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.

Published: September 6, 2012

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Comments

September 7, 2012 - 2:42pm

Eric: I had read your previous article(s) on local and commented previously. I too have run a number of local campaigns. I commented on the article from last spring, referencing adwords, and you allude to it above while linking to it--but stayed away from repeating yourself.

I acknowledged it then and I'll repeat it now; while all the above tools are and can be helpful on a local campaign with regard to keyword research.....NOTHING comes close to being as detailed, granular and helpful as an adwords campaign.

Ultimately the number of impressions for critical keywords is the best determinant for most valuable keywords. Its also the best determinant for discerning between the variations on keywords with geo modifiers. Which variation of a local business search phrase with geo modifier turns up more frequently? geo modifier first or business term first? Providence car insurance or car insurance Providence (by example).

All of the other references above might help you get to the point where you might learn that car insurance is used more often than auto insurance and Providence might be used more often than Rhode Island or RI...(all hypothetical--)...but you won't know with certainty from the above tools whether the geo phrase comes first or last.

Now sometimes that is INCREDIBLY critical. I see variations by a factor of 4 or 5 times the volume wherein geo phrase first might be used that much more frequently than geo phrase last (or vice versa). That makes ENORMOUS differences. Its ultimately worth knowing for a local business/getting high rankings/getting more leads.

Besides that, which you described in the article from last spring and to which you linked....everything else you describe makes a lot of sense and works.

Dave

September 8, 2012 - 7:47pm

Yup, but it's also fair to say that a client is not always willing to do an upfront PPC campaign so it's important to show the value of these other tools. I always recommend that providers push for a ppc component but sometimes the client isn't interested for whatever reason and we all have to put food on the table so it's important to show the alternatives.

If you have a good enough budget you could do it yourself (the PPC campaign) in lieu of the client agreeing to do one.

September 9, 2012 - 3:38am

...of starting off with a PPC campaign is that not only do you end up collecting valuable market data that can drive your marketing efforts, but you provide the client with instant qualified traffic, which shows proof of value & can be used to help increase the overall marketing budget.

Long ago one of our earliest clients had insufficient budget to compete (even if I was working essentially for nothing) and after he mentioned how poor he felt the performance was (which it had to be given that there was such a small budget & he was still ranking page 2 or 3 for most keywords ... you don't make crap until you get to page 1) we shifted the budget to AdWords for a month, which provided enough sales to lift his confidence & triple the marketing budget. That in turn gave us enough fuel to quickly get to page 1. Of course now the margins in that market are so low that he would be lucky to break even on AdWords, but on some smaller geo-local markets there is so little competition that there is still plenty of margins to be had.

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