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!
Published: June 8, 2012

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Comments

June 18, 2012 - 3:44am

Impressive Ideas on How to do Offpage SEO Step by step...I agree with -In SEO there is no "secrets" and it's more about leverage, quality of work, and consistency.Thanks for posting Eric!Good Job

June 18, 2012 - 10:15pm

Some very valuable insights here. It's interesting to hear how much a citation audit and clean up job can help your local rankings. I was surprised on your opinion on social. Don't you think Google will be putting more emphasis on social in the near future?

June 19, 2012 - 11:07am

...social will count much more than it does today. IMHO they won't want to count it much unless they are the ones monetizing it.

June 19, 2012 - 7:45am

Darren has some good insights into Local SEO--absolutely consistency is number one. Too many people start a campaign and abandon it because they do not see instant results. The last point about submitting to local and industry directories is pure gold for brick and mortar businesses.

June 19, 2012 - 5:05pm

I loved the section where you talk about SMB still coming to you to rank for specific terms, making it difficult to help them think big picture toward a more holistic link building strategy. I completely agree with you - link building has become an extremely overused buzzword that only talks about one piece of the inbound marketing puzzle. I think it's made it very easy for businesses to hold onto hard metrics like "# of links vs cost" when really there is so much more. Great read, thank you!

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