Understanding Local Business SEO and Marketing with Google
If the words are not on the page then you are unlikely to rank
Fact is that for many local businesses serving local communities today, they just aren’t going to (nor should they) rank globally or nationally for singular business keywords like “Plumber” or “Electrician” or “insert common service”.
If they did, the SERPs would be a little useless.
It’s one of the reasons why we get personalised and localised results. Results returned based on where we are searching from, returning (in theory) results from those localities serving that marketplace.
For local businesses looking to play, their route to market online is a mix of advertising or being listed in local directories that rank, or paying for PPC or social media ads to raise awareness.
There’s a tiered ecosystem in place – and the SERPs (search engine results pages) are structured to maximise return for Google and the players who make it to the top.
If we look at this SERP for “electricians” we will see that at the top above the fold so to speak, we have ads. Google ads, that look a little like organic results but to the trained eye are just ads.
Paid Inclusion Local Organic SERP
These ads are paid for by companies (usually not direct service suppliers) who act as lead generation vehicles offering placement via a combination of CPL (cost per lead), CPA (cost per acquisition) or straight up paid inclusion ( pay a joining or monthly fee).
Local trades people seldom (if ever appear in these ads) simply because the CPC’s are often out of their price band. They just fail to see the value in paying £2 or £3 per click for an unknown quantity. Many have websites that are years behind the curve in terms of layout or ability to convert and track the sale and for a lot of them, the whole Internet marketing gig is just headache inducing.
Local Pack – The Carousel of Hope
Businesses do get an opportunity to appear in the ‘local pack’ as it’s known, but these are limited and often randomised to show whoever the algorithm at the time deemed worthy. In areas of high concentrations of competing businesses and population, those chances to be seen are ever diminished.
The “Organic” SERP
Here’s the stuff that appears below the fold and the local pack SERP for “Electrician in Folkestone”.
Full of directory type websites.
Few local businesses appear here, and the two that do is made up of the savvy guy who bought a decent domain name, and another who uses rich snippets generated by a * hubspot local page product.
* Golly gee, they even get the privilege of being able to link back to the people they paid for the local SEO service too, so no footprint there…
The Aggregators Are The Innovators
In short, the aggregators are winning and the small guy isn’t and despite Google’s efforts to half heartedly level the playing field, the fact is that for most local businesses looking to appear in search, they need to work real hard to win and pay a small fortune for the opportunity.
Factors like a local address, postcode and phone number on a webpage help (I’ve seen local websites appear organically for some local queries whereby they had local info on the page) but for the most part, they simply aren’t set up to target their local areas effectively, they lack the authority, and most crucially lack the landing pages.
Take a pretty dominant site like this for example. Look at the query for site:www.checkatrade.com/Search/Electrician/in/ and we’ll see that Google lists around 2050 urls
All of their pages are listed with local business who pay to be included. Including a map and a list of services. Premium spots appear to exist upon some of the pages and… in essence, it’s a search engine within a search engine for local results with reviews.
Just like a Yell, a ThomsonLocal or whatever other local directory type service you care to mention.
I guess you could say it’s a great business model for Google and lucrative for the aggregators but not such a great deal for the local businesses with services to offer who are having to pay. This then drives up costs for consumers as businesses seek to turn a profit.
CPC’s north of £5 per click – 1000’s of monthly searches for variants of Electrician in London (postcodes boroughs etc) for example, it soon adds up and there’s money on the table.
Arguably you could also say it’s a good deal for the searcher as they get to see grouped listings with reviews, and social proof scores and what not. However, that’s not to say that today in 2016 small business owners can’t or shouldn’t be doing the same.
What should a small local business do?
If they can’t get passionate about their business online and talk to their customer base, and interested parties then they’re missing a trick and can’t really complain when their competitors are suddenly everywhere.
If site owners made more of an effort to be strategic in what they do, then they too could begin to rank for queries like these through creating content that was more tightly focused on their areas of service. Some do already, but a lot don’t and that contributes to the reason why they end up paying third parties to be listed, who then drive leads via PPC or other channels.
If only these businesses took the time to build out some localised content that contained the words that people search for, then perhaps they too could begin to compete. (Really!!)
It’s one of the reasons I put this landing page tool together, a tool that enables people to build specific localised landing pages based on their own web templates and the ability to then create landing pages for very specific localities.
It’s no panacea; people still need to put the effort into what they do.
More effort equals more reward is still a truism, nothing new there but it is a time saver, it does give people a little more focus and subject to HTML chops is a handy way of creating content that’s useful for PPC , social media marketing and local SEO campaigns.
Ok end of advert – fact is, some small businesses could do a whole lot better in the SERPs, if only they made the effort.