Your Field Guide to “Barnacle” Local SEO

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You know when you type in a local search term (like “auto repair”) into Google and you see a business’s Facebook page or Yelp page or YouTube video or channel (or even its YellowPages listing)?  Well, if your business has good rankings for one of those, you’ve just pulled off a bit of “barnacle” local SEO.

Will Scott coined the term “barnacle SEO” and explained the basic strategy back in 2008 (!).  It’s a clever but very doable strategy based on a fact you probably know already: that there are certain sites that Google consistently ranks really well for local searches.  It has favorites.

Of course, the Google+ Local and AdWords results take center stage.  But there are always the organic rankings.  A few of them belong to local businesses.  Most or all of the rest of them typically point to Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, CitySearch, even Yahoo, and other third-party sites.  In a way, you can mooch off their popularity (and the good job of SEO they do).

Your goal – as a humble barnacle – is to latch onto those big ships.  They can take you places.  There are a few ways to go about doing that.

I’m going to rattle off the approaches I’ve seen work for a few of my clients and for others.

(By the way, I’d like this to be an “evergreen” post.  So I’ll be adding strategies here as I discover more good ones.)

Let’s go over some basic strategy before getting into more-specific strategies:


Two species of barnacles

There are two basic types of barnacle local SEO:

(1) Get a given page for your business to rank well in the organic search results, or

(2) Be at the top of the rankings in a site that ranks well.

I like the example of Yelp:

So one opportunity is to get your business’s page in the organic results.  The other opportunity is to rank well within that high-ranking site’s search results (which, again, themselves rank visibly in Google).  Ideally you do both.


Three basic steps

The first step is just to have pages / accounts on all the sites that matter.  I’m talking about having basic and industry-specific citations.  And a local Facebook page for each location, and a YouTube channel with a few videos you created for your business, if at all possible.  Probably not news to you.

The second step is also pretty simple: Beef up those pages as much as possible.  First and foremost, pick every relevant category you can.  Add as much relevant “additional” info as you can: a short description, a long description, as many services as you’re allowed to mention, photos, etc.

The third step is the trickiest.  You have to activate each page (or listing, or profile, or whatever you want to call it).

I’m mostly referring to doing a combination of things with those pages: drumming up some followers / fans / shares, getting some reviews, and (to a lesser extent) getting a few links to those pages.


The best “ships”


  • “Engage” with your customers and others.  I hate using that word, because it’s so clichéd.  I want to take a shower.  But I think it conveys my advice.  You want stuff on your page, you want people on your page, and you want the people to be consuming and commenting on and “liking” the stuff.  So my advice is to use your Facebook posts and the rest of your page not to talk about how great you think your company is, but to share useful info, even if it’s just an occasional morsel.  (Read this if you don’t know how to do that.)
  • Ask some customers to write you a Facebook review.  Yes, there is such a thing now.  (No, it’s not the same thing as a “like.”)
  • Link to your page whenever possible.  You probably already do so from your site, and that’s a good idea, as long as you have the link open into a new browser tab (you don’t want people leaving your site to see your Facebook page).  Also, many sites where you can get a citation ask you to specify your Facebook URL.  Do so.  Be on the lookout for other occasions to link to or get a link to your page, but don’t embark on some big link-building effort.

Yelp and other IYPs

  • Get reviews.  I talk all the time about how to do this, so I won’t dwell on it here.  I’ll just refer you to these posts:

Comparison of Local Review Sites: Where Should You Focus Now?

GetFiveStars Review-Encouragement Tool Goes from Good to Great

Get More Reviews without Becoming an Outlaw

  • Link to your more-important profiles.  Let’s say you’ve got some good HealthGrades reviews and you want HealthGrades to be your barnacle.  Link to it from your site, from the “Links” section of your  Google+ page (“personal” or non-local “business”), and wherever allowed on other listings of yours.
  • Get creative.  Let’s say you have a few microsites (tsk, tsk) and realize you shouldn’t link them to your main site.  Try linking them to one of those profiles – maybe use ol’ YellowPages as your test-dummy – and see what happens.
  • Encourage other activity.  Like check-ins, in the case of Yelp or FourSquare.  I wouldn’t put a lot of effort into this.  It also depends on your demographics.  But just see what you can do – how you can get customers to use your various pages.


  • Name your video relevantly.  Yeah, that means there should be a keyword in there.  But it also means it should read smoothly.  If the video title sucks – if it’s written for Google and not for humans – nobody will click on it.  It needs to be catchy.
  • Feature them wherever possible.  Embed some videos on your site.  Upload them to your Google+ Local listing, if possible.  Link to them on your other local listings, where possible (many sites ask you for links to your videos).  Post them on Facebook, as appropriate.

Paid directories

  • Pony up.  You’ll have to use your discretion, of course.  Many paid listings aren’t worth it.  But depending on your local market, there may be a site in your industry that ranks well, and that might itself be a place where a lot of potential customers search.  If your more-visible competitors seem to be listed there (one way to see this is with the Local Citation Finder), consider throwing a few dollars at it in the name of science.


Great posts on barnacle local SEO

Barnacle SEO – Local Search Engine Optimization for The Sam’s Club Crowd – the great original post by Will Scott

Barnacle SEO for Local Search Success – Mary Bowling

Learning Local SEO from the Ones That Do It Best – Nyagoslav Zhekov

10 Tips For Using YouTube To Kill At Local SEO – Chris Silver Smith

What ships have you latched onto?  What are some “barnacle” strategies you think are worth trying?  Leave a comment! 


  1. Phil,

    Thanks for the great post. I actually have a revision on my to do list.

    As google gets more susceptible to over ranking apparent authority sites, the quantity of ships grows.

    On point of clarification. It was 2008 🙂

    • Hey Will, thanks for stopping by. And for being the Barnacle Master 🙂

      Great point about “more ships.” Hadn’t thought of that. It’ll be interesting to see what ships come by in the next few years, or whether it’ll be the same old creaky wooden scows.

      NB: Fixed the year.

      NB II: Just got your comment now. Akismet nabbed it. Sorry about that!

  2. Great stuff, Phil.

    How about this technique for boosting your barnacle’s page authority in Google’s eyes?

    Get an SEO plugin, such as SEO Quake, that will display Google PR in the search results.
    Go to your Google search settings and set them to return 100 results per page.
    Do a site:keyword search for a relevant keyword on the site in question
    Sort those results by PR, descending.
    Go through each result and comment or like or whatever it is to get a link back to your barnacle.

    Kind of mechanistic I suppose, but I’ve easily turned a YouTube channel into PR 4 using this technique. Of course, it’s good to focus on value and relevance, but seeing the PR of other relevant barnacles is a quick way of checking what kind of link juice is flowing to them.

    Just some thoughts. Thanks for the great post.

    • Hey Erim,

      Thanks. There may be something to that idea. I’d definitely use a light touch on the commenting, though. I’m also guessing that YT channel became a PR4 for other reasons; most blog-comment links are nofollowed.

  3. avatar George Rhodes says

    Once again, great stuff!

    Thank you for sharing such useful info to your list.

  4. avatar Matt Hagens says

    Great stuff Phil. I’m going to test linking to G local and Yelp listing and see what happens – love that idea!

  5. Great post, Phil.

    There is a “barnacle reviews” article out there some where too that is really good. I think David Mihm did it but I can’t remember.

    Any who.

    Also, when the carousal is triggered (if it stays around) those 3rd party results show up even higher! So to reinforce your Barnacle SEO article it would be extremely advantageous for business owners to optimize these listings. Especially if they are in the restaurant, hotel industries.

    Thanks again Phil!

    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks. Great point about the carousel.

      As far as I know, Will Scott first worked out the idea of “barnacle” SEO. Besides the posts I linked to, there’s also a great post David did:

      The only reason I didn’t reference that is it deals with reviewing other businesses with your Google+ Local page, which is kinda different from barnacle SEO. But it’s an excellent post.

  6. Phil – This is the first time I’ve heard the term “barnacle.” I appreciate your work in collecting more and more successful strategies to help local businesses. Thanks. BTW, new logo? Pretty Sharp! – Edgar

  7. Facebook seems to be a local SEO (and at times an organic) slayer. I’ve seen this multiple times. A Facebook page being only one month old can easily rank page two for more generic terms (organic seo) and page one for local. This is a great post, gets people thinking outside the Google ecosystem!

  8. Good article Phil. I’m old. I recall when Will invented that description. Its sort of amazing. Will was smart years ago and is still smart. Kudo’s to Will. It was a good idea then and a good idea now.

    A couple of things. When it comes to reputation management a lot of seo’s suggest linking to references to your business name. That way when a branded search comes up everything on the first page of google references you. Its not that difficult. If your Phil’s Auto service in Attleboro there aren’t going to be tons of references out there. If you get a newspaper article a local reference in the local chamber and stuff like that you can link to them from your own site. Its not like there is a lot of competition for Phil’s Auto Service in Attleboro, unless there are 12 auto guys in Attleboro. ;).

    Likewise you can try links to some barnacle sites. You can try them from your own site. They might help. For instance you can reference in content on your own site that there is additional information on Phil’s Auto Service in Attleboro in directory A, B, C and use some anchor text for auto service in Attleboro. Try and get some reviews on those sites also. It will help.

    Facebook is great. You control your page. What a great way for searchers to find your business page with content pictures and videos you are controlling.

    I really like Yelp as a barnacle site but there are two caveats: You better have good reviews is one of them. The other is that its a little tricky to get reviews to stick on Yelp. Their long term “algo” on reviews is to keep the ones from consistent and active reviewers and ultimately to “hide’ the one’s from people who don’t yelp much or participate in yelp. So if you are trying to add good reviews to yelp on your site from customers who like your service….it really helps….in fact its very important to know if they are active yelpers. All in all that is a little tricky in my book.

    There are 2 great things about yelp in my experience though. One is that yelp has great internal seo. It appears that if you are in a category where there aren’t a lot of yelpers….lets say auto service in Attleboro…if you do manage to get a fair number of reviews relative to the competition….yelp opens up the internal seo doors and pushes your page up in that category. It can show great in serps for your category.==> your page with the good reviews. WAHOO!!

    The other great thing about Yelp is that it is a well known site. People know yelp has a lot of reviews. So they’ll read them. If they are good….it is a great converter in our experience.

    Its a great topic. Thanks to you, and thanks to Will who coined this phrase back in the day. 😉

    • Thanks for a fantastic comment, Dave.

      Will is a smart dude, all right. Has been for longer than I’ve been an SEO. I dipped my toes into it in 2008, but only got serious in 2009-10. That his “barnacle” concept is just as solid now is really something.

      Good call on the brand-name strategy.

      I agree about the ins and outs of Yelp. I talk about it ad nauseum 🙂

    • Dave, could you comment on how you find Active Yelpers in your customer base?

  9. Great article, Phil, as always. Another area to add as I work my local SEO. I have been working through your system for a while now, and it has been such a great value to me. I always look forward to getting your new stuff in my email. Thanks.

  10. Hi Phil,

    Once again, great post! I always learn something! Glad you brought up YouTube – it is so powerful. I never used to pay attention to what I named my video, always in a rush, same with the description. Then I watch a guy from Video University do a free Webinar. He had some great points on how to optimize your YouTube videos and what you point out about being relevant and easy to read what the video is about, is so true. I don’t do that many videos, they are always a screencast, mostly “What is” or “How To” type. I created one last February on “How to Leave a Review on Google+ Local”. You featured it in one of your review posts. I got a lot more hits because you have such a popular blog – thank you! But it’s not only that – I’m answering a question on how to do something. It now has almost 750 views and shows up in Google search results on the first page without typing in the whole title.

    YouTube videos are a Tab in Google+ Profile and Business Pages now. I have 2 channels – 1 connects to my Profile page and 1 connects our Business Page. It works well. People do click on the YouTube tab to see if there are videos – at least I do. You can also go back and edit your YouTube videos – something I need to do. If the title or description you gave it doesn’t seem to be working, go back and edit it with a new title and description. Login to YouTube > Video Manger > click Edit > make your changes and save them.

    I also believe in Yelp. We have a client with a “not so good” website, doesn’t want to optimize it, but he has some great reviews on Yelp, so they show up in the Google’s search results. He also has a well optimize Google+ Local page that we did : ).

    I love this post – you confirm a lot of what we try to convey to our clients. It’s going up on Google+ now!


  11. Individual Yelp listings are certainly ranking high at the moment. The practice of optimizing a listing for better rankings within a website’s internal results is certainly a topic worthy of its own discussion.

    • Hey Ben.

      That’s true, although there usually aren’t many moving parts. Reviews, categories, and name are the main moving parts in IYPs.


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