Local SEO Guide: Get Ranked, Save Money And Avoid Shady SEO Services
You have just handed over a few thousand pounds to your web developer for your new website, and they start talking to you about their ‘additional services’ such as SEO.
You think to yourself ‘they are a web designer, so they know what they are talking about’.
You have heard about SEO, and you know you need it, so you sign the cheque for this work.
After all, you are a business owner. You have accounting, invoices, wages, and sales to think about not to mention all the other stuff going on in your life. Getting your site ranked in the search engines is something you don’t have time for, so you pay the £150, £450 or even £1000 per month fee.
However, there is a niggling feeling in the back of your head that just won’t go away.
You are wondering if you have been ripped off.
If you are a Small to medium enterprise, this story may sound familiar. You might be going through this process right now and do not worry I have spoken to so many business owners that feel the same.
Today we are going to help you to get a grip on what SEO is all about by teaching you some basics and showing you how we ranked a website for a series of local search terms.
The thing is, SEO is not complicated, it is a combination of art and science, and once you understand the basics, you will find yourself able to do an awful lot of it yourself.
So save your pennies and get out a pen and paper for this crash course that will help you to avoid being ripped off by dishonest SEO’s. A word of warning. This guide has the potential of saving you thousand’s of pounds but it is super long.
At 4500 words with case studies and packed with links to resources on search engine optimisation, this guide is for the business owner that really wants to save themselves time and money and to ensure that they are not getting ripped off.
If that is you, then welcome to our money saving and knowledge expanding post.
3 Questions To Ask Any SEO or Web Agency
Before we begin I must highlight that there are thousands of superb SEO agencies out there and amazing Web design companies that offer high standard SEO services.
However for every good agency, there will be hundreds more that are terrible. Luckily I have a 3 question approach that will allow you to spot the good from the bad.
The best way to weed the good SEO’s from the bad is to ask a few questions.
1.Firstly ask them how they learned about SEO?
2.Next ask them to tell you what they do to improve a sites internet rankings.
3. Finally, ask them to show you a site that they took from zero to over 10,000 monthly site visits and ask them for Google Analytics proof of this.
Most people will struggle with the first and second question, but if they manage to get to the proof stage, 99% will fumble.
But why is proof so important?
Well, when it comes to trusting your website to a person or company you better be sure they know what they are doing.
I personally think any SEO should be able to show results from scratch. They should, at least, have a track record of generating site traffic from Google and show you this.
I strongly believe that any good SEO should be able to take a site from zero to 10,000 visitors and be able to show you proof.
White Hat and Black Hat SEO
One of the first things that any business owner must be able to spot is the use of white hat and black hat tactics.
Now I do not want to confuse you so let me say this.
Black hat is doing activities to rank sites higher that Google disapproves of and white hat is doing things by the book!
Do you ever get spammy emails or spam comments on your site or blog?
Well, this is a classic black hat method. A bad SEO is using software to put automatically spammy links onto the blog sites of others.
Other examples of black hat include:
Keyword stuffing: This might be adding the same Keywords multiple times to a page
Using Link farms: Sites that are built just using links with no useful information
Writing text in the same colour as your background
Duplicate content or stealing content from other sites
The list could go on and on.
White hat tactics are all about adding value to the web and should be based around:
Creating great content.
Improving site speed
And other key aspects that will make the experience of using your website a better one.
As a business owner you need to understand the difference and ask your web agency just what they do for the SEO fee.
Now there 3 main sides to SEO and these are
On Page SEO
This aspect refers to the data on every page of your site and the user experience a visitor has.
This will be in relation how a website is found by the search engines and crawled and includes building site maps, page load improvements and site structure
Off Page SEO
This is the process of generating inbound traffic and links from sources outside of your site
Create A Website With SEO In Mind
One of the key issues you will face will be hiring a web designer who does not do or offer SEO from the get go.
Why is this important? Well think about this for a second, if a website designer creates you a website shouldn’t this include SEO?
Of course, it should.
Every website should have SEO included within it, because if it hasn’t you will have issues from day one.
Very often I speak to people who have a website built then think of SEO as a secondary tactic. Instead, a web designer should hire an SEO consultant to work with them on every project they do from the very beginning.
If you meet a web designer, you need to ask them who is doing the SEO on the site, if they say “we are” revert to the 3 golden questions in the introduction of this article.
Web design and Search Engine Optimisation are 2 very different fields.
Would you ask a knee surgeon to do some brain surgery on the side? Of course, you wouldn’t and at the same time you need to understand that SEO and Web design require specialist knowledge, skills and training.
So let’s get your SEO knowledge to a higher level.
Website Set Up
Before you embark on your mission to get to page 1 in the search rankings, you need to decide on what the objective of your site is and who is your ideal visitor
In our case study, I am looking at getting a site ranked for the search term “Personal Trainers in Stoke on Trent” and you can see on this screenshot that we achieved our goal:
The objective of this site is very simple, to provide people who live in Stoke on Trent with information and advice that helps them to choose a great personal trainer.
We also wanted to rank for phrases such as fitness boot camps in this areas as well.
Now you may be asking how I knew what I wished to rank for, don’t worry we will show you in the next step.
However, you must decide what your business or website does and what problem does it solve?
Do you sell wedding dresses, or are you an emergency plumber. While this might be the basic premise of your business, you might also offer numerous other services and products of which the person using the internet might be searching for.
Luckily you will be able to find out exactly what people are searching for during your keyword research stage. The keyword research stage is perhaps the most important of all.
Keyword research is the art of discovering what people are searching for on-line
We are of course interested in finding out what your potential customers are searching for and getting your site found in the search results for those searches.
Those searches are built up around keywords, and key phrases, and there are 2 types of keywords or phrases that we are interested in.
An example of a medium tail search phrase would be “SEO for beginners” or “Best PS4 Games.”
An example of a long tail search is a phrase such as “hotels that accept dogs in Wales”.
It is likely that your website will target both medium tail and long tail searches.
However at this stage, you have no idea what phrases are being searched for and where and to understand this we will use Google’s Free Keyword Research Tool called the Google, keyword Planner.
The Research Process
Go to the keyword planner that Google provide for free and you want to hit the search for keywords category.
The next step is for you to choose a key phrase that fits your business. If you remember, the goal of the site in our case study is to provide information on personal trainers in the area of Stoke on Trent. So we will add the phrase Personal Trainers and then look at the area section and click where it says United Kingdon and change it to Stoke on Trent.
However, you just need to put your product or service in this field and choose your own area to do the same.
Once we click the button, we will go to a page that looks like the below image.
The next important step is for us to click Keyword Ideas. You need to remember that your business is using this tool to help with organic Search Engine Rankings. However, the real purpose for this tool is for you to use the Google Adwords product
Once you have clicked on Keyword ideas, you can see the average monthly searches for the phrase and with other similar keyphrases.
As you will see, there is a suggested bid per click of £1.20 and up to £2.64. This tells me that the phrase has commercial intent, in other words, the people searching for it are likely to be looking for a service to buy.
Figuring out searcher intent will be a key factor in deciding if you should go after a phrase, that and, of course, the level of competition you face.
However if we look below, we can see about 800 search terms that could offer you a chance to get more traffic for your business.
My next step will be to download the data and save it into a Google spreadsheet.
At this time, I will analyse the data and play around to target the right keyphrases that suit my business.
A few things you need to consider.
- The intent of the searcher ie. are they looking to buy or just get information.
- Search Volume. How many people are searching per month for each phrase?
Now just because a phrase only receives a few searches doesn’t mean that it is not a good fit.
If we do a UK search for the phrase SEO in the planner we see the following:
SEO companies and SEO service do not exactly get many monthly searches, however, to bid on these for ad word clicks you are looking at £16.99 and £14.72 per click. If you were to get 50% of the search volume (not likely with Adwords) this would end up giving you a bill of £10,758 per month.
However when considering that each sale could be over £1500 per month for a basic SEO service, you can instantly see the value.
That is why people use Google Adwords, because it delivers quality search results to your business right away!
Another example of buyer searches is Social media manager
Google places a high ad value on these clicks because they are likely to be from people who want to buy a product.
When doing your research you need to consider if your keywords have consumer intent.
If you can rank for phrases that have high commercial intent your business will be likely to make more money.
In the end, after several searches and a few hours of keyword research I decided on the phrase ‘Personal trainers in Stoke:
As you can see it gets too little search volume as a phrase itself, however there are hundreds of related phrases and search term variations which gives me a larger audience to target.
I am aware that Google’s search algorithm is smart enough to know that a person searching for ‘personal trainers in Stoke’ will also be looking for variations such as personal trainer in Stoke and personal trainers in Stoke on Trent.
If we look at the next image we can see another example of us ranking for a phrase variation or synonym:
Picking Primary and Multiple Search Phrases
One of the things that you must realise is that your website can rank for lot’s of phrases. However, you need to look at your keyword research and consider what you want.
For my purposes, I picked out a few searches and these included: Personal trainers in Stoke on Trent
Personal trainers in Stoke on Trent
Fitness Bootcamps in Stoke on Trent
and a few other similar phrases.
I make a list of all the phrases I want to rank for, and the next step is to pick a primary phrase that describes your business.
To give you an idea Brian Dean from the SEO blog Backlinko has included the term SEO Training and Link Building Strategies.
At Zoogly, we are SEO and Content Marketing experts.
This way we are telling Google and any direct searcher what our site is about.
However placing your keyphrase in your site description is a good start for your SEO.
To think of this in another way. I could have called my site www.flab2fit.co.uk and put the site description as:
“Flab2fit: Find A Great Personal Trainer in Stoke”
I know it sounds almost too basic to be true but you need to tell Google what your business is about, and the description of your site is a great way to do this.
Choosing A Good Domain
A domain name is essential to good search engine domination. However, you want to remember that Google should rank your business name anyway.
For example is you search for Zoogly Media you get this:
However, that is just one phrase that I want to match for.
Of course, it is important to get ranked for your business name but that should happen naturally over time.
Instead, you want to be ranking for some different phrases that people who would like to buy your services or products.
For example, if you are a hotel you might to rank for ‘wedding venues in….’ or ‘new years eve party’ and so on.
Therefore, your domain does not need to be an exact match. So your hotel does not need to have the domain www.hotels in……com.
This was an old SEO tactic and the days of exact matches are over and instead you need only to have your company or brand name in your domain if you can.
In my example, I have used www.personatrainersinstoke.com as a domain. Now the reason is not that I wanted to try and get one over on Google by using the search phrase in the domain.
It just made sense to have a site that was dedicated to help people find the best personal trainers in Stoke to have that name.
However, a domain should be easy to remember, fit on a business card easily and be aligned with your brand in some way.
Getting A Domain
There are 3 ways to get a domain.
- You can create or buy a new one
- You can get an old one
- You can buy an existing site
The goal of buying an older site or domain is that you can go to a service such as Flippa and purchase a pre-built site and use/ change it for your purpose or buy an older domain and also use it for your business.
However, there also comes a risk with this process. An older site domain may have bad links, and although is a few years old, the harm from bad links may not be worth the risk. Just thin, the previous owner of this domain could have used Black hat tactics. Think of it as buying a dodgy second-hand car.
If you go down this process you need to hire a excellent SEO firm to manage this research for you. However if you do get it right an older domain or even an older site could supercharge your business.
Older domains are often more trusted by Google and offer the chance to get rankings faster.
Page Authority and Domain Authority
By now you have a good grasp of what is involved in SEO and realise that you can do an awful lot yourself. The next subject on our list is what we call Page Authority and Domain Authority or PA and DA as it is known.
A variety of leading SEO software/ tool providers uses metrics to tell you the power of a site. One of the most popular is a chrome extension called the Moz Bar.
Google views pages of your site as individual entities, and this is why you can see blog posts like this one rank for very different words than my main home page does.
As such it is natural for a search engine to give a score to show the usefulness of a site or page in relation to various search terms.
If you install the Moz bar you can see your own sites domain and page authority.
Your goal is over time to get a higher domain authority.
To do this, your pages need to provide the best possible results for the searcher. It really is as simple as this.
Google My Business
Once you have a domain set up and registered and, at least, a basic version/ coming soon page you need to go and get onto Google My Business.
It is free, easy to set up and Google will send you a code through the post for you to activate, and away you go.
This will let Google place your business on their maps and business listings.
WordPress is now one of the most popular content management systems (or CMS), and many business sites will be built on the platform.
This is great because WordPress make SEO really easy to do, and we will help you now.
Get The Best SEO Plug In
WordPress is a system that has allowed it’s users to develop plug ins to help with SEO, and the best one is called Yoast
It takes seconds to install and set it up so here is how to do that.
All you need to do is go to the plug in page and search for Yoast in the search box and when it appears to click install.
Now I won’t go through the Yoast SEO set up as it is all included inside the plug in itself and Yoast has a blog too.
The next plug in you need is a cache one.
Although you might not understand why or how the cache plug in will help to make your site faster and as such this will support your SEO efforts.
The one I use is W3 Total cache but there are lots of others. Once again repeat the process we used for Yoast.
Build A User-Friendly Site
The purpose of any site should be to deliver the searcher what they want.
For my case study site, I wanted to help a person find a personal trainer and as such I have made navigation as easy as possible
Also, on the other pages, I have clear title pages for the subjects I want to rank for.
On the surface this might seem like over optimization or bad SEO, I am actually just delivering what the searcher wants.
This approach might not work for every type of business. However, your goal should be to make life very easy for the visitor and as we can see these pages are actually helping me to rank not hindering the site.
If you are considering what to call your pages, this is the advice I would give.
Simply think of the searcher. Will your page title help them to get the information they need fast. It is a simple as that.
My example is geographically based. I know that people coming to the site are going to want to know where the fitness boot camps are in their area, or where a good personal trainer is based on their area. “If I was doing the SEO for a sandwich shop that does catering as well I would not have pages called “Catering in Newcastle”, “Catering in Stoke”. This doesn’t look nice and is very spammy. I might have pages called “Funeral Catering”
“If I was doing the SEO for a sandwich shop that does catering as well I would not have pages called “Catering in Newcastle”, “Catering in Stoke”. This doesn’t look nice and is very spammy. I might have pages called “Funeral Catering”, “wedding catering” etc.
I would then optimise the content on the pages to tell Google we are talking about a catering service in that area.
The goal is to be natural, good SEO ads value to the site and makes it a great experience for the user and also the search engines.
The goal is if someone comes to your site, they stay there for longer and actually read several pages. This will reduce what Google refer to as bounce rate (basically entering and exiting a site on one page). In the process, this will help your site to gain rankings.
Your web developer should be working with the SEO closely to ensure that the site both ranks for the phrases you want and looks great too. It is a balancing act!
Create Local Orientated Content
The next step in our quest for rankings is to create locally themed search engine content.
Now you might not have an idea of how to do this but use your sites blog and pages
In the personal trainers site we created pages that talked about the best areas to run a fitness session outdoors, and we named all those areas and took photos.
You might write a post such as”17 great locations for wedding photos in xyz”.
This type of content is great because it is showing Google that you are providing area-specific content, and once again reducing bounce rate on your site.
What is also great about this process is that by promoting it on social media you will get superb traffic levels as local people will come to your business site to read the article.
We did this with an article on The Staffordshire Oatcake. The result was over 400 people came to the site in less than 24 hours.
Many people will talk to you about getting what Google calls citations or NAP.
Nap stands for Name, Address and Phone number, and citations are basically mentions of your business across the web.
While I agree that these are very important processes and can help to rank a site I do not agree that are better than creating great content that attracts natural backlinks from high authority sites.
Our example case study did not have a single NAP or citation pointing to it, and it still ranked.
This part of this local SEO guide is to optimise the images for discovery by search engines
To do this use a free tool called Picassa, it is created by Google and allows you to change the image so you can add a map reference.
You can literally change the image so that the data inside it (which is what Google reads) will have the location of the image.
This small aspect has helped me to rank a site very quickly before.
When buying optimisation services from anyone you will hear the phrase’link building’ and may be confused as to what it actually is.
Google has over 200 different ranking factors which help it to decide where to rank your websites pages in relation to search queries.
One of those factors is something called ‘link building’.
It is likely that any SEO agency or web company offering a monthly fee for SEO will engage in building you links.
The question you need to ask is ‘how are they doing this?’
The head of web spam at Google was a man named Matt Cutts (he is on leave now) however he is quoted as saying: “Link building is sweat plus creativity.”
The activity around building links is a huge subject and Brian Dean at Backlinko is one of the leading experts on SEO and in his article on The Skyscraper method he goes into detail on how he gains traffic and increased internet rankings.
Back in the day shady SEO’s got sites ranked high in search engines by focusing on building spammy links. Google knew this and as such came out with a variety of updates on their search algorithm which they called the Penguin and Panda updates.
These updates saw websites wiped off Google literally overnight due to a combination of spammy links and poor quality content.
So before you sign off for those services you need to ask them exactly what they are doing for your site to build links.
For our example with the personal training site, the goal was simple.
Create a site that allowed the residents of Stoke on Trent and it’s surrounding areas to find quality personal trainers and fitness boot camps fast.
This was underpinned by some good content and articles that again would help anyone who read them. So how did we do?
If we look at the site in our case study you see the following results:
Now that is not bad considering we are actually out-ranking Yell.com.
Now here is the truth……
I did very little work on that site. In truth I was working with a subcontractor at the time who I told exactly what and how to do this.
The result was that I told what a person with no experience in SEO to do and the site got ranked exactly the way I wanted.
In fact, I get regular calls about the services on this site, so I do really need to find some personal trainers for it.
Although this site was an experiment in search rankings, it is easy to see that a business owner with passion will be able to get a website ranked for the search phrases they wish to target.
What is essential is that they must actually care about their searcher. Treat everyone as a real customer and aim to give them the best experience possible and you will soon see your rankings increase.
With a combination of on page SEO, great content and an overriding goal to create a great experience for any website visitor.
So if you have got to the bottom of this guide you will by now realise that SEO is a creative field and for any business owner it is an important one.
However everything you could ever want to know about getting your site ranked on Google has been written as is out there for free.
With our case study we showed that it is possible to get a site to the number 1 spot of Google for the search terms you wish. However, it all comes down to the effort.
If you need any more advice, just hook up for our free SEO strategy session, and we will help you to navigate the search engine jungle.
Thanks for reading