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Get The Drop On Your Competition With Local SEO

The 9 Keys To Local Search Engine Domination

A Guide To Local SEO

Search engine optimization is the science of describing your website and creating content that contains keywords that rank well in the major search engines like Yahoo, Bing and Google.

Why is this important to your business?

82% of local searchers follow up offline via an ins-tore visit, phone call or purchase (comscore)

90% of online commercial searches result in offline brick and mortar purchases (comscore)

66% of Americans use online local search to locate local businesses (comscore)

54% of Americans have substituted the internet and local search for phone books (comscore)

43% of search engine users are seeking a local merchant to buy something offline

On top of that, search engines only show 10 results on the first page, and the majority of searchers tend to click on the top three or four results.  If your content ranks in those spots, it’s going to get traffic.  But if your content fails to rank that high, it’s only going to get a fraction of that traffic. The more content you get to rank well, the more leads you’re going to get.  Simple as that.

Well, not that simple.  The fact is, search engine optimization is requires lengthy research, a dedication to creating content and keeping current on the latest SEO practices and social media tools.  Done right, it’s the most powerful lead generation you can do for your local business and has two distinct major benefits:

  • consumers type exactly what they are looking for into search boxes, making search engines the most precisely targeted marketing medium in the history of the world
  • your content gains traction in the search results over time and provide cumulative rewards, allowing individuals and small businesses to compete with even the largest of companies

While many people consider SEO to be complicated, it’s really just an extension of traditional marketing and can be systematized into 9 main components:

  1. market research
  2. keyword research
  3. on page optimization
  4. site structure
  5. link building
  6. brand building
  7. viral marketing
  8. adjusting
  9. staying up to date

Market Research

To have a chance your market, the first step you should do is perform market research.  To start, do searches on Google to see what websites are ranking for the keywords you think consumers are using to find the products and services you sell.  For example, if there are a lot of big brands dominating those results, you might want to focus on some other keywords.  On the other hand, if those results are filled with other small businesses and/or a bunch of average websites, those keywords are definitely worth going after.

There are several free tools on the internet you can use to help you find the best keywords for you to go after.  Check out the Google keyword tool and Wordtracker to get started.  These tools, while free, are packed with features that will help you determine the following information:

  • site age
  • Google PageRank
  • inbound link count
  • if they are listed in major directories
  • what sites link
  • how much competition is there for the keyword
  • how many searches are performed each month for the keyword

Keyword Research

What keywords are people searching for?

Use the tools above to see what keywords people are searching for most.  You can also use tools like the SEO Book Keyword research tool to search for more keywords related to your industry, as well as get information like daily search volume.  Look for words that combine an acceptable amount of searches with a low level of competition.

Combined, these tools will give you all the information you need to find the best keywords for your business, but keep in mind that the results they supply are approximates.  For more accurate results, set up a Google Adwords account or use a paid version of Wordtracker or some other keyword tool.   In addition to looking up keyword search volumes, make sure you ask your past and current customers how they found you, why they chose you, and what issues were important to them in choosing you.

You can also get keyword ideas by doing things like:

  • checking your web analytics or server logs, including Google Analytics
  • looking at page content of competing websites
  • looking through forums and community sites in your industry to see what issues people are talking about

Site Structure

One area of local search engine optimization that requires less research is how you structure your website.  Before creating any content, make a list of your most important keywords and use this list to develop a navigational map of how you want your site to look.  You’ll also want to map out the types of pages you’d like to create and which keywords will be included for each.

It’s advisable to use an Excel spreadsheet or some other program to help you visualize your site structure. For each keyword, include things like:

  • Page title
  • Page descriptions
  • Page/post ideas
  • Possible opportunities

Once you’ve created your database of keywords and ideas and you’re ready to structure your site, be sure to keep these rules in mind:

  • link your most important categories or pages sitewide
  • link to every page on your site from at least one other page on your site
  • use consistent anchor text in your navigation links
  • link to other content pages from within the content of other pages of your website

If you’re uncertain what pages to link to, use your analytics programs to determine the pages you’d like to get more traffic for and/or are the most effective for your business and link to them.

On Page Optimization

Though possible, it is extremely difficult to rank for keywords that don’t appear in your actual content, so create pages with the goal of ranking for one or two specific keywords, with supplementary keywords sprinkled in.  Create unique and interesting page titles that also include your major keywords because your titles will appear in the search results.  People that link to your content are also more likely to use your page titles as the anchor text for the link.

Once you’ve developed a compelling title, write a meta description which includes your keywords to reinforce your offers.  If the keywords for your page have multiple formats, you’ll probably want to include these variations in your descriptions (for example San Luis Obispo marketing and marketing in San Luis Obispo are two different keywords that are likely to attract the same visitors).  Now that you’re ready to write your content, be sure to write your content so that it is both interesting and easy to read for humans.  Break up your content by using:

  • heading tags
  • short paragraphs
  • bullet points
  • numbered lists
  • descriptive modifiers

Link Building

One of the more difficult aspects of local search engine optimization is link building.  Search engines view links to your site as votes, with some of those votes counting for more than others. To get high quality links that help your site rank better, you need to focus on the social aspects of your community and provide valuable and unique content that people in your area talk about and share with others. You can also use a tool like Google Touch Graph to find sites related to your based on linking patterns.  The image below shows sites similar to this one based on the search term “san luis obispo marketing”.

To improve your link building, keep these link building tips in mind:

  • link to your most relevant page when getting links (don’t point all the links at your home page)
  • mix your anchor text
  • use Yahoo! Site Explorer and other tools to analyze top competing backlinks
  • link out to relevant high quality resources

You should also have an effective link building strategy.  Here are some ideas to start you out:

  • submit your site to large general directories like DMOZ and the Yahoo! Directory
  • submit your site to as many relevant niche directories as you can find
  • submit your content to relevant local sites (like the local chamber of commerce)
  • join trade organizations
  • get links from industry sites
  • create content people would want to link to

Brand Building

Brand related search queries tend to be some of the most popular, targeted and valuable keywords around.  The more time you’ve spent building up your brand locally, the more likely locals are to search for your brand or keywords related to your brand.  These type of searches are also seen as a sign of quality by the major search engines, which helps reinforce your brand image and improve your lead quality and conversion rates.  Additionally, advertising and community activity are good ways to help you improve your brand exposure.

Viral Marketing

While link building is probably the single hardest and most time-consuming activity of an effective SEO campaign, there is a powerful type of marketing that can help speed up the process: viral marketing.  Viral marketing entails creating remarkable content that lots of other people want to link to, promoting this content around the internet and including features that allow others to easily share this content with their friends and colleagues.

Creating one popular compelling idea can lead to thousands of free quality links and should be your focus from the beginning.  If your competitors are building one link at a time and you get hundreds of people spreading your ideas for you for free, chances are you are going to end up ranking better.

In SEO, this type of viral content is known as linkbait.  You can search social news or social bookmarking sites like Digg or Del.icio.us to see what type of stories related to your topic are likely to became popular.

Measuring Results

Developing a successful and effective search engine optimization requires a lot of time and effort.  To make sure this time and effort is not wasted, you’re going to want to spend a little time testing, measuring and improving your results over time.  Is your site generating more leads, higher quality leads, or more sales than it used to?  Which of your keywords are working best? You can look at your server logs and an analytics program to track traffic trends and what keywords lead to conversion.

Besides your traffic stats, another good sign that you are on the right track is getting more websites asking questions or talking about you. If you start picking up high quality unrequested links, you can be sure your search engine efforts are starting to build on itself.

One thing to keep in mind is that search engines take some time to index your content and it may take awhile to find all the links pointing at your site and analyze how well your site should rank.  Depending on how competitive your market is, it may take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years to establish a strong market position.  Rankings can fluctuate at any time depending on these conditions:

  • your marketing for your business
  • your competitors marketing their businesses and the amount of time and money they reinvest into their SEO strategy
  • search engines changing their algorithms

Staying Up To Date

In the ever-changing field of search engine optimization, it’s important to stay up to date on best practices and tools to use.  So how do you track the changes in the SEO market?

If you want to keep up with how the SEO market as a whole is changing consider using any of the following strategies:

  • Attend SEO Conferences
  • Subscribe to and read SEO Blogs
  • Sign up for and participate in SEO Forums

To dominate your local search engine rankings, create a task schedule and follow these 9 steps in order.  Over time, move on to more advanced strategies and tactics that you’ll learn about through your SEO continued education.  If you have questions regarding local search engine optimization, please feel free to include them in the comments below or fill out our contact form.