Ironing out the Facts: Local SEO

Link removal is great. I don’t just have to say that because it’s my job, but it’s a process that actually works, and in most cases has a positive impact on key metrics and visibility.  I have been a part of the link removal team for just over a year now, and have seen some amazingly bad backlink profiles during this time.

You will often find me staring out of the window at times during the day, and on the whole, apart from wondering what’s for tea, I’m usually pondering the latest hype, update and release from Google. I see sites doing amazingly well being supported by very few links (which is very frustrating), as well as sites constantly poorly performing, despite having 1000’s of quality backlinks.

Now, I’ve always had this gripe about big business dominating the SERPs, and I like nothing more than being able to buy local. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon, but I would like a local alternative now and again.

This was the point at which I thought I’m going to write a blog post about local search. Then I thought, in fact I’m going to build a site, optimise it, give it some social signals and do the link building. It must have been a quiet day on my desk that day!

The idea to start this project couldn’t have come at a better time, coinciding nicely with the poorly named Pigeon update, a name that doesn’t promise the update to be a pretty one. Designed to provide more useful and relevant SERPs to local search queries, while harnessing the power of traditional ranking metrics… and who said links were dead? I have to admit, I’m delighted to see a Google update that is helping SMEs. For too long Google has been in favour of national and multinational brands cross all industries, pricing and forcing smaller businesses offline.

The outcome of this blog post is twofold. Primarily it is to dig a little deeper into the key factors in optimising and getting a local business to rank for its core keywords, but also to see if I still have what it takes to be a proper SEO.

Optimising for local search

When optimising your site and campaign for local search, you must take into account the “local” aspect of the queries. This means researching your key brand and non brand terms, and adding the local aspect to them (usually town and place names within your local area). Think about the services you offer as a business and use these as a starting point. The Google Keyword Planner will help you determine what people are actually searching for, and you can use this to help come up with your main keywords.

Onsite optimisation is a vital part of any good organic SEO campaign. It’s also an easy win, meaning you should see some good results. Simple things like adding local phrases to your titles and descriptions should give you increased visibility in some local SERPs.

Add your business address to your website’s contact page, and be sure to use structured-data markup to make sure Google understands where your business is based. Google will also use this address to validate your true identity, and will be crossed referenced with any local citations you build when you implement your link building campaign.

Now keyword stuffing went down with the ark, so don’t do it. However, adding some local terms to your onsite content will really help point both Google and actual customers in the right direction when it comes to highlighting where your business is based.

Here’s the most important bit, take note…it really is important. Once your site is up and running, and has been optimised correctly, get yourself business verified with Google. Registration is quick and simple, and once verified you will be listed on the map in relevant local search queries. It also does wonders for your rankings!

Be sure to use Google+ to promote your business, too. Get your customers talking about you as much as possible, ask for reviews, and post great content. These are all signals Google will pick up on to prove you are a real life functioning business.

Link Building for Local

There was a time when you could throw £500 at directory listings and get a site ranking in a matter of weeks. We all know this doesn’t work anymore, and I can stress enough how important it is to get the link building right from the start. Many SEOs aren’t fortunate enough to start with a blank canvass, and it may be worthwhile cleaning up a spammy backlink profile before you start improving rankings and visibility. As I previously mentioned, in the early stages, removing lower quality links can have as good an effect as building links.

I touched on it briefly when we were talking about optimisation. Local citations really are a good way to give your site a good local boost. There is a lot of debate around the topic of citations and their effectiveness. It may be counter intuitive for an SEO to actively acquire an online mention without asking for a link (don’t worry it took me a while to get over it). As long as you get the NAP (name, address, and phone number) mention the same as the listing on your site, then Google will use these mentions on good quality citation sites as signs of trust. At the end of the day this is what we are striving for; for Google to see us as a real word company, deserving of a place in the SERPs.

If you are in highly competitive niche, then the chances are building citations on their own isn’t going to be enough to get you into the money positions on Google. You are probably going to need to engage in some more serious link acquisition.

Guest blogging is still a great way to promote your brand and your business. Always go for Quality sites, with good authority and social signals. Another key factor to consider when guest blogging is anchor text. Don’t be tempted to heavily optimise too early on. Make the post look genuine, and be happy with a URL link, or even a junk anchor.

Case Study

So hopefully you now have some insight into the absolute basics of local search optimisation. Of course, do get in touch with us if you need us to help with your site. Here comes the fun bit now. For a few months now, I have been working on this little project; a platform to really test how things work, and if they work. Now the idea was never to try and rank in an overly competitive niche with a website that in the grand scheme of things wasn’t helping anybody by being in the SERPs, so I went for a lesser known niche… Ironing!

OK, I know, it’s random, but it’s also a pretty good place to start. There are a lot of ironing services sites in around Manchester at the moment; none of them with much in the way of SEO. My plan was to create a site, optimise it, throw some links at it, and see how quickly I could get it ranking (and how high up the SERPs I could get it… let the fun begin.

Step 1 – Creating the site

I’m quite happy to admit that I’m no designer and definitely not a coder, so the design phase was a pretty daunting task. I had no clue where to start. Anyway, I started with the easy bit, and bought a domain name (http://manchesterironing.co.uk/). Yup it’s an exact match domain. I’ve heard the hype around exact match domains, and they are known to work really well. They majority of the keywords I would be targeting would be a variation on “Manchester Ironing”, so I thought this was a pretty good place to start.

I kept it simple with the design, and went with the help of a website builder. It seemed to do the trick, and the results look OK for the industry and sections of society we are targeting. A few stock images and contact forms later, and we were ready to roll.

Step 2 – Optimisation

I mentioned how key this is to any campaign earlier, and I really wanted to look at using markup schema, so I did.

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Titles and descriptions were optimised to include both brand and commercial key phrases, and the onsite content was geared towards the end user to see how this effected the results.

At this stage the site was live, fresh and had been indexed, but hadn’t been verified by Google. After a week rankings started to appear. Not great rankings, but rankings all the same.

Below are the results for the first ever rank check I did, along with the keywords targeted. Page 6 visibility after a week? We can do better.

Rankings 09_07_2014
I have to say I was a bit sceptical about verifying my site with Google Business. I’m not sure why, but I really wasn’t expecting much to change. I did it anyway, and waited for the postcard to arrive through the door. 2 weeks past, and it was here. I popped in the code, and expected nothing to happen.

I was indeed wrong, rankings rocketed over the next couple of weeks, nearly every keyword ended up on either page one or two. I was amazed, and could only attribute this massive jump to Google verification.

Rankings 21_07_2014

Looking at the ranking graph for the main term of “Manchester Ironing Service”, we can see the massive jump just after verification happened.

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These major changes in rankings really did give me the boost I needed to see how much further I could push this site. We have to remember that this site was only 2 weeks old, and was now outranking its competitors who had been around for years. An early lesson for the industry here; get on board with SEO before the mindful newbies overtake you!

Step 3- Link Acquisition

I decided to acquire links through guest blogging for this particular project. I didn’t plan to go mad, and wanted to see how many links it would take to give this site a further boost. You hear it time and time again, but gaining relevant links is vital to keep your backlink profile as spam free as possible.

I managed to secure a post on a well know cleaning spares supplier over in the States, which is relevant to the industry. The post was unique, and I decided to go with brand’ish only anchors.

I also outreached to a number of cleaning service websites a good few miles away from my home address to see if they would be interested in hosting a blog post of mine. Again the results were great, and I wrote a piece with some great ironing tips… again with branded anchors.

Other posts included more tip blogs for parenting sites, along with a post about starting an ironing business for a business blog.

The next step to get the main keywords ranking even further is to do a little citation submission work, again focusing on the higher quality sites, which are actually going to pass traffic.

How are things looking today?

Very well, actually. I gave the little link building I did a little time to take effect. Today we are looking at first page visibility for all but two keyword. The majority of the ranking keywords are within the first three positions. I would be happy to report that out to a client.

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OK, so I know this is an easy win, but there are some lessons to be learnt here. If you or your clients are in an emerging niche where the competition is just riding the historic wave of success, then be proactive, get ahead of the wave, and be miles ahead of them when they wake up and realise SEO is happening, and is necessary. The ironing industry isn’t there yet, but when it is, there will be a domain ready for redirect for sale. Apply within!

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