Local SEO services have grown quite complex — and confusing — over the last few years. As a top local SEO company also immersed in Web design and enterprise SEO, we understand why local businesses are having such a difficult time determining the best course of action to take for local optimization.
What follows are context and guidelines to help you work with a local SEO firm to create an action plan to drive more organic, highly qualified, likely to convert website traffic.
Context: The Mobile Search Explosion and Google's Evolving Response
Mobile device Internet access now exceeds desktop access, and the gap figures to widen as mobile Internet devices from tablets to mobile phones to smart watches continue to proliferate. Since small screen Internet behavior and preferences differ from desktop behavior, Google, like all Internet services companies, is struggling to adapt and cater to the mobile market.
Google’s adjustments are having a considerable impact on local SEO agency strategy and tactics. For example, on the tactical level, in Q4 of 2014, Google abandoned its local “carousel” organic search results and replaced it with a “local pack” listing that is more usable on small screens. This led to an entirely new set of best practices for local optimization in this component of the SERP. In a much broader, strategic way, Google’s 2014 “mobile-friendly” algorithm update was a major move in what figures to be the firm’s ongoing effort to reward mobile-friendly Web pages with high organic visibility for mobile search.
Rampant mobile Internet use has spawned a user base of highly sophisticated organic search engine users. In response to this, Google is becoming much more meticulous in serving up valid local results, making it ever more difficult for businesses to game the system by using phony local addresses and similar “black hat” SEO techniques.
Local SEO Challenge: Keeping Up with Rapidly Changing Best Practices
If the rate of change was dizzying in 2013 and 2014, the next few years may make local businesses feel as if things are spinning out of control. They will have to depend on their local SEO agency to keep its finger on the pulse; otherwise, the leadership team will have no time to focus on core business issues.
The difficulty in formulating an effective local SEO campaign goes beyond the challenge of rapid change; the sheer number of local SEO ranking factors greatly complicates prioritization and focus. Moz, a leading SEO research organization, has identified hundreds of factors with impact on regular organic rankings, local pack rankings, negative ranking, and competitive market ranking differentiators. Attempting to address all of them is likely beyond the budgetary resources of many local businesses and even global businesses with a presence in local markets. How does a company determine which ranking factors must be optimized, which could be optimized, and which should not be optimized? Even the best local SEO services companies struggle with these issues.
Solution: Cover the Basics
When faced with a complex, rapidly changing set of conditions like local SEO, the soundest plan is to cover the basics. Certain elements of local SEO continue to be extremely important and are unlikely to change radically in the near or even distant future. These are elements of a local SEO campaign that are likely to produce qualified website traffic:
- Mobile-friendly website development. A local business without a responsive (mobile-friendly) website is going to market with two hands tied behind its back. Without one, rankings are likely to suffer, and perhaps more importantly, the growing ranks of your mobile users will encounter a poor user experience that will cripple conversions and perhaps damage your brand.
- Link profile optimization. Google’s algorithm is heavily reliant on inbound links, and figures to remain so. By acquiring natural, high-authority links, local companies can significantly improve domain and individual page authority. A local SEO agency may also recommend updating link anchor text and removing negative links as part of the link profile strategy.
- Optimize title tags. Like inbound links, title tags are a significantly important ranking factor that many small businesses frankly botch. Crafting title tags that follow best practices and include strategic keywords may have an immediate, positive affect on organic visibility.
- High-quality content. Google has become adept at identifying and rewarding high-quality content; that is, content that is relevant, useful, unique, authoritative and sharable. Holding to this quality standard results in long-term success.
- Display your city and state. Be sure Google knows where you are by adding your city and state to title tags, H1 tags, URLs and on-site content, including text and image alt text. As simple as this practice is, many local businesses fail to execute it and suffer accordingly.
- Build on your strong base. When these other pieces are in place, other important local SEO activities can produce dial-moving results. These include obtaining citations and user reviews, building a Google My Business Page, and publishing a high-quality on-site blog.
To succeed — or even survive — in local SEO, a company must partner with a local SEO firm with genuine expertise, not one that merely offers perfunctory local services or has just entered the field last week. Reviewing campaign strategy and tactics quarterly is imperative to make sure execution stays in line with evolving best practices. Because many local companies are not yet ready, willing, and able to make the effort, you can gain a substantial competitive advantage by executing your local SEO campaign with precision.