SEO for Local Businesses: The Essential Steps

January 15, 2020 by in category SEO tagged as , , with 0 and 1
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SEO as a marketing strategy is often misunderstood by many marketers and businesspeople. The most common misconception is how SEO is often perceived as a cheat engine to manipulate Google’s algorithm, while it can’t be further from the truth. On the other hand, there’s also that dark history of blackhat SEO that has further ruined SEO’s reputation. In truth, SEO is more about consistency in following marketing best practices, and these misconceptions often happen because many businesses simply don’t know the basic concept and process behind SEO.

So, in this post, we will learn about the common steps included in SEO strategy: from initial assessment to strategy development to execution. Before we begin, however, let us understand the main factors that can affect SEO results.


The Key Factors of SEO Success

The purpose of SEO is to get more organic traffic by ranking higher on the search engine results page (SERP), and these are the important factors in achieving this goal:

  • Target Keyword(s): target or focus keywords should have sufficient search volume yet with a manageable competition. Finding these keywords is achieved through proper keyword research
  • Technical, on-site optimizations on your site, which include the integration of the target keywords so that Google can index your site properly
  • Website speed and responsiveness: the page should load fast enough and has a responsive, mobile-friendly design
  • Backlinks, citations, and online reviews (for Google Maps listing), these are the important factors in determining how Google will perceive the credibility and authority of your site
  • The quality and quantity of your content. The content should be relevant and valuable for the site’s audience and should be published regularly


As you can see, SEO success relies ultimately on consistency and hard work, and for the rest of this article, we will discuss the key steps necessary in maintaining this consistency, beginning with the first one.


Step 1: Assessing Current Situation and Developing Appropriate Strategy

We usually begin our SEO efforts by having an in-person meeting with our clients, which usually takes around an hour. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss goals, KPIs, important metrics, the target audience of our clients, and important competitors we should keep an eye on.

We also collect essential information like necessary logins and passwords for the website’s CMS, as well as other important software and tools.

Before we begin implementing any SEO efforts, we should first understand the current state of the client’s website(s) in comparison to their most important competitors. In this assessment, we will especially focus on:

  • Important target keywords, and keywords where our client’s site is already ranking for
  • Estimated search volumes for each keyword
  • Current traffic of our client’s site, rankings, and source of traffic
  • Backlinks profile, including broken links, duplicate links, and missing or incorrect citations
  • Competitors’ backlinks profile and important (ranking) keywords, we will at least analyze the top 5 competitors

Based on this assessment, we will develop a rough strategy for:

  • Recommended optimization for the website, social media profiles, Google My Business (Google Maps) listing, and other important sites/directories depending on the client’s business/industry
  • Assessment of how difficult the campaign will be according to the previous factors
  • Content marketing strategy to target the focus keywords

By the end of this step, we provide a comprehensive report of the current state of our client’s online presence and a proposal of our campaign strategy.


Step 2: Technical (On-site) Optimization

Now that we have a clearer picture of the overall SEO strategy, the first action we will take is to optimize the technical aspect of the client’s site, as well as social media profile pages and important platforms like Google My Business and Yelp among others, depending on the client’s industry.

For each target keywords, we will assess the possibility of an optimized landing page depending on the situation. For example, if an associated keyword is related to a specific product/service, it is a good opportunity to have a specific, optimized landing page.

Depending on the situation, this onsite optimization step might require a major overhaul or even creating a brand new site. This can depend on many different factors like whether the site’s appearance is still relevant according to today’s standard, whether the site’s structure can be easily indexed by the search engines, and whether the site’s content is relevant and optimized.

The goal of SEO is not solely about ranking high on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), but to get more organic traffic and ultimately, conversions. Optimizing for conversion is also a major goal for us in this step (link conversion rate optimization), and by monitoring what our client’s site visitors do and measuring how effective the site is in converting them, we can plan a strategy to improve conversion rates through call-to-action (CTA) buttons including:

  • Sign up for a free trial
  • Schedule an appointment
  • Free consultation
  • Fill out contact form
  • Call now
  • Buy now

We execute this step through a checklist, custom-tailored according to the client’s needs based on the previous assessments. In this stage, we will also decide on important KPIs, and we will report the important metrics on a monthly basis.


Step 3: Content Strategy

An important aspect of on-site optimization is content. We utilize content to target the focus keywords, and a relevant, informative content is the way to show the search engines that our site is credible. With that being said, content creation is an integral aspect of our SEO strategy, and there are generally two different approaches we would take.

First, if our client already has a content division or has previously implemented content marketing, we would assess the current performance of their content pieces and will advise whether they need further optimizations both in quality and quantity. If not, we will propose a content marketing plan including our sample content pieces when necessary.

Consistency is also an important aspect of content marketing, and we would generally advise our clients to post relevant content of at least 1,000 words once a week, the more often, the better. Again, consistency here is not only about quantity, but quality. All the content pieces should be relevant and valuable for our client’s target audience and also optimized to be easily indexable by the search engines.

This process of developing a content usually happened through a brainstorm between us and our client, since obviously our client has a better insight into their own niche and industry. Although the end goal of content creation here—in relation to the overall SEO strategy— is to get more organic traffic by allowing the content to rank higher on the search engines, our main focus is to bring value and relevance for our client’s human audience. Nevertheless, content marketing is an integral part, if not the core of our SEO strategy.


Step 4: Developing Off-site Optimization and Link Building Plan

Essential optimizations for SEO purposes is not only about what happens on the site itself. There are important optimizations taken outside our own website that can significantly impact search engine rankings.

The basic principle to understand in this step is that the search engines (i.e. Google) rank a site on the search results page based on the site’s popularity, credibility, authority, and relevance according to its niche. So, in this off-site optimization step, our main goal is to have more reputable sites, persons, and profiles on the internet to “vouch” for your site.

This is mainly achieved by getting more backlinks, which is still one of the most important ranking signals. Since we are mainly talking about local businesses here, which target local audiences, building local citations on online directories (Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook Places, other directories according to the niche/industry).

In this step, we will develop a comprehensive plan on how we will approach off-site optimizations and link building. This is necessary because different sites might require significantly different approaches depending on many different factors (industry, niche, competition, number and quality of influencers, etc.)

This step will also include the process of studying the link profile of our client’s site and their competitors with the purpose of finding backlink opportunities, as well as developing a strategic plan on how to acquire more backlinks.


Step 5: Execution and Ongoing Process

While the previous five steps are about developing a sound plan and laying down building blocks, here we will execute this plan with the purpose of improving the client’s site ranking on the SERP which ultimately leads into more organic traffic. Typically these are the important things that happen in this step:

  • Once the technical optimizations are set in place, especially strategic placements of focus keywords and proper online citations, we usually can see some improvements in ranking
  • We assess the performance of each content pieces and see whether they contribute to the site’s overall ranking or whether we’d need to make some adjustments and further optimizations both in quality and quantity
  • Continuous backlinks building is also our main focus here. Not only because as we have mentioned, it is a very strong ranking signal, but also because link building is a fairly difficult process that requires consistency.

The important thing to remember here is that SEO by nature is a long-term game. We can only expect to see significant results after 6-months of consistent efforts with 8 to 12 months timeline being the average. So, consistency, constant evaluation, and re-optimization are the keys to success. However, SEO will also produce a long-lasting, rewarding results, so all this hard work and investments will pay off in the long run. Here are the key areas we will continuously assess month after month:

  • Content performance, both in quality and quantity. Whether the quality of content pieces is maintained and whether new content pieces are published regularly every week (or at least bi-weekly).
  • Link profile, whether we have successfully and consistently add new, high-quality backlinks
  • Technical aspects, whether the site require further on-site optimizations


SEO Results To Expect


Above, we have mentioned that SEO is a long-term game with sustained results. So, what kind of results we can expect from all this hard work? There are generally three main results to expect from our SEO efforts, which are interconnected to each other:

  • Improvement in search rankings

How fast and how high the site can climb on the SERP will especially depend on the level of competition and keyword difficulty. A location will also be a factor here, as some keywords will have less competition in certain areas, and vice versa. For Google Maps listing (SEO for local searches), location will be a major factor.

  • Increase in organic traffic

Improvement in SERP rankings won’t bring any value to the business unless it also translates into an increase in traffic, which brings more clients to the business. We can easily rank on low-volume keywords with less competition, but it won’t bring too much traffic.

  • Improvement in brand awareness and credibility

These ones are a little bit harder to track, but since SEO is mainly about regularly publishing valuable content pieces, among other efforts, the client’s brand awareness and credibility will also improve over time.

As we have mentioned, the level of achieved results and how fast we can expect to achieve these results will ultimately depend on the level of competition. This is how we usually assess the level of competition and the results you can expect:

  • Low Difficulty
    • The third-ranked content or the third-place listing on Google Maps has under 10 backlinks from high-quality sites, and low number of reviews on Google Maps, Yelp, and TripAdvisor (below 5)
    • In this case, we can expect to rank in the top 5 spots within 3 or 4 months, provided we post content regularly and can encourage more positive reviews
  • Medium Difficulty
    • The third-place site or listing has between 10 to 20 backlinks with more than 10 reviews
    • We can expect to rank in the top 5 within 6 months
  • High difficulty
    • The third-place listing or site has more than 20 high-quality backlinks with more than 10 reviews
    • We should expect at least 8 months to more than a year to rank in the top 5

Since there are many factors involved, obviously we can’t guarantee any specific rankings or results, but we would advise our clients not to only focus on the end goals (i.e. a certain ranking spot), but rather on the improvements over time both in search engine rankings and number of traffic. It is worth noting that Google and other search engines can take some time to index and recrawl a page, so sometimes we can see a sudden increase (or drop) in rankings.


End Words

SEO services in Toronto will require at least a 12-month investment, yet it is a very effective strategy to achieve long-term, sustained growth. As you can see, the key to SEO success is not a magic algorithm or a secret tactic, but rather, consistency in executing the best practices of online marketing.

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