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The only thing more dangerous than not optimizing your business to appear in the local search results is wearing your Baltimore Ravens gear to a Steelers game. But, you’re not at a Steelers game and most Steelers fans don’t even have high-speed Internet (and that’s being generous. Most of them probably don’t know what the “Interwebz” are.), so put on your purple camo pants and your new Ravens hoodie, and read my recap of the most recent Local U Advanced event in Baltimore this past weekend!
What is Local U?
According to the description on Localu.org, “Local University is a nationwide series of search engine optimization seminars created specifically for small business owners.” Essentially, it’s a one day boot camp and an awesome opportunity for business owners, marketing executives, and even agencies to learn the basics and brush up on their knowledge of local search optimization. For 4-6 hours, you get hit with the proverbial fire hose of information, but it is presented in a way that is easy to digest and the sessions are short (David Mihm made sure that no long winded rambling was allowed).
It doesn’t hurt that the “faculty” happens to include some of the best and brightest minds in the SEO industry.
The Importance of Local SEO
For those of us in the web marketing industry that are analytically inclined, it’s always baffling to see where companies invest their marketing dollars vs. what actually produces results. For almost any type of local company—bathroom/kitchen showroom, flooring, HVAC, plumbing, etc.—being prominently found for local search queries (in the traditional organic listings as well as in the “7-pack” / map section of Google) can be the difference between a booming business and banging your head on the desk waiting for the phone to ring.
According to Local U presenter Mary Bowling, 60 percent of big brand ad spending is on locally targeted advertising, but only 25 percent of this is being spent on digital. I think I heard Will Scott say, “nothing is more local than my pocket.” He is exactly right and yet, according to eMarketer and this article on TechCrunch, a piddly one percent of ad spend goes to mobile.
But wait, it gets worse…
Sixty percent of national advertisers are not even actively managing their local listings. Forget strategy… forget tactics… they’re not even managing their local presence online! To me, this suggests a huge opportunity. For locally focused online marketing companies—like Blue Corona—it’s an opportunity to teach businesses of all sizes how to more effectively market themselves online to local audiences. For small businesses, it’s one more example of the advantage they have online to get a jump on their competition and the “big boys.”
Hopefully, if you’ve gotten this far, you need about as much convincing that local SEO is important as the cast of Jersey Shore needs convincing to get a darker spray tan. So let’s get to the good stuff—a brief recap of the event and the steps you can take to improve your company local SEO.
Below I’ve outlined what I think are the best takeaways from the first three speakers at Local U Advanced, with my personal opinion sprinkled in for good measure. Sorry I’m not sorry—taking a backseat has never really been my style.
Bill Slawski has been writing about SEO for years on his personal blog, SEO by the SEA. He is also an SEO consultant with a company that provides SEO to hundreds of local companies around the world. I hate to admit it, but what initially struck me about Bill is that he is missing one of his front teeth (maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me)! Thinking that maybe it is his calling card, like Seth Godin’s shiny head or Guy Kawasaki’s duchenne smile, I Googled, “Bill Slawski missing front tooth.”
When no relevant results returned, I cursed Google and Joel Headly and figured that maybe Bill lost it in a pre-conference Baltimore bar brawl (lets be honest, Baltimore ain’t exactly the classiest town). Once I got past his missing tooth, I was able to focus on and digest a couple interesting points from his keynote speech.
First, if you’re in the game of local SEO and you want to stay ahead of the competition, you should spend some time reviewing Google’s patents. A few quick searches and hours of reading and you can gain insights on everything from how they determine the authority of a particular web page to the signals that may be used to determine the geographic location of a company.
During Bill’s speech, he also noted an easy—albeit, perhaps a bit overdone at present—way to generate new content ideas.
Start to do a search on Google and Google will offer suggestions. These suggestions are queries that people are searching (or have recently searched) that are related to your search term. Not only can you get great content ideas from these terms, but you can also get a sense for how Google is “teaching” people how to be more precise with their future searches.
I’ve been following David for years on his personal website and blogs, but more recently as a president and CEO of GetListed.org, and now as the Director of Local Search Strategy at SEOmoz. David’s talk was focused on improving your local search rankings. He talked about where he would spend his time and the ranking factors he thought mattered most. From a self-declared, non-scientific perspective, David suggested that he would spend his time optimizing the following:
- Website (on-page)
He suggested that each of the metrics above appear (again, he admitted having no data to back this up) to have an equal impact on how sites rank locally.
David’s Tips for Improving Your Local Search Rankings
Tip #1: Include your NAP information on each page of your website
On-page optimization works very well for small businesses, but you can make yours even better by having your business name, address, and phone number on each page of your website.
Tip #2: Get more citations for your business
Citations come in two varieties—structured and unstructured—and both can help improve your rankings. On the structured side of things, you want to add your business—complete with your name, address, and phone number—to as many relevant sites as possible. If you need help finding ideas, you can engage an SEO professional or search a competitor’s phone number and see the sites where they are getting listings from and go after those first.
Other ways to get more citations (structured and unstructured) include:
- Hosting local events and promote them on sites like Eventbrite
- Join / sponsor local events, neighborhood organizations, etc.
- Create an intern program and shop it to a local marketing professor in exchange for a link
- Use Google Map Maker to make a map
- And more
Tip #3: Get at least 10 reviews and don’t rely only on one review site
According to David, there appears to be a filter on Google that is triggered when you get at least 10 reviews for your business, but you don’t want to stop there. You should also try to get 10+ reviews on at least one other website. Google pulls in reviews from other websites. You can find relevant sites in your area/industry by doing some research on your competitors.
Tip #4: Get more links to your site
Perhaps obvious, but you always need to be trying to get more links to your website. Local businesses often find this difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. There are all sorts of creative and easy ways to get more inbound links for your local company. And the best part is that it doesn’t take many links to boost the rankings of a local site in a small market.
Linkbuilding ideas David offered:
- Sponsor worthy charities that ALSO offer web links
- Guest blog on local, vertically or geographically targeted sites
- Interview people that are relevant and that have a history of linking to people that interview them
- Provide testimonials to vendors
Mary Bowling’s session offered local search tips to regional and national businesses. While they have some advantages—powerful, authoritative websites that rank well organically, big budgets, etc.—most still don’t understand local search that well. They spend money, but in the wrong places. They fix some issues, but not all of them. They frequently have stakeholders reporting to stakeholders with HIPPOs (highest paid paid person’s opinion) making the final decision. Combine all of this with inaction, lack of follow through, and healthy dosage of impatience and you can start to see why large, national companies fail to maximize their local presence online.
Local SEO Considerations for Regional/National Companies
Tip #1: Keep your location directory at the top level of your site structure
If you’re a large, regional, or national company using a single website to serve local clients across the country and you want to maximize your local footprint, having a well-optimized location directory is key. Mary recommends keeping your location directory at the top level of your site. For example, you could link to your Location Directory from your main navigation, like this:
Tip #2: Use a simple URL structure
In the modern SEO world, this should go without saying, but be sure to use a simple, consistent URL structure. Mary recommends something like, www.yourbrand.com/locations, www.youbrand.com/locations/state, www.yourbrand.com/locations/state/city. It’s amazing how often I find big companies with location directories that include URLs filled with parameters and session-based IDs.
Tip #3: Make sure your directory of locations is super-crawlable
Related to the points above, your goal is to make the local elements of your regional/national website SUPER easy for search engines to crawl. There are dozens of ways to accomplish this. Mary mentioned: keeping the locations directory at the top-level of the site, keeping the URL structure simple, using multiple sitemaps (KML, XML, HTML), using breadcrumbs, cross-linking location pages with others in closeby cities and states, and including unique, location-specific information on the individual city pages.
Want More from Charm City?
Relax Hon. I’ve got real work to do. Go grab a Natty Boh and come back in a few days to read my next post where I’m going to review the presentations made by the rest of the Local U faculty. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll find a way to poke some good, clean fun at who Aaron Weiche secretly fantasizes about making love to and why Will Scott must be closely guarded next time Local U visits Chicago and lower Whacker Drive.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers