50 Local SEO Lessons from 50 Clients

I’ve had the pleasure of working with 50 clients so far on local SEO (as of very recently).

The best part has been helping good people make some rain.

The second-best part is I’ve been able to learn a lot and get better at what I do.

Some of these relationships have been worth five figures to me, others three figures.

Some projects have been smooth sailing, others more like go-karting through the Himalayas.

But every single one has taught me something (or many things) about local search.

In no particular order, the lessons I’ve learned from each client:

1.  Local-search visibility should be a springboard – a launching pad.  If you can get a bunch of customers as a result of it, put some of that money into building a better site or developing a good AdWords campaign (or both).  You should also ask some of those customers to review you on third-party sites.  Local SEO is most valuable when you use it to open up even more streams of potential customers.

2.  If your business is right on the town line, make dead-certain you know which town the major data-providers “think” you’re in before you build any citations.

3.  If your Google listing is fraught with bugs that you can’t figure out and that won’t go away, you may get pretty good results if you nuke the listing and start over.

4.  Sometimes getting just one good lead from your Google listing more than pays for your investment in local SEO.

5.  Things can get FUBAR for certain types of professionals (like real-estate brokers) who share a building and a street address with dozens of others in the same industry.

6.  If you’ve built several “microsites” – each focused on a specific service you want to rank for – think twice before putting them in the “website” fields of your Google+Local listings.  You probably won’t rank well for broader search terms – and even if you do, your highly-focused site will turn off most of your visitors.

7.  It can sometimes take half a year to see results.  It’s tough to be patient, but you’ve got to be.  Easy come, easy go.  But boy is it nice when the results finally do come through.

8.  Having NAP information for a bunch of different locations on the homepage is totally fine.  It’s great to have a separate page of your site corresponding to each location / Google+Local page, but by no means is it necessary to get great rankings.

9.  Think hard about what to name your business, pick a name, and DO NOT change your mind later.

10.  If you think it somehow looks “unprofessional” to ask customers/clients for reviews, be prepared to get stomped by your local competitors.  If you’re a local-search pro, try to determine beforehand whether you might be working with someone who feels that way.

11.  If you want to be visible in cities across the country, you’d better have physical offices in those cities.  Period.  Otherwise there needs to be a discussion along the lines of “should we focus on AdWords rather than local SEO?”

12.  “I’d rather have it done right than done fast” is something every local-search pro loves to hear.  Everyone’s happy.

13.  It’s possible to have #1 local rankings and not get a single new customer as a result if you’re not serious about asking your customers for Google reviews.

14.  Geography matters in competitive, big-city markets.  You probably don’t need a downtown location, but if you’re on the city limits or ‘burbs you’d better think hard about which specific local areas you want or need to get visible in.

15.  Doing a great job of getting customer reviews can make up for having a poorly optimized website…almost.

16.  If you’re a local SEO who’s offering a new service that requires a “guinea pig,” offer it at an insanely low rate and give it your absolute best.  If the results are good, you’ve made one client into a raving fan, plus you know you’ve developed a great service for which you can charge a bit more in the future.  (This idea is from the late, great copywriter Gary Halbert, and it’s just incredibly smart and common-sense.)

17.  Realize that a webmaster who’s impossible to reach and located in another country can single-handedly bring your local SEO efforts to a screeching halt.

18.  Google may very well spank you for using non-compliant categories in your listing – but will just as likely dust you off and give you a pat on the back once you fix the categories.

19.  Bloody “MapMaker wars” are waged in some local markets.  Avoid.

20.  Getting to the top of local search for competitive terms in small-town markets is smart, doable, and profitable.

21.  If you’re getting your business online for the first time in a ultra-competitive big-city market, you need to be above average in some way.  If not through tons of client reviews, then through adding tons of relevant, helpful content to your site.  Grow.  Fine, grow slow…but grow.

22.  Simply cleaning up all your citations and removing duplicate Google listings can work wonders.

23.  Simply cleaning up the spammy internal anchor-text on your site can work wonders.

24.  Get off your duff and list your business on LocalEze.  Don’t put it off.  And if you run into trouble verifying your listing with one email address, try another (Gmail accounts always seem to work).

25.  If you’re ranking in the middle of the 7-pack but want to get to the top, don’t look for “clever techniques.”  Revisit the basics.

26.  Always err on the side of using a light touch when optimizing your Google listing and site.  That may be all you need.

27.  A homepage title tag with more than 70 characters is a problem.  A title tag with more than 300 characters is a gift to at least 7 of your local competitors.

28.  If you have multiple locations and Google+Local pages and a separate landing page for each, make the landing pages significantly different from each other.  Don’t just swap out the city names.

29.  As long as business is pretty good, many people won’t implement even simple suggestions for how to get a little more visibility and business.  And that’s OK.

30.  Some business owners have more money than God.  And they may blow it on things that don’t help them one bit in local search.  Many of them aren’t such tough competitors.

31.  A keyword-stuffed description on your Google+Local page will not hurt your rankings.  Repulse potential customers and make them leave your page, maybe.

32.  The size of the “Service Area” you specify in your Google listing does not matter.

33.  Just because your Google+Local page is stuffed with keywords and you don’t seem to have been penalized doesn’t mean your rankings won’t improve from cleaning it up a bit.

34.  If you change your street address, expect good local rankings to take many months.  Be pleasantly surprised if they come within a couple months.

35.  If the last time you updated your site was in the year 2000, you may want to consider your local-search guy’s pleas and cries to make some changes to it.

36.  Don’t have a bunch of nearly identical cookie-cutter pages geared toward every single town in your service area.  Google no like.

37.  If you’re a business owner, always tell your local-search guy or gal about any organic rankings you have before any of your landing pages are tinkered with.  If you’re a local-search guy or gal, always ask about organic rankings.

38.  Even business owners with #1 rankings in tough local markets are smart to get a local SEO audit.

39.  When in doubt, re-read the Google Places Quality Guidelines.  Especially the part about how service-based businesses need to “hide” their addresses.

40.  Even if you’re in a tiny town, don’t “target” a bigger, farther-away town.  You might be surprised at the number of eyeballs you get just by being truthful about your location.

41.  Google doesn’t seem to ding you for having Flash intros.  (Potential customers may not be so forgiving, though.)

42.  Local-searchers disagree on many best-practices.  Maybe that’s because there’s a ton we don’t know.  Or maybe it’s because things don’t need to be perfectly optimized for a business to get highly visible.  Or maybe both.

43.  A watched pot never boils.  Business owners and local SEOs need to expect the process to take a while.  If you obsessively stare at your rankings and analytics stats every day, the temptation is too great to tinker and fiddle and mess things up.

44.  If you’re in a huge metropolitan area, know exactly which ZIPs you’re visible in.  Or else you can do everything really well and actually get a lot of local visibility but drive yourself bonkers thinking that you’re visible nowhere in the city.

45.  Even highly proactive business owners who’ve put serious work into their sites will stuff keywords and footer links like it’s goin’ out of style, unfortunately.

46.  Never forget Lessons 18 or 39 (having Google-compliant categories, and knowing when you must “hide” your address).

47.  If you have many locations and one of them ranks really well, see how you can optimize the others to be more like the really visible one.

48.  People love tweaking their title tags.  Dealing with other important on-page factors: not so much.

49.  Citation-building is more complicated forUS businesses than it is for businesses in other countries.

50.  Business owners who’ve done local SEO for themselves or read up on it are usually great to work with.