30+ Internal Resources Every Serious Local SEO-er Should Have or Develop

https://www.flickr.com/photos/patdavid/4455718471/

No, this isn’t one of those dreadful “274 Local SEO Tools” posts.  Most of those lists suffer from bloat, or come from a seller with an ulterior motive, or are stuffed with affiliate links.  Also, because of the constant changes in Google and in the rest of the local-search ecosystem, most “tools” roundups  have the shelf life of sushi.

You should be able to do effective local SEO (for your business or for clients) without a single third-party piece of software or other tool.

I am not saying you should go tool-free.  Some tools sure make life easier.  I’m saying that you should have the ability to go old-school, and that simply using a tool doesn’t mean you’ll do good work.

It’s also nice not to nurse on a tool that can break or become useless or be taken from you.

Long way of saying I’m all about internal resources.  They help me understand my own processes and stay on-track, they make work easier for my helpers and me, and they clarify problems and action items for my clients.  Many of them double as deliverables I give clients.

You probably have a couple of home-brewed resources already.  But you’re probably missing at least a few that can reduce work, thinking, or repetition on your part, and that can make your life easier.

Below are the 30+ internal resources I’ve found useful to cultivate and use for local SEO.  I’ve provided links or examples where possible.  You’re free to adapt or improve on any of them.

General

1. Preliminary questionnaire. For getting the basic facts before you start on a project.

2. Questionnaire for consultations/troubleshooting. Helps you remember the most-important questions to ask.  It’s especially useful if your client can fill it out before you get on the phone, so you can troubleshoot beforehand.

3. “Swipe file”: real-life examples that reflect every suggestion you make. It’s nice if you’ve also got real-life examples of what you don’t   I try to do that in my posts (where appropriate), but I also wheel out other examples for clients.

4. “Lab chimp” client: one who’s open to the occasional experiment, as long as it’s not spammy or otherwise unethical.

5. Old local SEO audits you did. They’ll serve as starting points or templates for future audits you do – for those clients or for others.  Eventually they’ll become like yearbook photos.  You’ll be surprised at how your audits grow over time.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/15851977331/

6. “Rules of writing” document for anybody who writes for you. If you’re not even willing to write down your SOPs or preferences, it’s a little harder to expect your hired stunt-pens to meet the challenge.  (Feel free to email me if you’re interested in seeing mine.)

7. Spreadsheet for checking rankings manually. Yep, without tools.  If you’re like me, it’s not something you’ll use often, but it’s good to have around.

8. Written guide to your basic approach to local SEO. Doesn’t need to be for anyone else’s eyes, but you should have the basic workflow written down somewhere.  You can get mine.

9. “Brain trust” to answer clients’ questions: either a list of posts you did on clients’ questions, or resources other people created that address those concerns. (The origin of half my posts is that I got sick of re-explaining the same point over and over, and just wanted to write my best answer once and for all, so all I’d have to do is send a link.)

Local listings

10. “Intake form” for citations: a spreadsheet your clients can fill in to give you (and any helpers) the info you need to work on their local listings. Here’s Whitespark’s form.

11. Citation worksheet: a spreadsheet you/your helpers can use to work on local listings. Here’s what I use as a starting point for US businesses.  You should have one for each country where you have clients or locations.

12. Place to keep login info for any listings you work on. Ideally that’s part of the “citation worksheet” (pictured above).

13. List of relevant and notable “niche” citation sources. Can be a mashup of resources like this, this, this, and this.  You’ll probably need to sift through the list to identify the most-important niche listings any given client should have. Add any keepers to your aforementioned citation worksheet for that client.

14. “Black book” of all the support departments at local-business directories and similar sites. Lists of contact info are here and here.

15. Local listings for your business. Just so you know how to handle listings on most of the sites you might work on for a client.

16. Google Maps user-profile with a solid track record of making edits (particularly anti-spam edits) that Google approves.

 

17. Yelp account with a solid track record: a history of reporting reviews that end up getting removed, or suggesting edits that end up being approved.

Site

18. Site-audit spreadsheet. Here’s mine.

19. Real-life example of every element or practice you want (or don’t want) on a site. A homepage that covers all the bases, a “city page” that ranks well and brings leads, an irresistible title tag, a great job of incorporating all the services into the menu and internal linking, etc.

20. A migration checklist short-n’-sweet, or exhaustive.

21. Schema.org markup for every occasion you use Schema. You don’t want to rely on plugins.  Also, if and when you hand-code and test it, you probably won’t want to do it all over again next time.

22. Your own site. For your business.  Kind of looks bad if you don’t have one (though most SEOs’ sites are about as useful as a Sears-Roebuck catalog).

23. A site you can experiment on freely. That may rule out all but your site.

(Of course, there are many paid and/or third-party tools that can help you on the site audit, and even more to help you work on the site.  Those have been covered in other posts, though.  I’m not here to remind you that you need your own FTP client.)

Links

24. Link questionnaire for your clients to fill out. Gives you a sense of what types of link-earning ideas your clients are most interested in, and any current link opportunities.

25. Spreadsheet for collaborating with clients on link opportunities. How you should lay this out is just a matter of taste, and of what works for you. I like to include several tabs: “ideas to discuss,” “working on,” “dead ends/not interested,” and “in the bag.”  Any given link opp goes on one of those tabs.

26. Spreadsheet for collaborating with any helpers of yours on link-huntin’.

27. Copies of successful outreach emails – emails that helped you eventually get hard-to-get links. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time, though you do want to take time to customize each email, of course.

28. Copies of your link-opportunities reports: the list of link opportunities you found and suggested to clients. Probably some of them will be relevant and useful in the future, and at the very least they’ll get the creative juices flowing.

Reviews

29. Spreadsheet for auditing clients’ reviews: which 5-12 review sites they should care about, how many reviews they’ve got on each site, how you’d suggest prioritizing, and the next steps you’d suggest. You can use it to plan your long-term work together on rustling up reviews.

30. List of questions you can use to figure out why your clients aren’t getting reviews. Maybe a shorter version of this.

31. Template for an initial review-encouragement email – for clients to send to their customers/clients/patients. Customize and tweak as necessary.

32. Template for a follow-up review-encouragement email. A friendly reminder, in case your client doesn’t get a review after sending the first email.

33. Written outline of the general review-encouragement strategy you suggest to clients. You can and should customize it to any given client’s specific situation.

34. Spreadsheet the client or designated “reviews person” can use to stay on top of the outreach for reviews. Who’s been asked, what happened, what’s next, etc.

35. Template for customizing review handouts. Like this or this.

Any internal (non-third-party) local SEO resources you’d add?

Any you’d like to share – maybe resources you created?

Which one(s) do you find the most useful?

Leave a comment!

15 Smart Things Most SEOs Never Do

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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!

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!

The Best [BLEEP]in’ Local Link Questionnaire

You need at least a few good links to rank well in Google Places and beyond.  Especially post-Pigeon update, and especially if you’re in a competitive local market.

But that’s easier said than done.  Where are the opportunities for a business like yours to scrounge up some good links?  Who knows enough about you and your business to know what ideas are practical and doable for you?

Look in the mirror.

Nobody knows your situation as you do.  Nobody’s business is exactly like yours, and nobody runs your business just the way you do.  You can take advantage of that fact, and get links that others cannot, will not, or would not think to get.

(Or you can ape whatever your competitors are doing for links.  If you’re lucky you’ll nip at their heels in the rankings, but you’ll probably never pull ahead.)

Get the creative juices flowing with my link-digging questionnaire.  You can use it in (at least) one of two ways:

  1. To get your creative juices flowing, as the business owner.
  1. To help your local SEO-er / “link person” dig up good opportunities that you can execute on.

You can download my questionnaire on Google Drive.

Or if you prefer, below are the 25 questions I ask my clients when it’s time to earn some links.

(I’ve added some notes below some of the questions – in case you’re wondering where I’m going with some of them.)

1.  What specific causes have you donated time or money to in the last few years?
(I ask this question because if you’ve already contributed to a cause, it’s a little easier to ask for a link.  See this example; notice how all the donors’ names aren’t hyperlinked?  Well, my client used to be one of them.)

2.  What specific causes / places / programs do you really care about?
(If you’re going to donate resources of any kind, might as well be to a cause you might see yourself getting more involved in, or that you might already be involved in.)

3.  Are your children in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or 4H, or play sports, or anything like that?
(Possible donation opportunities.)

4.  How might any employees of yours answer questions 1, 2, and 3?
(Maybe your wheels are spinning.  Not a problem.  Ask someone else.)

5.  What specific brands of equipment do you use? Any produced by a small company?
(A small company might want a testimonial.  And because anonymous testimonials like, “B. Smith – Cleveland” suck, you can include a link to your company’s site as part of your “signature.”  Unless the people receiving your testimonial are total clods, they’ll include the link.)

6.  Have you ever written a testimonial for a product, service, or business?
(If you’ve already written a testimonial you’ve probably earned a little good will, and are in a better position to ask for a link as a way of citing you.)

7.  Are there other businesses you sometimes refer customers to, for one reason or another?
(This can be tricky, because you don’t want to do a dumb old link-exchange.  But let’s say you’re a dentist and you often refer patients to a periodontist for deep-scaling treatment.  It’s reasonable to ask him/her for a link.)

8.  Do any of your family members also own a business?

9.  Where did you go to school – and do you consider yourself an “active” alum?
(Some colleges have “where are they now?” -type profiles of alums.)

10.  What are some industry directories or business associations that you are a part of, used to be part of, or have considered joining?
(Some are pretty big and well-known (e.g. NARI.org), whereas others are pretty niche (e.g. Marble Institute of America).  But there’s almost always at least one membership you can have, and the link is usually very good.)

11.  Are you willing to spend a few hundred dollars for a membership or to make a donation?
(See my Meetup.com and BBB suggestions, for starters.  Thanks to Dave O. for helping me improve the wording of this question.)

12.  What is some content that you put a lot of time into writing? Is it published online or published offline (or just collecting dust for now)?
(Maybe all you need to do is promote it.)

13.  Do you have a “little black book” of info that you put together for internal use only? Any checklists, lists of phone numbers, questionnaires, or anything like that?
(You may have the raw materials for a great piece of content that you can pimp out, in the way I mentioned in question #12.)

14.  Have you ever been interviewed? Was it in print or with a microphone?  Tell us where we can find it, if possible.
(For starters, you might be able to get another interview very easily.  Or you could cite it if you’re pitching a story or interview to someone else.)

15.  Is there a specific blog, forum, or other website that pretty much everyone in your industry reads or pays attention to?

16.  Do you offer any discounts (e.g. for seniors or veterans)? If not, would you consider offering one?

17.  Have you ever created a product, tool, or knickknack?

18.  Are you currently hiring? If so, what type of position are you trying to fill?
(There are job boards.  Also, because people are hungry for good jobs, that bit of news might have “legs.”)

19.  What are your certifications? (List everything, no matter how trivial it may seem.)
(For instance, if you’re a home inspector and you’re ASHI-certified you’ll want to make sure you’re on their “find a local inspector” page.)

20.  What awards or accolades have you won?

21.  Would you be willing to donate your products or services to worthy causes in your area? If so, what do you think you could offer?

22.  Are there any specialty schools for your line of work? If so, what are some notable ones?

23.  Would you be willing and able to host events at your business location?
(See Casey Meraz’s great post on hosting local events.)

24.  What are some “complimentary” businesses to your business? For example, a real estate agent might send business to mortgage brokers or moving companies. Do you already work with some other businesses to help each other get more business?

25.  Do you have any arrangements with other businesses where you offer promotions or deals to their customers?

I hope that got the creative juices flowing, at the very least.  Some of the questions / lines of thought will be dead-ends for you, but others will lead somewhere.  My clients usually answer at least 20 of the questions, and that always helps me dig up more and better opportunities.

Here’s the link to the more-compact version of the questionnaire – without my lovely notes: http://bit.ly/1D0LVpR

Are you in the zone now?  Do you need more?

Well, here are some more resources to help you dig up local links:

Questions & Checklist for New SEO Clients: A Collaboration – Jon Cooper

The Importance of Initial Research Prior to Link Development – Julie Joyce

The Best Darn Local SEO Questionnaire – me

Link Building Tactics – The Complete List – Jon Cooper

The Guide to Local Link Building Campaigns – Garrett French

35 Local Link Opportunities You Missed – Adam Melson

The Lazy Man’s Way to Find Meetup.com Local Link Opportunities (in 5 Seconds Or Less) – me

Thanks to Darren for nudging me to turn my questionnaire into a post.

What are some creative “local” links you’ve got?  Any that you want to get, but haven’t yet?

Can you think of any questions to add to the questionnaire?

Leave a comment!

The Best Darn Local SEO Client Questionnaire

If you’re a business owner who needs more local visibility, you want to make sure the person helping you has all he/she needs to deliver the goods.

Or, if you’re a local-SEO pro, you want to make sure you have all you need to deliver the goods.

The questionnaire I send to potential clients helps do both of those things.  It tells me what I need to know in order to be able to help, and to be able to say up-front how I can help.  Oh, and it helps me avoid mistakes.

I’ve refined my questionnaire over several years.  My experiences – smooth and rough – have taught me what info I need before I can or should do any work.

In 2010 I didn’t have a questionnaire (tsk, tsk…bad idea, Phil).  In 2011 it had maybe 10 questions.  In 2012 it had 14-19.  Now…well, I’ll let you count ‘em if you want to.

Below are all the questions (I can think of) that the person working on your local SEO – even if that person is you – will need the answers to before any work is done:

(You can also download the questionnaire on Google Drive.)

1.  Best email address and phone number at which to reach you:

2.  Official / legal name of your business:

3.  Business name you plan to use for your Google Places page:

4.  Your business address. Please specify what type of address it is: office, store, home, virtual office, PO Box, etc.

5.  Do you share this street address with any other businesses (including any other businesses you own)?

6.  Is that the only location of your business?  If not, please list the addresses of your other locations and what types of addresses they are (office, storefront, etc.).

7.  Where do you do business with your customers: at your address or at theirs?

8.  Roughly how long has your business been located at that address?

9.  Office phone number:

10.  Do you use this phone number for any other locations or other businesses?

11.  Please list all former / alternate business names, addresses, and phone numbers for the location(s) you’d like my help on.

12.  Your website URL:

13.  Is this the only website you use for this business?  If not, please list your other sites.

14.  Do you have the ability to make changes to your website whenever you’d like?

15.  Who bought your website hosting and domain name?

16.  Have you ever experienced sudden and steep drops in traffic or rankings in Google? If so, please describe.

17.  Do you have any plans to redesign your site, rename your website, rebrand your business, or move to a new business address in the foreseeable future?

18.  Has your Google Places page ever “disappeared” or taken a severe hit in rankings, to your knowledge?

19.  Do you have access to your Google Places page?  (In other words, could you make edits to your page right now?)

20.  What are 1-10 keywords for which you’d most like to rank in Google?

21.  If you had to pick ONE most-important service or search term to get visible for, what would it be?

22.  What is the specific city / geographical area you’d like to be visible in, ideally?

23.  How do you currently attract most of your customers / clients / patients?  (E.g. word-of-mouth, AdWords ads, etc.)

24.  Do you have any notable rankings in Google?  If so, please list at least a few keywords you currently rank for.

25.  Have you listed your business on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.?  If so, who has the login info for those listings?

26.  If I said that you should ask some of your customers / clients / patients to write reviews for you, how willing would you be to ask them?  (Let’s use a scale of 1-10: 1 meaning you refuse to ask, 10 meaning you’re totally motivated.)

27.  If I suggested that you write a few pages of info about your services, would you or someone in your company be willing to write those pages (with my guidance)?

28.  Have you ever tried to “build links” to your website, or paid someone else to do so?

29.  Have you worked with any SEO companies in the past?  If so, what was your experience?

30.  What keeps you up at night?  What’s been your biggest marketing challenge?

31.  How urgently do you feel you need more customers / clients / patients?  (Let’s use a scale from 1-10: 1 being fairly comfortable, 10 being desperate.)

32.  What made you want to contact me, and contact me today?

If the questions seem like a lot of work to answer – even though they’re not, and should take maybe 15 minutes to fill out – think of each one as hours, dollars, and heartache you’re saving.

Any questions on the questions?  Any you’d add to the list?  Leave a comment!

Matchmaking Advice for Local SEOs and Business Owners

Most business owners and the local SEOs they hire get along pretty well, in my experience.

But when it doesn’t “work out,” usually the cause was avoidable.  Not that one person is unethical.  Not that one person is an Aries and the other is a Virgo.

Smooth local-SEO campaigns depend 95% on one thing: thorough communication up-front – before anyone has invested significant time or money.

I won’t bore you with the typical, trite, obvious advice, like “be communicative” or “be open and transparent.”  That’s all true, but it’s not news to you.  It’s also not helpful – way too vague.

What is good communication, in this context?


If you’re the local SEO, is it enough to answer questions you’re asked in emails, or to be available for a quick phone call?  Do you need to be more proactive?  If so, how?

If you’re the business owner, do you always defer judgment (“You’re the expert”), or do you ask some tough questions?  If it’s the latter, what are the questions you should ask – and what kinds of answers should you expect or demand?

I’m glad you asked, gentle reader, because I have a few suggestions.

I’m not really talking about how two parties should “get along” on an ongoing basis.  Rather, I’m talking about how you – whether you’re the local SEO-er or the business owner – can help ensure you’re a good fit before you begin working together.

 

Advice for Local SEOs:

1. Have a questionnaire.  Ask potential clients to fill it out either before any money changes hands, or at the very least before you do any work.  To me, this is the most important item of all. It’s what allows you to know what your client’s goals are and the extent to which you think you can help – if at all.  It’s better to find that out sooner rather than later.  You can take a look at my questionnaire.

2.  Have testimonials from or case-studies on some of your clients.  Preferably you’d have these on your site.  But if not, you definitely want them on-hand in some form – and you’ll want to let anyone know who’s thinking of working with you that you have some “references.”  Just give people some sense of what you’ve been able to do and what you’re capable of doing.  (If you’re just starting out and don’t have any testimonials or case-studies to highlight, just leave a comment on this post or email me and I’ll pitch in some ideas/alternatives.)

3.  Have a “poster-child” client (or a few of them).  Someone who doesn’t mind if you tell potential clients “OK, here’s an example of how I helped this one business…” Mike Blumenthal does this.  On and off my site I often refer to one of my long-time clients, Palumbo Landscaping.

4.  Sell a mini-product or how-to guide on your site.  Something relevant to local SEO.  Something that shows people what it’s like to pay you – even a tiny amount – and get good stuff in return.  This gives people who may become clients an idea of what you might be like to work with on a larger scale.   It’s a win-win.  Some great examples are Matt McGee’s do-it-yourself SEO guide and Nyagoslav Zhekov’s guide to citation-building. Heck, many people who ordered my humble one-page review handouts have become clients of mine, simply because they had a good experience with me and my offerings on a smaller scale.

5.  Keep a list of “good guys” to refer potential clients to for services you may not offer.  If there’s a service that someone needs but that you don’t offer, it’s better to recommend one or two good providers than to tell that person  “Umm, we don’t do that” and leave him/her frustrated.

6.  Make sure any people referred to you by word-of-mouth take a few minutes to learn about your services.  Even someone who came to you “pre-sold” based on a friend’s recommendation should know as much about your services and policies as would someone who stumbles across your site, doesn’t know you from Adam, and needs to read all about your services even to consider working with you.  If someone calls or emails me and says “Hey, my friend recommended me to you – where do I send the check?” I’ll usually ask that person to read over the pages on my site where I describe my services, or I’ll spend a few minutes describing each one.

7.  Track rankings.  Don’t go crazy with it; weekly (even monthly) rankings reports usually aren’t necessary, in my experience.  Just provide some record of your client’s rankings before you start work, and another one after a few months have gone by and you’ve done most or all of the necessary work and have given Google enough time to “digest” the changes you’ve made.  I usually fill out a good-old-fashioned spreadsheet (like this one).  It’s simple, easy for your client to make sense of, easy for you to make, and makes for a nice before-and-after picture.  It’s also another way to stand behind your work, and clients appreciate that.

 

Advice for business owners:

1. Question your local SEO-er.  Doesn’t need to turn into the next Inquisition, but asking some “hows” and “whys” is always wise.  Make your local SEO explain things at least a little bit – especially if something he/she says doesn’t quite square with your experience or expectations.

2.  Expect questions.  Nay, hope for them: If your local SEO-er never asks questions about your situation, he/she may not understand your situation well enough to help you.  I suggest erring on the side of volunteering as much detail as possible about your business and local-SEO efforts (your goals, what you’ve tried, etc.) and even grilling your SEO person a little – especially if you haven’t been asked many questions.

3.  Ask which service your local SEO-er thinks is the best fit, and why.  Most of them offer more than one “level” or package.  It’s easier on everyone if you’re not paying for work you don’t need.  This question can also be a nice little test of character: Obviously, you don’t want to work with someone whose impulse is to try to sell you on the super-duper deluxe service when the “Basic” might be all you need.

4.  Ask whether your potential local SEO has worked with clients in your industry or in one like it.  A “No” answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just that a “Yes” answer means your local SEO probably is a little more likely to know the ins and outs of getting a business like yours visible in local search.  In cases where I’m working with someone in an industry I’ve never dealt with before, I usually say “I haven’t worked with someone in your line of work, but I have worked with people in the such-and-such industry, which I think is pretty similar as far as local search is concerned.”

5.  Understand that Google is a “black box” in many ways.  Any local SEO who claims to have it “figured out” is a liar.  Much of what we know is a result of trial and error.  As is the case in most areas of business and life, in the SEO world there’s not “scientific” evidence for much – not that that would necessarily help you for long, if at all.  Sometimes the reasons behind our suggestions are obvious or become obvious pretty quickly – like how if you don’t follow Google’s quality guidelines, you’ll likely end up shooting yourself in the foot.  Don’t hesitate to ask the questions, but be prepared for many different species of answers.

6.  Consider buying the mini-product or guide that your local-search buff offers (like what I mentioned earlier).  Again, it’s a good way to see what it’s like to deal with that person and see how much he/she can help you on a micro scale.  If it looks like junk, well, that may also tell you a thing or two.

7.  Read this excellent post by Miriam Ellis: The Zen of Local SEO.

By the way, this stuff applies to any type of SEO/SEM work.  But I think good communication is particularly crucial to local SEO, simply because so many aspects of it are counterintuitive, and because some steps (especially optimizing one’s website and asking for customer reviews) take a little bit of coordination or teamwork.

Got any advice for local SEOs or business owners (or both)?  Leave a comment!