You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company. The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too. What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you?
It’s a sliding scale. You don’t need to be a whiz at anything to handle your business’s local SEO to great effect, but you need to have or develop certain qualities. The more of those boxes you can check, the better.
Below are the factors that – in my opinion – determine whether doing your own local SEO is a good idea. The more of these questions you say “yes” to, the more likely it’ll go the way you want it to.
1. Do you assume local SEO will take long-term effort? Local SEO is not a one-time process. If you do it right, you’ll get to the point where you don’t spend much time on it day-to-day, but you constantly inch it forward. It’s great if you can do some basic fix-ups and get results, but often it takes more grinding.
2. Do you assume you’ll take some wrong turns? That’s inevitable. Google is a slippery surface, your competitors change over time, and you’ll know more next year than you will this year. Keep learning and keep working and you’ll do fine.
3. Will you get your hands dirty on your website? You don’t need to be a developer, you don’t need to know much about sites other than your site, and it’s OK if your site is far from “perfect.” If you’re able and willing to make some changes to your site in-house, you create some options. Those options include paying an SEO person only for his/her advice on your site (and not also for implementation), hiring a developer only for the toughest tasks, and maybe not hiring anyone at all.
4. Will you do more than work on your site? Though crucial, the site is one moving part of several that sway your visibility in the local results. The other big moving parts are your local listings, reviews, and links. You will have to work on all those things sooner or later, particularly on links and reviews long-term. (Your visibility also may depend on how clean the local map is.)
Even if you did not or do not need many or any good links to outrank your competitors, you’ll probably want to knock in some insurance runs. If your competitors rank well but only have so-so reviews, you’ll want to get ahead by having better reviews. If they rank well AND have great reviews, then you’ll have no choice but to try to match or surpass them.
5. Will you put in work your competitors won’t? Only if you do what they won’t do can you achieve what they can’t achieve. The main areas where sustained hard work pay off are (1) in earning links, (2) in earning reviews, and (3) in the amount and quality of info on your site about exactly what you do and exactly what makes it the best choice for customers / clients / patients.
6. Have you been frustrated by the third parties you’ve hired? Maybe they were the problem. Maybe you were the problem. I can’t say. What I do know is you’re not good at picking out SEO companies if you’ve had 9 of them.
7. Are you willing to get help piecemeal? Trying to find a company to “handle it all” often isn’t realistic, so you should be willing to delegate part of the implementation, if necessary. Maybe you want a stunt pen, or help on your site, or help on your local listings. That doesn’t mean you no longer “do your own SEO,” or that you’ve entrusting someone else to plan or execute your whole strategy. You’re still the captain of the ship even if you enlist an extra swabbie or two.
8. Will you study? Both up-front and long-term? Get your sea legs if possible, but don’t try to get “comfortable” with all the concepts of local SEO, because that won’t happen (for a variety of reasons). Don’t try to understand everything before you do anything. Nobody has all the answers anyway. Learn a little, work a lot, and repeat.
9. Do you know you can’t measure everything? Many things you can track. Many more you can’t.
You won’t be able to find out how many people discovered you in the Google Maps results, rather than heard about you some other way and pulled up your Google My Business page. If you get a great link, you won’t be able to attribute a bump in rankings (let alone ROI) to it. If you get a review on a site that shows up when someone Googles your business by name, the referrer traffic you see in Google Analytics won’t tell you how many would-be customers saw that review in the search results. If your site is full of keyword-stuffed gibberish, and you clean it up, and your rankings go down a little, but you get more or better leads, was the clean-up a good choice? Don’t hire a third party just because you assume it can answer questions like those, because it can’t.
10. Can you weigh lots of conflicting suggestions? It’s great to learn about local SEO from people who do it. But you’ll still get conflicting advice on all kinds of questions. What constitutes spam? Which page should be your Google My Business landing page? Is that link opportunity worth the trouble? When should you create a microsite? How much citation work is enough?
I assume you’re the kind who likes to balance out what you hear with a little skepticism, with common sense, with what you know about your customers, and with non-rankings concerns (like branding and conversion-rate optimization). If so, you probably don’t need a local SEO person or company to make most or all of the calls for you.
11. Is your business on the newer side? You might argue that because you have so many other things to do, you don’t have time to do your own local SEO. That may be. But does that also mean you have time to pay someone else to do it wrong and set you back (in terms of money, time, and missed-opportunity costs)? I say better to strike while the iron’s hot – to see what you can do while you’re still gung-ho. Later on, if and when you’re even busier, you may see even more reasons not to try DIY. Don’t expect to make easy progress at any stage, but at least in the earlier stages of your local SEO effort the next steps probably are clearer.
12. Will you be as cautious online as you are offline? Most SEO companies aren’t. Most have cocooned themselves away from the consequences of what they do and say. One result is they suggest some crazy stuff for your business, in the name of rankings.
Would you tell employees to answer customers’ questions with a 10% keyword-density? Then don’t put keyword-stuffed gibberish on your site.
Would you commission a Banksy-type mural of your business on the side of a building, in the hopes that people pass by it and call you before the mural is scrubbed off? Then don’t create fake Google My Business pages.
Would you pay for a shoebox of leads – and you can’t peek in the box? Then don’t buy links.
Also, what you do online will follow you around. Do something unethical and you can get sued, scare away your customer base, or worse.
If you think hard about your local SEO, but not to the point of analysis paralysis, sooner or later you’ll make the right choices and get good results.
What was the factor that tipped you toward (or away from) doing your own local SEO?
Any points I missed?
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