Good Ways and Bad Ways to Save Money on Local SEO

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Some business owners say things like, “I don’t have enough budget for local SEO.”  You may not have money to waste on work that doesn’t work, and you may not have the budget for all the conveniences you want.  But the basic activities you can always afford, if you make the right decisions for the right reasons.  Half the battle is not wasting money on stuff you don’t need, so that you have some left over for what you do need or really want.

Below are (in my experience) the bad ways and the good ways to try to save money on your local SEO effort.  I want to emphasize that they are general rules.  I don’t know your exact situation.  Sometimes your money is well-spent on something I don’t think is useful for most people.  Sometimes you don’t need and wouldn’t benefit from a tool or service I recommend to most people.  Sometimes you’re so short on time that your least-bad option is to farm it out.  And so on.

Bad ways to save money on local SEO

1. Moving to a cheaper or free website platform just because it’s cheaper or free. I won’t name names. But I will say that whatever money you save on upkeep you’ll probably lose (many times over) because you can’t make basic changes easily, or because you can’t make certain improvements at all.  Probably won’t work out the way you want it to.

 

2. Buying spammy links. May help your rankings short-term, until it doesn’t or until Google whacks you.

 

3. Working with an “SEO copywriter.” Sounds better than “professional keyword-stuffer.” You’ll end up with a site that’s optimized only skin-deep, and copywriting that makes you sound as exciting as a three-bean salad.

 

4. Buying Fiverr.com gigs of any kind for SEO-related work of any kind.

5. Working with a cheap (usually local) company.

6. Using a “listings management” SAAS solution (e.g. Yext) rather than pay for one-time manual work on your local listings. (I’m talking about services that claim to take care of pretty much all your listings. Those are different from, say, Moz Local, which often is a good way to take care of a few listings that are a pain to deal with manually.)  Hiring an outfit like Whitespark to create, correct, and de-dupe your listings usually isn’t cheap, but unless your business info changes you’ll only need to do it once.  (Even then, because you’ll have the logins to most of your listings, making changes will be easier.)  If you cancel a listings-management service, many of your listings at some point will revert back to the way they were before you signed up.  Also, many directories that matter (especially “niche” sites) aren’t covered by the listings-management service, so you’ll need to do or pay for some amount of manual work anyway.  Listings-management software can be useful if you’re a big organization with a ton of locations.  Otherwise, “renting” your listings yearly soon becomes more expensive than getting manual work done once.

7. Glad-handing experts in the hope you’ll get free advice and won’t need to pay for any help. People with expertise tend to be in-demand and a little guarded with their time. Aside from not wanting to be known as a tightwad and avoided as one, you run a couple of risks: You risk getting boilerplate advice that isn’t specific enough for you to act on, and you risk getting advice that’s based on a poor understanding of your situation.  That advice can mess you up, even if it’s from a great source.

8. Requesting a bunch of proposals just for the free input on your situation. Same issue as in the last point. RFP abusers don’t come away with much.

 

Good ways to save money on local SEO:

1. Do your own local SEO, or as much of it as you can. (That’s where an in-depth audit can help.) Even if you do only a couple of steps, you’ll make it easier to hire competent helpers later, because they won’t need to be good at quite as many things.  You’ll also want your sea legs in case the company you hire doesn’t work out, in which case you are your plan B (at least temporarily).  It’s possible you might even take a little satisfaction in it.

 

2. If you need to get third-party help, consider hiring a website developer and a stunt pen (“content writer”) or copywriter, rather than a marketing agency. With specialists often it’s clearer exactly what you’re paying for, because the scope of work is tighter and there’s less overhead. You’re less likely to pay for the catered lunches, the beanbag chairs, and the bathroom janitor.

3. Keep only one site or very few sites. If one site doesn’t rank, put time into developing it and earning links to it rather than into squeezing out another site that doesn’t rank. Five sites that almost perform don’t get you anywhere.  Five Pacers don’t equal a Mercedes.

4. Let your site develop a fine crust. A font you can’t shrink or an image you can’t align is not an emergency. Unless your site is so hard to navigate and use that you know you’re losing business, an ugly site is not why you’re struggling, so you can deal with it once your dance card is fuller and you’ve got more budget.

5. Skip reputation-management tools, unless maybe the one you want to use is supplementary to a review strategy that’s worked for you. If your whole review-encouragement strategy is to use software, you may get good results, but more likely is that would-be reviewers still ignore you. The basic issue is that most customers can tell when they’re asked for a favor by a piece of software rather than by a person they recognize.

6. Run a feeler AdWords campaign for a week rather than use keyword-research tools or SEO tools that require a monthly subscription. The difference is you can see what people do search for, rather than what they probably search for. You’ll be amazed at what you see in an AdWords “Search Terms” report and in other reports, even when you run ads just to glean data and not necessarily to try to get customers.

7. Eschew paid third-party tools in general. (I’d probably make exceptions for Ahrefs and Mouseflow, though.) Focus on building up your internal resources.

8. Skip paid local-business and industry directories. Unless you have reason to believe your listing or ads bring you customers or some other clear benefit, paid-inclusion directories are a slippery slope. Before you know it you’re shelling out for 10 of them every month.

9. Don’t get BBB-accredited just because you think you’ll get a link. These days, for better or for worse, you won’t get a link that helps you. (There are other reasons to consider getting accredited, though.)

10. Don’t pay for LocalEze. I say that not because that data-aggregator isn’t important, but because usually you can take care of your listing(s) there by using Moz Local or by using a citation-building service that has an API relationship with that site and others.

11. Avoid or wean yourself off of listings-management tools (e.g. Yext). Ideally you work on your listings in-house. The second-best option is to get manual work done once and be done with it.

 

12. Minimize the number of SEO consultants you use. Maybe get a second opinion every now and then, but don’t hire 7 different people. You won’t develop a good strategy by United Nations resolution.  If none of the SEO people seems good, don’t settle for the least-bad of the bunch.  (In that case, consider doing at least some of the work in-house.)

How have you saved money (or blown money) on your local SEO effort?

Have you had success with any of the practices on my “worst ways to save” list?

Leave a comment!

Is Your Local SEO Person Shell-Shocked, Gun-Shy, and TOO Afraid of Angering Google? How to Avoid the Phobias

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SEOs often have a hard time with moderation.  They tend to sit at extremes and take an all-or-nothing approach – to getting links, building citations, creating “content,” jamming keywords into pages, and so on.  If they were actors, they’d be William Shatner.

 

You can have too much of a good thing.  Most SEOs take practices that are good in small amounts and overdo them.  Some of the most cautious, by-the-book SEOs I’ve known once had a black hat or a gray hat, until Google penalized their sites, or until the overplayed strategies just stopped working,

Some SEO practices get an undeserved bad rap.  I think that’s mainly because some people have overused or abused those practices, and because most other people aren’t sure what’s “just right” and what’s too much, and don’t want to make a judgment call (especially with clients’ sites).

Some caution around those practices is good, but you shouldn’t be so cautious you don’t go anywhere near them.  That’s why I’ll refer to them as phobias.

Below are 10 practices I’ve found to be good in moderation, or in certain cases, or both.  The underlined parts denote my advice.  By the way, in case it’s not obvious, I want to stress that all of this is based on my experience as a full-time, long-time local SEO dweeb – on what I’ve seen work and not work.

 

Phobia 1: “Having lots of internal links is spammy.”
If they’re heavy on exact-match anchor text, or aren’t relevant to what’s on the page, or you’d waste a visitor’s time if he or she clicked on them, then I agree: You don’t want those.  But if you’re hyperlinking a search term you’d include on the page anyway, and the page you link to also is relevant and useful, then I say pile on the internal links.  I’ve found that beneficial for rankings, at least for my clients, and especially when trying to get subpages to rank in the organic results (as opposed to the homepage / Google My Business landing page in the 3-pack results).

 

Phobia 2: “Even footer links to relevant pages are spammy.”
Same response as to phobia #1: how you do it is what matters.  The type of footer link I recommend most often is a short-to-medium list of links to the pages on your most-important services (or products).  Maybe 5-20 of them, though having more is probably fine.  (If clients’ competitors and other sites are any indicators of what’s OK, then Google’s pretty forgiving even of spammy footer links.)  I’d put only the name of the service, and not include the city name in the anchor text of every link.

 

Phobia 3: “Don’t describe the service area in the footer, because that’s spammy.”
Then that’s pretty ineffective spam, because you won’t rank in all the places you mention in your footer.  You probably won’t even rank in half of them, especially if you serve a large area, and especially if you’re in an industry with a high density of local competitors (e.g. roofing).

So why do it?  Well, besides the possibility that it may still help you a little even for competitive terms, I suggest you specify your service area (or a partial one) on every page for two main reasons.  One is to make it clear to people (not Google) that you serve their city or area.  (You can’t assume they’ll go to your “Areas Served” or “Locations” page, or will want to.)  The other reason is that it does seem to help you rank for niche terms, especially in cities/towns where the density of competitors is lower.  At least for niche terms, Google doesn’t need much content to grab onto to (1) understand what you offer and (2) where you offer it.

 

Phobia 4: “Why should I describe the service area on the homepage if I have a ‘city page’ for each place?”
Because some people may want to know what your service area is.  Also because – at least in my experience – the homepage often is more likely to rank for any given search term (and for a wider variety of terms) than “city” pages and other subpages are, if the guts of the homepage make it clear what you offer and where you offer it.

Just stuffing keywords and place names onto your homepage usually isn’t enough to rank for much.  (You’ll probably also need some links from solid and relevant sites, for starters.)  But if you don’t even mention basic points like where you work, Google won’t necessarily play gumshoe, especially if your competitors have made their service areas clear everywhere.

 

Phobia 5: “Why would I link to other sites and risk bleeding off PageRank or looking spammy to Google?”
I’ve never seen that it matters either way, much or at all.  Most of my greatest-hit, most-visible posts include links to relevant other resources, and that’s also true of many of my clients best-performing pages and (sometimes) blog posts.  Does a page or post do well because of the outbound links?  I doubt it, if only because that’s too easy, and too easy to overdo at the expense of users’ attention spans.  Don’t link to another resource just because you think Google likes that, but because you think that resource is useful for your visitor.  If your page is less useful because it doesn’t lead anywhere else, it’s a dead end, and is less likely to get links or anything else that Google pays attention to.  That can limit its rankings eventually.

 

Phobia 6: “‘City’ pages are doorway pages, and doorway pages are spam, so you shouldn’t create ‘city’ pages.”
Don’t belch out pages full of boilerplate, that say nothing more than “Pay us, pay us, wherever you are.”  Create pages that show people the experience you’ve got in their city or town, or that explain why you’re in a uniquely good position to help them.  Even great “city” pages shouldn’t be your whole strategy for ranking in more of your service area, but they can be part of your strategy.

 

Phobia 7: “Play it safe and don’t let title tags go over 70 characters.”
Usually the concern is that Google will truncate a long title tag and only show a piece of it in the search results.  But that concern isn’t too applicable these days, because most of the time Google rewrites your title tags.  It dynamically generates what it “thinks” your title tag should be (based on the search term) and shows its preferred version in the search results.  Like speed limits on the road, the title tag you specified is just a suggestion.  That’s how Google handles it, anyway.

I wouldn’t let a title tag run on for 300 characters, and I’d still think hard about what to put in it.  But I’ve have never seen that pages with title tags longer than 70 characters do any worse in the search results, and many of them perform just fine.

 

Phobia 8: “Those pages need to be under a subdirectory, like ‘/services’.  It’s not OK for subpages to be at the root level.”
I’ve seen both rank just fine – on my clients’ sites and on others’ sites.

If you’re putting up a new batch of pages, or a new site, or redesigning your site, and it’s relatively easy to stick your pages under a relevantly named subdirectory, then yeah, I’d probably nest the page in a subdirectory.

But if you’ve got a page that ranks OK at a URL like yoursite.com/nameofservice, I wouldn’t change it to yoursite.com/services/nameofservice or yoursite.com/doctors/nameofdoctor  just because your person says it’s a “best-practice.”  That’s unlikely to bump you higher up page one, and it’s not worth needing to mess with your 301 redirects, or having to fix broken links,  or both.  Separate the SEO from the OCD.

 

Phobia 9: “We want the homepage to load faster, so it’s never OK to add something that may slow down the load-time.”
Too many SEOs have a fast fetish.  They won’t add the perfect photo because of its file size, or embed a YouTube video because of its iframe, or install a useful plugin because it’s another plugin.  If speed was the most important thing, Amazon’s homepage would be the fastest of all, but it’s not.  Customers need stuff to look at and interact with.

 

 

Fast-loading pages should always be a consideration and a priority, but not the only consideration or only priority.  Always see what you can cut, but that doesn’t mean you should cut everything or never add anything.

 

Phobia 10: “Don’t keep pages or posts that rank for irrelevant terms.”
Keep them around for long enough to try squeezing some benefit out of them.  I’ve had success with that on occasion, but I’ve never just deleted pages and seen the remaining pages move up.  As far as I know, you don’t get points for perfect tidiness.

 

What’s an SEO practice that gets a bad rap, but that has helped your local visibility?

Was there a time you flew too close to the sun?  What happened?

Leave a comment!

Hit Blog Post but No Local Traffic or Rankings? 7 Ways to Make That Post Help Your Local SEO Effort

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You heard you were supposed to blog or pump out other “content.”  You heard Google likes it, or local customers like it, or you can earn some links from it.  At least one of those things didn’t turn out as planned.  Now it all seems like a big waste. But your toil in the sun […]

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Hermit Crab SEO: a Google Maps Ranking Tactic That Should Not Work

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“Hermit crab SEO” is my name for the local SEO tactic of moving to a new place of business, creating a Google My Business page at the new address, and leaving up your old Google My Business page (which still uses the old address) until Google removes it or your body assumes room temperature, whichever […]

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How to Move Google Reviews between Google My Business Pages Far Apart

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Believe it or not, Google’s pretty good about transferring Google Maps reviews from one GMB page to another.  It’s hard to tell that from Google’s guidelines, which have a dash of Justice Stewart: “If you’ve made changes to your business, your existing reviews may be kept, moved, or removed from your listing, depending on the […]

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10 Better Ways to Do Keyword Research for Local SEO

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3 main problems with most keyword research methods, especially for local search: They tell you what searchers search for, but not what customers search for They rely too much on third-party tools They give you analysis paralysis Most people’s keyword-research strategy is this (more or less): Use the “Keyword Planner” in Google Ads Use a […]

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Google Maps Reviews Now Include “What Do You Like About This Place?” Prompts

In what is at least a test, Google now asks Google Maps reviewers to select attributes they like about the business they’re reviewing.  When I went to post a review yesterday, Google asked how I liked the “Quality,” “Value,” “Responsiveness,” and “Punctuality” of the business. I haven’t been able to replicate that for other businesses, […]

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The Local SEO Data Jackpot You Missed: Google Analytics – Search Console Integration

If you’ve never done so, log into Google Analytics, then go to “Acquisition,” “Search Console,” and “Landing pages.”  There you’ll find a mashup of (1) Google Analytics data on landing pages and (2) Google Search Console data on how specific pages perform in the search results.  Whether you do local SEO yourself or you do […]

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Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

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It’s hard enough to keep a lid on competitors’ Google Maps / Google My Business spam.  That’s even harder if you don’t know what to expect, or or if you give up because you assume you’re doing it wrong. It’s easy to get your spirits crushed. As with Google reviews, you know Google isn’t too […]

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10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

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There’s no shortage of info on the “ultimate” local SEO audit, and on all the checklist items big and small that people insist should be in your audit.  But there are two intertwined problems: a. Good SEOs aren’t necessarily good at doing audits.  Most audits are overblown and disorganized. b. Their audits often are tough […]

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