What a fun discussion with this local SEO legend, who has devoted her life to helping small businesses succeed.
Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
Posted by MiriamEllis
Can your marketing agency make a profit working with low-budget clients in rural areas?
Could you be overlooking a source of referrals, publicity, and professional satisfaction if you’re mainly focused on landing larger clients in urban locales? Clients in least-populated areas need to capture every customer they can get to be viable, including locals, new neighbors, and passers-through. Basic Local SEO can go a long way toward helping with this, and even if package offerings aren’t your agency’s typical approach, a simple product that emphasizes education could be exactly what’s called for.
Today, I’d like to help you explore your opportunities of serving rural and very small town clients. I’ve pulled together a sample spreadsheet and a ton of other resources that I hope will empower you to develop a bare-bones but high-quality local search marketing package that will work for most and could significantly benefit your agency in some remarkable ways.
The linchpin fundamental to the rural client/agency relationship is that the needs of these businesses are so exceedingly moderate. The competitive bar is set so low in a small-town-and-country setting, that, with few exceptions, clients can make a strong local showing with a pared-down marketing plan.
Let’s be honest — many businesses in this scenario can squeak by on a website design package from some giant web hosting agency. A few minutes spent with Google’s non-urban local packs attest to this. But I’m personally dissatisfied by independent businesses ending up being treated like numbers because it’s so antithetical to the way they operate. The local hardware store doesn’t put you on hold for 45 minutes to answer a question. The local farm stand doesn’t route you overseas to buy heirloom tomatoes. Few small town institutions stay in business for 150 years by overpromising and under-delivering.
Let’s assume that many rural clients will have some kind of website. If they don’t, you can recommend some sort of freebie or cheapie solution. It will be enough to get them placed somewhere in Google’s results, but if they never move beyond this, the maximum conversions they need to stay in business could be missed.
I’ve come to believe that the small-to-medium local marketing agency is the best fit for the small-to-medium rural brand because of shared work ethics and a similar way of doing business. But both entities need to survive monetarily and that means playing a very smart game with a budget on both sides.
It’s a question of organizing an agency offering that delivers maximum value with a modest investment of your time and the client’s money.
When you take on a substantial client in a large town or city, you pull out all the stops. You dive deeply into auditing the business, its market, its assets. You look at everything from technical errors to creative strengths before beginning to build a strategy or implement campaigns, and there may be many months or years of work ahead for you with these clients. This is all entirely appropriate for big, lucrative contracts.
For your rural roster, prepare to scale way back. Here is your working plan:
Avoid the whole issue of having to lollygag around waiting for a busy small business owner to fill out a form. Schedule an appointment and have the client be at their place of business in front of a computer at the time of the call. Confirm the following, ultra-basic data about the client.
And that’s it. If you pay yourself $100/hr, this quick session yields a charge of $25.
Spend less than one working day putting together a .pdf file or Google doc written in the least-technical language containing the following:
If you pay yourself $100 an hour, investing in creating this guide will cost you less than $1000.00. That’s a modest amount that you can quickly earn back from clients. Hopefully, the inspirational links I’ve included will give you a big head start. Avoid covering anything trendy (like some brand new Google feature) so that the only time you should have to update the guide in the near future will be if Google makes some major changes to their guidelines or dashboard.
Deliver this asset to every rural client as their basic training in the bare essentials of local marketing.
What you want here is something that lets you swiftly fill in the blanks.
For the competitive audit, you’ll be stacking up your client’s metrics against the metrics of the business they told you was ranking at the top of the local pack when they searched from their location. You can come up with your own metrics, or you can make a copy of this template I’ve created for you and add to it/subtract from it as you like.
Make a copy of the ultra-basic competitive local audit template — you can do so right here.
You’ll notice that my sample sheet does not delve deeply into some of the more technical or creative areas you might explore for clients in tougher markets. With few exceptions, rural clients just don’t need that level of insight to compete.
Give yourself 45 focused minutes filling in the data in the spreadsheet. You’ve now invested 1 hour of time with the client. So let’s give that a value of $100.
Here’s another one-time investment. Spend no more than one workday creating a .pdf or Google Docs template that takes the fields of your audit and presents them in a readable format for the client. I’m going to leave exact formatting up to you, but here are the sections I would recommend structuring the report around:
For example, your section on reputation might look like this:
The beauty of this is that, once you have the template, all you have to do is fill it out and then spend an hour making intelligent observations based on your findings.
Constructing the template should take you less than one workday; so, a one-time investment of less than $1,000 if you are paying yourself $100/hr.
Transferring the findings of your audit from the spreadsheet to the report for each client should take about 1 hour. So, we’re now up to two total hours of effort for a unique client.
So, you’ve now had a 15-minute conversation with a client, given them an introductory guide to the basics of local search marketing, and delivered a customized report filled with your observations and their to-dos. Many agencies might call it a day and leave the client to interpret the report on their own.
But you won’t do that, because you don’t want to waste an incredible opportunity to build a firm relationship with a business. Instead, spend one more hour on the phone with the owner, going over the report with them page by page and allowing a few minutes for any of their questions. This is where you have the chance to deliver exceptional value to the client, telling them exactly what you think will be most helpful for them to know in a true teaching moment.
At the end of this, you will have become a memorable ally, someone they trust, and someone to whom they will have confidence in referring their colleagues, family members, and neighbors.
You’ve made an overall investment of less than $2,000 to create your rural/small town marketing program.
Packaging up the guide, the report and the 1:1 phone consulting, you have a base price of $300 for the product if you pay yourself $100/hour.
However, I’m going to suggest that, based on the level of local SEO expertise you bring to the scenario, you create a price point somewhere between $300–$500 for the package. If you are still relatively green at local SEO, $300 could be a fair price for three hours of consulting. If you’re an industry adept, scale it up a bit because, because you bring a rare level of insight to every client interaction, even if you’re sticking to the absolute basics. Begin selling several of these packages in a week, and it will start totaling up to a good monthly revenue stream.
As a marketer, I’ve generally shied away from packages because whenever you dig deeply into a client’s scenario, nuances end up requiring so much custom research and communication. But, for the very smallest clients in this least competitive markets, packages can hit the spot.
The client is going to walk away from the relationship with a good deal … and likely a lot to do. If they follow your recommendations, it will typically be just what they needed to establish themselves on the web to the extent that neighbors and travelers can easily find them and choose them for transactions. Good job!
But you’re going to walk away with some amazing benefits, too, some of which you might not have considered before. To wit:
A client you’ve treated very well on the phone is a client who is likely to remember you for future needs and recommend you. I’ve had businesses send me lovely gifts on top of my consulting fee because I’ve taken the time to really listen and answer questions. SEO agencies are always looking for ways to build authentic relationships. Don’t overlook the small client as a centroid of referrals throughout a tight-knit community and beyond it to their urban colleagues, friends, and family.
If your package becomes popular, a ton of data is going to start passing through your hands. The more of these audits you do, the more time you’re spending actively observing Google’s handling of the localized SERPs. Imagine the blog posts your agency can begin publishing by anonymizing and aggregating this data, pulling insights of value to our industry. There is no end to the potential for you to grow your knowledge.
Apart from case studies, think of the way this package can both build up your proud client roster and serve as a source of client reviews. The friendly relationship you’ve built with that 1:1 time can now become a font of very positive portfolio content and testimonials for you to publish on your website.
Have you noticed the recent spate of hit TV shows that hinge on rebuilding dilapidated American towns? Industry consolidation is most often cited as the root of rural collapse, with small farmers and independent businesses no longer able to create a tax base to support basic community needs like hospitals, fire departments, and schools. Few of us rejoice at the idea of Main Streets — long-cherished hallmarks not just of Americana but of shared American identity — becoming ghost towns.
But if you look for it, you can see signs of brilliant small entrepreneurs uniting to buck this trend. Check out initiatives like Locavesting and Localstake. There’s a reason to hope in small farming co-ops, the Main Street movement, and individuals like these who can re-envision a crumbling building as an independent country store, a B&B, or a job training center with Internet access.
It can be a source of professional satisfaction for your marketing agency if you offer these brave and hard-working business owners a good deal and the necessary education they need to present themselves sufficiently on the web. I live in a rural area, and I know just how much a little, solid advice can help. I feel extra good if I know I’m contributing to America’s rural comeback story.
Once you’ve got your guide and templates created, what next? Here are some simple tips:
The truth is that your agency may not be able to live by rural clients, alone. You may still be targeting the bulk of your campaigns towards urban enterprises because just a few highly competitive clients can bring welcome security to your bank account.
But maybe this is a good day to start looking beyond the fast food franchise, the NY attorney and the LA dermatology group. The more one reads about rural entrepreneurs, the more one tends to empathize with them, and empathy is the best foundation I know of for building rewarding business relationships.
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Posted by MiriamEllis
Exciting secrets can be so hard to keep. Finally, all of us at Moz have the green light to share with all of you a first glimpse of something we’ve been working on for months behind the scenes. Big inhale, big exhale…
Announcing: the new and improved Moz Local, to be rolled out beginning June 12!
Local search has evolved from caterpillar to butterfly in the seven years since we launched Moz Local. I think we’ve spent the time well, intensively studying both Google’s trajectory and the feedback of enterprise, marketing agency, and SMB customers.
Your generosity in telling us what you need as marketers has inspired us to action. Over the coming months, you’ll be seeing what Moz has learned reflected in a series of rollouts. Stage by stage, you’ll see that we’re planning to give our software the wings it needs to help you fully navigate the dynamic local search landscape and, in turn, grow your business.
We hope you’ll keep gathering together with us to watch Moz Local take full flight — changes will only become more robust as we move forward.
Beginning June 12th, Moz Local customers will experience a fresh look and feel in the Moz Local interface, plus these added capabilities:
Additional features available include:
Remember, this is just the beginning. There’s more to come in 2019, and you can expect ongoing communications from us as further new feature sets emerge!
We’ll be rolling out all the new changes beginning on June 12th. As with some large changes, this update will take a few days to complete, so some people will see the changes immediately while for others it may take up to a week. By June 21st, everyone should be able to explore the new Moz Local experience!
Don’t worry — we’ll have several more communications between now and then to help you prepare. Keep an eye out for our webinar and training materials to help ensure a smooth transition to the new Moz Local.
Some of our reporting metrics will look different in the new Moz Local. We’ll be sharing more information on these metrics and how to use them soon, but for now, here’s a quick overview of changes you can expect:
You’ll likely have questions if you’re a current Moz Local customer or are considering becoming one. Please check out our resource center for further details, and feel free to leave us a question down in the comments — we’ll be on point to respond to any wonderings or concerns you might have!
As a veteran local SEO, I’m finding the developments taking place with our software particularly exciting because, like you, I see how local search and local search marketing have matured over the past decade.
I’ve closely watched the best minds in our industry moving toward a holistic vision of how authenticity, customer engagement, data, analysis, and other factors underpin local business success. And we’ve all witnessed Google’s increasingly sophisticated presentation of local business information evolve and grow. It’s been quite a ride!
At every level of local commerce, owners and marketers deserve tools that bring order out of what can seem like chaos. We believe you deserve software that yields strategy. As our CEO, Sarah Bird, recently said of Moz,
“We are big believers in the power of local SEO.”
So the secret is finally out, and you can see where Moz is heading with the local side of our product lineup. It’s our serious plan to devote everything we’ve got into putting the power of local SEO into your hands.
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
Posted by MiriamEllis
“A good chef has to be a manager, a businessman and a great cook. To marry all three together is sometimes difficult.”
– Wolfgang Puck
I like this quote. It makes me hear phones ringing at your local search marketing agency, with aspiring chefs and restaurateurs on the other end of the line, ready to bring experts aboard in the “sometimes difficult” quest for online visibility.
Is your team ready for these clients? How comfortable do you feel talking restaurant Local SEO when such calls come in? When was the last time you took a broad survey of what’s really ranking in this specialized industry?
Allow me to be your prep cook today, and I’ll dice up “best restaurant” local packs for major cities in all 50 US states. We’ll julienne Google Posts usage, rough chop DA, make chiffonade of reviews, owner responses, categories, and a host of other ingredients to determine which characteristics are shared by establishments winning this most superlative of local search phrases.
The finished dish should make us conversant with what it takes these days to be deemed “best” by diners and by Google, empowering your agency to answer those phones with all the breezy confidence of Julia Child.
I looked at the 3 businesses in the local pack for “best restaurants (city)” in a major city in each of the 50 states, examining 11 elements for each entry, yielding 4,950 data points. I set aside the food processor for this one and did everything manually. I wanted to avoid the influence of proximity, so I didn’t search for any city in which I was physically located. The results, then, are what a traveler would see when searching for top restaurants in destination cities.
Now, let’s look at each of the 11 data points together and see what we learn. Take a seat at the table!
Which restaurant categories make up the dominant percentage of local pack entries for our search?
You might think that a business trying to rank locally for “best restaurants” would want to choose just “restaurant” as their primary Google category as a close match. Or, you might think that since we’re looking at best restaurants, something like “fine dining restaurants” or the historically popular “French restaurants” might top the charts.
Instead, what we’ve discovered is that restaurants of every category can make it into the top 3. Fifty-one percent of the ranking restaurants hailed from highly diverse categories, including Pacific Northwest Restaurant, Pacific Rim Restaurant, Organic, Southern, Polish, Lebanese, Eclectic and just about every imaginable designation. American Restaurant is winning out in bulk with 26 percent of the take, and an additional 7 percent for New American Restaurant. I find this an interesting commentary on the nation’s present gustatory aesthetic as it may indicate a shift away from what might be deemed fancy fare to familiar, homier plates.
Overall, though, we see the celebrated American “melting pot” perfectly represented when searchers seek the best restaurant in any given city. Your client’s food niche, however specialized, should prove no barrier to entry in the local packs.
Do Google’s picks for “best restaurants” share a pricing structure?
It will cost you more than $1000 per head to dine at Urasawa, the nation’s most expensive eatery, and one study estimates that the average cost of a restaurant meal in the US is $12.75. When we look at the price attribute on Google listings, we find that the designation “best” is most common for establishments with charges that fall somewhere in between the economical and the extravagant.
Fifty-eight percent of the top ranked restaurants for our search have the $$ designation and another 25 percent have the $$$. We don’t know Google’s exact monetary value behind these symbols, but for context, a Taco Bell with its $1–$2 entrees would typically be marked as $, while the fabled French Laundry gets $$$$ with its $400–$500 plates. In our study, the cheapest and the costliest restaurants make up only a small percentage of what gets deemed “best.”
There isn’t much information out there about Google’s pricing designations, but it’s generally believed that they stem at least in part from the attribute questions Google sends to searchers. So, this element of your clients’ listings is likely to be influenced by subjective public sentiment. For instance, Californians’ conceptions of priciness may be quite different from North Dakotans’. Nevertheless, on the national average, mid-priced restaurants are most likely to be deemed “best.”
Of anecdotal interest: The only locale in which all 3 top-ranked restaurants were designated at $$$$ was NYC, while in Trenton, NJ, the #1 spot in the local pack belongs to Rozmaryn, serving Polish cuisine at $ prices. It’s interesting to consider how regional economics may contribute to expectations, and your smartest restaurant clients will carefully study what their local market can bear. Meanwhile, 7 of the 150 restaurants we surveyed had no pricing information at all, indicating that Google’s lack of adequate information about this element doesn’t bar an establishment from ranking.
Is perfection a prerequisite for “best”?
Negative reviews are the stuff of indigestion for restaurateurs, and I’m sincerely hoping this study will provide some welcome relief. The average star rating of the 150 “best” restaurants we surveyed is 4.5. Read that again: 4.5. And the number of perfect 5-star joints in our study? Exactly zero. Time for your agency to spend a moment doing deep breathing with clients.
The highest rating for any restaurant in our data set is 4.8, and only three establishments rated so highly. The lowest is sitting at 4.1. Every other business falls somewhere in-between. These ratings stem from customer reviews, and the 4.5 average proves that perfection is simply not necessary to be “best.”
Breaking down a single dining spot with 73 reviews, a 4.6 star rating was achieved with fifty-six 5-star reviews, four 4-star reviews, three 3-star reviews, two 2-star reviews, and three 1-star reviews. 23 percent of diners in this small review set had a less-than-ideal experience, but the restaurant is still achieving top rankings. Practically speaking for your clients, the odd night when the pho was gummy and the paella was burnt can be tossed onto the compost heap of forgivable mistakes.
How many reviews do the best restaurants have?
It’s folk wisdom that any business looking to win local rankings needs to compete on native Google review counts. I agree with that, but was struck by the great variation in review counts across the nation and within given packs. Consider:
Anecdotally, I don’t know how much data you would have to analyze to be able to find a truly reliable pattern regarding winning review counts. Consider the city of Dallas, where the #1 spot has 3,365 review, but spots #2 and #3 each have just over 300. Compare that to Tallahassee, where a business with 590 reviews is coming in at #1 above a competitor with twice that many. Everybody ranking in Boise has well over 1,000 reviews, but nobody in Bangor is even breaking into the 200s.
The takeaways from this data point is that the national average review count is 893 for our “best” search, but that there is no average magic threshold you can tell a restaurant client they need to cross to get into the pack. Totals vary so much from city to city that your best plan of action is to study the client’s market and strongly urge full review management without making any promise that hitting 1,000 reviews will ensure them beating out that mysterious competitor who is sweeping up with just 400 pieces of consumer sentiment. Remember, no local ranking factor stands in isolation.
How many of America’s top chophouses have replied to reviews in the last 60 days?
With a hat tip to Jason Brown at the Local Search Forum for this example of a memorable owner response to a negative review, I’m sorry to say I have some disappointing news. Only 29 percent of the restaurants ranked best in all 50 states had responded to their reviews in the 60 days leading up to my study. There were tributes of lavish praise, cries for understanding, and seething remarks from diners, but less than one-third of owners appeared to be paying the slightest bit of attention.
On the one hand, this indicates that review responsiveness is not a prerequisite for ranking for our desirable search term, but let’s go a step further. In my view, whatever time restaurant owners may be gaining back via unresponsiveness is utterly offset by what they stand to lose if they make a habit of overlooking complaints. Review neglect has been cited as a possible cause of business closure. As my friends David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal always say:“Your brand is its reviews” and mastering the customer service ecosystem is your surest way to build a restaurant brand that lasts.
For your clients, I would look at any local pack with neglected reviews as representative of a weakness. Algorithmically, your client’s active management of the owner response function could become a strength others lack. But I’ll even go beyond that: Restaurants ignoring how large segments of customer service have moved onto the web are showing a deficit of commitment to the long haul. It’s true that some eateries are famous for thriving despite offhand treatment of patrons, but in the average city, a superior commitment to responsiveness could increase many restaurants’ repeat business, revenue and rankings.
I’ve always wanted to investigate critic reviews for restaurants, as Google gives them a great deal of screen space in the listings:
How many times were critic reviews cited in the Google listings of America’s best restaurants and how does an establishment earn this type of publicity?
With 57 appearances, Lonely Planet is the leading source of professional reviews for our search term, with Zagat and 10Best making strong showings, too. It’s worth noting that 70/150 businesses I investigated surfaced no critic reviews at all. They’re clearly not a requirement for being considered “best”, but most restaurants will benefit from the press. Unfortunately, there are few options for prompting a professional review. To wit:
Lonely Planet — Founded in 1972, Lonely Planet is a travel guide publisher headquartered in Australia. Critic reviews like this one are written for their website and guidebooks simultaneously. You can submit a business for review consideration via this form, but the company makes no guarantees about inclusion.
Zagat — Founded in 1979, Zagat began as a vehicle for aggregating diner reviews. It was purchased by Google in 2011 and sold off to The Infatuation in 2018. Restaurants can’t request Zagat reviews. Instead, the company conducts its own surveys and selects businesses to be rated and reviewed, like this.
The Infatuation — Founded in 2009 and headquartered in NY, The Infatuation employs diner-writers to create reviews like this one based on multiple anonymous dining experiences that are then published via their app. The also have a SMS-based restaurant recommendation system. They do not accept request from restaurants hoping to be reviewed.
Michelin — Founded as a tire company in 1889 in France, Michelin’s subsidiary ViaMichelin is a digital mapping service that houses the reviews Google is pulling. In my study, Chicago, NYC and San Francisco were the only three cities that yielded Michelin reviews like this one and one article states that only 165 US restaurants have qualified for a coveted star rating. The company offers this guide to dining establishments.
As you can see, the surest way to earn a professional review is to become notable enough on the dining scene to gain the unsolicited notice of a critic.
How many picks for best restaurants are using the Google Posts microblogging feature?
As it turns out, only a meager 16 percent of America’s “best” restaurants in my survey have made any use of Google Posts. In fact, most of the usage I saw wasn’t even current. I had to click the “view previous posts on Google” link to surface past efforts. This statistic is much worse than what Ben Fisher found when he took a broader look at Google Posts utilization and found that 42 percent of local businesses had at least experimented with the feature at some point.
For whatever reason, the eateries in my study are largely neglecting this influential feature, and this knowledge could encompass a competitive advantage for your restaurant clients.
Do you have a restaurateur who is trying to move up the ranks? There is some evidence that devoting a few minutes a week to this form of microblogging could help them get a leg up on lazier competitors.
Google Posts are a natural match for restaurants because they always have something to tout, some appetizing food shot to share, some new menu item to celebrate. As the local SEO on the job, you should be recommending an embrace of this element for its valuable screen real estate in the Google Business Profile, local finder, and maybe even in local packs.
What is the average number of questions top restaurants are receiving on their Google Business Profiles?
Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is absolutely stealing the show in my survey with 56 questions asked via the Q&A feature of the Google Business Profile. Only four restaurants had zero questions. The average number of questions across the board was eight.
As I began looking at the data, I decided not to re-do this earlier study of mine to find out how many questions were actually receiving responses from owners, because I was winding up with the same story. Time and again, answers were being left up to the public, resulting in consumer relations like these:
Takeaway: As I mentioned in a previous post, Greg Gifford found that 40 percent of his clients’ Google Questions were leads. To leave those leads up to the vagaries of the public, including a variety of wags and jokesters, is to leave money on the table. If a potential guest is asking about dietary restrictions, dress codes, gift cards, average prices, parking availability, or ADA compliance, can your restaurant clients really afford to allow a public “maybe” to be the only answer given?
I’d suggest that a dedication to answering questions promptly could increase bookings, cumulatively build the kind of reputation that builds rankings, and possibly even directly impact rankings as a result of being a signal of activity.
What is the average Page Authority and Domain Authority of restaurants ranking as “best’?
Looking at both the landing page that Google listings are pointing to and the overall authority of each restaurant’s domain, I found that:
While pack DA/PA differs significantly from city to city, the average numbers we’ve discovered shouldn’t be out-of-reach for established businesses. If your client’s restaurant is brand new, it’s going to take some serious work to get up market averages, of course.
Local Search Ranking Factors 2019 found that DA was the 9th most important local pack ranking signal, with PA sitting at factor #20. Once you’ve established a range of DA/PA for a local SERP you are trying to move a client up into, your best bet for making improvements will include improving content so that it earns links and powering up your outreach for local links and linktations.
Which websites does Google trust enough to cite as references for restaurants?
As it turns out, that trust is limited to a handful of sources:
As the above pie chart shows:
Not shown in the above chart are 13 restaurants that had a web reference from a one-off source, like the Des Moines Register or Dallas Eater. A few very famous establishments, like Brennan’s in New Orleans, surfaced their Wikipedia page, although they didn’t do so consistently. I noticed Wikipedia pages appearing one day as a reference and then disappearing the next day. I was left wondering why.
For me, the core takeaway from this factor is that if Google is highlighting your client’s listing on a given platform as a trusted web result, your agency should go over those pages with a fine-toothed comb, checking for accuracy, activity, and completeness. These are citations Google is telling you are of vital importance.
As I was undertaking this study, there were a few things I noted down but didn’t formally analyze, so consider this as mixed tapas:
I want to note two things as we near the end of our study:
A brief TL;DR you can share easily with your clients:
A question for you: Do you market restaurants? Would you be willing to share a cool local SEO tactic with our community? We’d love to hear about your special sauce in the comments below.
Wishing you bon appétit for working in the restaurant local SEO space, with delicious wins ahead!
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!
Posted by MiriamEllis
Who are your clients’ true competitors?
It’s a question that’s become harder to answer. What felt like a fairly simple triangulation between Google, brand, and searcher in the early days of the local web has multiplied into a geodesic dome of localization, personalization, intent matching, and other facets.
This evolution from a simple shape to a more complex shape has the local SEO industry starting to understand the need to talk about trends and patterns vs. empirical rankings.
For instance, you might notice that you just can’t deliver client reports that say, “Congratulations, you’re #1” anymore. And that’s because the new reality is that there is no #1 for all searchers. A user on the north side of town may see a completely different local pack of results if they go south, or if they modify their search language. An SEO may get a whole different SERP if they search on one rank checking tool vs. another — or even on the same tool, just five minutes later.
Despite all this, you still need to analyze and report — it remains a core task to audit a client’s competitive landscape.
Today, let’s talk about how we can distill this dynamic, complex environment down to the simplest shapes to understand who your client’s true competitors are. I’ll be sharing a spreadsheet to help you and your clients see the trends and patterns that can create the basis for competitive strategy.
Before we dive into a demo, let’s sync up on what the basic point is of auditing local competitors. Essentially, you’re seeking contrast — you stack up two brands side-by-side to discover the metrics that appear to be making one of them dominant in the local or localized organic SERPs.
From there, you can develop a strategy to emulate the successes of the current winner with the goal of meeting and then surpassing them with superior efforts.
But before you start comparing your brand A to their brand B, you’ve got to know who brand B actually is. What obstacles do you face?
A recent STAT whitepaper that looked at 1.2 million keywords says it all: every SERP is a local SERP. And since both local packs and organic results are both subject to the whims of geo-location and geo-modification, incorporating them into your tracking strategy is a must.
To explain, imagine two searchers are sitting on the same couch. One searches for “Mexican restaurant” and the other searches for “Mexican restaurant near me”. Then, they divvy up searching “Mexican restaurant near me” vs. “Mexican restaurant in San Jose”. And, so on. What they see are local packs that are only about 80 percent similar based on Google recognizing different intents. That’s significant variability.
The scenario gets even more interesting when one of the searchers gets up and travels across town to a different zip code. At that point, the two people making identical queries can see local packs that range from only about 26–65 percent similar. In other words, quite different.
Now, let’s say your client wants to rank for seven key phrases — like “Mexican restaurant,” “Mexican restaurant near me,” “Mexican restaurant San Jose,” “best Mexican restaurant,” “cheap Mexican restaurant,” etc. Your client doesn’t have just three businesses to compete against in the local pack; they now have multiple multiples of three!
There are many useful local rank tracking tools out there, and one of the most popular comes to us from BrightLocal. I really like the super easy interface of this tool, but there is a consistency issue with this and other tools I’ve tried, which I’ve captured in a screenshot, below.
Here I’m performing the same search at 5-minute intervals, showing how the reported localized organic ranking of a single business vary widely across time.
The business above appears to move from position 5 to position 12. This illustrates the difficulty of answering the question of who is actually the top competitor when using a tool. My understanding is that this type of variability may result from the use of proxies. If you know of a local rank checker that doesn’t do this, please let our community know in the comments.
In the meantime, what I’ve discovered in my own work is that it’s really hard to find a strong and consistent substitute for manually checking which competitors rank where, on the ground. So, let’s try something out together.
Your client owns a Mexican restaurant and has seven main keyword phrases they want to compete for. Follow these five easy steps:
If the client doesn’t already know, teach them how to perform a search on Google and recognize what a local pack is. Show them how businesses in the pack rank 1, 2, and 3. If they have more questions about local packs, how they show up in results, and how Google ranks content, they can check out our updated Beginners Guide to SEO.
Give the client a copy of this free spreadsheet, filled out with their most desired keyword phrases. Have them conduct seven searches from a computer located at their place of business* and then fill out the spreadsheet with the names of the three competitors they see for each of the seven phrases. Tell them not to pay attention to any of the other fields of the spreadsheet.
*Be sure the client does this task from their business’ physical location as this is the best way to see what searchers in their area will see in the local results. Why are we doing this? Because Google weights proximity of the searcher-to-the-business so heavily, we have to pretend we’re a searcher at or near the business to emulate Google’s “thought process”.
Now it’s your turn. Look up “directions Google” in Google.
Enter your client’s business address and the address of their first competitor. Write down the distance in the spreadsheet. Repeat for every entry in each of the seven local packs. This will take you approximately 10–15 minutes to cover all 21 locations, so make sure you’re doing it on company time to ensure you’re on the clock.
Now, in the 2nd column of the spreadsheet, note down the greatest distance Google appears to be going to fill out the results for each pack.
Finally, rate the competitors by the number of times each one appears across all seven local packs. Your spreadsheet should now look something like this:
Looking at the example sheet above, we’ve learned that:
You now know who the client’s direct competitors are for their most desired searches, and how far Google is willing to go to make up a local pack for each term. You have discovered a pattern of most dominant competition across your client’s top phrases, signaling which players need to be audited to yield clues about which elements are making them so strong.
The old song says that it’s a gift to be simple, but there are some drawbacks to my methodology, namely:
Negatives aside, the positives of this very basic exercise are:
I’d like to close by asking you some questions about your work doing competitive audits for local businesses. I’d be truly interested in your replies as we all work together to navigate the complex shape of Google’s SERPs:
Thanks for responding, and allow me to wish you and your clients a happy and empowering audit!
Posted by MiriamEllis
Is a local business you’re marketing missing out on a host of B2B opportunities? Do B2B brands even qualify for local SEO?
If I say “B2B” and you think “tech,” then you’re having the same problem I was finding reliable information about local search marketing for business-to-business models. While it’s true that SaaS companies like Moz, MailChimp, and Hootsuite are businesses which vend to other businesses, their transactions are primarily digital. These may be the types of companies that make best-of B2B lists, but today let’s explore another realm in which a physical business you promote is eligible to be marketed both locally and as a B2B.
Let’s determine your eligibility, find your B2B opportunities, identify tips specific to your business model, analyze an outreach email, explore your content with a checklist, and find an advantage for you in today’s article.
First to determine whether Google would view your brand as a local business, answer these two questions:
If you answered “yes” to both questions, continue, because you’ve just met Google’s local business guidelines.
Next, determine if there’s a component of your business that already serves or could be created to serve other businesses.
Not totally sure? Let’s look at Google’s categories.
Out of the 2,395 Google My Business Categories listed here, there are at least 1,270 categories applicable to B2B companies. These include companies that are by nature B2B (wholesalers, suppliers) and companies that are B2C but could have a B2B offering (restaurants, event sites). In other words, more than half of Google’s categories signal to B2B-friendly companies that local marketing is an opportunity.
Let’s look at some major groups of categories and see how they could be fine-tuned to serve executive needs instead of only consumer needs:
Food establishments (restaurants, cafes, food trucks, caterers, etc.) can create relationships with nearby employers by offering business lunch specials, delivery, corporate catering, banquet rooms, and related B2B services. This can work especially well for restaurants located in large business districts, but almost any food-related business could create a corporate offering that incentivizes loyalty.
Major attractions (museums, amusements, cultural centers, sports centers, etc.) can create corporate packages for local employers seeking fun group activities. Brands looking to reduce implicit bias may be especially interested in interacting with cultural groups and events.
Professional services (realty, financial, printing, consulting, tech, etc.) can be geared towards corporate needs as well as individuals. A realtor can sell commercial properties. A printer can create business signage. A computer repair shop can service offices.
Personal services (counseling, wellness, fitness, skill training, etc.) can become corporate services when employers bring in outside experts to improve company morale, education, or well-being.
Home services (carpet cleaning, landscaping, plumbing, contracting, security, etc.) can become commercial services when offered to other businesses. Office buildings need design, remodeling, and construction and many have lounges, kitchens, restrooms, and grounds that need janitorial and upkeep services. Many retailers need these services, too.
Entertainers (comedians, musicians, DJs, performance troupes, etc.) can move beyond private events to corporate ones with special package offerings. Many brands have days where children, family members, and even pets are welcomed to the workplace, and special activities are planned.
Retailers (clothing, gifts, equipment, furniture, etc.) can find numerous ways to supply businesses with gear, swag, electronics, furnishings, gift baskets, uniforms, and other necessities. For example, a kitchen store could vend breakfast china to a B&B, or an electronics store could offer special pricing for a purchase of new computers for an office.
Transportation and travel services (auto sales and maintenance, auto rentals, travel agencies, tour guides, charging stations, etc.) can create special packages for businesses. A car dealer could sell a fleet of vehicles to a food delivery service, or a garage could offer special pricing for maintaining food trucks. A travel agency could manage business trips.
As you can see, the possibilities are substantial, and this is all apart from businesses that are classic B2B models, like manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers who also have physical premises and meet face-to-face with their clients. See if you’ve been missing out on a lucrative opportunity by examining the following spreadsheet of every Google My Business Category I could find that is either straight-up B2B or could create a B2B offering:
See which of these two groups you belong to: either a B2B company that hasn’t been doing local SEO, or a local business that hasn’t created a B2B offering yet. Then follow the set of foundational tips specific to your scenario.
As indicated, these are foundational steps for both groups — the beginnings of your strategy rather than the ultimate lengths you may need to go to for your efforts to fully pay off. The amount of work you need to do depends largely on the level of your local competition.
Moz’s People Ops team is called Team Happy, and these wonderful folks handle everything from event and travel planning, to gift giving, to making sure people’s parking needs are met. Team Happy is responsible for creating an exceptional, fun, generous environment that functions smoothly for all Mozzers and visitors.
I asked Team Happy Manager of Operations, Ashlie Daulton, to share some tips for crafting successful B2B outreach when approaching a business like Moz. Ashlie explains:
Finally, Ashlie let me know that her team comes to decisions thoughtfully, as will the People Ops folks at any reputable company. If your B2B outreach doesn’t meet with acceptance from a particular company, it would be a waste of your time and theirs to keep contacting them.
However, as mentioned above, a refusal one year doesn’t mean there couldn’t be opportunity at a later date if the company’s needs or your offer change to be a better fit. You may need to go through some refinements over the years, based on the feedback you receive and analyze, until you’ve got an offer that’s truly irresistible.
“La práctica hace al maestro.”
Practice makes perfect. Let’s do an exercise together in which we imagine ourselves running an awesome Oaxacan restaurant in Seattle that wants to grow the B2B side of our business. Let’s hypothesize that we’ve decided Moz would be a perfect client, and we’ve spent some time on the web learning about them. We’ve looked at their website, their blog, and have read some third-party news about the company.
We found an email address for Team Happy and we’ve crafted our outreach email. What follows is that email + Ashlie’s honest, summarized feedback to me (detailed below) about how our fictitious outreach would strike her team:
Good morning, Team Happy!
When was the last time Moz’s hardworking staff was treated to tacos made from grandmother’s own authentic recipe? I’m your neighbor Jose Morales, co-owner with my abuela of Tacos Morales, just down the street from you. Our Oaxacan-style Mexican food is:
– Locally sourced and prepared with love in our zero-waste kitchen
– 100% organic (better for Mozzers’ brains and happiness!) with traditional, vegan, and gluten-free options
– $6–$9 per plate
We know you have to feed tons of techies sometimes, and we can effortlessly cater meals of up to 500 Mozzers. The folks at another neighboring company, Zillow, say this about our beautiful food:
“The best handmade tortillas we’ve ever had. Just the right portions to feel full, but not bogged down for the afternoon’s workload. Perfect for corporate lunches and magically scrumptious!”
May I bring over a complimentary taco basket for a few of your teammates to try? Check out our menu here and please let me know if there would be a good day for you to sample the very best of Taco Morales. Thank you for your kind consideration and I hope I get the chance to personally make Team Happy even happier!
Jose y Lupita Morales
222 2nd Street, Seattle – (206) 111-1111
As the above outreach illustrates, Team Happy was most impressed by the elements of our sample email that provided key information about variety, price and capacity, useful links and contact data, trust signals in the form of a review from a well-known client, and a one-on-one personalized message.
Your business is unique, and the precise tone of your email will match both your company culture and the sensibilities of your potential clients. Regardless of industry, studying the above communication will give you some cues for creating your own from the viewpoint of speaking personally to another business with their needs in mind. Why not practice writing an email of your own today, then run it past an unbiased acquaintance to ask if it would persuade them to reply?
Your site content speaks for you when a potential client wants to research you further before communicating one-on-one. Why invest both budget and heart in what you publish? Because 94% of B2B buyers reportedly conduct online investigation before purchasing a business solution. Unfortunately, the same study indicates that only 37% of these buyers are satisfied with the level of information provided by suppliers’ websites. Do you see a disconnect here?
Let’s look at the key landing pages of your website today and see how many of these boxes you can check off:
☑ What my business name, addresses, phone numbers, fax number, email addresses, driving directions, mapped locations, social and review profiles are
☑ What my products and services are and why they meet clients’ needs
☑ The complete details of my special offers for B2B clients, including my capacity for fulfillment
☑ What my pricing is like, so that I’m getting leads from qualified clients without wasting anyone’s time
☑ What my USP is — what makes my selling proposition unique and a better choice than my local competitors
☑ What my role is as a beneficial member of the local business community and the human community, including my professional relationships, philanthropy, sustainable practices, accreditations, awards, and other points of pride
☑ What others say about my company, including reviews and testimonials
☑ What my clients’ rights and guarantees are
☑ What value I place on my clients, via the quality, usefulness, and usability of my website and its content
If you found your content lacking any of these checklist elements, budget to build them. If writing is not your strong suit and your company isn’t large enough to have an in-house content team, hire help. A really good copywriter will partner up to tell the story of your business while also accurately portraying its unique voice. Expect to be deeply interviewed so that a rich narrative can emerge.
In sum, you want your website to be doing the talking for you 24 hours a day so that every question a potential B2B client has can be confidently answered, prompting the next step of personal outreach.
Earlier, we spoke of the research you’ll do to analyze the business community you could be serving with your B2B offerings, and we covered how to be sure you’ve got the local digital marketing basics in place to showcase what you do on the web. Depending on your market, you could find that investment in either direction could represent an opportunity many of your competitors have overlooked.
For an even greater advantage, though, let’s look directly at your competitors. You can research them by:
Do you see any gaps? If you can dare to be different and fill them, you will have identified an important advantage. Perhaps you’ll be the only:
And if your city is large and highly competitive and there aren’t glaring gaps in available services, try to find a gap in service quality. Maybe there are several computer repair shops, but yours is the only one that works weekends. Maybe there are a multitude of travel agents, but your eco-tourism packages for corporations have won major awards. Maybe yours is just one of 400+ Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but the only one to throw in a free bag of MeeMee’s sesame and almond cookies (a fortune cookie differentiator!) with every office delivery, giving a little uplift to hardworking staff.
Find your differentiator, put it in writing, put it to the fore of your sales process. And engineer it into consumer-centric language, so that hard candy buttons with chocolate inside them become the USP that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” solving a discovered pain point or need.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
– Charles Dickens
We’re all in business to serve. We’re all helpers. At Moz, we make SEO easier for digital and local companies. At your brand, _________?
However you fill in that blank, you’re in the business of service. Whether you’re marketing a B2B that’s awakening to the need to invest in local SEO or a B2C on the verge of debuting your new business-to-business offering, your project boils down to the simple question,
“How can I help?”
Looking thoughtfully into your brand’s untapped capacities to serve your community, coupled with an authentic desire to help, is the best groundwork you can lay at the starting point for satisfaction at the finish line.
Posted by MiriamEllis
…but please don’t come away with the wrong storyline from this statistic.
As local brands and their marketers watch Google play Trojan horse, shifting from top benefactor to top competitor by replacing former “free” publicity with paid packs, Local Service Ads, zero-click SERPs, and related structures, it’s no surprise to see forum members asking, “Do I even need a website anymore?”
Our answer to this question is,“Yes, you’ve never needed a website more than you will in 2019.” In this post, we’ll examine:
Within recent memory, a Google query with local intent brought up a big pack of ten nearby businesses, with each entry taking the user directly to these brands’ websites for all of their next steps. A modest amount of marketing effort was rewarded with a shower of Google gifts in the form of rankings, traffic, and conversions.
Then these generous SERPs shrank to seven spots, and then three, with the mobile sea change thrown into the bargain and consisting of layers and layers of Google-owned interfaces instead of direct-to-website links. In 2018, when we rustle through the wrapping paper, the presents we find from Google look cheaper, smaller, and less magnificent.
Consider these five key developments:
This slide from a recent presentation by Rand Fishkin encapsulateshis findings regarding the growth of no-click SERPs between 2016–2018. Mobile users have experienced a 20% increase in delivery of search engine results that don’t require them to go any deeper than Google’s own interface.
When Dr. Peter J. Myers surveyed 11,000 SERPs in 2018, he found that 35% of competitive local packs feature ads.
At last count, Google’s Local Service Ads program via which they interposition themselves as the paid lead gen agent between businesses and consumers has taken over 23 business categories in 77 US cities.
When a user specifically searches for your brand and your Google Knowledge Panel pops up, you can likely cope with the long-standing “People Also Search For” set of competitors at the bottom of it. But that’s not the same as Google allowing Groupon to advertise at the top of your KP, or putting lead gen from Doordash and GrubHub front and center to nickel and dime you on your own customers’ orders.
As highlighted at the beginning of this post, 64% of marketers agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses. This concept, coined by Mike Blumenthal, signifies that a user looking at a Google Knowledge Panel can get basic business info, make a phone call, get directions, book something, ask a question, take a virtual tour, read microblog posts, see hours of operation, thumb through photos, see busy times, read and leave reviews. Without ever having to click through to a brand’s domain, the user may be fully satisfied.
“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
There are many more examples we could gather, but they can all be summed up in one way: None of Google’s most recent local initiatives are about driving customers to brands’ own websites. Local SERPs have shrunk and have been re-engineered to keep users within Google’s platforms to generate maximum revenue for Google and their partners.
You may be as philosophical as Epicurus about this and say that Google has every right to be as profitable as they can with their own product, even if they don’t really need to siphon more revenue off local businesses. But if Google’s recent trajectory causes your brand or agency to conclude that websites have become obsolete in this heavily controlled environment, please keep reading.
What this means is that businesses which rank highly organically are very likely to have high associated local pack rankings. In the following screenshot, if you take away the directory-type platforms, you will see how the brand websites ranking on page 1 for “deli athens ga” are also the two businesses that have made it into Google’s local pack:
In a small study, we looked at 15 head keywords across 7 US cities and towns. This yielded 315 possible entries in Google’s local pack. Of that 315, 235 of the businesses ranking in the local packs also had page 1 organic rankings. That’s a 75% correlation between organic website rankings and local pack presence.
*It’s worth noting that where local and organic results did not correlate, it was sometimes due the presence of spam GMB listings, or to mystery SERPs that did not make sense at first glance — perhaps as a result of Google testing, in some cases.
Additionally, many local businesses are not making it to the first page of Google anymore in some categories because the organic SERPs are inundated with best-of lists and directories. Often, local business websites were pushed down to the second page of the organic results. In other words, if spam, “best-ofs,” and mysteries were removed, the local-organic correlation would likely be much higher than 75%.
Further, one recent study found that even when Google’s Local Service Ads are present, 43.9% of clicks went to the organic SERPs. Obviously, if you can make it to the top of the organic SERPs, this puts you in very good CTR shape from a purely organic standpoint.
The local businesses you market may not be able to stave off the onslaught of Google’s zero-click SERPs, paid SERPs, and lead gen features, but where “free” local 3-packs still exist, your very best bet for being included in them is to have the strongest possible website. Moreover, organic SERPs remain a substantial source of clicks.
Far from it being the case that websites have become obsolete, they are the firmest bedrock for maintaining free local SERP visibility amidst an increasing scarcity of opportunities.
This calls for an industry-wide doubling down on organic metrics that matter most.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
A 2017 CNBC survey found that 45% of small businesses have no website, and, while most large enterprises have websites, many local businesses qualify as “small.”
Moreover, a recent audit of 9,392 Google My Business listings found that 27% have no website link.
When asked which one task 1,411 marketers want clients to devote more resources to, it’s no coincidence that 66% listed a website-oriented asset. This includes local content development, on-site optimization, local link building, technical analysis of rankings/traffic/conversions, and website design as shown in the following Moz survey graphic:
In an environment in which websites are table stakes for competitive local pack rankings, virtually all local businesses not only need one, but they need it to be as strong as possible so that it achieves maximum organic rankings.
The Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO offers incredibly detailed guidelines for creating the best possible website. While we recommend that everyone marketing a local business read through this in-depth guide, we can sum up its contents here by stating that strong websites combine:
For our present purpose, let’s take a special look at those last three elements.
There was a time when on-site SEO and content development were treated almost independently of one another. And while local businesses will need a make a little extra effort to put their basic contact information in prominent places on their websites (such as the footer and Contact Us page), publication and optimization should be viewed as a single topic. A modern strategy takes all of the following into account:
What we’re describing here isn’t a set of disconnected efforts. It’s a single effort that’s integral to researching, writing, and publishing the website. Far from stuffing keywords into a tag or a page’s content, focus has shifted to building topical authority in the eyes of search engines like Google by building an authoritative resource for a particular consumer demographic. The more closely a business is able to reflect customers’ needs (including the language of their needs), in every possible component of its website, the more relevant it becomes.
A hypothetical example of this would be a large medical clinic in Dallas. Last year, their phone staff was inundated with basic questions about flu shots, like where and when to get them, what they cost, would they cause side effects, what about side effects on people with pre-existing health conditions, etc. This year, the medical center’s marketing team took a look at Moz Keyword Explorer and saw that there’s an enormous volume of questions surrounding flu shots:
This tiny segment of the findings of the free keyword research tool, Answer the Public, further illustrates how many questions people have about flu shots:
The medical clinic need not compete nationally for these topics, but at a local level, a page on the website can answer nearly every question a nearby patient could have about this subject. The page, created properly, will reflect human language in its tags, headings, descriptions, text, and markup. It will tell all patients where to come and when to come for this procedure. It has the potential to cut down on time-consuming phone calls.
And, finally, it will build topical authority in the eyes of Google to strengthen the clinic’s chances of ranking well organically… which can then translate to improved local rankings.
It’s important to note that keyword research tools typically do not reflect location very accurately, so research is typically done at a national level, and then adjusted to reflect regional or local language differences and geographic terms, after the fact. In other words, a keyword tool may not accurately reflect exactly how many local consumers in Dallas are asking “Where do I get a flu shot?”, but keyword and real-world research signals that this type of question is definitely being asked. The local business website can reflect this question while also adding in the necessary geographic terms.
Moz’s industry survey found that more than one-third of respondents had no local link building strategy in place. Meanwhile, link building was listed as one of the top three tasks to which marketers want their clients to devote more resources. There’s clearly a disconnect going on here. Given the fundamental role links play in building Domain Authority, organic rankings, and subsequent local rankings, building strong websites means bridging this gap.
First, it might help to examine old prejudices that could cause local business marketers and their clients to feel dubious about link building. These most likely stem from link spam which has gotten so out of hand in the general world of SEO that Google has had to penalize it and filter it to the best of their ability.
Not long ago, many digital-only businesses were having a heyday with paid links, link farms, reciprocal links, abusive link anchor text and the like. An online company might accrue thousands of links from completely irrelevant sources, all in hopes of escalating rank. Clearly, these practices aren’t ones an ethical business can feel good about investing in, but they do serve as an interesting object lesson, especially when a local marketer can point out to a client, that best local links are typically going to result from real-world relationship-building.
Local businesses are truly special because they serve a distinct, physical community made up of their own neighbors. The more involved a local business is in its own community, the more naturally link opportunities arise from things like local:
There are so many ways a local business can build genuine topical and domain authority in a given community by dint of the relationships it develops with neighbors.
An excellent way to get started on this effort is to look at high-ranking local businesses in the same or similar business categories to discover what work they’ve put in to achieve a supportive backlink profile. Moz Link Intersect is an extremely actionable resource for this, enabling a business to input its top competitors to find who is linking to them.
In the following example, a small B&B in Albuquerque looks up two luxurious Tribal resorts in its city:
Link Intersect then lists out a blueprint of opportunities, showing which links one or both competitors have earned. Drilling down, the B&B finds that Marriott.com is linking to both Tribal resorts on an Albuquerque things-to-do page:
The small B&B can then try to earn a spot on that same page, because it hosts lavish tea parties as a thing-to-do. Outreach could depend on the B&B owner knowing someone who works at the local Marriott personally. It could include meeting with them in person, or on the phone, or even via email. If this outreach succeeds, an excellent, relevant link will have been earned to boost organic rank, underpinning local rank.
Then, repeat the process. Aristotle might well have been speaking of link building when he said we are what we repeatedly do and that excellence is a habit. Good marketers can teach customers to have excellent habits in recognizing a good link opportunity when they see it.
Without a website, a local business lacks the brand-controlled publishing and link-earning platform that so strongly influences organic rankings. In the absence of this, the chances of ranking well in competitive local packs will be significantly less. Taken altogether, the case is clear for local businesses investing substantially in their websites.
“There is nothing permanent except change.”
You’ve now determined that strong websites are fundamental to local rankings in competitive markets. You’ve absorbed numerous reasons to encourage local businesses you market to prioritize care of their domains. But there’s one more thing you’ll need to be able to convey, and that’s a sense of urgency.
Right now, every single customer you can still earn from a free local pack listing is immensely valuable for the future.
This isn’t a customer you’ve had to pay Google for, as you very well might six months, a year, or five years from now. Yes, you’ve had to invest plenty in developing the strong website that contributed to the high local ranking, but you haven’t paid a penny directly to Google for this particular lead. Soon, you may be having to fork over commissions to Google for a large portion of your new customers, so acting now is like insurance against future spend.
For this to work out properly, local businesses must take the leads Google is sending them right now for free, and convert them into long-term, loyal customers, with an ultimate value of multiple future transactions without Google as a the middle man. And if these freely won customers can be inspired to act as word-of-mouth advocates for your brand, you will have done something substantial to develop a stream of non-Google-dependent revenue.
This offer may well expire as time goes by. When it comes to the capricious local SERPs, marketers resemble the Greek philosophers who knew that change is the only constant. The Trojan horse has rolled into every US city, and it’s a gift with a questionable shelf life. We can’t predict if or when free packs might become obsolete, but we share your concerns about the way the wind is blowing.
What we can see clearly right now is that websites will be anything but obsolete in 2019. Rather, they are the building blocks of local rankings, precious free leads, and loyal revenue, regardless of how SERPs may alter in future.
For more insights into where local businesses should focus in 2019, be sure to explore the Moz State of Local SEO industry report: