While there is more opportunity than ever to reach your desired audience with digital marketing mediums, it comes with its own set of challenges.
- What is the best platform to use?
- Where are my customers most active?
- What is the most affordable option?
- Which medium has the highest chance of converting?
Local SEO is something that’s continuing to grow in popularity as a marketing avenue. However, it’s often misunderstood by those who need it the most.
Why is this? Where’s the breakdown? What’s the solution?
The Challenge of Local SEO
I uncovered a major theme while creating this post: a lack of collaboration.
As marketers, it’s our job to understand where our clients struggle the most. It’s no different when it comes to local SEO. What are the hurdles, expectations, frustrations, and limitations that prevent local businesses from implementing SEO?
Marketers know how effective local SEO can be when it comes to driving more business, but are we conveying that clearly? Are local businesses getting it? If not, why?
I’ve mentioned in my other blogs that I find local SEO to be quite daunting. I think it’s really difficult to do well.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who views local SEO as a challenge.
Roundup: Don’t take my word for it.
I’ve recruited the help of small business owners and marketing experts to weigh in on what they view as obstacles when it comes to mastering local SEO. This post will look at both points of view: the business owner and the marketer.
The Business Owner and the Local SEO Conundrum
Brogan Renshaw of Firewire Digital breaks it down beautifully:
“Most local business owners wear three hats: entrepreneur, manager, and technician.”
- The entrepreneur wants to see the business grow and generally understands that ‘SEO’ is something that needs to be done.
- The manager is dealing with the day-to-day management tasks of the business to keep things ticking over. SEO is probably not within the manager’s thoughts.
- The technician’s role is to do the grunt work of the business, whether that’s making a product or providing a service to customers.
Unfortunately, most business owners are too busy being the manager and technician to ever focus on being the entrepreneur. This means that local SEO can often take a back seat to other forms of marketing.”
The Challenges of Understanding Local SEO
Personally, I think some business owners not only struggle with the concept of local SEO but also marketing in general. There are more ways than ever to market your business. Local SEO is just another compounding factor to consider.
CEO of Capitol Tech Solutions Bobby Reed shares an example: “there is still a large portion of businesses that don’t think they need SEO. We often have law firms or businesses that think their industry is word-of-mouth based, and they’re missing out on future business.”
Is Google Making Local SEO More Confusing?
The general consensus is that business owners have heard of local SEO, but are not 100% sure of its benefits. With so many points of interest vying for the attention of the user, businesses are understandably confused by the differences between local packs, ads, search results, etc. Is Google making its product to difficult to use or understand?
Ruth Attwood of Puglet Digital says that “the modern SERP environment is such a complex beast these days that I spend an alarming amount of time just explaining to a lot of small business owners what an ad is vs. what “organic” is and how they relate to “SEO.”
What is Local SEO, Really?
Local SEO is an industry in itself, and we have written a guide to help businesses understand it better. However, there are still many small business owners who aren’t sure what the value of local SEO is.
Matt Slaymaker, Digital Marketing Director at Folsom Creative, explains that when you ask the typical small business owner if they know what SEO is, most will reply, “I’ve heard of it, but I’m not entirely sure” or “that’s how you rank better, right?”
As marketers, we need to do a better job of explaining the value of local SEO before developing a strategy. It’s imperative that we:
- Explain exactly what local SEO is
- Understand the goals of the business
- Explain how mastering a local SEO strategy will lead to more money in the business owners’ pockets.
Charley Vail, SEO Account Manager at Digital Third Coast, suggests that marketers should help small businesses identify the most important local strategies that could have the greatest impact on their local search visibility. He said that “most clients don’t know where to start and what’s worth implementing first.”
Local SEO is a Slog
Charley Vail also explained that “you can have a rock-solid plan, but if no work is done, then there are no results. It takes dedication and time management to implement [local SEO] consistently.”
Local SEO is challenging not only due to its technical nature but also from a commitment perspective. The business owner must make an effort, but they’ll also enjoy a host of positive results.
Marketers know that SEO is slow-moving and that results aren’t immediate.
COO of Hamon Creative Kevin Geary explains it this way: “if you want to win at SEO, you can’t ‘part-time’ it. Businesses need to be willing to go all-in for a significant period of time (one-year minimum, but typically 2 to 5 years).”
Bryan Clayton, CEO at GreenPal, uses this analogy to help explain the discipline required to win at local SEO. “It’s been my experience that success in local search is kind of like dieting and requires daily diligence.”
The Dark Side of Shady SEO
Unfortunately, there are unsavory people out there trying to take advantage of business owners’ lack of knowledge in regards to local SEO. They often promise page one results within a short time frame.
There are also those marketers who offer local SEO but are not implementing best practices. Ultimately, they create a negative experience for the business owner.
Danielle Reid, Principal at DR & Associates, explains that business owners have either had a bad experience locally or want someone with true knowledge because there are many agencies and marketing “gurus” that are not truthful about their experience and capabilities.
She explained that “they simply don’t know how to go about finding someone that can provide a service that they can trust.”
A large portion of small businesses know they need more of an online presence, but they often have misconceptions about what can be achieved through local SEO.
Tonya Davis at ThoughtLab shares that many issues result from small businesses being sold on SEO by a marketing agency, but the sales rep may have provided inaccurate information or stretched the truth about what can be achieved.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of small businesses that came from bad marketing companies that told them they could rank in a large city that was 50+ miles away,” she said.
Correcting this misinformation can prove to be challenging, but often times educating business owners on how local SEO works helps set the right expectations.
Sara Freeland, Owner at Freeland Hiking Co., says “I think there is also a bit of mistrust in the industry when it comes to finding an SEO expert who will genuinely work for [your] business.”
As a small business owner, Freeland was oversold on local SEO.
“If I ever pursued SEO paid services again, I would look for a smaller, more boutique or start-up service that offered more personalized service.”
The Cost of Local SEO
The cost of local SEO and the value it provides are fundamental business concerns. Is it worth the cost? How do you know if you’ll make a return on the cost? For many local businesses, it comes down to price.
Lance Beaudry of Avalanche Creative states that “there are so many ways to price SEO, and there truly isn’t, nor should there be a one-size-fits-all” answer.
Marketing consultant Jeff Moriarty explains that most small businesses have limited budgets, which is why they attempt local SEO on their own. Many give up and search for external help, but due to the cost of professionals in this area, they just can’t proceed.
Better Proposals CEO Adam Hempenstall expresses the marketer’s point of view. He said that the cost of local SEO isn’t easy to justify, especially since no SEO agency (at least not a good one) can guarantee any results.
Pew Pew Guru owner Kevin Flowers states that “our biggest challenges with SEO were how long we could afford to pay for an outside marketer to do it, balancing anemic cash flow, and starting the business on a shoestring budget. We were very strategic in where our dollars went, and they had to absolutely have a return.”
SEO doesn’t have to be expensive, but it certainly can be. “Small businesses just need to gain enough knowledge of SEO to learn how to spot a poor marketing agency so they don’t waste their money on unachievable goals,” said Tonya Davis.
Components That Make Local SEO Better
What ingredients are needed for a successful local SEO plan? You’ll find opinions from marketers and business owners on how to ensure the cost is worth the value below.
It’s a Partnership
When it comes to local businesses, it takes some owner investment to make it happen. Digital marketers can help small business owners down the path of ranking effectively, but it’s difficult to do everything for them. So much relies on a combination of two things: industry knowledge and local connections. In that sense, the role of an agency is primarily to help business owners execute best practices.
Mike LaLonde from LDM says that “items such as onsite plans, mobile experience, and site speed, an agency can of course handle. However, when it comes to content generation for their primary services in the style, branding, and area of their business, much of that requires local knowledge.”
LaLonde goes on to explain that leveraging local connections is invaluable and can make that process much easier, especially for businesses that are well established. Doing that properly requires the owner to use those relationships, rather than a random marketer approaching the contacts with no prior relationship.
According to Bobby Reed, “the client needs to understand that they need to be a partner in sourcing content, such as high-quality testimonials for each service, reviews of written content that matches their business, and approval of final content.”
Understanding the Process
Business owners might acknowledge that local SEO is important, but that doesn’t mean they understand the general concept of how it works.
Jeff Moriarty shares that almost all of the businesses he’s worked with have no idea about the process of ranking locally.
“Once they have someone knowledgeable to speak to, they’re willing to put in the work because they understand the process and how important it is.”
It’s important for business owners to understand the basics of how SEO works and what their marketer should be doing for them. There must be accountability.
Kevin Geary says. “When [businesses] don’t understand, they get taken advantage of, have false expectations, and burn money for months and even years with no results.”
Local SEO is a long-term investment. Success and rewards aren’t immediate. Bobby Reed explains that businesses expect that as soon as they invest in SEO, they’ll instantly be on page one.
“We have to properly explain how SEO works, the time commitment it takes, and the long-term value of SEO.”
I firmly believe that clients who are well-educated will be better partners. Education brings forth transparency and understanding and encourages communication.
Laura Simis of Coalmarch encourages marketers to focus on educating their clients on what’s really important. It can be easy to get bogged down in detail on things that aren’t really driving results. This includes questions like, “am I ranking well for long-tail terms” and “what’s my domain authority?”
Businesses should be asking questions about actions that drive value, such as “is my Google My Business listing visible for local searches?” and “am I providing content that helps me rank for local-focused searches?”
The Potential: Getting Your Business to RANK
What does it take for a business to rank well locally? What things should the business owner and digital marketer really focus on developing?
With the real-world PPC value of SEO rising into tens of thousands of dollars a month, businesses who want to get serious about SEO must have the willingness to invest thousands of dollars a month. They need to be willing to invest in content creation, outreach, authentic link building, graphic design, and more. So much goes into SEO, and it costs good money to do it right.
Mike LaLonde encourages more business owners to be involved in the marketing process.
“Local SEO effectiveness is strongly supported by the involvement and knowledge of the local service professional.”
From content specific to the area to generating reviews and leveraging local partnerships, marketing consultants can guide local professionals and do the heavy lifting, but typically involvement is necessary in order to be as effective as possible.
Identify Keywords that Convert
One of the biggest challenges is that small businesses don’t know the top keywords that they need to be ranking for locally.
Jeff Moriarty explains that “most companies aren’t setting up Google Search Console or using paid tools to find this data. It’s something you need to research and learn, and most business owners just don’t have the time.”
There’s no doubt that a large portion of SEO requires a technical understanding of websites and search engines. It takes time to learn and understand all of the technical features necessary to rank well.
Sara Freeland shares her experience when she tried to apply local SEO.
“I decided to focus on SEO myself and attempt to implement some basic concepts. It’s a full-time job, let alone all of the other hats that I wear as a solo business owner. I find it extremely confusing, as I don’t have a tech background. I have attempted to read blogs and watch LinkedIn videos, but I am still quite confused about the entire process.”
While it might seem overwhelming for business owners to wrap their heads around all of the technical aspects of local SEO, there’s value in hiring a professional. Making sure your website is technically sound is fundamentally important.
In their most recent local search study, Moz identified that Google reviews were the biggest local ranking factor. It should be every business owner’s goal to acquire reviews.
Bryan Clayton believes “there is no better local SEO signal than local reviews. In the six months, we’ve been doing it, we’ve noticed that our rankings have improved on a local level in each of the nine cities we live in.”
Kevin Flowers says, “I worked tirelessly to give my customers great service and pushed for reviews on Google. This is one of the things that has really helped with my local SEO, probably more than any other single activity.”
Google My Business
In order to acquire those coveted Google reviews, businesses need to set up and claim their Google My Business (GMB) listing account. This is an absolute must-have for any business that wants to rank locally.
GMB is a free listing tool from Google that allows owners to add details about their business, such as:
- Phone number
- Locations served
- Descriptions of products or services
Madeleine Seah from New Age Polish says that “creating a Google My Business profile is imperative in local SEO. It helps the business rank well and ensures that all related information is correct. However, without adequate knowledge, businesses might be unaware that they need to do this.”
While GMB is a great tool, it can be a real pain to verify if you have multiple locations. Google wants to make sure the real businesses are claiming and registering their business online. They have multiple verification processes in place to ensure the real business is claiming their listing.
Head of Digital Marketing at Your Parking Space Gregory Golinski explains that “one of the biggest challenges for businesses with several addresses is to synchronize things with other offices when Google sends postcards to verify each location on Google My Business.”
- Postcards often get lost, thrown away, or end up never reaching the right locations.
- You have to call different people to explain why they’re supposed to receive these postcards, or just chase these postcards.
Golinski suggests having a strategy to intercept these postcards when Google sends them to your different business locations.
Most small businesses build a website and may claim their GMB listing, but this isn’t enough. How do you know if your local SEO is working? How do you check its performance?
Brett Downes, Head of SEO at Studio 54 says, “in my experience, most business owners don’t know how to track it properly. We set up UTM tracking parameters on all of our clients’ GMB so we can accurately analyze how much traffic is coming in from their GMB listings.”
A majority of small businesses don’t have the in-house resources (e.g. time, money, skills, and tools) to really focus on SEO and paid digital advertising.
There is an abundance of tools to help SEOs understand the performance of their digital campaigns. What we don’t see a lot of is tools that help business owners drill down into the most important factors of local SEO.
“One of the biggest benefits of partnering with a reputable agency is that they have an arsenal of tools at their disposal and should be able to pull out the right data to guide strategy and measure results”, says Laura Simis.
Too Much to Focus On
Small business owners have a bevy of things to worry about when it comes to running their company. It can be challenging to concentrate your attention on all of the details.
“Since most business owners don’t personally have the time to do their own local SEO, I’d have to say it comes down to getting the right help to implement these tactics,” says Patricio Quiroz of Code Authority.
It’s very important to hire a reputable SEO or digital marketing company that understands your company’s needs and how to execute a successful digital marketing campaign.
According to Patricia Quiroz, applying local SEO is perhaps one of the most important aspects of running a local business.
“You want to get your products or services in front of the right audience on Google by ranking for the right keywords.”
Collaboration between the Marketer and the Business Owner
Matt Slaymaker says, “in the end, the key to a successful SEO strategy is the combination of technical know-how, the willingness of a business to not give up (particularly when they aren’t seeing immediate results), and realistic expectations.”
These factors must be combined with accurate objectives and expectations.
“If the local SEO client doesn’t have the resources to help implement or doesn’t take the time to help implement, then nothing usually gets done and no results are shown”, says Charley Vail.
Set Clear Expectations throughout the Process
Right from the start expectations need to be made clear, by both parties.
- Business owners need to communicate what they think they are receiving as a service.
- Marketers need to set expectations to address any false expectations.
From the very first marketing RFP that is sent out to the reporting of the local SEO results, expectations need to be agreed upon and revisited throughout the duration fo the relationship. This will reduce a lot of tension and misunderstanding.
Build a Marketer/Busines Owner Partnership
The other main takeaway is that local SEO needs to be a partnership. The issue with local SEO lies with both the marketer and the small business owner.
Small businesses need help, but they often don’t seem to understand, trust, or appreciate the value that local SEO offers. On the other hand, marketers don’t seem to convey the value of local SEO in a meaningful way that business owners can understand and value.
Lance Beaudry states that “rankings and traffic are symptoms of what you need, which are leads and sales. More traffic isn’t helpful if it doesn’t lead to more business.”
Local SEO works best when the business owner is involved and the process isn’t handled 100% by an agency.