What’s Working Now and What’s on the Horizon
As a frustrated outdoor type who spends too much time behind his desk, instead of out in the Lakes; I often see local search marketing in 3 distinct flavours. The idea of “what’s working” depends very much on your marketplace’s level of competition! To put a Cumbrian outdoor spin on what’s working – you could look at it in these terms – I usually do 🙂
- High Pike: The summery Lakeland stroll of local marketing.
- Helvellyn – Striding Edge: Straightforward and requires slightly more care and skill, but can look daunting to the uninitiated!
- Scafell – Winter Cliffs! Technical, challenging and often requires tenacity and commitment!
How you approach your marketing depends very heavily on your competitive environment. In Cumbria in particular the amount of purely local search is pretty low compared with the rest of the UK (an anecdotal assertion, but it could do with some proper research), whereas search for visitor amenities with a serious local intent by “offcomers” is relatively high. 😉
Basic Local Search Marketing for Low Competition:
The High Pike Approach!
Who’s it For
- Typically, you’ll have 3 or 4 local competitor websites, some directories and an off-comer or 2 trying to rank in your patch!
- You haven’t made it onto page 1 for any queries you can think of – and you probably haven’t really heard the idea of keyword research anyhow!
- The competition’s websites look good but don’t really say much that you don’t do better than them.
- You’re not very active on social media – come on just a little regular action helps!
This needs a simple – but time intensive boost to get you started and get you seen locally by BUYERS!
Your Competitors are Actually Trying:
It’s Like Having to Tackle Striding Edge on Helvellyn
You’ve done the basics of local search marketing – but you still aren’t being seen or getting phone calls!
Who’s it For
- You are doing the basics, and it’s got you onto page 1 for a couple of local searches but…
- Nobody says they’ve found your website!
- It feels like the £400+ you spent on the website is wasted 🙁
- You do put SOMETHING out on social media every week!
- You notice that sometimes there are odd business listings that have the wrong information about you!!!
- You know that some of your local competitors are getting sales because people say they have found them on the web!
- You NEED to attract the local customers who still don’t really know who you are!
- You NEED to attract the customers from outside your area who are keen to buy what you do!
It’s time for a more methodical, carefully focused chunk of work to make sure you are “X%” better tuned in to local customers than the competition AND your website is answering THEIR queries – not simply regurgitating your view of what YOU offer!
Really Competitive Local Search Marketing
You’re up against it: Multiple Locations & National Chains: It’s Like Tackling Scafell’s Winter Crags
Who’s It For?
It’s a whole lot more complicated and you’re being beaten online by national chains and booking websites that you have to pay a fortune to; as well as being buried by them!
- You and your competitors have multiple locations and premises.
- You are an independent competing against a wealthy local dominant trader with multiple premises, websites and local ads or:
- You are competing against national chains with big marketing budgets!
- You know you offer a better value local deal but customers aren’t seeing it!!!
- You are always at the bottom of page 1 or on page 2 or lower. 🙁
It’s time to get committed and get technical! You will need to get all the basics right, ensure your local citations are up to par; the website is quick and well optimised for the locality(ies) and your products. You will need to invest time and money into attracting links from other websites. Your content marketing will need a very professional edge to overcome the strong competition of the established local market leaders or the invasive chains!
Which Approach to Local Search Marketing Does Your Business Need?
How Prepared are You, to Compete in the Local Search Optimisation Wars?
You Are At the Mercy of a Mobile Device “Zombie” Invasion!
And it’s not just Pokemon Go!
Before you go anywhere or do anything else – make sure your website is mobile responsive or adaptive! The stats are compelling and these are just a few.
- 80% of internet users own a smartphone
- Apps account for 89% of mobile media time !!!!
- Tablet devices account for the highest add-to-cart rates on e-commerce websites at 8.58%
- 57% of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site!!!!
People are Researching & Buying More Stuff via Mobile particularly for local services!
People are much more comfortable making payments with a mobile device!
Which of these businesses is likely to keep the visitor hanging around to book a table or research a car?
If they can’t use or read your website easily – You’ve lost them!
Which Car dealer would encourage you to hunt for the second hand deal of the century?
If you want local customers to use your website and find out where you are – you need to be mobile friendly! It works! It keeps visitors much more engaged!
What the Big Studies Say!
The biggest studies in this field of local marketing are annual. The major one that provides the trusted benchmark across the English speaking world is David Mihm’s MOZ Local Ranking Factors report which is due to surface in a couple of months again. This is a predominantly US dominated set of data and anecdote with sizeable contributions from Canada and smaller inputs from Australia, Malaysia and the UK – Usually it’s Hallam Internet’s Susan Hallam or the Bowler Hat guy Marcus Miller.
The overall picture from the 2015 survey. https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors
The pie chart above is a very broad brush view of what’s working for hundreds of businesses, according to the agencies that support them. The steady evolution of the field of local search marketing has thrown up many complexities. Google now presents local search results in a number of ways and is always experimenting with the format. The 2 examples below will be the most familiar layouts to most people from desktop searches
The Devil’s Always in the Detail!
As you can see from the device screen grabs above, local search results come in many varieties and these are just 2 variations on 3 fairly representative devices. With this variety of presentations for the same 2 queries, it becomes more important to inderstand the keywords you need to rank for and and the kinds of results you anticipate Google returning. There are fairly subtle differences in how your marketing focus should be applied depending on whether the target keyphrases throw up a local organic result or a local snackpack result and whether you anticipate most of your search coming from desktop or mobile devices! The MOZ survey has begun to address these subtleties and also the change in emphasis needed for higher competition markets.
Main Lessons From the Local Ranking Factors Survey 2015! (abridged)
The Local SEO Guide Local Ranking Factors Survey May 2016
A different group conducted a study based on a much wider, more empirical data study of websites consisting of millions of separate datapoints gathered in collaboration with Places Scout who have a huge mine of data on local search ranking for gazillions of businesses. In amongst all their data, they also have access to Majestic SEO’s comprehensive backlink database and search marketing data. They didn’t just keep that data in-house to crunch though, they went to The University of California Irvine’s Center for Statistical Consulting to conduct an academically rigorous objective statistical analysis. Statisticians Megan Smith and Marija Pejcinovska performed the statistical analysis after what sounds like a crash course on local seo and search marketing. The results may be more in tune with what small agencies like mine and smaller clients might expect to see. I quote from the opening paragraph…
Local SEO is a fickle beast. Not only do you have to worry about traditional SEO around a business’ website, but you also have to worry about traditional local signals like Google My Business, citations and reviews. This creates a real challenge:
How do you prioritize not just your Local SEO operations but your investment in Local SEO?
The conclusions of the Local SEO Guide team – Andrew Shotland’s crew – are broadly similar to the Mihm / Moz survey 8 months earlier with the clearest message being that the importance of backlinks has become even more pronounced than just 2 years ago.
Local Search marketing: Doing the Deed(s)
That’s enough background stuff for now! What you as the indie business owner need to know, is how the hell do I do this myself? So here we go: I’ll take you through the basics in detail as they are so important and then append
High Pike: Low Competition Local Digital Marketing
This approach is appropriate for Low Competition – Sleepy town scenarios. An example might be selling mobility aids and devices in a small city such as Carlisle where there are only 2 or 3 real competitors.
What You Need to Focus on when there’s not much competition online.
- Simple keyword research: products and services
- Make sure you use those keywords on the right pages
- Update your Google My Business Listing (Map marker)
- Check and update ALL your citations.
Keyword Research – The Basics
- Use your Google account to sign up for Adwords – you won’t have to pay – yet!
- Use the Keyword Planner Tool to discover the important keywords for each of your products or services. This can be anything between 30 minutes to 3 or 4 hours depending on how many products or services you offer.
- Download the lists of keyword suggestions as a spreadsheet.
- Pick out the most RELEVANT keywords. Most will be obvious but you will find surprises most times.
- Explainer Video 1 here: Gathering Keyword Data: https://youtu.be/7n105ozkxVg
Improve Your Website Content
- Carry out or pay for a Local marketing visibility and SEO Check up
- Rewrite each product or service onto its own page!!
- Use those keywords in the description a couple of times as well as any variations… without making it sound spammy. 😉
- Use local images or video if possible.
- Ideas for organising keyword data to improve website content: Explainer video: https://youtu.be/pTaX3cMiIVk
- Some ideas for improving content https://youtu.be/I3ho-kEoLis
Improve Your Google My Business Listing
If you are a location business this is crucial!
Hotels and shops; hairdressers and solicitors need people to walk through the door! A Google My Business (GMB) map listing on Google, and the equivalents on Bing, Apple Maps and the other location services are an absolutely basic necessity of local digital marketing. This is obviously true from the nerdy SEO marketing perspective but it’s just as true for customer experience. You want TomTom to say. “Yes!” when a customer is looking for you. if your location marker is in the wrong street – as about 25% of the location markers I’ve looked at are… you are going to end up with a pissed off customer! Not a good start to a blissful customer relationship!
Perhaps you don’t have people visit you at the office! You work from there or you meet them at their place – to clean their windows perhaps. maybe you work like I do and meet clients in cafes and coffee shops or their offices? It’s still crucial to have a well optimised GMB listing – but you have to tell Google that! You are a service area business in SEO speak!
It may feel like a penalty that you are hidden, but Google is actively trying to avoid sending clients to an address where it’s not appropriate for customers to show up! You still get most of the SEO benefit of being attached to that location. Make sure you mark your service area radius as being where you actually travel to! Spreading your service area radius out to Newcastle and Barrow won’t optimise you for those cities and will probably diminish your power to be seen around your base in Carlisle! Such old school techniques will not spread your relevance to the far flung corners of the empire – it just gives you juice for the locality of your address (even though the marker for it tends to be hidden on the listing ).
Local SERPs for Hotels with New Style Location Markers
Local SERPs for Window Cleaners in Carlisle – A Classic SAB (Service Area Business)
Lots of location markers where you would expect very few window cleaners want customers to turn up at their house 😉 Hats off to G H & Cito for playing by the Google rules of engagement 🙂
The GMB Essentials
- Make sure Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) data is correct and matches the format of your address on the website.
- Write a GOOD UNIQUE description of your business that contains the important service or product keywords and don’t spam it with loads of extra place keywords.
- Unearth the closest match Google Local Business category – even the UK version is still horribly Americanised!
Mike Blumenthal’s lbc search tool helps http://blumenthals.com/google-lbc-categories/search.php?q=&val=hl-gl%3Den-GB%26ottype%3D1
- Add lots of images to the photos tab. Make the filenames relevant to the business and its products – use those keywords!
- Copy the written business information to a spreadsheet or notepad swipe file for reuse later. This will help to achieve consistency of your business descriptions and categories.
Timesaving Local Listing Data Swipe File for Reuse as You Build Up Your Citation Footprint
Local, Niche and General Citations
Citations are the extra credentials of local search and the simplest, safest, easy backlinks to acquire.
Use the same data as your GMB listing COPY FROM THE SWIPE FILE.
For business descriptions build up a bank of different length business descriptions and category titles. These will range from 50 characters in length to perhaps 2000
Create as many listings as you can, starting with the “alleged Top 50” from a source you trust. Most of us are interested in the UK. So here is SearchEngineLand’s assessment of the most important core citation sources. However these aren’t necessarily the ones that your industry needs! http://searchengineland.com/top-50-citation-sources-for-uk-us-local-businesses-104938
Other selections of UK Citation sources
The following websites also have their own “best of” lists of citation sources. All of these companies have a much stronger track record than I can claim, based on a huge variety of clients and this combined resource is invaluable.
WhiteSpark – a well repected group in the Local search marketing community. Their lists serve a variety of countries. https://whitespark.ca/top-local-citation-sources-by-country/
Bright Local – These guys started off in the UK but have decamped to the USA where the pickings are richer presumably 😉 However after several years of flirting with their services, I feel their offering is the most in tune with the UK: https://www.brightlocal.com/2013/09/11/top-50-local-citation-sites/
Smart Local – These seem to be well up on the game but are the source I have referred to least. That’s not for any reason other than; not enough brain cells to take everything in or time to digest the whole picture! The material I have referenced has been very good! http://smart-local.co.uk/uk-citation-sources/
Hyper Local and Industry Specific Directories and Citations
Industry focused and (hyper) locally important directories are another way to gain local authority for your business website. These extra connections help to glue your business identity to the area you are focussed and improve your chances of being seen in local searches when buyers are hunting for your services and products on your turf!
Example local citation sources are:
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce – This would be an obvious choice, but in the Cumbria chamber the directory is closed to non members, which somewhat lessens its marketing value to those members, as it deprives businesses of the best local business citation ( 😉 – just saying, in my opinion) and gives no SEO / digital marketing benefit. Other Chambers, such as the Mid-Lothian Chamber, seem to have open and indexable directories which directly benefit the member businesses’ online presence.
Cumbria24 – http://www.businesscumbria.co.uk/cumbria-business-directory
New but should gain authority quickly – it’s actually a small part of another larger directory organisation!
Cumbria Open For Business http://www.cumbriaopenforbusiness.co.uk/comdir/
High(ish) authority but a rubbish interface!!
Cumbria Growth Hub http://www.cumbriagrowthhub.co.uk/businessdirectory
Slightly iffy website that doesn’t get the traffic it should – but the citation is useful!
Low authority but good local relevance.
Directories Appropriate for Different Industries
These are a tiny selection of industry specific directories and citation sources from the half million out there in UK cyber space!
Italian restaurants http://smartbusinessdirectory.co.uk/restaurants.html
Kitchen Fitters http://www.kitchenfitterdesigner.co.uk/pages/registration.php
Disability Scooter Shops https://disabled-directory.co.uk/products-stores-showroomsregional/
Complementary Therapists http://www.therapy-directory.org.uk/
And many more!! There are over 500k citation opportunities in just the UK apparently!
Just before we leave citations completely, the recent survey by Bright Local into the weighting that local SEO and digital marketing specialists are seeing in their work came out with many interesting results. However this conclusion by the 21 contributors was particularly relevant to the basic practises outlined in our “High Pike” approach to local digital marketing basics.
That calls for everything done so far and some extra steps…
Helvellyn – The Striding Edge Marketing Approach for More Competitive Local Markets
Why Striding Edge? Because like the famous arête on Helvellyn it requires a steady approach: it’s basically easy – but mess it up and you could easily disappear off the sides and down and out of sight!
In Carlisle this would possibly be the case for restaurants, IT Sales, shops with an ecommerce aspect, local complementary therapy providers and event managers, tipi rental agencies and the like or manufacturers who are targeting a regional market such as those in Cumbria, trying to supply product to the Energy Coast marketplace.
What to Focus On When You Know You’ve Got Competition!
- The High Pike approach has got you close to the first page compared with previous invisibility.
- Visibility and consequent leads have started to decline.
- The website (£400 – £4,000 investment) was designed by a graphically competent branding agency with no idea & no discussion about search optimisation – the most cost effective digital channel for new customers!
“Competing” is easy enough to do, provided your company is prepared to invest a realistic amount of time, training or budget to get the extra work done over a period of time. Realistically, you need look at investing for at least 6 months to a year to move the needle and get you in front consistently. BUT…remember; once you get yourself to the top of the “hill”, competitors are bound to try to battle back against you. Once you start, your work needs to continue to be a long term, consistent and high quality commitment.
The stages are likely to be:
Detailed Technical Local Marketing Audit
This audit is thorough and looks deeply into your keyword strategy, technical SEO, content quality, your links, citations, reviews and 1 or more of your competitors’ local digital footprints.
- Detailed keyword research by a person or service with experience: multiple seeded lists, recombination and identification of keyword groups (topics) relevant to your products and services in the context of WHERE you sell. Frequently we find gaps where business owners have not fully appreciated how their best customers are searching for their services and products.
- Keyword ranking analysis – this highlights exactly how visible you are for around 50 important searches.
- Technical SEO analysis – does your website work properly – in a people and Google friendly manner?
- Detailed Citation audit – this can discover whether your listings are competitive with your rivals!
- Google Business Listing audit – this is a rather detailed look at your most important local listing!
- Review Audit – Assesses your review and testimonial strength in comparison with your competition.
- Google Analytics and Search Console Analysis – these 2 analytics services provide excellent data about intersction with your website.
- Duplicate content analysis – roots out the copy and paste disease that hinders many local websites.
- Competitive analysis of at least 1 major competitor
- Reappraisal of page structure of the website – we will assess the current pages and determine if more content is needed and where it should go.
- Recommendations – An Action Plan. A proposal for effective strategic, search marketing in your locality.
Website Content Upgrade
• Determine which page content is weak and improve or rewrite.
• Implement the plan for additional page content using local copywriting talent where possible.
• Develop and implement a blog schedule and identify topical focus of posts and which area of the marketing they should support.
• Develop a content sharing calendar for social media profiles to put new content in front of your social audience on a repeated regular basis
• Rectify the awkward and sometimes costly techical on-site SEO errors not dealt with in any previous phases of web your digital marketing development
• Ensure that good internal linking between items of content on your own website is put in place, to help visitors & search robots to find what they need and to push the mysterious ranking “juice” around your website more effectively.
Develop a Backlink Attraction Strategy
In the past 2 years this has become the most powerful driver of visibility in local search marketing! Sadly this can also be the hardest aspect of your marketing to implement effectively. It demands a much more strategic approach than all of the other search work detailed so far. Acquiring useful backlinks from other websites is still a huge influencer on how importantly search engines rate your website. Backlinks also tend to be long lasting helpers of your marketing efforts.
- Decision time! Dedicate staff time to outreach to negotiate links with appropriate website owners or engage an agency? This is the hardest but most useful activity long term.
- Engage a writer or set aside staff time to develop blog/ podcast / YouTube/ Vimeo content useful to clients / customers to attract further high value links naturally.
Tough Local Markets: The Full Scafell Winter Climbing Approach
This approach is necessary when you are a multi site operation with premises or service centres in multiple locations in the county or region, but you need to attract customers local to each outlet. Or you are a small independent company trying to compete with huge national chains.
When the Going Gets Tough: Tighten the Focus!
The sequence and priority of tasks will tend to be different for each individual case, but in essence a selection of the following tactics will need to become part of your long term local search marketing strategy.
- Detailed local search marketing audit for each location which analyses each location’s strengths and competitors.
- Ensure that each location has its own Google My Business (GMB) listing that links to a specific landing page for each premises: on the main website.
- Write unique landing page content with local references for each location and a corresponding unique GMB listing description!
- For each location where competition is tough, develop a website silo structure which has a series of subsidiary pages with hyper-locally relevant content.
- Develop a strategy for attracting many more customer reviews and testimonials. Don’t make the mistake of incentivising them up front as this is blatantly contrary to many of the citation sites’ terms and conditions. This does not stop you being proactive through follow up and even an unadvertised “appreciation” can work.
- Invest in paid advertising. Adwords or FB Ads tend to be the first thoughts. However in the past week or so since I started putting this resource post together, Google have introduced a new system of local branded map ads which will be very effective for competing locally.
- Invest time and resources in a stronger social media presence on the channels where your customers are found.
In More Detail
Content Silos: Silos are simply sections of your website that are made up of several pages related to a particular sub topic of your site’s theme. The main difference to the normal simple website structure is that links are carefully structured to always try and flow authority up towards the important topic and category pages. Sounds technical but it’s actually simple to implement and provided your sub pages are of good quality, it will add strength and resilience to your website. This will help you maintain visibility of the crucial pages and help the business earn more revenue!
Schematic showing 2 different visualisations of silo structures.
It’s important to have the majority of the link juice flowing UP the silo structure, towrds the homepage to get the best results, but it’s important to not be too rigorous about this or the linking will begin to look unnatural. Developing links from external websites to the individual articles in the lower reaches of the silo is also important. This means they also need to be of good quality!
Review Strategy: Reviews build trust and drive more sales from your online presence to your shop or venue! Those stars in the search results carry influence – particularly at the local level and where mobile devices are being used to search in a hurry!
A review strategy can entail anything from simple email or phone follow up; to the more recently developed online reputation services that can automate some of the processes.
Whichever you choose – you need to choose soon as in these kind of marketing situations where you are competing locally against big hitters – any delay is likely to let the big boys beat you to the tactic again.
New Google Map Ads: The very recent introduction of map ads that stand out with their purple pins and business logos, has the potential to be a big driver of sales even in relatively quiet marketing environments like Cumbria.
In places where the pace of competition is hotter – Newcastle or Leeds for instance, these ads will change the game significantly. There will be a new breed of purple map pins with promoted pins showing, pinned to the business logo in its location! Additionally the ads will push down the normal organic map listings on desktop display. So, for mobile search, they are likely to become very important indeed. To access the ads you will need to get used to Adwords extensions. There appears to be a massive amount of new promotional techniques avaiolable with this new map magic and there will undoubtedly be changes as it is rolled out and tested by thousands of real users! Keep your eyes open on this one! As things look now, the 4 main features to be aware of are:
- Map ads on desktop, displace “organic” snackpack listings downwards.
- Branded map pins can get you noticed – particularly in mobile.
- Ability to link special in-store offers to a promoted pin.
- Customisable local business pages that can show whether stuff is in stock!
All in all, this is likely to see Google finding a very powerful way of extracting more “dosh” from discerning business owners!
What’s Working Now – Cumbria Perspective on Local Search marketing
I approached a number of competitor and collaborator agencies involved in local search marketing and a couple of them got back to me with tips they were prepared to share from their experience with local clients in and around Cumbria.
Oliver Warnes – Web Industry Ltd. http://webindustry.co.uk/
Oliver has observed was that they have had a lot of success for local marketing clients by geotagging images with location data before uploading them to websites.
This is a practise i started to use on some sites last year and is also borne out by several commentaries on local seo blogs. The nuts and bolts of achieving this can be tedious until you have an established workflow, but if you are taking business related photos with a modern camera, then the camera software will automatically embed the location data withinn the image file (it’s part of the EXIF metadata. Schema markup can also be used, which will form the basis of a future post!
Dean Duffield: A Digital (formerly Armitage Online) http://adigital.agency/
A Digital are a similar business to Web Industry in the type of clients they attract. Dean was hard pressed to pick any one thing that stood out in the sea of complexity that local SEO has become, until, after several considerations he came back to the work he and his colleagues do on outreach and link building.
This serves to confirm the overall conclusions of both the MOZ and the Local SEO Guide surveys mentioned earlier. They both highlighted the growing influence of “traditional” backlinks within the local search algorithm and its corresponding importance to businesses who need to turn a profit!
No doubt that the scene will continue to evolve: and here’s a case in point!
On August 1st 2016, Google actually removed the ability to edit your business description in your GMB listing! This was unexpected, even though Google hasn’t displayed the description text on map or search results for a very long time. Apparently attribute editing is going to replace the function at some time in the future.
There is still a way to edit the description, but you have to access it via the Google Plus page for your business. Thanks to Barry Schwarz for highlighting the issue and for pointing us to the solution here.
Evolutionary trends to Watch Out For in Local Search
- Social media platforms and search engines will increasingly force businesses to pay to play!
- The days of pure organic are numbered but Google is increasingly facing competition from other search engines and they are slowly chipping away at its dominance.
- Voice search is also altering the way people access services and products online: Siri and Cortana will have a lot to answer for in years to come.
- Augmented reality gamification will begin to impact location search. Pokémon Go lures are being used to bring players into shops and other spaces. However breaking them out of zombie mode is another matter!
So whether you have the luxury of low competition in Carlisle and just need the basic High Pike stroll approach, or you have a determined local competitor who’s driving you to take the Striding Edge approach to your local search marketing, let us know how you get on or what further help you would like!
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