How to Choose the Best Local SEO Company (and 8 Other Local Search Questions)
You work hard in your business, and you also work hard to market your business online. So, it can be pretty frustrating when, despite your best efforts, it’s your competitor that ranks well locally. It’s your competitor that appears in Google’s coveted three-pack.
When that happens, it’s hard not to bang your head against the wall and wonder, “What’s up with that???”
In fact, that’s why we decided to write this post. A successful local SEO campaign needs a unique blend of on-site strategies with off-site ones. And, because we specialize in doing exactly that (we’ve already won a prestigious national award, the Landy Award for the Best Local SEO Initiative), we’ll share answers to nine different questions to help you get the local online visibility you deserve.
Now, onto the questions!
Question #1: What is a good litmus test to determine if an SEO agency is good at local SEO?
That’s easy. The agency will explain, in detail, what they’ll do for your company. And, they’ll explain everything in a way that makes sense. If an agency talks about a proprietary process (or, maybe even worse, a “secret sauce”), then that’s not the right agency for you. After talking to a good local SEO agency, you’ll finish the conversation with the feeling that you know exactly what they’ll be doing for you and why.
Now, here are answers to eight other local search questions we’re often asked.
Question #2: What exactly is local SEO and how are its techniques different from organic SEO strategies?
If you’re using organic SEO techniques on your website, one of your key goals would be to appear as high as possible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords. If you were a personal injury attorney in Charleston, South Carolina, for example, you’d want to be one of the top organic listings for the term we just italicized:
Your local SEO efforts, though, are focused on getting quality placement in the Google Map local pack for relevant terms, especially in one of the three listings (the three-pack) that you can see without needing to click on the “More places” link. For example, if you’re a Jacksonville personal injury attorney, you would want to appear in the local three-pack for that term. Here is that three-pack image:
When you talk to local SEO companies about their strategies for your company, pay close attention to what they say about getting your company into the three-pack listings. What strategies will they use?
Although no two local search companies will respond in exactly the same way, a quality company in 2018 will use a blend of:
- Google My Business optimization
- inbound link and citation strategies
- on-site optimization, especially in connection with NAP consistency (name, address and phone number)
- Google reviews
- location pages
- keyword research for your targeted area
- strategies that will help your local SEO campaign dovetail with other online marketing efforts
Local SEO is a unique mixture of art and science, evolving as Google makes changes to its algorithm. Quality companies evolve right alongside these changes (without algorithm chasing!), while also proactively learning about likely changes in the algorithm and SERP placements. That way, the agency has a plan in place, if needed, right out of the starting gate, and can react quickly. Quality companies also monitor site metrics to help ensure that their strategies are remaining effective.
Question #3: How does Google decide how to rank companies in the local pack?
To quote Google, “Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search. For example, Google algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results.”
Here is more information about how Google defines these three terms:
- Relevance: how closely a local listing matches what a searcher is looking for; the more detailed and complete your local information is, the more easily Google can appropriately match you up with prospects
- Distance: with local search, Google will compare how close a listing is from a location term used in a search; if a location term isn’t used, Google will use what is known about the location
- Prominence: this refers to how well-known a business is, with familiar, more established store brands, as just one example, having an edge; a company can gain online prominence by being visible online, though, including through Google reviews and link building campaigns that increase your online authority signals.
Question #4: What is Google My Business (GMB) and why would I need this if I have a good website?
GMB is a tool provided by Google so companies can manage their business information in Google. The tool itself is free, but it does take time to claim/verify your business listing and to strategically optimize the listing for best SEO impact. According to a 2014 Oxera report prepared for Google, businesses that verify a GMB listing are two times as likely to have consumers consider them to be reputable.
From a practical sense, having the right information in GMB means that, when people use Google Maps to find your business, they will have access to the correct information, including your address, your phone number, your hours of operation, your website, and other key pieces of information.
As far as why you need both (GMB and a website), here is a quote from Google, “Google My Business complements your existing website by giving your business a public identity and presence with a listing on Google. The information that you provide about your business appears on Google Search and Maps.”
Here’s an even shorter answer. Without a GMB profile, you can’t rank in the three-pack. No matter what.
It’s vital that the name, address and phone (NAP) information found on your website and in accompanying schema matches that of GMB (more about schema soon). Think of GMB as the Yellow Pages of the digital age and you’ll quickly see why inaccuracies are highly problematic.
If there are any discrepancies in your NAP, prioritize this fix because accurate business data is crucial for your site to perform well in Google’s local search algorithm. The maps section of Google, as just one example, relies heavily on accurate data so users can call the right number and get accurate driving directions. And, here’s the bottom line: If your online NAP information is incorrect, Google won’t trust your listing enough to prominently show it in response to searches.
If you have a physical location, and a digital marketing consultant tells you that you don’t need an accurate and optimized GMB to succeed online, don’t walk away. Run. If an agency tells you that they manage local SEO campaigns but don’t include GMB in their mix of strategies, run even faster.
Question #5: Why are Google reviews so important to local SEO?
SearchEngineJournal.com published study results in 2017 that showed how Google reviews were the most important ranking factor in local search. Why? “The prominence of reviews isn’t particular shocking,” the article quotes, “as it’s a way for Google to crowdsource ranking factors, it’s hard to spam.”
Simply having more reviews, though, isn’t enough. It’s what is being said in them that really matters. GMB pages that contain reviews that use keywords and/or the city name, for example, rank more highly in the local pack.
To get more Google reviews, encourage satisfied clients to write one. To make it easy for them to do so, you can create a unique link that will take these clients to exactly the right location. But, pace yourself and avoid all of these do-nots.
- Do not create a situation where customers flood Google with reviews. This will look spammy. A measured, natural-appearing pace is best.
- Do not specifically ask customers to write a positive review; just ask people you expect will provide positive comments to write a review.
- Do not offer discounts or giveaways in exchange for a review.
- Do not write a fake review to try to boost your rankings.
- Do not ask anyone else to write a fake one for you, either..
- Do not write anything negative about your competitors in their Google Reviews or encourage anyone else to do so.
Here’s another litmus test: A good local SEO company will explain, from the very beginning of your time together, how reviews are important. Plus, they will either work with you to generate more reviews using your existing tools or provide a good list of online tools to help you consistently generate good reviews.
And, here’s information about customer engagement marketing and Google Reviews.
Question #6: What are citations and what role do they play in local search?
Any time the NAP of a local business exists on a website, that’s a local citation. These citations can be found in or on:
- local business directories; in 2015, HubSpot.com listed the 50 best
- social media platforms
- individual websites and more
Perhaps the most important citation is that on GMB. Benefits of being listed in various places online include how:
- quality ones help you to rank more highly in local search engine rankings
- people in your area who see your citations can click on them to see your website, which can lead to increased traffic, conversions and sales
To help your rankings, it’s important to focus on:
- choosing quality sites for your citations
- steadily increasing the number of citations
- ensuring that the information included is consistently accurate
If the information found in citations conflict, Google is less likely to trust your website, which means you’re less likely to rank well. Plus, potential customers may go to the wrong address, call the wrong number or go to your business when you’re closed, none of which is good for business.
It’s also important to monitor your citations, because they can easily appear without your knowledge through the use of automated aggregation tools. Errors need found and corrected as soon as possible to help prevent any negative ranking impact, as well as loss of foot traffic and any reductions in associated revenue and/or reputation.
You can test how your business information appears online by using our free listing scan tool.
So, here’s another litmus test: a quality local SEO company will provide citation generation and cleanup services. They will also be able to explain the importance of these services.
Question #7: How do we find the best local SEO company for our business?
There are several issues to consider and avenues to pursue. But, before you spend time looking for a good local SEO agency, have the right expectations. Below are a few qualifications we ask of our clients, ones that you’ll want to ask yourself (since a good local SEO agency won’t work with just anyone):
- Whom are you trying to reach?
- What locations need increased sales the most?
- What products and/or services need a special boost?
The more specific your goals are, the more effectively a qualified local SEO company can devise a strategy and the more precisely results can be measured.
Make sure you have enough time to provide your awesome new local SEO company the input they need to do a good job. Remember, any marketing campaign is only as good as the input received. Be patient, too. SEO in general takes months to move the needle and local SEO is no different.
That said, here are specific ways to find the best local SEO company for your business.
You first want to create a list of companies to contact. And, using Google to make your list is a practical early step. Ironically, though, choosing a company that ranks highly in your area for local SEO services isn’t necessarily the best strategy. That’s because agencies that are busy with client work prioritize their own sites last. You shouldn’t necessarily discount top-ranking local SEO firms, but don’t immediately assume they’re the best, either.
Plus, like with any service, you can get recommendations by asking other successful local businesses what digital marketing firm they use, checking to see who has won relevant awards and so forth.
You can also check online reviews, although this should not be your stand-alone strategy, either, because it’s fairly easy for competitors to pay for reviews. Places to check are Google Reviews, Facebook and the like.
If an agency has a long list of negative reviews, this could very well be a warning flag. If there are some negative ones interspersed with mostly positive ones, then the real question to jot down to ask is how the agency handles negative reviews because you’ll want to make sure they have a solid plan in place if/when you get one.
Local SEO Case studies and testimonials
Once you have a list of local SEO agencies that interest you, check the websites of those companies to see what local SEO case studies and/or testimonials they include on their website. Most SEO agencies will have multiple case studies but how many are for local SEO? If they don’t list any, consider this a red flag. You can find our case studies here.
Set up conference calls with potential SEO agencies that make your short list and, when you talk to each company, ask if local search is one of their specialties. Also ask them about their overall philosophy of local SEO. Some companies may claim to “do local SEO” because they create and optimize location pages on client websites. While that is a component of local SEO, it is just one step in a multi-pronged campaign.
The reality is that a digital marketing company can be quite proficient in organic SEO but not really know much about local SEO at all. And, although some ranking factors are the same between organic SEO and local SEO, there are numerous factors that are unique to local search, and you need and deserve a company that specializes in local.
When on a call with an agency, talk to them about your specific needs and pay attention to whether they clearly answer your questions or try to avoid answering. If they say they’ll get back to you with information, do they? When they said they would? And, here’s the real bottom line: Does what they say make sense?
After one round of calls, it will probably be pretty clear who the finalists are.
After your initial calls with potential local SEO companies, ask yourself, “What did I learn?”. A good agency will review your SEO and local SEO signals before you do business with them. If, though, the call was more salesy in nature, one where you learned more about the agency than about your own needs, then this is probably a bad sign.
Before you sign
When you find an SEO company that you like and trust, ask them for client references and then contact the references provided. If that process goes well, then it’s time to do a final clarification of what the agency will provide for you and at what cost (more about pricing soon) on what timeline. It isn’t reasonable to pin your local SEO agency down to the precise actions they will take, but it is reasonable to ask to understand the processes being undertaken.
Ask the agency how often they will hold conference calls with your company to discuss progress and answer questions. Ask who, specifically, you will have access to. Some companies bring out the big guns during sales calls and then assign your account to an inexperienced junior consultant. Also ask how often you will receive progress reports and what will be included in them: Rankings? Traffic? Broken down by location? What else? When you have a question in between meetings, how should that be handled? By email? What can you expect as a typical response time?
Question #8: How much should my company pay for local SEO?
Factors that affect pricing include the amount of citation management and local link building being done, and the number of business locations involved in the campaign. Overall, the average local SEO campaigns we build range from $1,500-$2,300 per month for one brick-and-mortar location. A typical breakdown looks something like this:
- Getting your business listed in the top 50 online directories is a core strategy for local SEO. For some industries, you may need up to 100 citations. The cost of managing citations ranges from $50-$150 a month.
- Another fundamental component of local SEO is quality link building, and this can cost $500-$1,500 monthly.
- If you have one website listing multiple business locations, there are efficiencies involved in the work being done and the associated pricing, but you should still budget $750-$1,500 per month per new location.
Simply finding out what local SEO costs is really only step one of the equation, though. What really matters is the amount of value delivered and your return on investment.
Question #9 Why should we choose DAGMAR Marketing for local SEO?
Local SEO is one of our core services, and we are known for consistently getting impressive results for our clients. In fact, we won a highly prestigious national award for local SEO.
Because Google is among a local business’s most important marketing channels, we will do the following in your local SEO campaign:
- conduct keyword research to strategically determine how people look for your business, and for the products and/or services you provide
- optimize your website to send appropriate local signals to Google and other search engines
- develop online citations and help ensure that accurate business information exists in online directories
- review promotion strategies for your business
- build quality local links to capitalize on your business relationships
SEO tactics come and go, and are continually evolving. So, instead of spending your budget chasing Google’s latest algorithm, we build your local SEO campaign on solid, time-tested marketing strategies. Our focus on the factors that truly matter helps to create local visibility that endures and positions you for natural rankings growth over time.
As proof, we invite you to look at what we did for Turner Pest Control. In one of the most competitive industries in Florida, the DAGMAR Marketing team helped Turner with significant business growth in multiple cities.
In their case, we discovered that previous SEO tactics had caused them to incur a Penguin penalty from Google, one that negatively impacted their rankings. We designed a penalty recovery program along with a customized SEO program. Within three months, they witnessed significant traffic gains.
Whether you’re new to local SEO, have spent too much already without results, or just want to work with people you can trust to have your best business interests at the heart in all they do for you, we’d love to talk with you. And, whether or not you choose DAGMAR Marketing as your next local SEOagency, we hope this article can arm you with enough information so that you can make a sound choice.
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