?

    Adam: I would say that business owners really care about a few things in marketing. The biggest thing, and most notably, is getting their phone to ring. Really, that will just lead to traffic through their door as long as they're answering their phone, and they've got a decent system in place to get those clients engaged, and whatnot, which will then lead to a positive return on investment. At the end of the day, it's all about the return on investment to them, so it all starts with the phone call or email lead to their business. Without that, nothing else really matters. So that's really got to be your focus, because that's their focus.

    I'd say that they kind of want you to be genuine and not just trying to push another product that again, everybody else has. One of the best ways to convey this is show them some live examples of real clients, if you have them in your existing area that they can relate to. Show them some positive testimonials of real, live, local businesses that are happy with your services.

    The burn and churn type companies out there, the ones that are notorious for people disliking their high churn rates, you're not going to have a lot of this, and they're certainly not going to have a good amount of clients, in most cases, that someone out there can just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, what were your experiences with this company and should I do business with them?"

    So, those are all really important, but the most important is getting their phone to ring, because that's really what they care about at the end of the day. If you do that, then a lot of other things just go away. They don't really care as much about the other nitty-gritty things as long as the phone's ringing.

    Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

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    Eric: Right. So a couple of the big, big questions that we always get... Pricing; we'll talk about this in a bit, but people talk about the scaling of a local service firm and things like that. Some people think that it's not possible; I disagree a little bit on that one; I'm sure you guys do too. But when you get into pricing, how do you price things? Do you do flat fees, per leads, a combination, or do you have a set structure for pretty much everything you do?

    Adam: That's actually a great question. So we actually model our billing and our fees kind of off the Yellowpages. As businesses are pulling out of the Yellowpages, we want to be there to scoop up that money, because there's literally on a national scale, billions of dollars every year that is just leaving small business pocketbooks to go elsewhere.

    The way the Yellowpages work is that they deal in monthly contracts, and that's exactly what we do. We'll schedule out typically anywhere from 9-12 month contracts; the Yellowpages has notoriously been a 12 month contract, and sometimes even more if they're integrating in digital products, depending on the cycle of when the book hits the streets to the end of the publication cycle.

    So there are a couple reasons we want to contract. Initially, we didn't want to contract, but we've found that it's good because it gives us time; it forces the client to have to wait for an SEO to take place. We all know that there's no overnight, you know you start doing some off-page SEO work and next week you hit number one and your phone is just blowing up. So we need clients and we try to set the correct expectation and we also try to get a good contract term and then we know that we're somewhat safe with them and whatnot.

    If they can make it through the time needed to let the SEO work take its place, and there's sufficient time, then that's not only going to allow them to see the return on investment, but if they start to be comfortable spending that money and then once the return hits, then the money's not even an issue and so it really works well.

    Monthly contracts are absolutely where it's at. If you go on out and try to beat the streets every time you want to make a new sale, it just doesn't make sense and I'll tell you, most of our clients, they've started with a contract, and many, a high percentage of them, are now out of contract and they keep us on a month to month, without issues. I mean, there's not even a question of it anymore.

    Jacob: So I would say, the paper lead for us hasn't been a good way to go, because they're only going to attribute a certain amount of leads that you brought them. But you're going to bring so much more business, whether it be word of mouth, whether it be just an article that you may have put out; all these other things that really you did, they're not going to attribute that to you, so we haven't found that very good.

    The key is, find out what their marketing budget is per month and try to come in somewhere in there. Also, no big upfront fees. Most of these business owners, for us at least, we don't try to hit them. Their budgeting is not structured in a way that they can take a big hit. So let's say you were going to charge them $10,000 for a website or whatever, it's tough for them to swallow that. However, if you can get them into a 12 month contract or a 9 month agreement, they're more apt to sign that.

    Eric: Right, so sort of rolling, if you're doing a website, things like that, roll that into your monthly costs over that 12 month period, rather than saying, "Oh, it's going to be $8,000 for this or $5,000 for this website, plus another 2, 3 grand, whatever it is a month for everything else on top of that."

    Adam: I would say that that's absolutely correct. But if you can get away from doing the website separately and then just allocating funds to a monthly SEO, that's great. The one thing I wanted to point out is there's no one-size-fits-all. You can't cookie-cutter internet marketing, and so we see many companies who say, "We're going to charge this amount for this product and it's just going to work for everyone." It's not that case with anybody.

    You walk in, you sit down with a client, and they're all after something different, they've all got different needs and wants, they all have different timelines, they all have a different budget amount that they're willing to spend. There are just so many things; you can look at somebody's citation profile and see that it's really clean, versus someone who's hired three or four knockoff SEO companies that just haven't, just have really made a mess of things. So that's all going to change as far as what you need to charge.

    That goes back to our initial statement on charging what you're worth and just holding to your guns. Hopefully you can help the client make heads or tails of it so that it makes sense and so that it works. But there's never one-size-fits-all, so usually, most of the time we're customizing our proposals to some degree.

    Eric: Well right, yeah, exactly. Quite frankly, sometimes you might want to... You may sit down with a client who gives you a much better feeling than another one, where you may be a little more apt to say, "Yeah, we can maybe roll that in," or whatever, versus a client who you think may take up a little more of your time and you want to be able to price for that accordingly.

    Jacob: Right, and also think about ROI; so, for example, the example I gave earlier, where that client had not spent more than $300 a month, and we came in at $2,000 a month, well that's because we knew how much traffic we could get, we knew roughly how many leads we could get for him, and we knew that he was going to get an astronomical return on investment with that. So it didn't matter to us how much he's used to spending; what mattered to us was how much money he was going to make.

    Eric: Right, exactly, and it goes back earlier, as you were talking about the fact that sometimes local marketing isn't for everybody and that's why I think it's important, like you said, not to take a cookie cutter approach. You could specialize in local SEO, but there's nothing to say that you can't just do a web design for a local coffee shop or help them with their social media. They may not need a full on SEO campaign.

    So like you said, it's good to be open because it opens up other areas and then who knows who they know. They may know other businesses that might value... You're right, so the networking approach, the custom proposal approach and having different services to offer I think is... You know, without going too wide, is certainly...

    Adam: And that really kind of goes back to try to keep your niche service industries intact. You know, we do get queried every now and again for the one offs, and we try to refer those out, if it's not in our main scope. The last thing we want to do is take someone on that's either going to pull our resources and tie them to somebody else that really needs it, or you know we're not going to be able to provide sufficient results for their money, which would then kind of put a bad taste in someone's mouth. That never works out for anybody.

    Favorite Local SEO Resources

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    Eric: Right. In terms of keeping up with the local SEO stuff, like you said, things change all the time, what are some of your key sources for keeping up with local SEO stuff?

    Adam: Sure, well, one of the main things is we try to stay really active in Google forums. We're constantly trying to be part of what's going on there, but I would say the other areas we're really involved with are Mike Blumenthal's blog; I communicate with Mike every now and again for various different things that I have questions on. Linda Buquet, she's got a great site. She deals specifically with dentists and she usually has good insights on things that are coming up. David Mihm, of course, just kind of your industry standard. And then SEO Book kind of gives us a top down approach to a lot of things that are kind of going on as far as more of a large scale, what's going on in the industry, algorithm changes, what people are seeing.

    At the end of the day, tracking our own results. We try different things out; we try to document it, see what happens, see what works. Sometimes we'll just make changes to see what will happen and what the income will be. We've learned a lot, as far as how to manipulate Google Places to our advantage. Those are some things that have been really neat that we've come across.

    The thing is that there is very little out there on local SEO from those who are actually doing it, so the ones that really share the information are really important to us. But most don't share their secrets. Even those guys probably don't share a lot of their secrets. So it's one of those things, so you've got to pave your own path, but the coming months we hope to put out some information, including a book that we'll use to try to share some secrets that we have and maybe give back to the community that's helped us out so much.

    Eric: Awesome.

    Jacob: I've got my RSS feed open and I'm just reading through what we check every day. Blumenthal, Greg Sterling, Small Business SEM by Matt McGee, David Mihm, OptiLocal is really good, Catalyst Marketing, NGS Marketing, Andrew Shotland, BIA/Kelsey Local is really, really good. They started in the Yellowpages industry and they do a lot of reporting on the small business world. The Google Places help forum, and then finally, a blog called GrowMap does some really great stuff.

    Debunking the "Local Marketing" is Unscalable Argument

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    Eric: Great. We'll also link to all that stuff in the post here. Just one final question; there's talk sometimes of the fact that (we talked about it a little, some of the key components), that there was a post recently out there that sort of shot down the whole local client type setup where people want $50,000 a month services, but they're only paying $1,000 a month. I find that this is the case for some clients, but I think if you guys maybe can just briefly talk about the evolution of your business...

    It seems like you would start as you get into business and maybe you take on a couple clients at a lower rate than you would like; then you sort of prove yourself and from there you grow into other services that you can provide. From that point you just keep expanding within your niche, to find other businesses, both locally and across the country. But I think it's not so much that it's an unscalable business model; I think it's just people try to go into it thinking that every client you sit down with is just going to hand you over a pile of cash without any qualifications.

    Adam: Right, which wouldn't be ideal, right?

    Eric: Yeah, which is probably what some people might be used to, as least back when nobody knew what SEO was. "Yeah, I'll point 20 spamming links at your site and you'll be number one and whatever." Yeah, give me... You know, I think it's, especially with the local businesses, in this economy, they're the ones that are really hit harder. We have a number of local businesses here that have been hit by the movement in of larger retail stores; a local hardware store, a local insurance agent who now is competing against the local State Farm and local Geico office, stuff like that.

    But if you guys could just maybe debunk that theory a little bit, in terms of it being an unscalable business model.

    Adam: I would say initially that as long as you can prove your value, you can really charge what you're worth. When we started out, we just tried to show our clients what we knew, what we were capable of, and found some that we actually knew and just went from there. Once we had a foundation of some proven results...

    There's two elements. You've got to prove to the client that you can do it, but you've also go to prove to yourself too. Once we did that, we knew that we were on the right track, and it was a lot easier to go after other clients, to say, "Hey, here's a real life example of what we've done with one person or another person and here's our plan as to what we could do with your company. Here's what sets us apart. Here's a testimonial from a customer in your industry and so on." So there's just a bunch to that.

    Jacob: I would add to that, there are companies out there trying to scale this out, right, to reach local and yodel and those type of things, and we both had vast experience working closely with these type of companies. I would say it's a spectrum, right? You can have high scalability and high automation, but you're also going to have a very low retention rate. And then you can have very low automation, very manual, and then have a higher retention rate.

    So I would say, it's scalable, but it's scalable in the way that an agency is scalable. We look at it as pods. So a pod of employees, say a project manager, a couple citation builders, maybe a designer, can handle x amount of clients in x amount of revenue. Once you get that pod, you just duplicate that pod and scale out, very, very similar to what an agency would be. Then, the best thing about that is you're keeping your retention rate very, very high.

    Eric: Right, it goes back to talking about the systems that you were talking about earlier, having a system in place. You don't necessarily have to have the upfront cookie cutter approach in terms of pricing, but on the back end, you really ought to have a scalable system that works as flawlessly as it can with human involvement.

    Jacob: Right.

    Eric: All right, great. Well, I think we covered a lot of stuff here. I just want to wrap it up here. Again, these guys are from firegang.com, like I said, very active and respected members of the SEO Book community, as you can tell by a lot of the information here, definitely on the expert level of the local SEO stuff. I know on your site now you have a downloadable guide on how to increase map rankings, and that's free. And then you also mentioned that you're coming out with a book in a couple months that covers pretty much the whole local SEO spectrum?

    Jacob: Exactly.

    Eric: All right, great. Well, let us know when that comes out. We'll certainly highlight that on the blog so everyone here can get a copy of that. I just want to take a brief moment and thank you guys for hopping on here. It's been an hour long call, so I hope everybody has their iPods ready, or whatever they use to listen to this.

    Jacob: Two time speed, right?

    Eric: Right. All right, guys. Thank you very much for your time.

    Adam: Appreciate it.

    Jacob: Thanks. Bye.

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