Chapter 1: Research & Analysis

Woo Hoo. Thanks for joining us on this journey!

Before you can claim internet stardom and all the riches and prestige that come with it, you need to start with some research.

A proper investigation will identify where your website exists online and give you a better understanding of the scope of work required for your successful local SEO strategy and campaign. In short, research allows you to make strategic choices and set realistic expectations.

In this section, we’re going to outline six areas of Local SEO and how you can spot opportunities.

This includes analyzing the following items:

  • Citations: References to your business’s Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) on the web.
  • Reviews: Reviews on popular review websites.
  • Local Links: Hyperlinks to a website. These are the rocket fuel of SEO.
  • Social Media: We all know about Facebook and Twitter – we’ll chat about these in more detail.
  • Localized Keyword Rankings: The terms and phrases you are attempting to rank for in Google. For Local SEO, it typically includes a location.
  • Competitors: The pesky companies trying to steal your customers!

1. Citation Analysis

Citations are references to a business’s Name, Address and Phone number on the web. Industry people call it the NAP for short.

Having a consistent NAP across the web is a key component of local SEO, because it is how your website sends location signals to Google. Google sends out ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’ to find information on the web, and  attempts to make sense of the information it finds. When it stumbles across businesses with multiple addresses, inconsistencies in their business name, and (heaven forbid) call tracking numbers as opposed to telephone numbers with a local area code, it can’t make heads or tails of what it is looking at.

That’s where citation analysis comes in. It is the process of finding citations that are correct, fixing ones that aren’t, and building ones where they previously didn’t exist.

NOTE: Be exact as you possibly can with your NAP – spaces, caps, punctuation, and acronyms should remain consistent for best results.

The first step is to see how much Google and other search engines know about your local business.

Often, a business that has changed locations in the past will have old citations across the web. To discover this, start by checking major online directories in your country to see if:

  1. You have a listing, and
  2. If the listings are displaying your correct information.

Generally, online listings are distributed from a small handful of websites – you can think of these as the mothership. Therefore, finding the mothership and planting it with your accurate NAP information is mission critical.

  • In Canada: YellowPages.ca
  • In U.S.A.: Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom

ACTION ITEM: Now go out and record the business citations that you find; this will help with on-site optimization efforts later on. A simple excel spreadsheet can be used to keep track of your citations. Or if you’d prefer something with a little more horsepower, we recommend:

2. Reviews Analysis

DID YOU KNOW:  70% of consumers trust online reviews while considering making a purchase.

Whether you’re active online or not, online conversations about your business can and will occur. Online reputation can make or break a business, and can attract (or repel) customers.

Take a few moments to search for reviews that customers have left for your business. You can do this by simply searching on Google for your business’s name followed by the word “reviews” or “ratings”. You may have even come across some while searching for citations in the previous step.

PRO TIP: If your budget allows for it, you can use a paid service to save you the time in finding and collecting your reviews.

Analyze the reviews that you see (if there are any) and determine where your business stands. Depending on your current position, one of two strategies can be implemented.

Strategy One: How to respond to reviews:

Just as you would train your staff to respond to in-person complaints or compliments, it’s a best practice to have a policy in place for responding to online reviewers, good and bad. Do your research and design a response strategy that fits your business, customers, and market. Yelp has a great page about responding to reviews that is worth checking out.

Strategy Two: How to solicit new reviews: 

Positive online reviews are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they give you fluttery butterflies in your stomach, they also encourage other web surfers to give your business a shot.

Consider your customers and the journey they go on as they interact with your company. Are there specific individuals that you’d like to encourage to be more active online? Are there opportunities during the sales process to provide encouragement or incentives?

Here are a few ways businesses strategically solicit online reviews:

  • Make reviewing your business easy! Ensure your Google My Business, Yelp, HomeStars and CitySearch pages are verified.
  • Provide links to review sites on your website, email signature, social media channels, and receipts.
  • Ask existing customers to support your business by writing a review.
  • Invite local review groups to enjoy your product/service. Yelp, for example, often organizes activities for ‘Yelp-ers’ to attend to expose them to new businesses in exchange for reviews.

If you’d like to take things a step further we have more tools to the rescue.

Tips for increasing your review strength:

  • Tip One: Start by getting at least five positive reviews on Google My Business. This will create the visually appealing five-star rating. High star ratings have been proven to increase a business’s click-through-rate (CTR) by up to 5%. In niche industries with low competition, the results can be even more dramatic.

3. Local Links Analysis

Backlinks are one of the most important and often times the least understood component of both organic and local SEO. It’s easiest to think of Google as a digital voting system that ranks websites based on their popularity – in the SEO world we call popularity, “authority” (or more playfully, “Google Juice”). In most cases, the website with the most votes (authority or Google Juice) will appear highest in the search results.

Although somewhat difficult to grasp, understanding the importance of links and developing a plan to attract them, can be the difference between ranking in Google’s search results and not appearing in them at all.

The big question: where do I start?

We recommend taking stock of your website’s current position and comparing it to your competitors. Are there a few businesses with websites at the top of Google’s search results? If so, you’ll want to make a list of these top perfoming competitors. Take a moment to do that now. Remember you want the domain name not the business name. Three or four will be plenty.

Now what? Well, this is the fun part. We get to do a little bit of digital detective work. There are many tools that can do the job such as:

We’re fans of OpenSite Explorer but Ahrefs is pretty cool too. Using Open Site Explorer plug your business’s domain name into the URL bar along with your competitors then click “compare”. It should look a little like the screen shot below.

The result will display as the following.

open-site-explorer

Now there is a lot going on here, more than we can explain in this guide. However, the important items to review and consider are the main score at the top titled “Page Authority” this is an aggregated score of your web page’s Authority (votes or Google Juice).

You should be looking at the score and seeing how your business stacks up against your competitors. Is your Page Authority higher or lower than your competitors? Is there on business with lots of authority that really stands out? In this example I’d want to dig deeper into 4 Star Electric – they have some serious Google Juice flowing to their website.

This is where we can take things a step further.

To take a peek at your backlinks to see where you stand click on the “Inbound Links” tab – it will show the links associated with your business.

  • Do you have any links?
  • Are the bulk of your links coming from “spammy” directories. For example directories with a different language than your own, or with a really poor design covered in ads.
  • Are your links coming from a variety of sources such as quality online directories, your partner websites, organizations you’ve sponsored, universities or other educational institutions, ect.
  • Have you won any awards and received links to your website?

Next, take a look at your competitors to find out where their links are coming from – do you see any opportunities for local links you can acquire?

At this point you should be making a list of possible link opportunities. You don’t need many! In most cases five great links can have a dramatic impact on a local business’s rankings.

At the end of it all these are the important questions to ask:

  • Do I have more page authority than my competitors?  Simply stated, if it’s lower than your competitors you will have some work to do.
  • If not, what links do my competitors have that I do not? Can I acquire them with minimal effort?
  • What opportunities exist within your business for building links?
  • Are you a member of an organization that may link to you?
  • Are there local directories that will provide a link to your website?
  • Can you sponsor a credible non-profit or industry association in exchange for a link?
  • Are you creating stuff that’s so awesome in your blog or on your website that people will feel compelled to link to you naturally?

 4. Social Media Analysis

Social media plays an important role in local SEO. It is used both to communicate to and listen to your audience. It can also act, when done well, as a distribution channel for your content, promotions, service information, products, and draw people back to your website.

Like most things, it’s best to perform an analysis of your current social media efforts.

  • On which social media networks does your company operate?
  • Are you updating your accounts regularly?
  • Are you satisfied with your level of engagement, or do you see others in your industry having more success?
  • What channels are your competitors using?

The direct impact of social media

Remember the citations we talked about? Of course you do! Social media channels like Facebook and FourSquare are great citation sources for your business. And because you have full control over the platform you can make the update immediately… as in right now… as in you better be making the change to your NAP!

Facebook especially has been cited by many experts as one of the most important citations sources a business can have, so ensure your NAP information is accurate.

The indirect impact of social media

This is where digital marketing enters the mysterious world of human relationships and gets fun!

Do you like me? Do you trust me? Perhaps after reading a 5,000+ word article you may tell your friends, colleague, mother, or over-achieving brother-in-law about the great things you learned on my website. How absolutely awesome is that!?

In my opinion building relationships is the true value of social media. It allows you to build relationships with people and through the magic of (public) word-of-mouth you can connect with a larger audience than you ever thought possible. Your customers have the same luxury.

Social media also feeds directly back to link building. Almost everyone has a blog today, and linking to resources is a fundamental part of the web. When you share something on social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter you give the world an opportunity to evaluate your business, read your content and if you’re worthy, link to your website because it was so darn valuable.

PRO TIP: Being active on social media can have a dramatic impact on your online reputation. Consumer trust is built through transparency and consistency. Actively using social media to engage with your customers will ensure that they know you’re listening, which is invaluable for building trust. Be genuine, be a person people want to follow and create amazing things that can’t be ignored.

The most important social media channels for a small business wanting to impact Local SEO are:

  • Facebook
  • FourSquare
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

5. Localized Keyword Rankings Analysis

Next, let’s talk about your keywords. What is a “keyword” you ask? Simply, a keyword is a term or phrase related to the products or services you sell. This is the term you would enter into Google when searching for something on the web.

We want to know where we stack up.

ACTION ITEM: Determine what keywords you currently rank for by performing a few search queries in Google. For example; Calgary Lawyer, or Plumber Calgary. Analyze and note where you rank, which positions you rank in and what keywords you should be ranking for locally. Remember this is a local campaign, so we are only worried about keywords that produce a local search result with the address information and Google Map.

This should be a very quick check, just to see where you currently stand. This will give you an idea of who your search engine competitors are (for the next step), and what keywords you will need to focus on for your keyword research and other optimizations later on in order to get your rankings where they need to be.

6. Competitive Analysis

The last step in research and analysis, is to perform a competitive analysis. This step will help determine exactly what will need to be done in this local SEO campaign by examining what others are doing to outrank you.

We discussed this briefly in section number 3, however, you want to start by first determining who your competitors are. These can be found by:

The companies consistently ranking highly across these different areas will be your top competitors for local SEO. Once you have determined 3-5 major competitors, do a quick review of each. Check out each competitor for:

  • Citations – quantity and quality
  • Reviews – online reputation
  • Local Links & Authority – Page Authority (using OpenSite Explorer)
  • Social Media Accounts – verified Twitter, Facebook

This information will provide the full breadth of what you’re up against. Fully understanding your digital landscape now allows you to chart your course forward; focusing on the areas in which you’re lagging behind.

In the next Chapter we’ll review how to identify your keywords.

Chapter 2: Keyword Research