The web is like the universe - vast and infinite. And just like there are millions of stars that make up the universe, there are millions of businesses (32 million, to be exact) in the United States alone.
If you’re on the hunt for a particular star, you may need more than your set of eyes to find it and may turn to a telescope for help. The same is true when your customers need a particular service or product, and one of the most powerful and convenient tools they have at their disposal is the internet.
Yet finding your business on the internet can be as challenging as navigating the universe to pinpoint one star. Your business needs help, and that’s where a local SEO consultant can step in and make your company more visible.
If your goal is to take the steps needed to grow your business by making it more easily found, it’s critical to fully understand how local SEO works, what it can do for your business and how to find the right partner who will develop the best marketing strategies, including SEO.
What Is Local SEO?
While you may have heard of SEO, or search engine optimization, what is local SEO and how is it different?
SEO is a strategy used to improve your company’s website in order to make it more visible when potential customers search online for products or services. The better visibility your website has on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, the more likely you are to attract prospective customers to your business.
“Local SEO takes that strategy one step further by focusing on improving SEO through technical and content optimization strategies for businesses that service a limited geographical area.”
Like many small businesses across the country, your core customer base is local … people you live near, families who share the same schools as your kids, and individuals who may even drive down the same roads as you do on your way into work.
Yet there are potentially hundreds to thousands of potential customers that have no idea your business exists, and then those customers are in need of a service or product that you provide; instead of remembering your business, they’ll turn to the web for help.
In fact, nearly 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information. GE Capital Retail Bank’s Second Annual Shopper Study also shows that nearly 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before buying.
In today’s digital world, where potential clients have a wealth of information at their fingertips, it’s more important than ever that local SEO is part of your overall marketing strategy.
How Online Searches Work
Before you search for a local SEO consultant who can help improve the visibility of your business online, it’s important to understand how online searches for your company’s services work.
Let’s use Google as an example. When a user types a particular service or product into the Google search bar, Google begins searching for a stored copy of all the sites the search engine has indexed. This is called the Google Index, and it operates very similarly to a library. While a library indexes all the books it has available for use, Google does the same with websites.
To create this index, Google crawls the web, looking at every page, including all content and links. As all this content is explored and stored on Google’s servers, creating an index. Google continuously updates its process that determines how it ranks sites, called algorithms.
So when a potential customer searches for a product or service that your business offers, Google checks the index and provides the customer with a list of websites that matches the search. These results are ranked using several factors, including:
Authority or expertise
Readability of the page
Physical location of your business
In fact, these are only a few of the approximately 200 factors Google uses in its algorithm to rank websites. For businesses who primarily cater to local customers, the location of your business is a particularly important factor.
Google knows that when people are seeking a product or service, they likely want search results from their immediate area. A customer doesn’t have to include “near me” in the search field. Google automatically takes into account the location of the searcher.
What A Local SEO Consultant Does
Armed with the information above, you may be ready to start searching for a local SEO consultant who can put into motion strategies that will help potential customers find your business.
An experienced local SEO consultant will focus on using SEO strategy by engaging in two primary activities:
On-page optimizations, such as your website design and content
Off-page optimizations like link building, which is the process of getting external pages to link to your website
These two optimization strategies are important because Google uses both to evaluate your website’s credibility, relevance to a search and the quality of user experience. Local SEO services will typically include:
Researching and analyzing your website, taking a look at how your website is performing currently
Looking at other competitors of yours to see what’s working for their websites
Performing a keyword analysis to see what your potential customers may be typing into search engines
Optimizing features on your website, such as titles, meta descriptions, keywords and themes, to increase the click-through rate, time spent on page and number of pages viewed
Examining the language on your website to determine whether it is clear, targeted and concise
Analyzing how fast your website is and if it’s secure
Taking a look at items like backlinks and whether they are helpful to your website traffic
Providing you with regular SEO reports so you can track your progress
Determining what results you can expect with the budget that you have
A local SEO expert with experience will also evaluate traffic analytics, or where your traffic (and your top competitors’ traffic) currently comes from, how it arrives and how long it stays.
A consultant should incorporate heat maps into an analysis. Heat maps allow you to understand what’s drawing visitors’ eyes and where they are spending their time so that you can conversion rate optimize (CRO) each page.
How To Find A Local SEO Consultant
Finding the right local SEO consultant is important in order to grow your business. With hundreds of SEO businesses promising to boost your site’s visibility on the web, how do you know which one will deliver results?
Here are a few things to consider as you weigh your options.
First, if your business services a limited geographical area, you want to make sure the company you are considering actually specializes in LOCAL SEO services. While experience in SEO is important overall, local SEO is a specialized form of SEO and requires a certain level of expertise to generate successful results.
Ask about the tools a consultant uses. Each company will implement different approaches to how they implement their local SEO strategies. For example, SERP features, or search engine results page features, add new elements to the typical search result format. They provide a more user-friendly experience for a potential customer using a search engine.
Some popular SERP features include:
Local Pack, which appears in SERPs when a query features words like “near me” or “in (insert city).” The Local Pack consists of a map with pinned locations, a five-star scale that shows the rating for each location, or three search results (some may be ads).
Site Links, which are special links that Google places near the top of a search results page to allow a user to navigate to a specific part of a website quickly.
Indented Search Results, which can help companies even if their site doesn’t appear in the No. 1 spot of search results. When a user searches for a product, under the initial search result is an indented secondary result. Instead of occupying one space on the search engine results page, your product now takes up two spaces.
Review snippets, which feature a yellow star rating and possibly an image. You can typically get this feature if your customers can review your products or services and if your page’s content is easy for Google to understand.
Knowledge Graph, which powers a knowledge panel that provides a quick overview of people, places, things, significant dates or topics. This panel usually appears at the top right corner of a SERP and at the top when viewing a page on a mobile device.
Although the above focus on some qualities you want to look for in a local SEO consultant, there’s one particular negative quality you should look for as well. If you find the consultant you are considering uses “Black Hat” techniques in an effort to get you results faster, you should look elsewhere.
While “Black Hat” techniques can give your site some short-term gains, they ultimately will cause tremendous harm to your website’s domain authority. Black Hat SEO, or spamdexing, is the deliberate manipulation of search engine indexing. Some signs that a local SEO consultant is using Black Hat techniques are if they offer to:
Cloak your site, or show a visitor one piece of content and the search engine something else
Provide multiple redirects, leaving people to think they are going to one place but are instead sent somewhere else
Create content farms, or thousands of websites filled with inferior content for the sole purpose of creating backlinks
Use computer-generated content, which often has distracting wording, boring language or numerous typos
Keyword Stuffing is when an agency fills a page with similar keywords in an effort to rank in multiple search engines. As a general rule of thumb, the main keyword should only be mentioned approximately 1% of the total amount of content on the page. So if you have a 1,000-word article the main keyword should be mentioned around 10 times.
Black Hat SEO is a sure-fire way of giving your website a bad reputation in real life, on social media and with Google.
Finally, it’s important to ask about how a local SEO consultant’s work fits into an overall digital marketing strategy. While a local search engine optimization consultant is a great resource for boosting your visibility in search engines, it may not be exactly what your company needs to grow. Let’s explore why and how that impacts your search for a local SEO consultant.
Why Your Marketing Strategy Needs More Than Local SEO Services
Local SEO marketing can help get your web pages ranked higher so that prospective consumers can find your business. However, this strategy alone doesn’t necessarily generate leads for your sales team. SEO is an important step in generating leads, but it is only one part of a successful strategy.
Successful digital marketing strategies include local SEO services, but they use SEO as just one of an arsenal of tools to generate leads and ultimately grow your business. While SEO relies primarily on the popularity of Google searches to increase visibility, it doesn’t generate interest in a topic that isn’t already searched for by your target audience. So it can’t increase traffic to your site if that search traffic isn’t already there to begin with.
If you aren’t generating traffic through other means as well, search engines do not have enough information to judge your site. And, even if potential customers come to your site, it doesn’t mean your site is equipped to guide them through the buyer’s journey … an important part of the sales process.
Let’s take a closer look at how exactly SEO fits into a buyer’s journey before a customer purchases a product or service from your business. The buyer’s journey includes four stages:
Attract: Attract the ideal customer with the right messaging (content and SEO strategy) at the right time and place.
Convert: Turn casual content consumption into a more meaningful relationship using a combination of tools (analytics, segmentation, automation, etc.) that acquire contact information and nurture your most qualified leads.
Close: Turn your most qualified leads into sales qualified leads.
Delight: Continue to nurture with high-value content to increase loyalty and customer lifetime value.
Local SEO is an important tool to attract buyers to your website, but that’s where a SEO consultant’s job ends if that consultant isn’t implementing a strategy that will move a customer along in the buyer’s journey.
In other words, if you don’t have a marketing strategy in place that goes beyond attracting ideal customers to your website, your efforts and money spent could be all for naught. Therefore, when searching for a local SEO consultant, you should consider other factors as well, including your overall business goals.
How A Digital Marketing Agency Can Help
A full-service digital marketing agency can not only improve your SEO, but also create optimized content, improve outreach, create a strong social media presence, develop your web’s design and help you reach your long-term business goals.
Using local SEO strategies, the best digital marketing agency will draw people to your website and use the right tools to lead and support them through their buyer’s journeys.
A complete marketing strategy uses five fundamentals to achieve results. They are:
Contacts: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology manages contacts and understands the whole buyer’s journey.
Buyer Personas: It’s critical to know who your ideal customers are so that you know who you are targeting with your SEO strategy.
Buyer’s Journey: This involves understanding how people go from being strangers to leads to delighted customers who spend more and tell their friends.
Content: SEO and content go hand-in-hand. However, content must be well-researched and of high value. Once a SEO strategy brings visitors to your website, you need to be able to offer something of high value to move a potential customer along in the buyer’s journey.
Goals: To make progress, you must set SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
To implement these fundamentals, digital marketing agencies will use a variety of marketing types, including content marketing, inbound marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, pay per click and SEO.
An additional benefit of working with a digital marketing agency versus a local SEO consultant is that agencies typically have more resources like software. These resources will cost you significantly more if you purchase them individually and try to accomplish SEO results on your own.
Other qualities to look for in digital marketing companies include:
A proven process
An effort to ask you the right questions to understand your business and audience
Has long-term clients because they’re happy with their results
Is able to meet your goals
Uses the same process for their own company
Sets realistic promises with clear expectations
The last quality is particularly important because there is often the expectation to rank #1 in Google Search Results. The difficulty of the keywords you are trying to rank for play a huge factor in whether you achieve this or not, however.
For example, if you run a small business that sells Star Wars merchandise and you’re trying to rank for the keyword, “Star Wars,” that is going to be very difficult. Not only are you competing against the movie and TV franchise, you’re also competing against big box retailers and Disney itself.
The best marketing agencies will develop strategies to rank for keywords that have a better chance of ranking and bringing you targeted traffic.
Local SEO strategies play an integral role in attracting customers and ultimately growing your business. However, optimizing your website so that it performs better in search engines is just one component of an overall marketing strategy that is designed for long-term success. The best local SEO consultants know that and will work in tandem with a comprehensive marketing agency to achieve lasting results.
Samantha, an Inbound and HubSpot Certified Marketer is the Social Media Director for InTouch Marketing.