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Stitch & Print at Wigton competing with several Cumbria workwear providers and large national enterprises.

One of Cumbria’s locally competitive niches is workwear embroidery! Lots of local providers and big national companies chasing Cumbria’s money!

So your local search marketing plan is complete! You’ve followed the advice and made sure that your homepage, service pages and social media posts are tuned in to the kinds of queries your customers seem likely to use. You’ve put “alt text” with your images and you’ve made sure that there are “more than 10 words” on every page! You’ve nagged your web designer to death; until he or she has got that website loading up so fast it takes your breath away… but Tom’s shop down the road and Hilda from over the hill are still outdoing you for every search you can think of! This local SEO advice you got was obviously – PANTS!

Whoa – hold on a minute cowboy! Not so fast! Before you start calling me names and rubbishing the advice I’ve given you, maybe you want to take a look at something first!

When the Going Gets Tough… The Tough Get Optimising!

You see not all fights are fair or equitable. Maybe you are battling against someone who’s simply a little more consistent and professional about wanting to be found! Have you considered that? A lot of business owners and IT bods in companies across Cumbria and the Borders, have started to “do” a little SEO and because they are consistent, they are still well ahead. Even though you’ve done the basics, it’s important to be aware of what other competitors are doing and be prepared to work that little bit harder to earn your visibility.

Do You Even Know What Your Local Search Marketing Score Is? Find Out Painlessly!

The Inner Game of Local Search Marketing: When “Online” Gets Competitive!

So… what do you need to concentrate on for local SEO when the marketplace you’re in, turns out to be, pretty fiercely competitive? You might be running a hotel in the Lake District or bed & breakfast in the Tyne Valley: maybe you’re a car dealership – with 3 others next door to you at Rosehill in Carlisle! What are the most important marketing boxes for you to tick now?

Well the answers are available in a superb annual survey that’s coordinated by a guy called David Mihm: who I would love to get over here to the real world (the UK) with his colleague Mike Blumenthal. They collaborate with a host of other local SEO marketers to generate a bible of local online marketing wisdom every year: for the last 6 so far!

The Local Search Ranking Factors Report is the generic title of these studies and they are a goldmine of advice for anyone with a local business that wants its website or social profiles to generate leads. Everybody who chips in to the survey is a serious, big-time, local marketing business owner. They know what works and they’ve been weighing up strategies for competitive local markets for the past several years. Their results and collective wisdom make interesting reading.

Top 10 Online Ranking Factors That Make A Difference in Competitive Local Markets

1. Consistency of Your “Structured Citations”

Local citations in SERPs add to local search marketing capability for Carlisle graphic design company Big Beans!

Local search results showing top citations for Carlisle graphic design company Big Beans.

What’s that in plain English? Citations (in the context of local search marketing) are mentions of your business online. They may or may not carry a link, pointing to your website. Structured citations are listings that contain your NAP data. NAP is the local relevance trio of Name, Address and Phone number. You’ll be amazed at how many businesses get this simple data cleaning task wrong. A simple mis-spelling of your business name, or a typo in the phone number, can set you lower than a competitor where everything else is equal. Because many online directories and business listing services feed off other data providers further up the digital food chain, a mistake in one of the higher level citations can be passed down to several dozen directories without you ever tapping a key!
I’m currently working with a recruitment company in the west who are competing against a pretty well organised rival who has paid great attention to these details and have got some great copy on their website! At present they are still invisible for most searches, because of the time it takes to reclaim and correct listings that already existed before I took them on. Their old listings had a mix of at least 3 different addresses and several variations of the official one! Confusion like that destroys Google’s confidence in your data and gives your business lower authority that lets competitors beat you in local searches. The thing is – this is time consuming but easy to correct and as you see – it is the most important factor to concentrate on if you are having to compete!

2. Domain Authority (Quality) of Your Website

Once upon a time, the importance or authority of a website was summed up by Google’s Page Rank score. It’s something that Google still uses internally; but they stopped updating the public PR scores more than 2 years ago: so any published PR score is completely out of date.

RogerBot - Moz web crawler

RogerBot – Big Brother’s friendly little brother who crawls the web to see if your website is as good as Google says it is!

To fill this void, a Search Marketing Software company by the name of MOZ developed their own crawler – Rogerbot – to suss out the worth of the world’s websites independently (as did Majestic and others). Over the last several years they are beginning to catch up with Google: and their alternative metric is Domain Authority.

Much like Google it catalogues and ranks websites, pages, content, keywords, themes and links between websites. This allows Roger’s minions to gauge any website’s value and predict which will be shown at the top of the pile by Google and other search engines. It has begun to get very close to the sorts of results shown by the Big G!

The practical result for local marketing is that high quality content that promotes engagement from your online visitors, backlinks from other relevant websites and blogs; and active social signals all have to be improved if your competitors are currently kicking your butt and getting all the business! I mentioned website copy in the previous section… it matters!

There is no rest for the wicked or the righteous I’m afraid. Local has become a lot more like national and global marketing in the last year and a half as search engines try to outfox the manipulation that even now fills some local searches with inappropriate rubbish!

3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain

Did I mention backlinks in the previous section? This is now the third most important deciding factor for success in competitive local searches. Can you get a link from a decent client’s website _not one of those sneaky links in the footer that seem to appear on every page but a link from a main – or even the home page.

Can you post a guest blog on an industry or niche website? Despite last year’s hype about guest blogging being dead – good quality valuable posts still work really well. However you might have to follow a few simple good practises to make sure G doesn’t see it as spam or manipulation of this strange substance known as link juice!

Can you pick up some relevant local PR? Local media are relevant because they are where you are and usually they have tremendous authority. So a piece in the editorial or business section of the Cumberland News or News & Star can be great and if you can persuade Nick, Helen or Tom to include a link within the main flow of the piece that’s pure local marketing magic!

Beware of paying for links or another popular technique among more aggressive marketers, which is to build up a blog network of their own, which they control. These so called PBNs or Private Blog Networks can work brilliantly… BUT … they carry big risks! Both techniques are purely there to manipulate rankings and so they DO go against Google’s guidelines. If the Big G discovers that there is a footprint and it points to your site, you may enjoy a period of rapid growth in traffic – only to have it all snatched away when the latest Penguin refresh penalises you for all the dodgy links. So they work… but!

4. Quality and Authority of Your Structured Citations

One of the biggest pains in your local marketing backside will be the building up of a raft of citations on perhaps the best 50 citation sites in your country and in your industry. Most people are familiar with the mother and father of citations i.e. Google My Business (was Places, Plus Local…) and Faceache! Yes your Facebook business page is one of the top 2 citations you can have. As point number 1 points out (sorry about the pun) consistency in your NAP data is crucial. There’s a slight difficulty however as each citation site does things its own way and sometimes it’s quite hard to get your data to show up consistently; but it is do-able.

However getting your NAP sorted out and cleaned up is just the start of the quality and authority process. Depending on your particular niche, different citation and directory sites carry different weights. If all your citation work, blogging and copywriting refreshes so far haven’t moved the needle for your Kendal based digital graphics design agency, for instance: you now need to boost the quality of the most authoritative citations in your niche.

There’s an important question you need to answer! Which directories or listing sites show up most often (for clients) in your most important searches? How can you make sure that you see results that are tuned to your best customer, rather than results that are tuned for you and give you flattering results! (There’s an app or 2 for that!)

Once you have a good idea about which citations are likely to be most important for you – you need to improve the quality and content on them.

  • Have you used the same copied snippet of website content on all your listings? Rewrite it, make it unique(ish) on each of those listings and make sure you try and use the full character count to say as much as you can about your business.
  • Have you uploaded the same 2 photos or graphics everywhere? Ring the changes and upload as many pictures as you are allowed on each platform; ensuring that file names are descriptive of your business before you send them up. Make sure you write a caption for each one; that mentions the subject of the photo and the LOCATION it’s relevant to.
  • Some of these sites allow video uploads – use them if remotely possible even if it isn’t Creative Genius or Web Video quality. If it tells a useful story to a potential client – get it up there!

 

5. Proper Google “My Business” Category Associations

Categories in your Google Business listing can be a potential minefield. A couple of years ago it was still possible to add custom categories that described your business precisely. However the constant keyword spamming of these led to Google creating its own strict list that supposedly cover every single business classification on the planet! Dream on!!

Google are basically American; they don’t have (or grasp) a Cumbrian or Geordie mindset yet – for all their machine learning capabilities! Neither “Geordie” nor “Marra” business speak are going to be digital constructs any time soon! For all its resources, Google still struggles to make the translation from one side of the pond to Queen’s English! So that means you have to find the best fit from Google’s restricted list of UK business categories – and make sure you don’t get it in the wrong one: as this can hurt your visibility badly. I haven’t had to correct any of these personally but often I see businesses have only hunted out 1 category for their GMB listing when there may be 4 relevant ones available. If you can find them – USE them!

Finding them is made slightly easier courtesy ogf Mike Blumenthal who we mentioned earlier. He has a toe in the door at Google and he has helpfully compiled the Google Business Categories into a useful tool for different countries. Here’s the UK compendium of business categories.

6. Physical Address in City of Search

This one’s a bit of a no brainer. if you are IN the city/ town / locality and everything else is equal – Google is going to give you precedence over the “offcomer”! if you are OUT of town then you could move, but it probably makes a lot more sense to double up your efforts on the other aspects of your marketing.

7. Quantity of Reviews on Your Google Business Listing

Encouraging reviews on your Google listing can be very rewarding. Just don’t fake them! The reason they are so valuable is that they are a pain to complete!
Your customer has to have a Google account themselves and they have to be logged into it, to give the review any weight. This can be a major friction point for getting anybody to take action! It is well worth pursuing all the same, because these reviews count as trustworthy “native” Google corroboration of you – as a quality business. If the reviewer takes the trouble to write a comment or explanation for their star rating – these are gold dust!

In the last week or so Google has made yet another change to the way it displays review stars and this change hasn’t yet had time to settle down. The SEMRush team reported on it thus! On February 22, Google began to drop the number of review stars in the search results significantly. The first day we saw a drop by 14.5%, with another 12% drop the next day. Every day since then, Google has continued to reduce the visibility of review stars. (http://www.thesempost.com/googles-review-stars-rich-snippets-continue-to-drop-in-search-results/)

Getting those stars will still be important but they may no longer be quite as visible in searches. Time will tell if the change proves popular or permanent.

8. Inbound Links to Google Business Listing’s Landing Page

This is an issue that is most important for businesses that operate from several locations. Each location can quite happily have a separate GMB listing, but each listing must link to its own page on your website! It’s no good having your 20 bakery shops in Carlisle all pointing their link at Robertson’s Bakery’s homepage – that’s instant local oblivion unless there’s no other bakery in town. It breaks the guidelines and it’s construed as link spam by Uncle G! if you want a GMB listing for each shop in the chain, then each shop has to have its own local page on your website! Simple!

9. Click-Through Rate from Search Results to Your Website

Big Brother’s watching YOU… and your visitors! Google’s analytics (and the search console) monitor what’s happening when Big G puts you in front of potential visitors. If you show up in second place for a few days in front of a few hundred searchers 🙁 but nobody clicks on the link, to go see what you’re about; the analytics software records that behaviour – or lack of! This will give search engines the impression that your presence in the results isn’t relevant to those searches and will soon banish you to page X again!
This is where the care and attention you pay to writing page title tags; so that they are RELEVANT to the searches you want to be found in, pays off. They’ve got to look like the answer to the query you are targeting to catch the searchers’ eye.
The title tag contributes a lot to you being pushed into the results for a particular search. The Meta Description tag for a page doesn’t.. so why does it matter?
Once you catch the searcher’s eye with a cleverly constructed title tag, you then have to SELL your website as being the answer to the question they had in mind when they were searching. This is where well written meta descriptions with all 160 ish characters used including the keywords can convince your visitor that they really want to come and see you! Improving the click through rate from the results page is really a micro copywriting exercise!

10. Quality & Authority of Unstructured Citations: Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts & Social Media

As we said right at the start, citations are mentions that crop up online. So even a passing mention of your brand is useful. These unstructured citations can add weight to the idea that the rest of the world is interested in you. This is where some social media streams can be useful. A mention of your company in a Tweet (which Google is now indexing again) can act as an unstructured citation and gives out a signal that your business is being talked about.

This won’t necessarily lift you over the visibility threshold on its own, but if there are good signals from the preceding 9 factors that Google examines in a competitive search, then that background chatter will be the deciding factor!

Consequences for Your Business

As always this knowledge is a double edged sword. This is the condensed wisdom of more than 30 of the world’s most influential search marketers, but it’s been interpreted for you by me and I am nowhere near being in their league. However, in my defence, for the past 4 years I have followed the results of this survey and each year its results ring true at the Cumbria and North East level, despite the constant changes at Google’s own nerve centre.

Even in a competitive local market like used cars or hotels, it is still much easier to be found by the right customers than trying to compete on a national or global stage. But a word of caution. It’s easier to rank… but it is also easier to shoot yourself in the foot! Any lack of attention to the health of your citations, neglect of the copy quality on your website or a lack of effort to generate links to your site will adversely affect you and bring your local score down: eventually putting you below the competition.

In a county like Cumbria, where population and search volume is low and where we are often a little behind the digital leading edge, you may not notice the damage for quite some time and that can make recovery more difficult as the errors will compound, unseen behind the scenes!

More Food for Thought

My final word of advice is that I have only highlighted the top 10 factors to take care of if you are having to compete hard at local level. The contributors to the survey identified 30 separate factors that made the difference for their clients and you may find that you have to do an awful lot of work to be the obvious answer to your clients’ needs!

And if you need to know the other factors here are the other 20!

11. City, State in GMB Landing Page Title

12. HTML NAP Matching GMB Location NAP

13. Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains

14. Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain

15. Quantity of Citations from Locally-Relevant Domains

16. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)

17. Geographic (City/Neighbourhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content

18. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)

19. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains

20. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain

21. Product/Service Keyword in GMB Landing Page Title

22. City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags

23. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain

24. Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content

25. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews

26. Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain

27. NAP in hCard / Schema.org on GMB Landing Page URL

28. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains

29. Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present

30. Individually Owner-verified GMB Location