The True Cost of Local Search Engine Optimization
There’s a very common misperception about SEO, organic traffic, and local SEO about what they are and how they play into a marketing strategy.
What’s the difference between local SEO and “regular” SEO?
Local SEO is just the process of getting your business to be able to rank in the local searches. If someone is in Las Vegas and they’re looking for a plumber, then they go into Google, they’ll search for plumber, and there’s going to be a number of options that show up.
However, is a plumber from Henderson going to drive all the way to Summerlin to evaluate a leaky faucet? Most likely not. For a plumber who wants to be found in Summerlin, they’re going to have to put some content out and they’re going to need to be able to rank for the Summerlin market. A plumber from location X is not going to be showing up for services in a different city or different state.
When it comes to local SEO, there are some additional benefits and opportunities that are available to us, like showing up in the maps and other things that could potentially be a great director of traffic to our site if we are able to get our listings to show up there.
If you’re in a highly competitive market, let’s say you’re a real estate agent or attorney or something like that where every single attorney and real estate agent in town wants to be in the listings and there are many of them, obviously, as competition increases, so will the difficulty of being placed there.
Competition’s certainly the primary key factor. There’s an old joke about hiking with a group of friends in the woods when a bear starts chasing you. How fast do you have to run to get away from the bear? Well, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is, how fast is your slowest friend?
The same thing applies to local SEO. The competition’s certainly key. Some markets are going to be much more competitive than others, but it’s really about how well is your competition taking on the best practices? How well is their website optimized? How well is their Google business listing? Are their map listings up to date? Are they running any other paid search or any other type of campaigns in parallel with their organic strategy?
There could be significant competition, but if all of them are the “slowest friend in the woods,” then maybe there is still a good chance for you. For those people in a more competitive industry, they’ll certainly have to invest more time into their SEO.
All the time, people ask if it’s possible to invest zero time and zero money and still generate traffic from their website. The answer is, of course not. Just because you have a great website and everything’s optimized well, that’s only going to go so far. The process of making sure you’re relevant and the website’s answering the questions of what’s trending in the area is certainly one of the main driving factors.
We have an attorney client who’s a very, very intelligent guy. He’s very highly rated, with a rare Martindale certification. Only something like 5% of attorneys that have been in practice for 10-plus years have such a rating from a large organization.
Well, we were perusing some of his listings online. We were in the middle of development, finishing his website and then going to see about doing some continuing marketing. We look at his listing on Martindale and the telephone number was wrong.
He says, “I’ve been paying these guys a couple thousand dollars a year for the last 20 years. How is my information wrong here? No wonder I don’t get any phone calls, although I am a very highly rated. I have a certification that few people have.” Absolute disaster.
There is a very good example of things that really should not be happening. Your online presence left unattended can have disastrous consequences. You have to make sure your information is correct across a vast number of directories.
We took over a Google business listing account a couple of years back where someone couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting phone calls. Their phone number only had eight digits in there. It was missing numbers. Don’t let this happen to you.
There are tools available. We have services on an ongoing basis to ensure that our client’s information is correct across dozens and dozens of directories. It’s kind of the foundation for search engine optimization — making sure that things are correct in different places.
The acronym is called NAP, for name, address, phone number. That’s probably one of the heaviest weighted factors in what Google considers for local listing placements. When someone types in “Las Vegas plumber,” chances are the ones that pop up on top have a very strong name presence.
It doesn’t just go for the website. Google looks at other sites, whether it’s Yelp or any professional listing site, and they’ll take those into consideration to make sure that they’re giving the users the most relevant information. It must be also a factor of reviews, social proof, etc.
There are so many variables that are taken into consideration by Google in order to present instantly the results it thinks are the best for the user’s intent. There are about 200 ranking factors that Google takes into their algorithm that will decide what listing shows up in what position on each search.
Another factor for showing up in local search has to do with a business with several locations. In that case, maybe they can split up the cost of ensuring the information is correct in a content marketing plan over various of locations so it’s less expensive per unit.
These sites, whether it’s Yelp, Home Advisor. or any professional listing site people are using to add on these citations, which include the business name, phone number, website, hours of operation, business description, all of these are taken into consideration.
However, most of those sites are just glorified directories, they don’t really carry any weight. For those people who sit there and try to build out 300 profiles, it’s not going to do anything.
However, being able to share commonalities, whether it’s a website or a business name or owner’s info or email, will certainly help spread across local SEO if you’re trying to target a larger market, if you’re trying to go after an entire city, county, or region.
Something we hear very often from clients when we have a discussion about ongoing search engine optimization efforts is, “Oh, well, my web developers or my marketing team have me ranking for X.”
Then we ask, “Well, what does X actually do? What is this keyword phrase in this particular area actually resulting in number of searches monthly?” Then we go and do the research and find out only one person per month is searching for that phrase. What is the point of showing up for search queries that nobody’s actually typing in? It doesn’t do anything. It’s just a vanity metric more than anything else.
The key is to be able to show up for what the user is searching for because that’s really what it’s going to come down to. Google matches up the best search results to that customer. It really seesaws on a very fine line of making sure that the customers are getting the results that they’re expecting, and the advertisers are getting in front of the correct customers.
It’s about doing the research up front. Let’s see what our target audience is actually typing in right now into Google, not 10 searches a month, but something substantial. We need a few hundred at least so we can see about building content around those kinds of queries and ensuring that our website is geared for that kind of content.
What happens if a website was built elsewhere? What’s the process of ensuring that a WordPress site is properly set up for SEO?
You certainly would start with your title tags and your meta descriptions that will let the search engines know what the name of the site is and where to find some information. You have a site map that will allow the Google and Microsoft bots to crawl your site and understand which pages are where, and how they’re connected.
For instance, if you offer some sort of widget or service and how it’s connected to another service that’s really using the site map, you have what’s called a “robots.txt” file. That file will allow the bots to understand which pages are important, and which pages should be excluded.
Obviously, there’s no reason that Google ever needs to find your backend or your login page or your payment portal. That’s not relevant to any user. If a user needs to get there or you need to get there, you’ll obviously have a direct link.
Linking your content pages to other pages inside your site is very helpful. It’ll help both the user and Google understand the connection between certain words and certain phrases, and how they connect to some of your services.
The About Us page is probably one of the most overlooked pages. It usually has some of the heaviest content because it’s talking about the business and that’s really where you can sort of dive in for anything that doesn’t really fit anywhere else. It helps people understand who the businesses is. Are they local? What’s their story? There are a lot of rich keywords that can often be found on a well-structured About Us page.
The Contact page is another page that often gets overlooked. That’s going to have links to your location. It’s going to have phone numbers, email addresses, hours of operation, and a form. Again, for someone who’s looking, that’s where they’re going to end up wanting to be.
Probably one of the single most important pages that a website can have is a very well-structured FAQ page. Now, an FAQ page has so much content opportunity for what users are actually searching for. As a business you can be there, and you can answer those questions.
Oftentimes, some of those will need a little bit more of an elaborate explanation and you can utilize either a content page or a blog post or something else, but an FAQ page to answer questions will often rank because users are usually searching for a very specific question.
A lot of the time, we’ll build content out and say to our clients, “Hey, talk to me about what some of the biggest questions or repeat questions you get from your ideal customers are. Let’s answer those in forms of blog posts, etc., and get that in front of the right type of person.”
Usually, we find that it’s very helpful to get on the phone with the employee who is actually answering the business phone calls. We can then learn the questions that the prospects are calling and asking about. We can see where the confusion is, because then you can take that and use that as a valuable content to not only hopefully reduce some of the phone calls that are not for sales, but you can use that to answer the questions for the customers.
Ask those first line of defense people, the receptionist, etc., “What are the questions that you’re getting on a regular basis?” and create some actionable steps to remedy those things.
Certainly, there’s not a one-size-fit-all solution. The takeaway is that each business is going to have different needs, and how they are addressed is going to vary from business to business based on their situation. What is their competition? How many locations do they have? What products and services do they have? How many do they have? Are they connected? Are they separate?
The important part is that people take an actual step just to get started. There’s not a right or wrong place to get started. For companies who are on a budget or just trying to get their feet wet with the digital landscape, focusing on your local search rankings is probably the easiest place just to get started.
One has to always ask the question, especially when on a budget, “Do we invest our resources now with the long view in mind, understanding that SEO is a process, that it’s not something that today you’re going to start a website and tomorrow you’re going to rank all over Google?
We have to ask ourselves, “Are we going to invest time, effort, and resources into something that is going to take time and effort to build, or are we going to direct our efforts to paid traffic where it’s guaranteed placements tomorrow?”
Time certainly has an opportunity cost and even though local SEO and organic search rankings are not paid placements, there’s certainly a significant amount of time that needs to be invested into being able to have your site rank.
Unlike paid traffic where you have guaranteed placement in front of eyeballs, local SEO is not guaranteed. If someone comes in and does it better than you, or there’s a large corporation that just starts dumping in content, then your local SEO really needs to be repositioned.
Local SEO is a great option for many businesses to get started with. While there’s not necessarily a cost of, “I’ve got to spend $1,500 per ad,” a business could easily find it takes four to six hours a week investing into research and writing content that’s optimized for the search engines. They could quickly find out over a period of a month if perhaps another channel will give them more immediate results.
Local SEO is a long-term strategy, not a short-term win.