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.

Published: August 1, 2012

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Comments

August 1, 2012 - 6:33pm

I agree that getting your foot in the door with local seo or any other entry level online marketing program allows you to build a deeper relationship. Not only does that allow more revenue from other services (web design, email marketing, reputation management, social media management, etc...) it also means better retention in the long run.

Our experience is that when things aren't going as well as we'd like with an seo program or ppc program, we have good news from other parts of the campaign to provide a better overall view of the marketing campaign.

Finally, we agree that engaging with local businesses is a way to build a sustainable long term business. It may not be the 4-hour work week that everyone dreams of... but it will be a stronger business that can ride through the changes in the marketplace. Great post!

August 3, 2012 - 2:57am

thanks for sharing your insights cah23 and for the kind words :)

August 5, 2012 - 11:21pm

You said "If you have never been effected by a Google update then you've been overly-conservative and never pushed the envelope on things."

I havent ever been hit by any major update and I have owned my space for over 10 years. You dont always have to take unnecessary risks to win.

August 6, 2012 - 12:04am

...could you have also branched out into a larger & more profitable market at some point?

Not saying that everyone needs to chase infinite growth, but many companies that dominate a market end up expanding into parallel markets. For example, Coca-Cola not only has their core dominant brand, but they also are into other soda brands, water, coconut water, and so on. They have 28 different brands just in the letter A.

Of course enjoying life also requires some time away from work & I have probably worked too much...so nothing wrong with getting in a comfortable spot & not expanding over and over again. Some VC types would also likely slag me off for being a "lifestyle business" for my lack of desire to scale our site to the moon.

Also one should differentiate between a business who is strongly & comfortably fit inside of one category VERSUS a person who is selling SEO advice/tools/services. A person in the first category can dominate their area and just be comfortable with it without worry. However a person in the second category has been so risk adverse that they have a much harder time even knowing where any of the limits are...which makes it harder for them to advise others on where those limits may be.

August 6, 2012 - 3:30pm

I noticed you slipped the word major in there....yes, i believe that if you have never been hit by a google update then you have been overly-conservative. Doesn't mean that you couldn't have owned a space but by not finding the limits on things (whether its on your main site, sites, or testing sites) you haven't maximized tactics IMO.

Florida, Panda, Penguin, over-optimization filters (on page and off page) all fall into what I would call a Google update. I'm not sure what you mean by major but in either case the comment didn't say that one would lose if they avoided chasing limits but the comment, at its core, is saying that if you do not find the ceiling, limit, cliff, etc of whatever you are doing then you cannot maximize your output.

The comment never said you would lose by not pushing things, just saying that leveraging data to its fullest helps maximize your win(s). Maybe in your case you didn't *need* to...but that's not the point I was getting at.

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