When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

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You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company.  The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too.  What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you?

It’s a sliding scale.  You don’t need to be a whiz at anything to handle your business’s local SEO to great effect, but you need to have or develop certain qualities.  The more of those boxes you can check, the better.

Below are the factors that – in my opinion – determine whether doing your own local SEO is a good idea.  The more of these questions you say “yes” to, the more likely it’ll go the way you want it to.

1. Do you assume local SEO will take long-term effort? Local SEO is not a one-time process. If you do it right, you’ll get to the point where you don’t spend much time on it day-to-day, but you constantly inch it forward.  It’s great if you can do some basic fix-ups and get results, but often it takes more grinding.

2. Do you assume you’ll take some wrong turns? That’s inevitable. Google is a slippery surface, your competitors change over time, and you’ll know more next year than you will this year.  Keep learning and keep working and you’ll do fine.

 

3. Will you get your hands dirty on your website? You don’t need to be a developer, you don’t need to know much about sites other than your site, and it’s OK if your site is far from “perfect.” If you’re able and willing to make some changes to your site in-house, you create some options.  Those options include paying an SEO person only for his/her advice on your site (and not also for implementation), hiring a developer only for the toughest tasks, and maybe not hiring anyone at all.

4. Will you do more than work on your site? Though crucial, the site is one moving part of several that sway your visibility in the local results. The other big moving parts are your local listings, reviews, and links.  You will have to work on all those things sooner or later, particularly on links and reviews long-term.  (Your visibility also may depend on how clean the local map is.)

Even if you did not or do not need many or any good links to outrank your competitors, you’ll probably want to knock in some insurance runs.  If your competitors rank well but only have so-so reviews, you’ll want to get ahead by having better reviews.  If they rank well AND have great reviews, then you’ll have no choice but to try to match or surpass them.

5. Will you put in work your competitors won’t? Only if you do what they won’t do can you achieve what they can’t achieve. The main areas where sustained hard work pay off are (1) in earning links, (2) in earning reviews, and (3) in the amount and quality of info on your site about exactly what you do and exactly what makes it the best choice for customers / clients / patients.

6. Have you been frustrated by the third parties you’ve hired? Maybe they were the problem. Maybe you were the problem.  I can’t say.  What I do know is you’re not good at picking out SEO companies if you’ve had 9 of them.

7. Are you willing to get help piecemeal? Trying to find a company to “handle it all” often isn’t realistic, so you should be willing to delegate part of the implementation, if necessary. Maybe you want a stunt pen, or help on your site, or help on your local listings.  That doesn’t mean you no longer “do your own SEO,” or that you’ve entrusting someone else to plan or execute your whole strategy.  You’re still the captain of the ship even if you enlist an extra swabbie or two.

 

8. Will you study? Both up-front and long-term? Get your sea legs if possible, but don’t try to get “comfortable” with all the concepts of local SEO, because that won’t happen (for a variety of reasons).  Don’t try to understand everything before you do anything.  Nobody has all the answers anyway.  Learn a little, work a lot, and repeat.

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9. Do you know you can’t measure everything? Many things you can track.  Many more you can’t.

You won’t be able to find out how many people discovered you in the Google Maps results, rather than heard about you some other way and pulled up your Google My Business page. If you get a great link, you won’t be able to attribute a bump in rankings (let alone ROI) to it.  If you get a review on a site that shows up when someone Googles your business by name, the referrer traffic you see in Google Analytics won’t tell you how many would-be customers saw that review in the search results.  If your site is full of keyword-stuffed gibberish, and you clean it up, and your rankings go down a little, but you get more or better leads, was the clean-up a good choice?  Don’t hire a third party just because you assume it can answer questions like those, because it can’t.

10. Can you weigh lots of conflicting suggestions? It’s great to learn about local SEO from people who do it.  But you’ll still get conflicting advice on all kinds of questions.  What constitutes spam?  Which page should be your Google My Business landing page?  Is that link opportunity worth the trouble?  When should you create a microsite?  How much citation work is enough?

I assume you’re the kind who likes to balance out what you hear with a little skepticism, with common sense, with what you know about your customers, and with non-rankings concerns (like branding and conversion-rate optimization).  If so, you probably don’t need a local SEO person or company to make most or all of the calls for you.

11. Is your business on the newer side? You might argue that because you have so many other things to do, you don’t have time to do your own local SEO. That may be.  But does that also mean you have time to pay someone else to do it wrong and set you back (in terms of money, time, and missed-opportunity costs)?  I say better to strike while the iron’s hot – to see what you can do while you’re still gung-ho.  Later on, if and when you’re even busier, you may see even more reasons not to try DIY.  Don’t expect to make easy progress at any stage, but at least in the earlier stages of your local SEO effort the next steps probably are clearer.

12. Will you be as cautious online as you are offline? Most SEO companies aren’t. Most have cocooned themselves away from the consequences of what they do and say.  One result is they suggest some crazy stuff for your business, in the name of rankings.

Would you tell employees to answer customers’ questions with a 10% keyword-density?  Then don’t put keyword-stuffed gibberish on your site.

Would you commission a Banksy-type mural of your business on the side of a building, in the hopes that people pass by it and call you before the mural is scrubbed off?  Then don’t create fake Google My Business pages.

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Would you pay for a shoebox of leads – and you can’t peek in the box?  Then don’t buy links.

Also, what you do online will follow you around.  Do something unethical and you can get sued, scare away your customer base, or worse.

If you think hard about your local SEO, but not to the point of analysis paralysis, sooner or later you’ll make the right choices and get good results.

What was the factor that tipped you toward (or away from) doing your own local SEO?

Any points I missed?

Leave a comment!

Comments

  1. Phil: I started optimizing our own SMB sites back around 2003. The reason was I couldn’t find an SEO, let alone a local SEO (there were none then), and the guy who was managing our websites (that were about 3,4, and 5 years old respectively was giving us the buffalo shuffle BS about what to do about optimizing. All that being said, it was so long ago, it doesn’t have relevance to what you write about above, other than it does take a lot of time and study.

    I would urge SMB operators to understand their business and how they gain customers and convert customers from leads. That is critical. Those original SMB’s all gain an enormous amt of business from WOM and direct referrals. That total is less than basic search (and ranking highly), but it is an enormous amt. To the extent that none of the businesses would have survived with out that volume. Our WOM and direct referral sales far outnumber the volume of sales from reading our reviews (incredibly and gratefully phenomenal).

    How do we know this? We speak to the customers and get direct responses. (since we sell services we have this opportunity–not all SMB’s can do this). We have interviewed in total thousands of buyers.

    The WOM and direct referral customers are not adequately reflected in any kind of Web Stat. They are not now, they never were, and in our case they probably never will be.

    In today’s web world of local SEO they might get attributed to GMB, but that is not realistic. Customers might search for us by name or a close facsimile, but that isn’t GMB working its MAGIC, that is primarily Google acting like the Phone Book or Phone Information.

    Now Google Adwords reps, and its messages and Emails will tell you differently, as might certain marketers, but we know differently. Its because we speak with the customers. They are the one’s who searched for us, contacted us, and bought. They tell us in their own words.

    Having learned that over years we have incorporated specific marketing programs to push out those potential WOM and referral sales. That too has worked. We are well aware that a lead that comes via a direct referral or strong WOM source is infinitely likelier to purchase. We want them.

    I would urge SMB owners to get to intimately know what works or doesn’t work to turn leads into buyers and how to focus on the likeliest buyers.

    Buyers pay the rent, enable you to hire employees, reward them for doing well, and allow you to dine on steak (if you choose) rather than lettuce.

    None of that directly responds to the question of whether one should do their own SEO or not, but it does enable one to cut through the BS and focus on those elements in marketing/sales that are most important.

    One other interesting thing about knowing your own business: For the last few years we have had two businesses with locations that cannibalize on locations of existing businesses. They somewhat overlap in geographies. That gives us additional insights into how customers react to geography, how customers may or may not evaluate more than one competitor, and other factors. Again we don’t get a whit of insight into this from web stats, google communications, or marketers. It also now colors how we market and sell. It helps.

    KNOW YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

    Nice article, Phil.

    • Great points, Dave. The “know your business” part is do-or-die for the business owner. I’d add only that it’s important to relay that info to whomever helps on local SEO. The basic stuff, like how many leads came in in a week, plus color commentary on who customers are, where they come from, what questions they ask, etc. The SEO effort goes better when the person doing it (or most of it) knows a little about the business itself.

  2. Local SEO used to be a lot easier. As it has become more difficult and complicated, unless you are dedicated and have the time to invest in SEO it’s now more of a wish than a focus. And there are so many SEO marketing attempts and choices — who can you trust and gamble(?) capital on SEO when ROI is far from certain.

    • I don’t quite see it that way. Local SEO gotten a bit more complicated over time, for sure. But if you are willing to nibble on it and if you don’t expect progress to come easily, the DIY approach is practical.

  3. Honestly Phil, without sounding like I’m blowing smoke…I’ve been wanting to hire YOU for the last few years since we spoke on the phone. I simply just can’t afford it. The fact that you wrote this article tells me there’s many small business owners like me who have or are doing it on their own.

    Personally, when I first got my site and new I needed to rank I “hired” 3 companies. The first one was yellow pages.com with the stupidest pitch I can’t believe I fell for. 120 bucks per month with a gaurantee of x amount of phone calls. After 3 months I cancelled and of course didn’t get the money back.

    Second one was from India. Need I say more? Not against Indian people at all, this is 12 or so years ago and that just happened to be where link farms where being built I believe.

    3rd was a local guy who’s office I went to. Took 500 bucks cash that day and his office was gone the week after.

    Then I found the Moz forum. Read day in and day out. Payed one of the guys with a bunch of respect there for an hour phone call which was worth every freaken penny! His name was also Phil I think. Cost me 150 bucks I think.

    Thats when my dumb self had a revelation; good seo people don’e call you, you call them.

    Phil, I know you’re one of the good guys. I like how you have your finger on the pulse of your prospects and clients. That says a great deal about who you are. Very refreshing to say the least.
    Thank you
    SaL

    • Thanks, Frank.

      When 100% DIY isn’t possible, I still tend to suggest as much DIY as possible. One corollary of that is I tend to suggest as little Phil Rozek as possible. If all you need is a quick (but clear) action plan, you can book a Mastermind session. Pretty much anyone can afford one of those.

  4. I believe that SEO can be learned through hard work and constantly learning about the new updates that Google will surprise us with but if you have 0 interest in starting your own local SEO for your business you can still do some partial online presence work.

    In my opinion, if you own your own business you should work (or at least start) your own local SEO. Creating a GMB account, populating it with the correct data, hours and business information should be mandatory. I have seen numerous businesses with no online presence and thus impossible to find..

    By just having a GMB account, you’re already ahead of a lot of your competitors, so start that GMB account!

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