11 No-Outreach, No-Content Ways Local SEOs Can Help Businesses Rustle up Good Links

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Too many local SEOs and their clients take an all-or-nothing approach to link-earning, and that’s a shame.

Most SEOs casually take the “nothing” approach and don’t help their clients with links at all, and wonder why their clients’ visibility doesn’t improve.

Most of the others – the SEOs who know how much good and relevant links matter – assume the only way they can help is with a swashbuckling approach that involves hundreds of outreach emails and thousands of dollars spent on “content” that people may or may not even glance at.

Business owners often fall into those traps, too.  Even if they know they need to rustle up links, they assume a third party can or should handle all of it.  It usually takes at least a little teamwork to earn the kinds of links that can help your local rankings and overall visibility.

If you do local SEO for a living, you need to be able to help your clients in ways other than “Pay us to handle everything” or “We’ll skip links and just focus on crappy citations and spammy city pages.”

If you’ve hired a local SEO person or company to help, it’s reasonable to expect help on links other than on an all-or-nothing basis.

To that end, here are 11 ways a local SEO-er can and should help a business scare up some good links – without necessarily pouring infinite time and resources into “content” or outreach:

1. Research specific link opportunities. (As opposed to “just write great content.” Not real helpful.)  This questionnaire can help you determine what’s practical.  Beyond that, where you do look?  Some practical ideas here, here, and here.  Work together on as many of the link opps as you can.  Once you’ve exhausted those, research more.  Repeat every few months for as long as you work together.  Even if you do nothing else, at least dig for doable link opps for your client.  Whether all your other local SEO work actually pays off may depend on it.

2. Keep an eye out continually for PR opportunities, and pass them along. If you’re not sure how, start by monitoring the Google News feed and HARO. In general, keep your ear to the ground, pass along anything you see, and do what you can to help your client chase down any opportunities.

3. Look at the business’s current publicity efforts/stunts and offer suggestions on how you might get links out of the deal. Most businesses don’t do much to get publicity, but the ones who do are already doing the hard part. If you simply know what’s going on, you’ll probably see a way to finagle a relevant link or two.

4. Create a Google Drive or similar collaborative spreadsheet to keep track of the link opps you’ve dug up and might be working on. Each tab can be just a big ugly list of URLs, maybe with a column for “next step” and another column for “who’s working on it?”  Then you might categorize the link opps by creating a few tabs, like “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “got.”  That’s just an example.  You should use whatever works for you.  Even if you don’t use it much personally, it may help your client (if your client is the hands-on type).

5. Look for unlinked profiles, lapsed memberships, and broken inbound links. Does the Chamber of Commerce “member” page not include a link to the site? Did your client forget to re-up this year?  Did you find a great link with a typo in the URL?  A link saved is a link earned.

6. Offer feedback on your client’s link ideas, and always be available to kick around ideas. There’s a chance your client is the type to keep an eye out or birddog for link opps, and maybe to ask you what you think. That’s a great situation, and it’s something you should encourage.  Always offer your professional opinion on whether it’s relevant and worth pursuing, and on what might be involved in doing so.  (Also, check to see whether it’s a nofollow.)

7. Pull Ahrefs or Majestic reports on the business’s link profile and on competitors’ link profiles. Probably a no-brainer if you help people with SEO for a living. What may be less obvious is that you should not go after any and all of the crappy links your competitors have.  Just because they have a certain link doesn’t mean it’s helping them, or won’t hurt you.  Anyway, pass along to your client whatever you find, if your client is interested in that sort of thing.

8. Track the business’s and competitors’ links in Ahrefs or Majestic. Just to keep tabs on new links and lost links. It’s a good way not to forget about links, and to keep your antennae out.

9. Consolidate sites and pages that don’t do well, but that may have a few decent links. If you conclude you’re spreading your content and efforts thin, you might want to claw back those links by pointing them to whichever site or page you want to keep and focus on.  301-redirects may come in handy here.

10. Help the client to stop wasting time on dead-end or dumb link strategies. Citation-building will not get you any or many good links. Nor will squirting out 16 blog posts (that nobody reads) every month.  Nor will “To hell with it – I’m buying some Fiverr gigs.”

11. Twist your client’s arm to get him or her motivated and maybe more involved. Much easier said than done, of course. How you should go about it depends on whom you’re working with, and I don’t know that person.  All I can say is you should try to impart that without good links good rankings tend to be one Google update, Google test, or one tough competitor away from disappearing.  Easy come, easy go.  Also, try to set the bar low at first, so that initially the goal is just to get a few links that are relevant to your client’s industry or area (or both).  More likely than not, those’ll help the rankings/visibility just enough that your client gets motivated and starts gunning down link opps right next to you.

What are some other ways a local SEO can/should help with links?

Any success (or failure) stories you’d like to describe?

Leave a comment!

The High Cost of Thinking Your Local Search Visibility Is Free

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The name’s a shameless rip-off of Wil Reynolds’s excellent presentation on “The High Cost of Free Traffic.”  One reason I’ve got no shame is that that describes the situation perfectly: Although technically your business’s visibility in Google Maps and the rest of local search is free, you run into trouble once you start treating it as you would other “free” stuff.

Business owners and their marketers often mess up and overlook enough things even when they pay $20 a click (as in AdWords) for their traffic.  Their strategies get even more ragged when they don’t have to pay for visibility in the local search results, and are confident they won’t need to any time soon.

“Free” gives you a sense of relief.  You don’t think much about how you use your water if all you have to do is dip your cup in the creek.  That’s fine as long as it’s not winter or there’s a cattle drive upstream.

What’s the “high cost” of free traffic (the one I named this post after)?  It’s not one specific high price you pay, but rather a long list of missed-opportunity costs.  They’re problems you’ll face, time you’ll waste, or wins you won’t seize.

They’re what happens when you assume “free” rankings and traffic are permanent, or unlimited, or guaranteed, or something you’re entitled to, or always easy to get more of, or always what you need more of.

Cost 1: Trying to farm out all parts of your local SEO strategy.

(Or, even worse, trying to farm out all of your marketing.)

Some parts of local SEO require a decision-maker’s personal involvement.  Doing what it takes to earn good links and reviews are two examples of that.  Though third parties can help to one degree or another, they can’t do it well and without any of your involvement.  “Your one-stop, turnkey solution” is a marketing ploy.  The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get visible in the local search results, and have it actually result in more business, and have it last.

Cost 2: Seeing if you can “just get your site to rank” without putting in any real effort.

If your primitive strategy of microsites / keyword-stuffing / cheap links / lousy “city” pages doesn’t work you’ve wasted time and are back to the drawing board.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to have your bare-minimum effort bring you good rankings, you’ll be one non-pushover competitor or one Google test or update away from Search Engine Siberia.

Especially when it’s early in your local SEO effort, either you need to specialize and carve out a niche, or put in a little work to differentiate yourself, or do both.

Cost 3: Only worrying about the “easy SEO wins” at first.

Isn’t it great if you can meet your goals with a minimum of effort?  Sure.  Shouldn’t you try to do that?  Yeah, probably.  But what if your quick no-brainers yield no results?  Then it’s a question of when you start putting in the hard work, and how long it takes to pay off.  Fixing up your title tags, wiggling a few keywords into the cracks, and cleaning up your local listings will only get you so far.

How long should you wait to see if your quick wins did the trick?  2 months?  6 months?  A year?  Damned if I know.  I say you start digging the well before you’re thirsty.  Start on the ongoing activities while you’re still working on the one-time stuff.

Cost 4: Using a site/CMS that makes changes difficult or slow to make.

Your Squarespace or Wix or Joomla or GoDaddy site is probably fine to keep if you can structure it correctly, create a homepage that doesn’t suck, make it more or less conducive to conversions, and do other basics.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s better to get a rough site out there early, and improve it later.  The problem is what happens if you can’t improve it later.  Because you consider your local search traffic “free,” you don’t feel it’s urgent to get a site you can work with.  You’ll let it molder until traffic dries up or something really breaks, or both.

Cost 5: Hiring hacky writers.

If you had to pay $20 for each click, would you send visitors to pages that don’t make it clear what you do, or pages that make it apparent you’re “too busy” to put any effort into your site yourself, or pages that make you look like you can’t string two sentences together?  No?  Well, doing that with “free” traffic is even worse.  At least if you pay $20 (or much more) for a click, you might eventually learn that more traffic often isn’t the answer.

With bad writing you have the online-marketing equivalent of BO.

Cost 6: Waiting too long to get serious about getting reviews.

You probably “just want to rank” first.  Once you have more customers, you’ll start encouraging reviews.  That’s backwards.  Good rankings without good reviews tend not to bring in much business.  On the other hand, good reviews will help you as soon as you start getting them, no matter how visible you are.  Go after them early.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5919180598/

Cost 7: Not replying to customers’ reviews, even when you don’t “have to.”

You probably don’t let negative reviews go unaddressed.  That’s usually wise.

What about the positive reviews?  Think of how hard you’ve worked to get however much visibility you’ve got, and to do a good enough job for customers that they wrote you those nice reviews.  Don’t you want that visibility and traffic to convert as many customers as possible, so you continue the upward spiral?  Sometimes replying to a positive review – even if only to say thanks – is a way to do that.  It shows you give a hoot, and that you still care about customers after they’ve paid you and reviewed you.

Cost 8: Assuming all your visitors saw your best reviews before visiting your site.

Given all the info Google shows IN the search results these days – especially when people search for your business by name – it’s smart to think of Google’s results as your second homepage.  To wow customers there with all your reviews is crucial, and you need to do it.  Those review sites sure are prominent.

But what if those people go even farther, and get to your site?  Those people are even deeper into your “conversion funnel,” and are this close to taking an action you want.  Don’t hold back now.   Even if they saw your “review stars” in the search results, they probably didn’t see reviews from specific customers.  If you had to pay for each click, you’d make sure your best reviews were front-and-center.  That’s smart even if you don’t pay for each click.

Splatter or sprinkle your reviews across your site.

Cost 9: Waiting too long to start earning links.

Yes, the one-time work on your site and on your listings is important.  You may see a bump from doing only that.  But sooner or later you’ll hit a plateau.  At that point you can’t just “optimize” your site more, or crank out more citations, and expect to get unstuck.  And don’t think an SEO person has some fancy maneuver for your site that will do it.  You’ll go round and round on tweaking or overhauling your site, to no effect.  7 SEO “experts” and many dollars later, you’ll realize you missed a big piece of the puzzle.  You could have spent a fraction of that time on effort on trying to earn good links, and you could have seen results sooner.  Slow process?  Sure, but not as slow as the alternatives.

Here are some relatively easy link ideas, just to get the juices flowing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifl/3877530270/

Cost 10: Fixating on ranking across your entire service area.

You want to rank in 25 more towns.  That’s a fine goal.  So you must be pretty visible in your town already, right?  If not, start there and branch out only when you’ve had some success.  Now, it may or not be possible to rank in all (or half) of the places you want to reach.  It depends on many factors, including whether you’re trying to rank in the local organic results (doable) or in the Maps results (less realistic).  I’m not even saying you should trim back your goals.  I’m saying only that you should do what it takes to build up a little visibility in the place where it’s most likely you can do so, before you try to go farther afield.

Cost 11: Creating lots of awful “city pages.”

If you won’t take the time to do them right, at least don’t spend too much time on doing them wrong.  Make 5 worthless pages rather than 50 worthless pages.  That way, you can return that much sooner to whatever you were doing that was so much more important than putting a little thought into your city pages, so that they might rank and convert.

Cost 12: Never using AdWords to learn about would-be customers or to sniff out markets.

Too many business owners think, “Why on earth should I pay for traffic when I can get it for free?”  Well, for one thing, because it’s the only practical way to sniff out people’s level of interest in specific services in specific cities/areas where you don’t rank.

Google Analytics only tells you about the traffic you already get, and nothing about the traffic you might be able to get.  Set up a quick-n’-dirty AdWords campaign, keep it on a short budgetary leash, let it run for a couple weeks, and mine the stuffing out of the “Dimensions” tab.  I know of no better way to research keywords, to get a sense of how well traffic converts for those keywords, and to find out exactly which cities/towns those searchers search from.

If you think of pay-per-click as a way to buy data (and not necessarily to get customers, at least at first) you probably couldn’t get anywhere else, you can put new vim and vigor into your local SEO effort.

Cost 13: Assuming that because your local visibility is “free” it’s also unlimited.

That may be the costliest cost of all, for many reasons.

You can always lose visibility.

You won’t have a monopoly while you have it.

Just because you got some visibility easily doesn’t mean you can get more with similar ease.

You don’t know who will become your competitor next.

Google likes to test just about all aspects of the search results.

Google likes to change policies in all areas of search.

Google likes to stuff the free search results with paid search results.

You don’t even own your local listings.  The only online thing you own is your site, and everything else is rented land.

It’s for those reasons and many others that you do not want to grow complacent.

Why do the signs at parks and nature reserves tell you not to feed the animals?

Because if you feed them and other people feed them, they’ll get conditioned to freebies, and not be as able to hunt and forage.  (Also, the tripe most people eat isn’t necessarily good for a growing critter.)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/84744710@N06/14766013011/

If you’re an animal, it’s fine to catch as catch can, but you probably want to be able to feed yourself if the hands with free food ever go away.  The same is true of business owners.  Don’t be a Central Park pigeon.

What’s a missed-opportunity cost I missed?

Any cautionary tales?

Leave a comment!

Top 10 Ways Local Business Owners Botch the All-Important Homepage, and How You Can Get Yours Right

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It’s a shame so many business owners spend more time chasing shiny new objects than they do nailing the fundamentals.

Mess up your homepage and your local rankings won’t be all they can be, or you’ll scare away people, or both.  It’s of outsize importance to Google and to customers/clients/patients.  Craft an excellent homepage and you might give yourself wiggle room to mess up in other areas – and maybe for it not to matter as much.

In helping business owners make rain, I see and get to work on more homepages than your average bear.  Here are what I’d consider the 10 most-common homepage mistakes, and how you can avoid making them:

Homepage mistake 1: It’s wafer-thin on content.

Most homepages skimp on info about specific offerings (services, products, treatments, or practice areas).  Have at least a blurb on each offering you care about, and include links to the pages where you describe them in more detail.

Homepage mistake 2: There’s little info about the service area or locations.

You don’t want Google and customers to have to guess or dig to determine where you are or what areas you serve.  Make it as plain as day.

Homepage mistake 3: It’s got no or too-few links to important subpages.

If you’ve got other pages you want visitors to see and for Google maybe to rank well, you’d best link to them.  Maybe your most-important 5-10.  I like bullet-point lists.

Homepage mistake 4: It’s been colonized by a slider.

Most sliders slow down the load-time of your page, push your strongest material below the fold, and are ignored by visitors.  Consider taking yours behind the barn, or at least replacing it with a static image.

Homepage mistake 5: There’s nothing unique or compelling in the title and/or description tag.

Having your keyword(s) + city is not enough.  Be a giraffe among zebras.  Weave in as much of your USP as you can.

Homepage mistake 6: Not tracking visitors’ clicking and scrolling behavior.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg or HotJar to determine which parts of your page visitors care about and which they ignore.

Homepage mistake 7: Clear calls-to-action aren’t in all the places they should be.

Having one call-to-action at the top and bottom of the page is a no-brainer.  If it’s a long page, have a call-to-action somewhere in the middle.  Because you’re tracking clicking and scrolling behavior (see above point), in time you’ll probably know which one pulls the most weight.

Homepage mistake 8: A functional Google Map isn’t embedded.

If you’ve got an office or bricks-and-mortar location, your would-be customers probably want to be able to pull up directions easily.  Google may like to see driving-direction look-ups.

Homepage mistake 9: It’s filled with knickknacks for non-customers.

Links to social profiles, a “recent blog posts” section, etc.  Eschew them – unless you want people to pay attention to those doodads and not call you.

Homepage mistake 10: It assumes the visitor saw the reviews.

Will your homepage impress a word-of-mouth referral or others who might have gone directly to your site without Googling you first?

Hhomepage mistake 11 (bonus): It’s too reserved.

Don’t assume everyone will even see other pages on your site.  Make it very clear where visitors can get more in-depth info on you and your services if they want it, but don’t assume they’ll click or scroll.  Say your piece, say it early, and say it plainly.

Any homepage mistakes I forgot?

Any you don’t think are mistakes?

What do you consider the most or least serious issue, and why?

Leave a comment!

Local SEO Fairy Tale: No Problems = Good Rankings

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In SEO, fixing problems is only half the challenge.  The other half is to become notable in some way.

Once in a blue moon I get an audit client who says something like:

“Phil, helpful action plan there, but I’m a little disappointed you didn’t find more problems!”

That’s understandable.  You’ve put a ton of work into your business and marketing.  It seems likely there’s one thing (or a combination of a few things) holding you back – something you overlooked.

Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean the problem is something is broken.  Google’s local search results are, essentially, a list of business it recommends.  Why should Google recommend a business simply because it exists and the owner hasn’t screwed up?

Even a brand-new car in factory condition won’t get far without gas.  You have to give it fuel.  It’s something you add continually.  You know that.  If your mechanic told you otherwise, you’d probably look for another mechanic.

But what if most mechanics told you the only way to make your car move is to pay for more repairs, no matter how much the car has been “repaired” already?  That’s what happens in the SEO world, especially in the local SEO space.  The explanation is always that your site isn’t “optimized” enough, or that you don’t have 300 citations on local directories nobody’s heard of.

When did problem-solving become problem-scavenging?  How did SEO become OCD?

One cause is that website tweaks and citation-slinging are easy for marketing companies to bill for, and easy to delegate for cheap.  Very scalable.  Looks like a lot on paper.  Nobody experienced or skilled has to be involved.  Endlessly tweaking the site and building listings on local directories listings is part and parcel of what I call drive-by SEO.  If and when that doesn’t work, you fire the old SEO company and find a new one, where the new people claim the last SEO people didn’t “optimize” enough.

https://garmentdistrict.com/protect-and-serve-well-try/

Then the cycle repeats.  Eventually you conclude nobody’s managed to “optimize” your site and listings properly, but it didn’t occur to you that maybe you’re solid on those already and the problem is something else.

The other causes are the anecdotes you’ll hear around the local SEO water cooler.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“We did a little citation clean-up and the rankings shot up!”  That can happen, but only when you’ve got other things going for you, like having great links, or being a well-known brand, or specializing in a niche.  Also, citation work tends only to bring at most a one-time benefit.  Do it once, do it right, enjoy whatever benefits it brings you, but move on after that.

“We disavowed some bad links and the rankings shot up.”  That only helps if you also had or have good links to offset the bad ones.  A penalized site minus a penalty does not equal a promotion.  You get visible by putting in work your competitors can’t or won’t.

“We just created a Google My Business page and saw a surge in traffic.”  That can happen, too, but only if you were already doing well on organic SEO, or if you’re just in an uncompetitive local market.

“We did basic on-page optimization and our rankings went way up.”  For what search term(s)?  Does anybody besides you actually type in those terms?  Do you get customers from those rankings?  Did you have anything else going for you before the optimization (e.g. lots of good links)?  Sometimes simple on-page optimization is enough to rank well, but there’s usually more to the story than that, and over time it’s become less likely to be enough.

In my experience, those types of stories are especially common among enterprise SEOs, whose clients (or employers) are big corporations that already have links, reviews, and brand-recognition out the wazoo.  To go back to my car metaphor, their car has plenty of gas and mostly new parts, but blew a fuse or just needs new transmission.  If you fix whatever part(s) gave out, you deserve all due credit and praise.  But that doesn’t mean your fix is what the next car needs.

Sometimes the problem is that your business seems unremarkable to Google.  Doesn’t mean it IS unremarkable; it’s just that what’s online doesn’t reflect how great your business really is.

Fine, Phil, so local SEO isn’t just a matter of fixing “problems,” but also of taking advantage of opportunities.  Got it.  What do I do now?

In general, work your tail off to earn more and better links than your competitors have, more and better reviews than they have, and more-in-depth content about your services on your site.  The benefits might not come right away, but that’s what you need to do.

Gee, that’s broad advice, Phil.

Yup.  It sure is.  That’s because I don’t know anything about your business at the moment.  I don’t know what you’ve done, or haven’t done, or how well it’s worked.  If you’d like a clear action plan, you might want to start with my free guide and this.  Today I just wanted to establish that although the time you spend fixing SEO “problems” is time very well-spent, you can’t just stop there.

Do you have a different take?

Have you had a “eureka” moment?  If so, what was it?

Have you ever “fixed all the problems” and still found that wasn’t enough to rank well?

Leave a comment!

One-Time Work vs. Ongoing Work in Local SEO

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The nature of your work on a local SEO campaign should change over time, or you’re doing it wrong.  How you’ll make progress in week 3 differs from how you’ll make progress in year 3.

You’ll do fine if you know which steps can only help you once, versus which steps can help you for as long as you work on them.  More on those in a minute.

On the other hand, your local rankings will take a dirt nap if you never do more than the one-time work.  Steps like “optimizing your website” and building and correcting your local listings can deliver impressive results – once, at most.

If that yeoman’s work is what you think local SEO amounts to, you’ll wonder why you made such fast progress and then hit a wall.  You’ll figure you just need to do more of what gave you that initial bump, so you’ll tinker with your site and build 300 citations – and still won’t see results.  You’ll conclude local SEO “doesn’t work,” throw up your hands, and watch your competitors roll by.

I blame local SEO companies (or at least some of them).  They want their SEO packages to look good on paper, to be easy to charge for, to be easy to delegate to people who can work for cheap, and not to require clients’ personal involvement (beyond writing the check) so they avoid bottlenecks and can bill until the end of time.  That’s the charitable view, by the way.

You’ll get better results if you divide the work into one-time tasks and continuous tasks.  Here’s how I like to classify each of the main steps.

One-time, foundational work:

  • Create or claim your Google My Business page
  • Create listings on the “local” sites that matter (AKA citation-building)
  • Correct and de-dupe your listings (AKA citation cleanup)
  • Fill out incomplete listings (specify your hours, categories, etc.)
  • Make technical fixes to your site
  • Do basic optimization: title tags, NAP info on every page, a page for each service, etc.
  • Create a page for each specific service and/or product you offer

Ongoing work you should NEVER stop doing:

  • Continue to do whatever else got you your best links so far
  • Research new link opportunities
  • Get those links
  • Ask for reviews on a variety of sites
  • Mine your reviews
  • Re-audit your site for new problems
  • Add more helpful content to existing pages
  • Create a new page any time you’ve got a new offering
  • Update your listings any time your basic business info changes
  • Continue your blogging or other content-creation efforts IF you know them to be effective (if they’re not effective, get help)
  • Continue any non-Google, preferably offline marketing you do
  • Keep learning about local search, SEO, and other areas of online marketing

By the way, I haven’t laid out each step sequentially.  The order varies from to case.  In general, the one-time steps you do in the early parts of your local SEO effort.  But sometimes they drag on later than you’d like them to, or you have to revisit them for one reason or another.  Also, the ongoing steps you should start as early as possible, partly because it takes time to pile up good links and reviews and to reap the benefits.

As long as you don’t fall into busywork, don’t obsess over things that are good enough (e.g. citations), and do work on hard things that your lazy competitors won’t bother with (namely earning links and reviews), you’ll continue to climb.  If you plan to get outside help, don’t hire a local SEO just to help on your listings and website.

Are you working on tasks where you think you might have hit the point of diminishing return?

Any ongoing steps I forgot?

Leave a comment!

Dummy Links: Part of a Smart Local SEO Strategy

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What I like to call “dummy links” are links that you can get with a little commitment of resources, but without having to think too hard.

You’ll need to earn some good links (from other, relevant sites to your site) if you want to rank well in the local search results.  If you’re in a semi-competitive market, that is.  If you’re trying to rank for “Tulsa taxidermist,” you’ll probably do just fine without.

Too many business owners – and their marketing companies – think local SEO is just a matter of citations and on-page optimization and your Google My Business page and maybe getting a few reviews.  What gets overlooked is how much overlap there is between “local” SEO and classic organic SEO.  Links affect not only your rankings on the map, but also your rankings for search terms for which Google doesn’t show the map.

In my experience, links are usually the main reason that big ugly corporations fare better in the local search results than they should.

Still, most people who know links affect their visibility never really try to get them.  Business owners don’t know where to start, don’t want to pay for work with long-term payoff, or don’t want to invest much at all.  Marketing companies don’t know what to do, either, and don’t want to bill their clients for work that takes thinking, that has only long-term payoff, and that maybe doesn’t look as good on paper as “Built 50 links this month!”

I’ll assume you’re different: you’ll do what you can to get relevant, non-spammy links, if you just know roughly what direction to go.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of doable, straightforward link opportunities:

https://goo.gl/tLl6Dl

 

They’re link opportunities that may require a few minutes of research on your part, but that don’t require you to think, “OK, so what do I write, and then how do I do outreach to try to get someone to read the damn thing and link to it?”

They’re also not the types of links that any dolt could buy by the thousands on Fiverr or Upwork or ODesk – the kind Google usually likes for about a two months before putting your site in the box.

 

I’ve listed real-life examples, where possible.

Are there other ways to earn high-payoff links?  Of course.  (Here’s an excellent resource.)  Building an audience and becoming an “authority” is great.  Assuming you’ve taken care of first things first, I’ll be the last guy to try to talk you out of that.

The point is you don’t have to try something that takes years or that has a steep learning curve, just to get the kinds of links that can help your local visibility.

Grab 10 link opportunities from the list and try to execute on them over the next few months.

Any other good “dummy link” opportunities you can think of?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

15 Smart Things Most SEOs Never Do

Image courtesy swallowtailgardenseeds.com

I’ve seen SEOs do all kinds of dumb things for clients.  Far less often do I see them follow some wise practices that can help them get better results, and with less heartache.

My suggestions also can help you if you are your own SEO person.

This may have a slight bent toward local search (as you might expect of me), but it’s equally applicable to national / organic efforts.

Before you start

1. Send questionnaires. You need the facts, and you need them early.  Preferably before any money changes hands.  I rarely even get on the phone with a potential client until he/she has filled out my basic questionnaire.  You want to be confident that you can help.  If the client’s too lazy to do this step then you’ve got a problem.  It’s an important hurdle to clear.  I also like to send a link-opportunities questionnaire, usually a bit later.

2. Tell the client up-front what he or she MUST do. Maybe it’s fact-checking any content you write, or it’s approving any link opportunities you want to go after, or it’s devoting 30 minutes a week to answering any questions you might have.

3. Give potential clients every opportunity to lose interest. First there’s my questionnaire.  Then I send a quick opinion on their situation, what areas need the most work, how tough I think it will be, and on what I’d charge.  Then I ask whether they’re interested enough to want a proposal.  Then if they like what’s in the proposal we’ll schedule a call to go over details.    Then I’ll tell them there are some step they’ll need to help with (see point #2), and that it takes a while to see results.  If they’re still with me by this point, I know they’re committed and not deadbeats.

Early on in the project

4. Add the client to your project-management tool. I assume your elves are on it.  But the client should be privy to what’s going on.  May make both your lives easier, and it should cut down on email.  (For the record, I use Asana, but I also like Teamwork.)

5. Read the damn site. Especially the “About” page.  Important questions will come up, and you’ll probably get a link idea or ten.

6. Read the client’s reviews and mine the reviews. This is usually more applicable to local SEO, but ecommerce and other national and international types of businesses also have their own review sites.  In either case, it’s crucial to understanding what types of people become customers (happy or unhappy), what specific problems brought them to your client, why they picked your client, and how your client can do better.

7. Watch the client’s videos. Same principles as in #5-6.

8. Show clients your internal resources. It’s probably a bunch of ugly spreadsheets: site audit, link-outreach status, content ideas, maybe citations, etc.  This gives clients a sense of how much work goes into your work.

What if they’re the “Just Do It” [swoosh] types – and not too interested in details?  Well, it’s especially smart to do in those cases.  The hands-off types only care that work is being done, and that’s what you’re demonstrating.

In the thick of things

9. Revamp or add to existing content. Rather than start on new material.  It’s what I like to call “content CPR.”

10. Work with a copywriter. Getting people to take the next step – whatever that step is – is good for SEO in all kinds of indirect ways.  It’s also a shame to lose visitors when you’ve worked like a dog to get them.  Consider someone like Joel Klettke.

11. Provide suggestions that aren’t just all about rankings. Like on conversion-rate optimization.  I’m channeling my inner Rand here.  But I’m also telling you the best way to get more work from clients you already like.  If possible, your non-SEO suggestions should come as a free and pleasant surprise.  Clients will often hire you for a bigger project, with a more-exciting scope.  You’ll be the consigliere, not a one-hit wonder.

12. Fire a client. Be classy about it, and leave the door open a crack if possible.  But you need to think of your ability to do great work for other clients, and to have something resembling a life.

13. Show what’s in your head whenever possible. Be clear about why you suggest what you suggest.  (Why don’t you suggest using microsites?  Why do you suggest using a certain type of Schema.org markup?)  Also be clear about what you don’t know.  If you don’t have hard evidence (which we SEOs often don’t have) that something works or doesn’t work, can you explain what your educated guess or hunch is based on?

14. Pay for a 2nd opinion. Posting on forums and Google+ communities and on my blog posts and on others’ blog posts is fine.  It has its place in the world.  (And I like when people leave insightful comments or questions on my posts.)  But knowledgeable people keep an eye on the clock and can’t help everyone.

Also, the “community” of longtime and serious SEOs – especially of local SEOs – is smaller than you might think.  People run usually across each other more than once.  Don’t be a schnorrer.

15. Take a less-is-more approach. Don’t try to blog, and create videos, and research link opportunities, and do outreach, and get into pay-per-click, and put Schema.org markup everywhere, and create local citations, and build city pages, and dabble in AMP, and offer foot massages and exfoliating mud packs every single month.  Some months you should focus on crushing 1-2 tasks, and block everything else out.

What are some other practices you think SEOs never or rarely do (that they should)?

Do you already do any of those 15 points?

Leave a comment!

How to Migrate or Redesign Your Site and Not Die in the Local Rankings

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Clients and others often ask me how they can redesign their site or migrate to a new CMS and not end up committing seppuku in the local search results.

I tell them that although there are probably a hundred checklist items they might concern themselves with, only a few really matter.  Do these steps wrong or forget to do them and you will bring great dishonor to your local rankings.

If you’re considering a rebuild, make sure that at the very least you’ve done everything on this 7-point checklist:

1. Do your 301 redirects.

Do them on all pages that (a) you’ll be renaming or relocating (to a different subdirectory, for example) and that (b) have good external links pointing to them.

2.  Keep your title tags the same.

Unless they’re lousy and you want to change them anyway.  Take note of your title tags at least on your most-important / highest-traffic pages, or use Screaming Frog to grab and export all of them.

3.  Keep your content the same.

If you have 5 paragraphs on the old version of a page, make sure the new version has the same 5 paragraphs.  Short of doing that, at least keep the content as similar as possible (unless it just sucks).

4.  Make sure your Google Analytics tracking code doesn’t get butchered.

Just log into Analytics after the upgrade and get worried only if you see a flat line.

Check back again a few days later to make sure data’s still coming in OK.

5.  Remove all noindex tags from your staging site.

(At least from the pages you want Google to index.)

While you’re at it, make sure your robots.txt doesn’t disallow your entire site.

Thanks to Darren for the reminder.

6.  Make sure your local listings still point to the landing page URL you want them to.

If necessary, update those listings to point to the correct URL on your site.

7.  Don’t assume the user-experience is better.

You may like the new look.  Your turtleneck-clad designer may like the new look.  But all of that amounts to nothing in the end if your pages load too slowly or confuse customers.

As I’ve said, the “back” button is the worst enemy of local SEO. Google seems to pay attention to how visitors behave once they’re on the site. Also, all the rankings in the world don’t matter if your site makes people cuss.

Use a tool like CrazyEgg to study where visitors click and scroll – how they use the site – and use that intel to make things easier to find and to use.  Also consider getting some five-second tests, or asking your spouse or a trusty cowpoke for an unvarnished opinion.

Get those basics right and worry about smaller stuff later.  If you’ve got a big site or there’s any ecommerce going on, you’ll probably have more work to do during or after the upgrade.

Any redesign / migration horror stories?

Any tips on how to make the transition easy on your local rankings?

Leave a comment!

Which Local Citation Sources Offer Follow Links?

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Pretty much every local listing you create for your business lets you include a link to your website, so that it’s easy for visitors to learn more about you.  But most of those are nofollow links  – meaning Google’s not supposed to “count” them for or against your rankings.

Still, some sites don’t slap a “nofollow” attribute on their links.

I (with the help of my assistant, Danielle) have put together a list of the local-business and industry-specific directories where the links to your site technically count, to one degree or another.  We scoured my Definitive Citations List, plus a few additional sites.

As you might guess, some of these sites are more notable than others.  Some are prominent directories in a niche (e.g. WeddingWire), some represent a cause (e.g. GoGreenWebDirectory.com), and others might just be on your citation checklist anyway (e.g. Brownbook).  But other sites are pretty mediocre and no-name.

Why should you know about – or bother with – a list that includes some mediocre sites with mediocre links?

  • Mediocre “follow” links have their place in the world. In the early stages of a local SEO effort, they’re signs of life that Google might observe.  They might help you rank for the one obscure search term that gets you the one customer who helps keeps you in business for long enough that you can do RCS.
  • Again, some of the sites are pretty prominent, and you may want to get listed on them for non-SEO reasons.
  • In case for whatever reason you don’t want listings on local directories that offer follow links, you’ll want to know what those sites are.
  • Maybe you’re just a curious cat, like me.

This post hits on a sticky topic, so I’m going to make you read even more preamble before I get to the actual list:

  1. Don’t rely on any one type of link or one strategy to get links.
  1. Don’t expect these “follow” links to make a huge difference by themselves.
  1. Do realize that most of the links you’ll want to earn over time will take hard work.
  1. Do use your best judgment.

austin-powers-behave

Anyway, here are the general local-business directory sites that include a follow link when you create a listing:

2FindLocal.com

6QubeDirectory.com

Bizyhood.com

BrownBook.net

CBSYellowPages.com

Cylex (on request – see Imi’s comment)

DirectoryCentral.com

DiscoverOurTown.com

EventCrazy.com

GoGreenWebDirectory.com

IndependentWeStand.org

Infignos.com

Kudzu.com (sometimes)

Lacartes.com

LocalPages.com

Opendi.us

PegasusDirectory.com

SmartGuy.com

SocialRaves.com

TicketBud.com

USBDN.com

WherezIt.com

YellowOne.com

YelloYello.com

(Note that TicketBud.com and EventCrazy.com are sites you can publicize events on.  Now that can be a good way to earn links.)

Now for some industry-specific sites that offer a follow link.  Even if you ignore the first list (above), there’s a strong case to be made for these because many of them are (1) review sites and (2) have some visibility in Google. (FYI, some of these may be paid listings.)

AutoMD.com

AWDP.org

BailBond.com

CyberAtty.com

DealerRater.com

DoctorOogle.com

Frommers.com

GetMowed.com

HomeStars.com

Justia.com

LocalGranite.com

LuxuriousLandscapes.com

MenuPages.com

MyZipPlumbers.com

OpenTable.com

Sortfolio.com

SportsTavern.com

TheBestDesigns.com

TherapyNext.com

WeddingWire.com

Zagat.com

Other sites that offer follow links are “powered by Yext” – meaning probably the only way you can get a listing there and a link is to use Yext.  These sites include eLocal, Switchboard, Topix, WhitePages, Yellowise, and others.  As Dan Leibson has noted, there may be some value in those listings / links as well.  I didn’t include those.

Local Chambers of Commerce tend to offer follow links, too.

Great discussion here, by the way.

Do you know of any sites I missed?  Any that I should definitely remove?  (I’d love to keep this list up-to-date.)

To what extent do you agree with me that “mediocre links have their place in the world,” in the sense that they can help you get the ball rolling?

Other local-citation-link-related words of wisdom?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to Tony Wang, Michael Doran, and Kathy Long for contributing to the list with their helpful comments, below.

20 Local SEO Techniques You Overlooked (Almost)

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We local-SEO geeks talk about the same old basic principles a little too much: clean up your citations, don’t get penalized by Google, be mobile-friendly, earn “local” links, create “unique” content, deserve reviews, ask for reviews, etc.

It’s all good advice.  I’ve devoted many of my blog posts in the last 4 years to unpacking that advice so it’s easy to act on.

The trouble is we’re repetitive.  We’re almost as bad as the talking heads at CNN.  We rarely move on to what you should do once you’re pretty solid on the basics – and there is a lot you can and should do.

(In fact, many of the overlooked wins can also help you even if you just started working on your local SEO.)

Here are 20 stones I find unturned way too often:

1.  Nail the categories on your non-Google listings: Pick out the most-relevant ones, and as many of them as are applicable. Dig them up with Moz Local’s free “Category Research” area and with my category lists for Apple Maps and Yelp.

2.  Do a second round of work on your citations. Do it a couple of months after the initial blob of work.  You might be amazed at how many stragglers you find.  Might be enough to motivate you for a third go-round.

3.  Try to find and possibly hire a MapMaker editor to join the Forces of Good in your local anti-spam war. Of course, there’s no guarantee that even a MapMaker editor can stop your competitors’ spam offensive, but it’s worth a shot.

4.  Become or get to know an “Elite” Yelper (like this recruit). Got a review that’s viciously personal, un-PC, or is obviously from an imposter?  The Elite Yelper may know just how to phrase the takedown request for the best chances of a takedown.  Also, because most Elite Yelpers don’t really have lives, Yelp seems to expect them to report data-errors (like wrong addresses), and usually acts on them.

5.  Embedding on your website the Google map that’s featured on your Places page. Don’t embed a map of a generic address.  You want Google to know people are looking up directions to you.

6.  Get a Google Business View photo shoot. (10 reasons here.)

7.  Pick the right itemtype for the blob of name / address / phone info that you’ve marked up with Schema.org markup. Or take a few extra minutes to go bananas with your Schema.

8.  Join a couple of local and industry associations. I’m talking about your local Chamber of Commerce and the sorts of organizations you’d find if you Google the word that describes your business + “association” or “organization.”  They’re often worth joining for the offline benefits, and you’ll probably get a good link.

9.  Diversify the sites where you encourage customer reviews. The benefits are many.

10.  Create a “Reviews” page. Use it to showcase your reviews (possibly with widgets and badges) and to ask any customers who visit the page to put in a good word.  You can pretty easily create a page from scratch, or you can make a nice one with a service like Grade.us.  Link to it in the signature of your emails, as a gentle way to encourage any customers you email to pick up a quill.

11.  Write blog posts to answer super-specific questions that a customer might type into Google. Don’t try to rank for your main keywords (“How to Pick the Best Dentist in Cleveland: a Guide by Cleveland Dentists for Cleveland Dentist Patients”).  It won’t work and you’ll look stupid.  (Refer to this post and its follow-up.)

12.  Get some barnacle SEO happening. By now, Will Scott’s concept isn’t new, but most business owners still don’t even try to do it.  But just start with the basics: if you pick out all the right categories (see point #1) and encourage reviews on a variety of sites (see point #9) you’ll be in pretty good shape.

13.  Use wildcard searches for keyword-research. (This one was new to me until very recently.)

14.  Lengthen pages that aren’t ranking well – including and perhaps especially your homepage. Yes, this sounds old-school, and about as cool as a pocket protector.  But I’m not telling you to add gibberish.  Go into detail about what makes you different, describe your service / process, address concerns the reader might have, etc.  Google likes having meat to sink its teeth into.  One-paragraph Wonder Bread pages tend not to do as well.

15.  Ask for reviews twice. People forget, and it’s a nice excuse to keep in touch.  Follow up with customers you asked for a review – especially if they said they would.  It’s easy to avoid making yourself a pest: just say you’d still appreciate their feedback, ask them if they have any questions for you, and thank them in advance.

16.  Include links to sites where you have reviews. (Be sure to have those links open into a new browser tab, so nobody’s leaving your site.)  Use review widgets and badges when you can.

17.  Cannibalize underperforming microsites, bad blog posts, or other online carcasses. Grab (and edit as need be) any content that’s redeemable, and use it to make your site bigger and better.

18.  Get listed on Apple Maps. Yes, everyone knows about aMaps by now, but I’m amazed at how many times I start working for clients and see only their competitors on Apple.

19.  Try hard to reach non-English speakers, if applicable. Don’t just stick Se Habla Español (for example) in your footer as an afterthought.  Include a paragraph in that language on your homepage and on your “Contact” page.  Maybe create a whole page geared toward those customers.  Be sure to use the hreflang tag if you have more than one version of the same page.

20.  If you’re a local SEO-er, find steps your clients might be able to do better than you can. Don’t just look for more billable hours; look for the best person for the job, or the best combination of people.  Don’t spend hours trying to dig up all their old phone numbers and addresses; ask them first.  Whenever a writing task comes up, pump your clients for info.  When you need to find link opportunities, send them my link questionnaire.  They know the business better than you do.  If you don’t get much cooperation, fine.  At least you tried, and you’re giving them options.  But I’ve found that most clients recognize when they’ve got just the right wrench for the oddly-shaped bolt.

What’s an “overlooked” local SEO tip you like?

Any that you’re considering but not sure about?

Leave a comment!