Local SEO Guide (Updated 2018)
Dave’s a nice guy. He started a plumbing business last year and has gotten some great jobs, but nothing consistent.
What he really needs is regular leads coming in as form fills, emails, and phone calls. He spoke with a local SEO consultant on the phone, and was quickly convinced that Local SEO would be the way he could grow his business and take care of his family.
So Dave started the process of getting his business, Dave’s Plumbing, a Google Business Listing. It was easy. He simply went to Google.com/business and made sure there wasn’t already a listing for his biz.
Seeing none, he proceeded to add his business name, phone number, business address, and all the other information requested. After 4 days, a postcard came in the mail with a code on it, which he punched in. Boom, Dave’s Plumbing was officially listed in Google Maps!
He quickly went and added all the information he could, including pictures his wife had taken, to his his listing. Customers want to see real people, not lame stock photos or crappy stick figures (oh wait).
So Dave sat back and watched the leads come POURING IN.
Dave understood that simply having a listing wasn’t good enough, so he went to the next step in his journey for business growth.
Website and Tracking
Dave had a decent site made for his business a while back. It’s mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. It shows his number and call to action prominently on the top of his site and has a nice blog page that he can easily update and add to.
Local business websites need to show, well, how LOCAL the business is. If you have random pictures of a family outside their home, you might get a few conversions. However, if all your website media is custom, you’ll have your users trust right away, and that is the most important factor for converting site visitors.
Google Analytics and Search Console
In order to see the progress being made, Dave inserted the Google Analytics code on his site and verified it. It was pretty easy to do manually, but quickly realized he could’ve used a WordPress plugin to do it as well. He went through the steps for Google Search Console as well, which goes into detail about search appearance, security issues, indexing, and search analytics. No-brainer!
He wanted to see how his site was ranking as well, so he got rank tracking software to compare day-to-day positions as well as months and years. He knew how important it is to make sure there is progress being made and if there was any shake-ups, he’d know about it and take action to fix the issue.
Dave wanted to get his business in front of as many people as possible so he went to work getting it listed in all the major directories. He started with the ones he already knew of: Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, AngiesList, HomeAdvisor, and Yellow Pages. He researched a bit and found a good list of citations for local businesses and created a nice Google Doc to keep track of all of them neatly.
He decided to do them all himself since he had the time, but could’ve easily found a company to do that for him for a fee.
He knew his business information by heart, but was extremely careful to keep it consistent on each and every listing, otherwise the search engine gods may become confused and bury his listing.
You see, Dave understands that all of this information represents the same business.
Most search engines are smart enough to as well, but when there is a different format used for it, merged, they look more like this:
Dave don’t like that, not one bit.
So he made sure that all of them were formatted the same, within reason. Citations are a core component of Local SEO, so Dave took time to nail this.
Types of Citations
Dave knew that virtually everyone had the big name citation, so he went deeper and got listed with the local chamber of commerce, Houston business directories, and plumber-specific directories. He knew instinctively that search engines would see most of these and associate all of them with his brand. More relevant = better.
Plumbers may not be known for their writing or video-editing skills, but Dave knew that he needed to reach customers somehow, and on the internet, his potential was limitless.
He decided to create a weekly video series based on common problems homeowners were experiencing. He uploaded them to Youtube, embedded them on his site, and transcribed the audio. He also did a quick write-up to describe anything that needed further clarification.
On weeks where he didn’t have a video made, he blogged about local issues, industry news, and company updates. He inter-linked those posts wherever relevant and used brand/keyword anchor-text when linking to his home/product pages.
He looked at his competitors and found posts that he could expand upon and potentially even rank for with very little effort. With a little keyword research, he started pulling in traffic with long-tails and even landed a link from a home improvement blogger.
He created a page for every single service that he offered and created a site structure so that each could be found easily by users and search engines. He used a technique called “Silo-ing” to group topics together and push authority to wherever he wanted on the site.
After a month of work, he was in the top 100 organically, but Dave knew that it was still going to be tough for people to find him. He was listed in Google Maps, but not in the top 3!
Most people wouldn’t go down the list to find Dave’s Plumbing unless they were specifically looking for it or were close by – Dave learned about Google’s propensity to show search results partly based on proximity. This alone landed him quite a few local customers.
Knowing that the organic and local Google algorithms are intertwined, Dave went to work getting backlinks for his site. He read somewhere that low-quality links were the fastest way to get penalized by Google, so he knew he had to be tactful about it. He teamed up with a few local business owners that he met at a meetup and asked them if he could write a post on their site with a link to his. They said yes, and this led to a few relevant links to Dave’s Plumbing. Woo hoo! He decided to research more local link-building ideas and created a quick spreadsheet with ideas of his own.
He contacted local news stations, sponsored a little league team, and offered a local business a discount for a review on their site. Not all of these resulted in links, but they led to publicity and coverage, all which helped Dave get enough jobs to be able to start paying off his business loans.
For any backlink opportunities where he had control of the content, he used conservative anchor texts, like:
Only once in a blue moon did he use anything close to an exact-match anchor text like “plumber Houston” because he knew it wasn’t natural and could look suspicious to Google. He learned that lesson from a plumber friend that tried that and got “taken behind the woodshed” by Google. They never fully recovered their rankings after the penalty.
Dave did a *headdesk* when he realized how dumb he had been. He had done so much to get Dave’s Plumbing off the ground that he forgot to optimize the on page elements of his site. Doh!
He started with the most basic elements, like putting his address on there in a prominent place. Having Houston, TX appear on every page of the site creates that geographic relevance that’s needed to rank any local site.
Going to schema.org, he was able to get a quick piece of code to insert into his site that explained what his business is, where it is located, and other information that the search engines use. This also made his listing “pop” by adding stars to it where everyone can see.
Dave wanted as much relevance as possible when it came to his site. He wanted to prove to Google that he was located at his address, so he embedded the Google Map url specific to his business to his site.
Dave also linked to a review site where customers had left nice remarks. Trust, baby. Include your hours on the page as well. Footer will do fine.
He quickly realized that Google saw the entire network of digital properties tied to Dave’s Plumbing, so he made sure that all of them were accurate, relevant, and clearly associated with the correct company/website.
Get Reviews, Dave!
Knowing that a high percentage of potential customers treat online reviews the same as a recommendation from a friend, Dave set out to create a strategy whereby searchers would always know how great a service Dave was performing.
With some sites, he realized it was easy to just ask customers to leave reviews after performing the service. With others, like Yelp, he had to be a bit more tactful, since they are morons and ask you not to ask customers for reviews (no one knows why).
One simple “hack” he came up with was to create a simple review mechanism on his site that would capture good reviews and use bad reviews for company feedback. He sent all his customers a quick email saying “rate us for some movie tickets boiii” (or something like that) and sent them to davesplumbing.com/feedback. This page simply had the numbers 1-5.
All of these numbers are actually links, 4-5 are connected to Google Reviews (or whatever review site you’re promoting) and 1-3 are links to another feedback page with a form they fill out that gets sent directly to you, the business owner.
This way you get reviews where you choose and valuable constructive feedback or rants come into your inbox, and if there are actions that need to be taken to improve your service, you can do so without seeing negative reviews hemorrhaging all over the internet. Sorry for the visual.
All of these tactics worked well for Dave, but he knew that the best way to keep a good reputation online was to perform an incredible service and treat his customers extremely well. Since he took extra time to connect with customers and had a great guarantee, he has received many unsolicited reviews and maintains a great rating on all major sites.
Optimize Home Page
Since Dave’s Plumbing is only in Houston, it’s natural to optimize the homepage for Houston terms. It’s not necessary at this point to have a /houston-tx/ landing page, since he only has one location. If he expanded to Dallas, however, this would be necessary. He could go through this entire process again, but this time with everything revolving around the /dallas-tx/ internal page.
Local SEO takes a lot of work and considerable time, and even when you think you have it “nailed”, there are things that must continue indefinitely.
Google is constantly updating not only it’s algorithm, but features available to listings as well. For example, recently Google rolled out “Posts” so that businesses can publish updates that will show up right in Google search.
This can bring its’ own sort of relevance to your listing and should be used. Dave used it for deals, company information, and anything else that he thought customers would be interested to know.
Google also started a section within the Google Dashboard called “Services” for service businesses. This is also extremely helpful because Dave could “soft sell” potential customers before they ever get to his site!
One of the most important ongoing activities that Dave does is responding to all reviews, good or bad. He uses human language (no robots, beep beep) to express thanks for good reviews and is quick to fix any situation that leads to less-than-perfect reviews.
Bad reviews happen, and sometimes there’s nothing he could do about it, but responding allows Dave to show how reasonable he is to customers and how active he is in improving his company.
This also goes for social media. He responds to every comment, question, message, etc to make sure no potential lead is left waiting.
With Local SEO, Dave needs to continually prove three things to Google and ensure that they are all connected: his brand, his industry, and his location. If he can do this better than his competitors, he will eventually be in a position to overtake them, make more money, get a bigger house, start a reality tv show, and run for president.
This is the power of Local SEO.