I spent on average 4-8 hours/day learning this stuff and have used this to put together a couple of search marketing campaigns that have exceeded my own expectations in terms of ROI, so I have tremendous belief in what I’m doing.
I came into the year proficient in local advertising having spent 12 years in this industry. I understand the products that are now being presented to local businesses, having helped put together quite a bit of the material in the presentations.
The objective of all this was to decide 3 things:
- Is there a viable business model for a local seo/sem boutique? And is it lucrative enough for me to leave the security of what I have?
- If so, what would that business model look like?
- And should I do it on my own or join/partner with an established firm?
At this point I believe there is a business model that is lucrative and at the same time can provide outstanding value for local businesses. This post details that. It’s long enough that it probably should be done as a white paper, but I hate down-loading and printing those. So, think of this as a white paper that does not need to be clicked-through-to, downloaded or printed.
Local Search – The Business Model
Sales & Marketing
The biggest problem at the point of sale with a local business will be the perception of risk. There is almost nothing that can be guaranteed, that shifts all the risk onto the business owner (though you could argue, doing nothing is a bigger risk). To overcome this, I would bill monthly and have no contracts… (other than… no money everything reverts) now I take the risk. But I am so confident in my ability to provide an ROI over and above what they could get elsewhere, that it’s a risk I am willing to take.
The 3 essentials of content development as it relates to the site’s ability to convert in the local space are: Web Design, Layout (usability) and Copywriting. I believe that if a local site gets these things right it can produce conversion rates that are 5 or 10 times the rates of their competitors. Understanding what drives conversions and continual split-testing should produce results like this in time on a consistent basis. It also more than justifies the continued monthly billing past the initial set-up phase.
Not being a website designer and learning that knowing HTML & CSS and calling yourself a web designer is like knowing some musical notes and calling yourself a musician. I have been experimenting with templates that allow me to leverage the talent of some wonderful developers, while including what I know about usability and copy. It could end up being a powerful and low-cost solution; but I am really at the beginning stages of this. I have come to believe good website designers are worth their weight in Gold. This is something I am not sure I fully understood a year ago. The same goes for good copywriters.
SEM (pay per click marketing)
The 2 keys to success in SEM are to know what sites to target and than fully understand
how to get the most of out them. The study to the right clearly outlines the sites that should be targeted. By targeting just the top 5 or 6 I can reach nearly 9 out of 10 online shoppers.
Once the sites have been identified, my goal is to get the ad to the highest position for the lowest click price with good copy writing and continual split testing. In many but not all ‘local circles’ I think this will be fairly easy to do because of the lack of competition. However, that’s
changing everyday. I recently deleted an ad with a 13% CTR because it was an ‘underperformer’, I am not sure how far into the future things like that will continue.
Local Seo (on-page)
Local SEO is mostly regular SEO with a longer tail and some specialty knowledge added in terms of maps and IYPs. The fact that it has a longer tail makes it simpler to rank for any given query. The challenge lies in the fact that a business owner may serve hundreds of locations.
I have wrestled with this challenge for most of the year and have only recently begun to really understand how to resolve it in a way to maximize a site’s search optimization and its ability to convert.
What finally opened this up for me and got me thinking in the right direction was a post written
by local seo guide Andrew Shotman as he was doing an analysis of Seomoz’s work on Yelp. The conclusion: separate pages for the most significant geographic locations.
This will allow me to leverage the title tag to rank for the given query, but more importantly, to get clicked on and most importantly, given what I know about the factors that drive actual phone calls to a local business, get the most conversions. This set-up should create a genuine symmetry between seo and conversion.
The challenge will then be to keep the pages indexed. The burden for keeping the pages indexed will fall on content development (the pages need to be useful), good internal/external linking and ye olde sitemap. All this while maintaining the home page’s credibility (with all those links), which will ultimately need to be solved with good website design.
I am of the theory that a small number of geographies will be responsible for a great amount of traffic. So, this needn’t be as daunting as it initially sounds . This too should continue to provide enough value to the advertiser to more than justify the monthly payment as results continually improve.
Thanks Andrew for unlocking that door for me. Testing is required of course… but at least I have the foundation on which to build.
This is probably the single biggest challenge in the local space. The advice I read most frequently is that one should do a link analysis on competing sites in order to find good links. Doing this is in the local space most often reveals a sea of spammy links to websites that exist for the sole purpose of linking. I think Google will sniff these out in the future and they will become worthless. Thus my link building strategy for local sites will involve 3 steps:
1) Links to local search sites… the IYPs. Although, they don’t provide link juice. I believe they are a signal to Google of legitimacy and location. I also believe it is the link on the business profile, (not the link at the listing level) that is most important. Many IYPs don’t allow the site to be spidered but they do allow the business profiles to be spidered by search engines.
2)Links that a business owner would be proud to display on the home page. Membership to local chambers, organizations, BBB etc.. The theory would be that if the link would help convert a human, Google would consider it a legitimate vote for the business. These will be the most valued links because they can help you rank and offline studies have shown that such affiliations can help conversion. Again, setting up a nice symmetry between SEO & conversion.
3)Make a genuine contribution to the online community and leverage social media to get the message out. If the content is good, the links should develop naturally. More on this below.
A small business owner with a blog attached to their domain and making a genuine contribution to their community would need to do little else to rank. The small business owners tend to be experts in their field and as such are in a position to really enhance the quality of information found on the web. It could be in the form of how-to articles, or funny what- not- to- do articles or tips from businesses such as lawyers, accountants etc.. The small businesses that I see that legitimately blog are also ranked high on the first page of Google for their important keywords.
Here again this algorithm makes sense from the human perspective as well. A small business owner that takes the time to join their community online and exchange knowledge and information thoughtfully is in a pretty short time going to get better at what they do professionally. It’s almost unavoidable. So in Google’s quest to provide the most relevant response for any given query, returning these businesses’ makes real sense. I think this is the best long-term strategy and will provide the most value to the business and the web at large.
Again, I need to test this to state it factually, but I believe that a business owner using these strategies and developing good content should put them so far ahead of their competition that ranking for their geo/keyword combination should become almost matter-of-fact.
The key to getting this done will be to resolve the ‘how much time will this take’ issue for the firm and the business owner… I need to find a way to have the content developed while tapping into the natural expertise of the business owner but using as little of her time as possible (and mine). I have some ideas on this how to get this done but nothing in stone yet…
but if done effectively, it may lead to a site ranking in the natural results beyond it’s geographic service area which could lead to…
I have a lot to learn in this arena but I do see an opportunity for small business with their unique ability to build certain types of links, their inherent credibility and the real value they could provide searchers in terms of information to rank for keywords nationally. Rather than waste that traffic from geographies outside their service area, I believe there will be opportunities to use affiliate marketing/Adsense to set up additional revenue streams to be shared by the local seo firm and the advertiser.
A simple step-by-step process for getting customers to review the business on-line will be an integral part of optimizing for local search sites as well getting the most conversions. Here, again I find symmetry between SEO and conversions.
I’m not sure if video is a necessary part of the business model for local yet, but it may be in time and certainly provides an opportunity for improved content on the website as it affords the business owner the opportunity to ‘introduce’ herself to her potential clients and thus should improve conversions. Getting the video to rank in the engines would be a nice bonus. This would probably not be part of any initial ‘package’ but would rather be an add-on later on just because I would enjoy learning more about it.
So much of this is theory right now, but what fun it will be to learn the parts of these strategies that prove to be most effective. And what value can be brought to the advertisers!
I know that there is $10s of million being spent on local advertising just in the county in which I live. If I expanded that to a radius of a one hour drive from where I live. I would guess that number goes up 5-fold. So, I’m confident the market is there.
Here is an estimate of cash flows in the first 5 years broken down by month if I am able to sign up 3 new advertisers per month, while charging an insanely low $200/mo.. (The advertiser would be required to pay for clicks charges, a pricing model that bundles the 2 is being considered)
My Final Question
So, now the question remains for me… Do I go on my own or join an existing firm or even partner with an seo/designer?
If you have any advice or are aware of some great opportunity, please let me know. You can comment below or contact me directly through the form on the ‘about’ page.