Ranking Locally: A Guide To Local Visibility And How To Get Results!

The primary goal of your website should be to generate revenue. While there are many different ways of doing so, we’re going to talk about building up organic traffic through ranking in the search engines locally.

Organic search is largely considered the most valuable traffic you can earn, as it converts both higher than paid or referral traffic, and sports the best return on your investment over a long period of time when done correctly.

For this reason, it’s something you should have your eyes on attacking from day one, not just for the long term return, but also because it will take time!

Ranking Locally: A Guide To Local Visibility And How To Get Results!

Before we jump in head first, let’s set the playing field a little. What exactly does it mean to rank locally? Why is it important? How does it work in general?

When we refer to a website ranking, we mean what position you appear in a given search engine based on what query is typed in from the consumer.

For example, let’s say you were shopping for a life insurance policy, and you typed in “insurance agent + [city name]” where [city name] is your current location. What would you expect to see displayed from, say, Google? Here’s an example:

insurance agent topeka ks

At the top of the image above, you’ll see I used the search query “insurance agent topeka ks” at random to see what we might find. Directly below the query, you’ll see what Google returned.

The first area marked by red arrows is where the top 3 advertisements are always displayed. When using PPC (pay-per-click), these tend to be the more sought after places, simply because they’re the first thing a user will come across when searching. Obviously, it will cost you money per click to be displayed there.

In the middle, you’ll see a local map of Topeka, Kansas, followed by more ads in the right sidebar. The map is clickable on both desktop and mobile (tablet/phone). The advertisements are those who are bidding for this term, yet have a bid below the top 3. In some cases, if there aren’t enough bidders, there will be no sidebar ads.

The most important part of this image, for our purposes and focus, is what we call the map pack.

map pack

You may have seen the map pack before, but never really taken too much notice of it. There are several ways a map pack can be displayed, usually dependent on the number of businesses or services who are relevant to the query, or what the user is using (desktop, phone, tablet). There may be as many as 7 listings, or as few as zero. (UPDATE: Since we began writing this, the new algorithm within Google shows just 3 listings).

You can have your life insurance website and business contact information in this map pack, and this is the goal! We’ll talk about this in a moment.

But first, let’s take another look at a different query so you can see another iteration of how search engines display results. Take a look at the query for “life insurance agent topeka ks” below:

life insurance agent topeka ks

You’ll notice a lot of the same items from the first image, like the query, and top 3 ads. But look what else is right after the ads, instead of the map pack.

That’s a local agent, an Allstate agent named Brian Green, who is ranking organically!

This position is considered ranking #1 for organic search. In other words, this is the first non-paid result Google has returned based on the query. This is where you want to rank, ultimately, for as many quality keywords as you can!

Google even takes it one step further, however. If a person has their cellphone in their hand, for example, standing in Topeka, Kansas, they need only search “life insurance agent” and Google will still return results for Topeka, Kansas by using their geographic location, if available. This can, and sometimes will, provide different results than the full query “life insurance agent Topeka KS” or any other iteration.

Hopefully we’re on the same page, so far. In short, the query a person types in will yield different results based on several factors. Your goal is to take up as much digital real estate as you can for as many good keywords as possible! Your site will get more clicks, and convert better the higher you are ranked.

More than 40% of all clicks from organic searches go to the top position, and nearly 70% go to the top 3 positions, respectively.


How This Guide Works

Below you’ll find a table of contents where we’ll break down all the different parts or sections of the guide. While we recommend beginning at the top and working your way down sequentially, you can jump around as needed by clicking on the sections as you continue to return to this guide.

But DO NOT SKIP the first chapter!

While we attempt to be in depth on every possible area, do understand there are slight differences for everyone on many, many different aspects. Some businesses have more than one location, some are in populous areas while others are not, and certain methodologies will be more effective in some areas versus others.

Ranking locally in Google, Yahoo, and Bing will be a unique experience for each and every person! If you cover all your bases by completing each step below in extreme detail, you will position yourself greatly for success.

With that said, let’s go!


Table Of Contents

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Competition Analysis
  3. On-Site SEO
  4. Google+
  5. NAP/W – Name, Address, Phone, Website
  6. Social Media
  7. Local Listings and Links
  8. Reviews
  9. BIG Mistakes
  10. Wrap-Up

Chapter 1: Keyword Research

There is a reason this is #1 on the list to begin with: this is the most important part of anything you will do in this guide! Without proper keyword research, you will quickly find yourself in deep water on virtually every other step without a life jacket in sight. In fact, you might be taking a sinking ship out to sea.

Understanding what you are trying to rank for is essential to setting yourself up to maximize how much traffic your site can earn. You might be able to rank very easily for a lot of queries, but if they don’t have any search volume, you’ll get few visitors, if any.

Would you rather rank 2nd or 3rd for a keyword which is searched 250 times per month, or #1 for a keyword which is searched less than 10?

So, where do you begin?

Open an excel spreadsheet and start listing every possible way of describing your locale. For example:

  • Destin Florida
  • Destin FL
  • Destin
  • 32540
  • 32541

Next, do the same thing with all other districts, cities, zip codes or pertinent location information which is within a few miles of where you want to be listed. Don’t go too wide, though. The more focused you are to begin with, the better. And remember to use as many local type references as you can. Sometimes the locals use different verbiage than tourists.

Now, in the next column on your spreadsheet, let’s choose what we’ll call the item you want to rank for. Items are these:

  • life insurance
  • life insurance agent
  • life insurance agency
  • life insurance broker

You won’t need to worry about plurals, as those are largely considered the same. So, skip using agents, agencies, brokers, or other variations.

Once you have compiled these two lists, it’s time to start meshing them together to get a big data file of all the possible combinations. Don’t worry, it’s much easier than it sounds.

We’re going to use a tool called the Line Combination Generator to help you merge these into all the possible combinations we can. You’re going to add your city list into “Object Input 1″ and your item list into “Object Input 2″ as shown below:

item additions

Now, just click the “Generate Combinations” button.

Finally, just copy and paste your combinations from the large output box into your spreadsheet. It should now look like this:

local spreadsheet

Easy right?

To get another set where the location is on the tail end, simply repeat the process where you put your Item in “Object Input 1″ and your city in “Object Input 2″ and generate another list. Your updated sheet should look like this:

local spreadsheet switched

From 9 total inputs, we just got a combined 44 total outputs of keywords can we research. Obviously, your list will vary depending on your number of inputs.

To clarify, we will not be using all of these in our quest to rank at the top. We’re simply mining through as many possibilities as we can to find which ones we want to shoot for. Some will have good search traffic, others will not.

Sometimes, we can even go after entire clusters. Let’s say “[city name] + life insurance” and “[city name] + life insurance agent” are both excellent choices. We can target both because one encapsulates the other.

Since you’ve got your list compiled and ready to mine through, let’s look at a couple tools which are going to aid you in finding out how much search volume (or even competition) you will have for each given keyword, or query.

  1. Google’s Keyword Planner (Free)
  2. TermExplorer (Free Version available)

Disclaimer: Using tools like these will give you guideline numbers. They’re never exact, and always rounded. You’ll notice they may even fluctuate during different times of year, or as trends come and go. Never discount how much keyword volume could be around a certain phrase which doesn’t match exactly!

Keyword Planner

Let’s start with Google’s Keyword Planner. After clicking the link above and logging in, click where it says “Get search volume data and trends.”

keyword planner

After you click, there is a space to enter all your keywords. Notice at the bottom, you see targeting. Now click the blue box which says, “Get Search Volume.”

get search volume

You may not get a lot of results. And that’s okay; remember, we’re mining for the best of the best. Each location will have completely different results. Besides, we’re not done. But, while you’re on this page, note what Google is giving you:

keyword information

The keyword volume (Avg. monthly searches) and the level of competition (Low, Medium, High). This is what we’re looking for! In most situations, we want to focus on volume. When searching local cities, life insurance keywords will likely have the same competition level. Occasionally, you may find one moderate to high volume keyword with a lower competition level; take note of it and keep moving.

You’ll also see you can select the double arrows within the box where the keywords are, and it will reveal similar keywords for you. Make sure to add those to your list.

Next, hit “Back” in your browser. We’re going to do it slightly different this time and see what kinds of results we get.

This time, put only the “item” list into the keyword search box (life insurance, life insurance agent, etc.) but change the location to yours and remove “United States.” This will search these higher level terms in only the location specified.

keyword planner by location

Click “Get Search Volume” and note the results.

In the example I did with Destin, Florida, I came up with significantly more volume doing it this way, and you may also. Just keep track of everything in your excel sheet, noting which terms get the most volume. You can also note any keywords which have a lesser amount of competition, so long as there is ample volume to target.

Hopefully you found keywords with some amount of volume. It may say 10 searches a month, it may say 100, it may say 1,000 or more. Obviously, the higher amount, the greater chances of more competition.

keyword volume

But here’s something interesting to note: the volume data you get is only for exact terms. Not everyone types in the exact phrase “life insurance” while in Destin. Some may type “buy life insurance” or “find a life insurance agent” or even “I have diabetes can I buy life insurance still?” Because each of these are unique, they are not calculated, and it’s estimated more than 80% of all searches are unaccounted for because they only closely resemble previously sought phrases.

This is why quality, in-depth content will help you rank locally. You’ll get more traffic for these types of queries than someone who has something plain Jane.

Term Explorer

Another handy tool to use for mining keywords is Term Explorer. There is a free version currently, and this is all you’ll need to get started.

Go to TermExplorer and create an account. Once you’re up and running, starting from your home screen, click “Bulk Keyword Tool.” Next, choose to “Start a new bulk keyword tool job.”

Name the Job something you can clearly understand, because the results are stored and you can revisit them at any time.

term explorer

In the “Enter Seed Keyword(s)” area, enter in all of your keywords, and start the job.

This tool will do a couple of things for you.

  1. Give you traffic volume estimation based on the keywords you enter
  2. Suggest other keywords you may not have seen (see below)
  3. Allow you to further investigate key phrases

The keyword volume information gathered here likely won’t be as accurate as you might hope, because the tool isn’t truly made for smaller, localized terms. However, it is fairly accurate for larger terms. If you’re in a major city, like New York, L.A., or Miami, you may get a little more data.

But, what it can do that the Google Keyword Planner isn’t as good at, is to suggest additional keywords you may not have already targeted. For example, after filtering the results using both the word “destin” and “insurance” in the positive word filter on the left, these came up:

term explorer additional keywords

While they aren’t life insurance, you can see there is a trend. The word “affordable” seems to be something additional people are typing when searching for home insurance. Perhaps you might want to look at similar variations for your list. Words like:

  • Best
  • Affordable
  • Cheap
  • Local
  • Quote

There really are a ton of variables you can add as a prefix or suffix to each keyword.

Finally, you can select up to 5 keywords to choose to investigate further. Simply click the five you want my marking the grey box on the left of the keyword, and click to send them to the Analyzer, as shown below:

analyzer

While you can only do 5 at a time, this is reset daily. You can do this over several days if you found many different terms you want to dive deeper into.

Assuming you found just a few to compare, the Analyzer will do some reporting for you, and your following screen should look like this:

The focal points are difficulty, link strength, and trust.

  • Difficulty – how hard it is estimated it will be to rank for this keyword
  • Link Strength – how much authority is given to this keyword to other domains already, detected by inbound links
  • Trust – how trustworthy the currently ranking sites are, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Again, these are data points, not absolute truths. It may say it’s an easy target, but it could be quite difficult. It could also say difficult, and be relatively simple. To go further, click on the keyword on the left and it will compile the top 10 results currently ranking for that keyword, along with all the metrics to each site.

term explorer results

This is your first look into your competition… which brings us to Chapter 2 – Competition.


Chapter 2: Competition Analysis

Understanding what, and who, you are up against can be a big determining factor in how well you may do, and how fast. If there is a lot of competition from established sites, it may take longer than expected to get the results you’re looking for. In some cases, it may be a massive undertaking to attempt to get even remotely close to the top. This is the way it will be for larger cities, central to the middle of the metro areas. This is why it is crucial to know your competition, find out which of their successes you can exploit, and what gaps you can fill in to beat them at their own game.

But, on the other hand, you might quickly identify an easy way to get your foot in the door. The traffic can all be yours.

Once you’ve established a set of target keywords, it’s time to start exploring each one, and coming up with a list of your competitors. There may be lots, there may be a few, and some may come up for lots of different terms while being vacant for others. The most omnipresent sites will be your toughest competition.

NOTE: When searching around, always use an incognito window, if possible. This will give you the same view as the public. If you’re logged into your Google account, you’ll see different results.

For starters, just start making a list. Don’t worry about who is who just yet. Don’t worry about how pretty their sites are. Just start collecting domains of the sites you see. We want a comprehensive list so we can get a feel for the lay of the land as it currently sits.

Create for yourself a spreadsheet with the name of the business or entity, the main URL that is ranking, and what term you found them with. If you keep seeing one come up over and over, keep adding the keywords next to their domain. As you finish out your list, you’ll already kind of know who is among the top 5 just based on how many keywords they’re domain ranks for.

Once you have your list, it’s time to start scoping out the competition to see what you’re dealing with. Here are some things we will want to focus on:

  • Quality of Site
  • Authority of Site
  • Social Integration

While there isn’t any single measure of a website’s quality, what we can do is get a general idea of the level of quality by simply going through our competitor’s sites and seeing what they have, what they do, and what seems to be “working” for them. At first, you won’t quite know what you’re looking for, but take notes on trends as best you can.

One quality measure, for example, is content. How much (meaning quantity) content they have matters, yes, but the level of quality is pretty simple to see and is a more important key indicator. Example:

Site A has 5 pages on their less than pretty site, each about a single type of life insurance. They are thorough, well formatted, and easy to read by a high school aged person. There are pictures here and there, and each page naturally links to the next. A simple call to action is placed on each page, which take you to a single page to enter in contact information. At the bottom of each page, there is a link to an FAQ where there are many, many commonly asked questions with detailed answers.

Site B is beautifully done, has an obvious social engagement, and has 18 pages, some about car insurance, some about home or health insurance, and two about life insurance. The two life insurance pages are on term and whole, respectively, but are short bullet pointed lists.

Without seeing the sites, without knowing anything about what search engines “think” quality is… which one do you feel is higher quality for the user?

Site A clearly has more quality content. Sure, it’s not beautiful, but it has a clear focus on life insurance, has a great depth of value in content alone, and they attempt to answer all your questions with a detailed FAQ.

Site B, although more aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t seem to know much about life insurance. In fact, it almost seems like an afterthought.

It might seem silly, but you’d be surprised how many sites are ranking with almost no content. This presents a unique opportunity for you to “one up” them by having excellent content. Once your website is equivalent to them in authority, you’ll likely rank above them.

Now, when discussing authority, think if it like a popularity contest. Is a celebrity more popular than you? Of course. But…how do you know for sure?

They once started out just like the rest of us, relatively unknown to the world with the exception of friends and family. But as their careers took off, they were mentioned on the radio, written about in tabloids, brought up on celebrity gossip sites, amassed large social followings, and more. In other words, there are all these different types of media making mention of them for whatever reason.

Website authority works like this in many ways. The more quality mentions of your website around the internet in relevant places, the more authority the search engine gives yours website. Thinking locally, the more high quality local listings you have, as well as non-local links, the more authoritative your website will become.

Backlinks

What is a backlink? A clickable link anywhere around the web that points to your site. When a user clicks, they are referred to a page on your website, whether it’s the homepage, article, or landing page. Backlinks are considered “votes of authority” to the search engines.

There are two different types, dofollow and nofollow. Dofollow links pass authority, nofollow do not. While your goal will be high quality, authoritative dofollow links, nofollow links are valuable, too. On a local level, they are key to citations (more on thiese later), social media, and direct referrals of users.

So, one way of seeing how authoritative your competitors are is by checking their backlinks. Several tools allow you to do this, though most are paid subscription to get the full list:

No single backlink checker will be perfect, and you may see different links from each one (or none). Just because a backlink doesn’t show up in any of these, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Over time, they simply attempt to collect as much data as they can.

The process is virtually the same for each, so we’ll do a test run through ahrefs to show you what you’re looking for.

From the list of the local insurance agencies in Destin, Florida from last chapter, we’ll use the website “ www.jimliufau.com” to see how he is ranking #1, based on authority of backlinks. First, open ahrefs, and type in the URL into the Site Explorer tab.

ahrefs search query

Once you click “Search Links,” you’ll see both the number of backlinks they have, and the number of referring domains. Referring domains means how many individual websites have linked to them, while backlinks refers to the total number of links, even if 1,000 come from the same domain.

backlinks

Along the top menu, click Inbound Links > Referring Domains. Here’s what you’ll see down the left of the page, which is a list of the domains this particular site has linking to them (I only screenshot the first 10):

backlinks top 10

Basically, you’ll want to replicate any of the high quality links you can. For example, this site is clearly listed in YellowPages. You’ll want to do the same. The second one, State Farm, is one you may not be able to replicate, unless you are a State Farm agent. Simply go down the entire list evaluating each one.

The idea is to replicate all the best links you can, and then go and get additional links they do not have. Over time, all things being equal, you’ll have more authority because your website not only has everything their site has, but ones they don’t, as well. Your website is now more highly referred, if you will.

When ranking locally, targeting local sites is key. It’s not bad to have links from anywhere else, and, in fact, can be really good, but the more local links you can get, the better. The search engines are able to understand the geo-specificity of local news sites, blogs and local businesses. By having a link on them, you’ll appear more popular on a local level.

Great places to get links for ranking locally are ones like the Better Business Bureau, your local Chamber of Commerce, and local directories. If you participate in local events, find out if your site can be featured on the event website.

Citations

In the above, take notice of YellowPages, Topix, Yext, and ShowMeLocal; they aren’t typical backlinks. These are actually called citations, which are local listings of your business. This includes the name, address, phone number, URL, and more to your website. We’ll talk more about these in Chapter 5. Your website needs to be correctly set up first to fully utilize the power of consistency in quality local citations.

For now, just understand that the number, the quality, the completeness and the consistency of local citations are a big factor in ranking locally. When the time comes, you’ll want to make sure you do them correctly. (More on this in another chapter.)

Social Integration

While not considered a ranking factor by most, social integration is a great way to look at your competitors and see how far their reach is. You’ll be shocked at how many local businesses do not engage in social media!

Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and virtually any social media on a local level is a great way to bring about your brand awareness. It’s also a great way to engage people without trying to sell them; they’ll become familiar with your business and be more likely to become a client in the future.

When looking at your competitors, first look and see what social media they use, and look to see how effectively they’re doing it. On Facebook, for example, look at their profile, their posts, follower count, or anything you see. Ask yourself:

  1. Are users engaged? Are they interacting?
  2. Do your competitors have reviews? (G+, Facebook)
  3. Are your competitors posting sales pitches, or growing their brand?
  4. What other local businesses are interacting with your competitors?

Basically, you’re trying to figure out how well their utilizing their reach. Again, social media may not help with ranking locally in a direct way, but social signals and brand recognition play significant roles. We’ll talk more about it in Chapter 6.

To close, all of the factors mentioned (content, backlinks, citations, social media) combined are what put your competition ahead of you, or you ahead of them. By taking stock of your competitors, you are able to put together a game plan of what you’ll need to do in order to pass them. The target is always moving, however, so you’ll need to constantly be putting more work into your asset to not only take over your competition, but stay ahead of them.


Chapter 3: On-Site SEO

On-site SEO basically means a page on your site is optimized to rank locally. As the bots from Google, Yahoo, and Bing crawl through your website, there are subtle ways to tell them “I want this page to rank for this specific keyword.

For local terms like you explored in Chapter 1, you’ll need to optimize pages in several different ways. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want one page to focus on one keyword. There are advanced ways to target multiple keywords, but, for now, we’ll give our attention to the one keyword per page model.

As you write and publish content, there are a few places you’ll want to have your keyword:

  1. URL
  2. Title Tag
  3. Header
  4. Content
  5. Image Alt Text
  6. Meta Description
  7. Meta Keyword

URL

When discussing your URLs, there’s a small amount of control you have on what they look like, and what words are contained within them. Take a quick look at these two URLs and think about what each page might be about:

Do you see how distinctive the second one is? There’s little doubt it’s a page on life insurance aiming for New York City residents. When the search engines crawl through your URL, they, too, can see “insurance”, “life”, and “new york city.”

By placing your keyword in your URL, you are supplying one of many signals about the content which should be expected on your page.

Now, you can’t really modify your URL in its entirety on every page. A good portion of your URL will already be set based on how your URLs are being published in WordPress. The portion you can control, however, is the final area between the two “/” marks, as shown here:

If you’re URL already has part of the keyword in it, there’s no need to be repetitive. For example:

YES:

NO:

Your URLs may be simpler. If you have nothing after the “.com/” portion, you can simply use your keyword in its entirety, as such:

There are lots of ways to use your keyword in the URL, so adopt whichever method is simplest, for you, your users, and the search engines. When in doubt, keep it short.

Title Tag

Your title tag is one of the most important places to have your keyword. You more than likely are using the Yoast SEO Plugin (if not, we highly recommend it), which allows you to make the title whatever you want within the character spaces given. It will look like this at the bottom of any new page or post you create:

title

While very simple to execute, make sure it is complete.

Header

Once you’re writing content (or publishing it), you’ll need to, at minimum, have your keyword used in an H2 style header. It’s very simple to add.

  1. Highlight the header with keyword
  2. Click the dropdown menu shown
  3. Click Header 2

header 2

For particularly long pieces, you can have sub-headings, with H3, H4, H5, and H6. If it makes sense to do so, you can add the keyword there, as well, or some iteration of it. While this is not terribly common, it can be useful.

Content

Using your keyword within the content is a necessary step, but don’t overdo it.

Ideally, use the keyword in the first paragraph, or even first sentence. This sets the tone for the rest of the piece. As you continue to write, however, don’t force using the keyword over and over. This is called over-optimization and can hurt your rankings. It also reads poorly for your users.

Something you can do is use different variations of the keyword. For example:

  • Life Insurance In Destin Florida
  • Destin Florida Life Insurance
  • Life Insurance Destin FL

All three are very similar and can be used throughout the article.

Image Alt Text

When you upload pictures into your posts and pages, you can tell the search engines what the picture is about using your keyword once again. Here are the steps.

In WordPress, click to “Add Media” when you’re in editing mode.

media

Next, click “Upload,” find the file you’re looking for, and add it. Once it’s finished, you’ll see an area on the right side where you can modify elements of the picture.

alt

The area labeled “Alt Text” is where you’ll want to add your keyword. Remember to have unique IDs for each image when using more than one.

Anything your write in the “Caption” area is visible to readers. “Alt Text” is not visible to your readers.

Meta Description

Your meta description is an important function in two ways:

  • It is visible in the organic search, so your readers will see it before they click.
  • It is visible to the search engines, and helps to determine page relevance.

While it’s important to have your focus keyword here, you’ll also want to make sure your description is enticing to your audience; they will see the title of your page and the description of your page before clicking. See below:

meta descrip

You’ll also notice, you only have so many characters before the search engines cut off the description. You have 156 characters to utilize for both the description and your keyword. Use this space wisely!

When you’re editing your page, the Yoast SEO Plugin has also made this an easy task, just like the the title. Below your content entry box, you’ll see this field:

meta descrip1

Something to note as you go through all these different keyword locations is the content surrounding them. While this likely won’t be an issue, the content needs to be legible and make sense to have the keyword placed where it is. The same goes for the title, description. Sometimes, you’ll need to think about an effective title that includes your keyword, rather than simply leaving your keyword as the title. For example, which would you find more engaging as a prospect?

  1. Life Insurance In Destin
  2. Easy Access To Affordable Life Insurance In Destin For All Ages

See the difference? The keyword is still recognized, but in a clearly readable format that will get drastically more attention and clicks. The same goes for descriptions, in-content wording, and headers, alike.

Don’t ever write just for the search engines; write with your users in mind first and foremost.

Adding NAP/W

The next piece of on-site SEO you’ll want to have isn’t going to pertain to keywords, however it will be very important when you begin your chapter on NAP/W, which is an abbreviation for name, address, phone, and website.

As you build out your citations, they’ll need to also be listed on your website, preferably in your footer and on your contact page. (You can also have it in your header, but most use this area for social and only a phone number; it’s really up to you and your site layout).

You’ll need to list your name, address, phone and website in the exact same way every single time, both on-site and off. In your footer, you can have the NAP/W in a single line, separate by comma, and it can be read the same way by the search engines using schema.

On your contact page, it’s suggested to list your NAP/W on separated lines, as such:

XYZ Insurance Agency

123 Main Street

City, State, Zip

888-555-1234

www.xyzinsurance.com

Note the order, as well as the word “Street” being fully spelled and the website URL missing the “http://” piece. You also won’t want “(” or “)” in your phone number. A majority of citations you’ll get later on will need this layout to be consistent.


Chapter 4: Google+ (Google MyBusiness)

Because Google is the search engine with the most market share, this is a social networking profile you won’t want to skip. In fact, it’s much more than just a social profile. Since it’s inception (and even demise) its function has changed dramatically, especially in the local rankings. Let’s discuss what it is, first, so you understand why you’ll want to have it.

What is Google Plus?

Now collectively called Google My Business because of the many different aspects it includes, it’s mainstreaming from a personal or business social networking profile to a, quite literal, Google Business listing.

In other words, your local business will get special treatment in the search engine depending on what terms are searched when you business appears. This could mean:

  • Location on a clickable map
  • Immediately displayed contact information
  • Complete company profile displayed
  • Map pack inclusion
  • Published reviews and 5- star ratings
  • and more…

For example, here’s what you’ll see if you Google “destin florida life insurance agency” in your browser:

destin florida life insurance agency

Everything with either a red arrow or included in the red box is all because of Google My Business (G+). Not only are company websites listed, but their G+ pages, their contact information, and their corresponding locations in the local map and what time they are open.

Furthermore, if you click the map while on your cell phone, you’ll get something like this:

mobile view

With one click on your phone, you can select a business, and the very next click can have you dialing their number, getting directions with your GPS, or linking to their website directly. This is thumb traffic you don’t want to miss out on! This is the importance of ensuring your G+ business profile is correctly done.

Set Up

First, go to the Google My Business homepage.

On the top right, click “Sign In” and use your google account to log in.

Choose “Service Area” on the next screen.

Enter in your business name. It may say it hasn’t found, you, which is fine. Simply click the small note which says “Let me enter the full business details.”

Once you enter your information, make sure to view the red locator on the map is positioned correctly. If not, simply drag it to the corresponding location where you are, and it will update.

When completed, click to begin the verification process.

For Google to make sure you really are a legitimate business and verify you for a page, it will send a postcard with verification details to the address you enter. After 1-2 weeks, you’ll need to follow the instructions on the postcard to begin modifying your business page. When done, you’ll see this:

verified gmb

Now you’re ready to create your page. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do the tour, especially if you’ve never used Google+ in any capacity before, however it’s not mandatory. If you opt out, there will still be a progress bar which let’s you know how much of your profile you’ve completed–and you will not want less than 100%.

Complete your profile as best you can. At minimum, the contact information, the description and story of your business, the hours of operation, logo, and pictures (at least 3). This is absolutely critical to complete each piece with 100% accuracy, so double check your work.

Next, go to your About page and click “Edit.” Look to find the “Links” tab, and, once again, click “Edit.”

First, verify your website. Since you’re already logged into your Google account, there should be a small “Verify” button for you to simply click and it’s done. If you don’t see this, you may need to manually do it by logging into your Webmaster Tools.

Next, add links to all your social profiles: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, or whichever you have for your business. Make sure you list the exact URL to your profile, not the social profile homepage! This will be annoying, but don’t skip it.

Last, add links to any other professional profiles, major articles you’ve written around the web, major media features or press releases which are distinctly important.

You’ll want to keep an eye on your progress bar. This is not good enough:

progress

You need to complete it to 100%! Trust me, you’ll want to overdo the profile before you under do it.

Maintenance

It’s important to note that your G+ profile is something you’ll want to keep an eye on. When you can, update it, add links to content from other social profiles, your blog, or any other pertinent information like local events, seminars, etc. Remember, this is an active profile, not a dormant one. (We’ll talk about it later, but this can be somewhat automated.)

But, perhaps the most important aspect of your profile is now going to be Reviews. Who stands out in the crowd here:

reviews

Even though they aren’t at the top, State Fund Insurance clearly shines here with 23 Google reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Data has shown consumers love to buy from a business or website with ample positive reviews more than a place they are unsure of; is it any wonder Amazon constantly attempts to have their products reviewed?

On a local scale, you’ll want to get positive, 5-star reviews whenever possible. This is something you’ll want to continue as long as possible. While there are many ways to do it, you do have to do it legitimately. You can’t simply every person on your Facebook trample over to your review section and leave a 5-star rating. This might look… well, spammy.

Google doesn’t like spam.

Here are some fine points to consider when building out your profile:

  1. Use a local number. It’s okay to have a toll free number as well, but list it as a secondary, at least for your G+ profile.
  2. Use a real local address, where possible. There are many ways to get a local address in the profile, from using P.O. boxes to virtual office spaces, but the best address is a ‘real’ one where a person can walk through a front door and be greeted by you.
  3. Have one profile, even with multiple locations. There is a way to accomplish this feat, although it’s a little more advanced.
  4. Interact. One way to get seen is to interact with others on G+. When others follow you and are logged into their Google account, your articles and profile get preferential treatment in the SERPs. It’s Google’s way of keeping local networking going, if you will.

If, for any reason, you get a negative feedback or rating, don’t worry all that much. It’s never detrimental. It will happen, and believe it or not, will only make your rating profile look more natural. No business is going to make 100% of their customers happy, so it’s to be expected. With that said, do what you can to keep them to a minimum.


Chapter 5: NAP/W – Name, Address, Phone, Website

NAP/W is simply an acronym for your name, address, phone and website URL. So, why does that matter?

On the local platform, a consistent NAP/W is considered a fairly large ranking indicator. The more high quality places your NAP/W is found, the more the search engines are going to pick up on your website. Often times, these are called citations.

Citation – a mention of your company or website, with or without a direct link involved.

In total, this includes any mention of your company name, phone number, address, or URL, despite whether they are listed in conjunction with one another or not. It could be just a company name in a press release on a local news site, or it could be an entire profile on YellowPages. In either case, search engines are programmed to pick up on these ‘mentions’ within a certain distance of your business’ front doors.

There is good news and bad news about citations.

Bad News

Citations are extremely tedious.

Citations, done improperly, can actually hurt your rankings.

Did I mention they are tedious?

Citations are not extremely easy to come by. In fact, there could be hundreds and hundreds available to your locale, but unless you know what they are or what you’re looking for, you may never end up actually finding them on your own.

I did say mention how extremely tedious they are, right?

There are good citations, but there are bad citations, as well. Not all citations are created equally; the site your company is listed on matters. Good, quality citations on authoritative sites are excellent, but poorly done citations on a low quality site can offset those completely.

Good News

Don’t worry, there is good news, too. Citations, when done right, can drastically improve your search results, making them well worth your time. In addition, there are a wide variety of tools to help you not only remove the monotony of doing them, but ensure fluid, consistent, concise reporting to all the citation sites you’ll want to be listed on.

Before we get into the tools, let’s talk about what a good citation looks like, and how it helps. Because virtually every citation you complete will be somewhat different than the next, you want to make absolute positive you’re filling out the complete page/profile/article/listing or whatever it is you’re doing. Much like the previous chapter on Google+, 100% complete profiles means 100%.

Example #1: The “Good”

bad

Clearly a New York Life agent or office, with a full name, local address, local phone, and website listing. To the newly admitted, this looks good and complete. However, what’s different with this next listing?

Example #2: The “Better”

better

In this listing, there is a little more information. Now, granted, it’s because in the top right, there is auto and homeowner’s insurance, so we won’t include those because New York Life doesn’t do them. But notice, annuities. New York Life does those, why weren’t they included?

Additionally, notice the bottom left, a spot Manta leaves open for categories: Insurance Agent. This is a small, but important, added detail you’ll want to include whenever possible. So, how can we take it up yet another notch?

Example #3: The “Best”

best

This is a complete citation. This agency clearly took the time not list just “Insurance Agent,” but tell you exactly what kind. Sometimes you can hand write them in, other times they’re simply boxes you can check.

In case there was any doubt, the “Best” was top ranked, the “Better” was next, and the “Good” came third when searched in Manta for the Destin, Florida area.

As you can see, writing out these descriptions, categories, NAP/W, logos and more over and over can amount to a ton of work very fast. Can it be done by hand? Absolutely. Start your day by completing 10 a day and in just a few weeks you’ll have a nice vault of citations.

But, surely, there is a faster way, right? Of course.

There are several aggregators where you can fill out a giant profile one time, and they will hit all the major directories, listings, local sites and more in a single flurry of code–for a price.

  1. Axciom
  2. ExpressUpdate (Infogroup)
  3. Factual
  4. LocalEze
  5. MozLocal

There are more. However, most of the others either charge per citation, or a monthly fee instead of an annual or one-time cost. This doesn’t mean they should still be considered because they should–they can come with more quality touches when done by hand in a lot of ways an automated system can’t.

Manual Citation Building

There are several ways you can go about doing this by hand. You can Google any number of phrases like, “List of Citation Sources” and you’ll find a ton of places to get started. If you see YellowPages, Manta, FourSquare, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, HotFrog, etc. then you are in the right place.

You can also use WhiteSpark.

WhiteSpark is one of the best tools to not only discover possible citations for you to grab, but it simultaneously tells you about your competitors who are going after the same keywords as you. Simply enter your location, keyword, and choose from the drop down menu which variation you want:

whitespark

When you click “Search” to begin, it will take a few minutes to run as it cycles through all the different paths it can find for the top listed websites for the keyword. Each iteration of your keyword may bring up different results, so it may not hurt to go ahead and get multiple going. Here’s what you can expect:

whitespark results

The top listings in the area, along with their listed phone number, as well as the number of citations they have are all listed. You can click on “View Sources” if you get the Pro package and see every single citation they have. But let’s go over a few things you see in this image first.

The first listing has two oddities, if we considered ONLY this one ranking factor:

  1. Toll Free Number
  2. Low Citation Count

Don’t let this discourage you from doing lots of high quality citations, but remember they aren’t the ONLY ranking factor for local search engine optimization. They are but a piece in the big puzzle. On the other hand, it should give you great excitement because if you do an excellent job all around, you can expect to do well with less.

Consistency

We’ve thrown around the word ‘consistency’ a lot with citations. What exactly do we mean?

Every single citation you do needs to be exactly the same, whenever possible. Here are some examples:

Life Insurance USA vs. Life Insurance USA, LLC.

123 Main Street vs. 123 Main St.

80055512345 vs. (800) 555-1234

lifeinsuranceusa.com vs. www.lifeinsuranceusa.com

Notice the subtle differences? the “, LLC.” attachment makes the company name different. The “Street” is different than the “St.” abbreviation. The layout of the phone numbers and URLs are different, as well. It might seem very minor, but they should always be the same when allowed.

Some sites may only allow “Ln.” instead of “Lane” or “Dr.” instead of “Drive,” but there isn’t anything you can do about it. Just do your best to ensure every other listing is as perfectly similar as you can.

Try to use similar branding, like logos, social media links and more, as well as listing the same person behind the business. Don’t use an owner or partner for one listing, then use an agent for another.

Check your spelling! When you’ve done a lot, you’ll start to type your own name wrong! The best thing you can do is to type everything into an excel sheet, and simply copy and paste. This removes a large human error element from your NAP/W consistency, much like the automation techniques of the aggregators.

Finally, watch for duplicates! Remove any duplicates you may come across, whether you made them or not.


Chapter 6: Social Media

Even if you don’t plan to use social media as a direct marketing tool locally, you will still need to acquire social profiles. Facebook, for example, is considered a citation because it allows you to list your NAP/W like discussed in the previous chapter. But, there’s more to it.

Is social media a direct ranking factor?

Not really, no. You can’t go and collect every single social profile in existence and auto-publish content all day to make it seem like you’re the busiest business in town. Well, you could, but it would be fruitless. ( If you do want to see what profiles are available for a single brand or business name, check out KnowEm)

At this time, none of the search engines have declared social a ranking factor. However, simply having a completed profile can act like a citation.

After searching for “life insurance agent facebook” in Google, here is what I found on the first “About” page for the first organic result:

fbook

There is a nice citation there on the right inside the red box, and included is a map which is clickable in mobile.

But there is yet another advantage to claiming social profiles: social proof. Let’s say, for example, a person searches your exact brand name or business name in Google. What should they find?

Hopefully your website populates the first organic result, as well as the information box on the right (if your schema is done properly). But, what about below your site? It would likely be preferential to have all ten results come up with your brand, including citations, social profiles, articles about you/your business, and more.

One of the top ranking companies in Destin, which we’ve used in previous chapters, is Wenrick Insurance. What happens when you search their name instead of just “life insurance agent Destin, FL” in Google?

wen

Notice the Facebook, Better Business Bureau, Google+ and a couple local directories.

On a local level, many consumers tend to search a brand name before using them. They want to ensure they’re using a respected agent or agency. Don’t be surprised if they ask friends, as well. They will want to see as much transparency about your agency as they can.

By adding social profiles on domains with high authority (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, etc.), you are more than likely going to A.) take up more digital real estate when someone searches for you, and B.) provide them social proof you are still in business if they click on your social profiles and see recent activity.

Which ones should you join?

In the end, it’s up to you. In fact, you don’t HAVE to join any social networks. However, again, it’s important to pick up the important ones for the purpose of citations, at minimum. Google+, as mentioned in the previous chapter, is not really optional if you’re ranking locally, either.

Here are the ones suggested:

  1. *Google+
  2. Facebook
  3. Twitter
  4. YouTube
  5. Pinterest
  6. FourSquare
  7. LinkedIN

Much like the chapter on Google+, you’ll want to make sure your profile is complete. If you’re going to go the steps to start the profile, go the extra mile to finish it. It’ll be worth your time.

However, not all these social networks include a “Name”, “Address”, or “Phone” area specifically, though most carry a spot for your websites link. In any case, they do usually include a “Bio” or “Description” area where you can put the NAP yourself manually. Remember, keep it identical across the board as best you can to increase the consistency.

Bunching

One extra tip to increase the power of social proofing and indexing is to link your social profiles together.

Do you remember the “Links” page on your Google+ account setup? There’s a perfect place to put the URLs to your other social profiles.

add links

Have you seen the “About” page on a YouTube account before? Have you ever looked at the right side of the main banner? Another perfect spot to includes links to social profiles. YouTube allows you to add up to 5, where the “Website” field can be whichever social profile you choose, and the link in the large empty white box can be your direct profile link:

youtube link

While linking to them manually this way, it also is good practice to share different types of media and profile links across each network. In other words, maybe once a month, have a post on your Twitter account that says “We’re on Facebook, too!” and add a link to your profile.

Social Networking Tips

If you’re one of the few who are looking to actively use the social networking tools to gain followers and build your brand, there are several things you can do to actively build awareness (and maybe some links).

  • Don’t sell all the time. It’s good practice to provide as much information as you can, with no more than 1 in 10 offering to provide a service.
  • Be visual. Media which is visual in nature is exponentially more likely to be shared, or at least “Liked”, “Pinned”, or “Subscribed” to.
  • Share others first. Don’t be scared to share information from around the town, or elsewhere, with your social followers. People like to be informed; in fact, people are usually on social media for either information or entertainment only.
  • Be friendly. Always look to make new acquaintances, and project a happy attitude. Nobody wants to be a part of Negative Nancy’s constant ranting. Always engage unsatisfied customers offline, as well.
  • Have some fun. It’s okay to have posts which aren’t informative or salesy. Something funny happen over the weekend? Share it. Go to a ballgame with co-workers? Share it. At a business networking event or seminar? Share it!
  • Hashtag, when appropriate. Hashtagging is a newer practice, but can put your activity in the limelight of certain categories when done properly, even if another person doesn’t know who you are. It will increase your reach, so to speak.

Bonus Tip: For visual elements, like video or pictures, it doesn’t hurt to add watermarks where appropriate, or some sort of contact information.

For example, at the end of a YouTube video, you could simply say “You can reach us at xxx-xxx-xxxx with any questions and we’ll be sure to answer.” and have your number roll over the bottom. It’s just the same as a call to action on your website.


Chapter 7: Local Listings and Links

If you’ve done everything properly up until now, this chapter has some of the greatest potential for boosting traffic, both immediately and long term. That’s because it ties a lot of the elements together, and brings your prospects to your site, directly or indirectly.

Links are the most powerful way to get fast, referral traffic, as well as long term rankings.

This chapter could go on forever, quite literally. Building links is consistently one of the hottest topics discussed by internet marketing professionals on a daily basis.

In addition, Google, Bing, Yahoo and all the other search engines are modifying their algorithms because of aggressive link building. So, before we go any further, a quick word on building links safely.

Because of the power of links in bringing both referral and organic traffic, they have been abused by many, many people. For this reason, there are safe and unsafe link building tactics. Never put your site at risk by getting low quality, spam links. Your site can not only lose rankings, but get penalized and wiped from the search engines over night.

Now that we have that happy topic out of the way, let’s talk about attracting local links, and how they help ranking locally.

If you remember from Chapter 2, we briefly brought up what backlinks were. Here’s a quick refresher:

Backlink – a hypertext link on another website which refers someone to your own site.

Dofollow links pass authority, nofollow links do not. In a perfect world, you’ll have a healthy mix of both, where the anchor text (the actual wording which is linked) is a mix of branded, non-branded, and keyword markup. Here is an article with more information.

For local ranking, there are two factors which matter most: geographic location, and relevancy.

If you can get your website listed in relevant, local articles/blogs/sites consistently, you will set yourself up for success very quickly. This could be another business’ blog, a newspaper article, a local directory which links out, or even event listings, charitable organizations, and university websites. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity.

Go Get ‘Em Links

Right off the bat, let’s get some of the best out in the open. These are link targets you’ll want, for sure. Your competition probably has them, as well, but at least it will level the playing field. If they don’t, you’re already ahead.

  1. Chamber of Commerce
  2. Better Business Bureau
  3. Local Associations/Organizations

These are no-brainer links you should grab right away. While they will cost money because of membership fees, they are very authoritative links and are high trust signals for your website.

There are other possibilities to aim for, which may or may not be available to your location:

  1. City/County Websites
  2. Local Library Website
  3. Local University Directories

These are usually websites ending in “.gov” or “.edu” which are also highly authoritative and pass along trust signals to your pages. You may have to call in order to get your site listed in any of these, but it’s most definitely worth a shot.

Next, it’s a game of who do you know.

  1. Consider friends or family members who have websites. Will they link to you?
  2. Do you know any fellow business owners or entrepreneurs? Perhaps they’ll share a link.
  3. What businesses do you frequent? See if they’ll link or share your business socially. (Lawyer/Accountant/Dry Cleaner/etc.)

This is much like starting your business or asking for referrals for life insurance, but this time, it’s even easier. You’re not asking for business or contact information, but rather a simple task to either link to your site or share your website URL on their social media. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. ( Don’t forget to return the favor!)

Line ‘Em Up Links

Remember the chapter on competitors? Time to level the playing field.

It’s time to go through your list of competitors you’ve compiled and find out which links you can get from what they have already. Depending on the link, you may or may not be able to get them all, but this is an easy way to cherry pick a few good links.

Even if you only get a couple from each competitor, suddenly you’ve got a nice chunk of signals from around the web which basically say, “This guy is as good as the next.” Once you get a few links they don’t have, you’ll rise above them.

If you recall from a previous chapter, sites like ahrefs, openlinkprofiler, opensiteexplorer, majestic and others will allow you to scan their site for inbound links. You’ll want to put each website into all of them one-by-one because they don’t all pick up a complete profile.

Let’s walk through an example together.

Jumping through ahrefs first, since they tend to be one of the more complete sources, we’ll use Wenrick Insurance from Destin, Florida.

start

Start off by entering their complete URL, selecting “*.domain/* from the drop down (which means it will scan all inbound links to the entire domain, not just homepage), and click “Search Links.” Here’s what we see:

second

At least 18 domains are linking to them, and from those 18 domains, 55 total links have been created, according to ahrefs.

third

Next, from the menu along the top of the window, look for Inbound Links > Referring Domains.

ah4

On the next screen, you’ll see they have 12 dofollow links, and 6 nofollow links. Just as a reminder, this means 12 links passing authority, 6 are not. After re-ordering the links by “DR” (supposed Domain Rank–not official), let’s take a look at the first one and break it down so you know what you’re looking at.

ah5

The domain, with the corresponding linking page below it, is listed on the left. The “Domain Rank” is 73, which is great, and, according to ahrefs, means the site is near the top 1,000 of all sites. However, if you notice the “Backlinks” category, you see a “0 / 1″ there. This means none of the links coming from this domain are dofollow. Finally, you’ll see the date which the link was found.

In the next row on the right half, you have the Link Anchor, the URL being linked to, and the descriptor text. In this case, it’s a homepage link, and again the type is nofollow.

What you do with this information will depend on each and every link you evaluate. In this particular instance, it appears someone from the site was on BlogTalkRadio, and was giving a link for doing so. While the link passes no authority, it probably drove traffic, at least temporarily.

Let’s take a look at another real fast:

ah6

This time, it’s a link from what appears to be the “Free Web Directory.” They have 4 dofollow links with the anchor “Florida Life Insurance Companies” posted there. Now, this is the type of link you’ll want to replicate, so long as the “Free Web Directory” looks legitimate.

But, be careful: using anchor text like “Florida Life Insurance Companies” can be risky. It’s best to use your company name for a directory like this, when possible. Too many links that force keywords, like “Florida Life Insurance Company,” can get your site penalized.

Go through each site, one-by-one, and see how many of these links you can get. If it’s a directory, it may be easy to get listed (sometimes, a small fee is charged). If it’s a local blog, you can ask to be listed there; this might require you writing a guest post or helping them in some way, but should be worth it. If it’s a “Resource” page on a local business website, ask about having your website included.

Any which way you can collect quality links to your site which are already pointing to your competitors, do so.

Distinct Links

Once you’ve gotten several of your competitor’s links, it’s time to get links they don’t have. While getting their links levels the playing field to some extent, this is what will set you apart and hopefully get you bumped ahead.

As said before, there are thousands of ways to get your site linked to from authority sites locally, and around the web; your only limit is your creativity and work ethic. First, there are some key elements you want to look for:

  • Relevancy
  • Authority
  • Activity
  • Audience

Relevancy means finding sites in the same niche, or even sub-niche. This means it’s best to acquire links from other finance related websites. While another life insurance website is best, it’s just find to get links from P&C agencies who don’t do life, a budgeting or investment blog, or even non-finance websites discussing financial topics (think of a Law website discussing estates and linking to your page on estate life insurance policies).

This doesn’t mean a link on a high-powered tech site is useless, but try to keep as many of your links as relevant as you can.

Speaking of high-powered, aim to get authoritative links. Authority can be measured in several ways, from actual authority figures within the life insurance or finance niche, to authority websites everyone knows like Forbes, Yahoo!, or Huffingtonpost. To be simple, long established, popular and in-depth sites will yield wonderful results.

Activity refers to websites which are highly trafficked, or have lots of dynamic audience engagement either on the website or social networks. An example could be Wikipedia, WebMD, or LifeHappens.org. All could be relevant in some way, and have lots of activity from all around the world on a consistent basis. The goal is to get engagement when you can get it, and the more eyes on your link, the better. Aim to be popular, remember?

Last, audience refers to a real, dedicated user base. Think outside the box a little for this one, but it could range from authority figures who have a committed following, to forums where people have been chatting for years on a specific topic. There are thousands of audiences who interact with each other on many platforms, from social networking to micro-communities within Reddit or Voat.co.

Audience locations can be some of the more difficult to penetrate for links or marketing because you’re a new face within a familiar crowd. It’s easy to spot the new guy. It’s best to become an active member for a long period of time before marketing yourself or business. Of course, you can always take a stab at it from the get go with the risk of getting kicked out; it’s up to you.

Obtaining links is not easy, although you can build a process which works for you. Everyone has a different level of comfort, but you may need to get outside your comfort zone a little to get some of the best links.


Chapter 8: Reviews

As you grow your engagement, your website authority, and your client base, reviews are a great way to to establish both perceived and real trust.

When people make online purchases, like in the retail space, they love to browse product reviews. But think of your business as a product, in a sense. People will also want to read reviews about you and your business to see if you are trustworthy, fair, and an expert at what you do.

Much like the Google+ reviews we discussed earlier, there are several platforms which encourage customers to leave feedback regarding their experience in doing business with you, and these reviews are published for the public eye. In addition, they can affect rankings either on the review websites themselves, or organically.

Yelp is a great example.

Users can leave a rating and comment on virtually any aspect of your business. Now, this can work for or against you in several ways.

  1. The internal results can differ within Yelp based on reviews for the businesses listed.
  2. Prospects will choose to do (or not do) business with you based on reviews they read.
  3. Age of your listing, number of quality reviews, and consistency of the page can increase the authority of this citation for you, impacting search results.

Assuming you have strong positive reviews, Yelp will increase your visibility on their own website, putting you ahead of businesses with no review or poor ones. And, because the reviews are published on your individual business page within Yelp, your citation on this page gets stronger. Last, people who use Yelp consistently lean towards transacting with companies who are well reviewed. It’s a win-win-win.

On the other hand, a poor review without any good reviews behind it can damage your reputation on that particular site. A single negative review won’t drive your website into the ground, by any means, but it doesn’t look great by itself, either. Some sites let you respond to such feedback, others don’t.

The only way you can ensure the best review profile possible, is to get reviews.

While it’s discouraged to solicit for reviews, you can make requests or have them built into your sales process to get them naturally.

In other words, you aren’t supposed to offer prizes, rewards or gifts of any kind in exchange for a positive review. Instead, the review hubs suggest you simply ‘make it available’ to your clients. While this is difficult to do and simultaneously get them to take action, it can be done. The key is automating the process so you don’t have to keep up.

Think of all the emailing your CRM does to turn prospects into leads. It might email them a quick “Thank You” for visiting your site and getting a quote. It may email them after 10 days asking if they’re still interested. So, why not integrate a process to get reviews from those who are already clients?

A simple email of “Thank Your For Your Business” with a snippet at the end about reviews.

  • Did we meet your expectations? Tell us: www.reviewsite.com
  • Care to share your experience? www.reviewsite.com
  • Find us on ReviewSite! www.reviewsite.com
  • Or, sometimes just a linked logo in your email signature will do the trick.

Some things you will not want to do are:

  1. Have pages on your website to ask for reviews
  2. Encourage people to review you while at your office
  3. Pay for reviews which aren’t real
  4. Get lots of reviews at a time

Because review sites have been abused by local service companies in many different capacities, they have built in filters now to get rid of what could be spam, even if it isn’t.

For example, if several reviews all come in from the exact same IP address (aka, your workplace), it will look like spam. If several reviews come in on a single day once every 30 days because you have a monthly request for reviews, it will look like spam. In other words, simply get them as they come; it’s a marathon not a race.

Here is a great graphic on several of the top review sites, and what you can expect from each.


Chapter 9 : Big Mistakes

In this chapter, we’re just going to discuss things you SHOULDN’T do. Some of them may seem obvious to you, but you’d be shocked at what we’ve seen around the web before. We’re going to go through lots of different things from all the previous chapters. Hopefully you haven’t made any of these errors. If so, you can always go back and edit them. Let’s begin:

Content Mistakes

The rule of thumb for every piece of content you should write is always:

Write for humans first, search engines second.

This means your content should be extremely readable, and in plain english even a junior high schooler could understand. Because we are in the insurance industry, we already understand all of our own terminology, but try to explain what everything is as you go. Not only will this aid your reader, but simpler words are easily understood by search engines as well.

In addition, never duplicate or copy. Not only is it illegal, but search engines won’t ‘index’ (meaning to display in their results) duplicate or copied content. Now, on your own site, it’s okay to have content which is the same on several pages; an “About the Author” snippet, for example, never changes. Some content is available for all sources, as well, as long as it’s cited correctly with permission.

Finally, never ‘keyword stuff’ your articles. This means not forcing in your targeted keywords on all the articles you write. If you find yourself going back and trying to fit in your keyword in more places, don’t. Something you can do, however, is use a variation on the keyword, so long as you maintain the integrity of your piece. Here’s an example:

We specialize in affordable life insurance in Destin, and all across Florida.

Our Destin life insurance agency is trusted all across the state of Florida.

As you can see, “life insurance in Destin” and “Destin life insurance” are very similar, and can be used somewhat interchangeably. Again, make it natural, not forced reading. If it sounds funny to you, it will to your readers, also.

On-Site Errors

A few items need to be addressed when it comes to your on-site SEO to make sure you’re not over-optimizing or hurting any work you’ve already done:

  1. Never duplicate title tags or meta descriptions
  2. Never omit a picture or leave off the title and alt tags
  3. Use varying and relevant anchored links

Every title tag should be 100% unique across the website, and every meta description should be unique to the page it’s on. While your company or brand name can be listed as a part of the title on each page, it can be accomplished with a separation. WordPress will do it for you. Here’s an example:

Life Insurance In Destin, Florida | XYZ Insurance Agency, LLC.

The unique title is “Life Insurance In Destin, Florida” and the “| XYZ Insurance Agency, LLC.” is the additional branding element. The first part needs to always be unique, and pertain to the keyword or term you are attempting to rank the page for.

Second, you will always want to include a picture with a relevant title and alt tag. The caption isn’t necessary, but only personal taste. Omitting the picture altogether would be like filling your tank only ¾ of the way on a road trip. You’ll never get the maximum mileage you want.

Finally, vary your anchor text when linking, and make sure it is highly relevant to where you are linking to. If possible, make it very descriptive. When linking to your “Life Insurance In Destin” article, for example, don’t always link Life Insurance In Destin. Try others:

Destin Life Insurance

Life Insurance near Destin, FL.

affordablie life insurance policy in Destin

In addition, keep it relevant. Never create a link from one page to the next using bland anchors like “this” or “here” or “click now.” These are missed opportunities to tell the search engine about the page you’re sending your users to.

Citation No-No’s

Do you remember the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”

When it comes to citations, this can be modified quite simply to,“If you don’t do them completely, don’t do them at all.” If you aren’t willing to do them right, it’s really not even worth spending time on. An incomplete citation is really not worth having. As stated before, keep them consistent and complete.

Another mishap with citations is creating duplicates. If you begin creating citations and your own, for example, then decide to automate it and pay to have it done, it could create duplicates on the platforms you’ve already started. This is especially the case where no confirmation is required. While most of the citation builders are coded to look for duplicates, it’s not full proof. A regular citation audit is recommended.

Google+ Negatives

In-line with what we just went over with citations, never duplicate Google Plus listings. Not only is it considered spam, but you can be penalized for having multiple listings in the map pack by creating several Google+ pages.

Link Building Blunders

As you begin your outreach, whatever your method of acquiring links, be very careful. There are lots of ways you can hurt your website in the long run if you build links improperly. Here are some basic rules, although they aren’t catchall:

  1. Never request specific anchors
  2. Never get into “automated link building”
  3. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

Link building can make or break your website, so always aim for quality. When you do get approvals for links, try to never ask for specific anchor text; leave it up to the person creating the link itself. This is a natural way of gaining an objective and different inbound link anchors which is great for trust. When in doubt, a ‘branded’ link using your name or business entity is best.

If you over-optimize your link anchors, you can do a lot of harm to your website. In fact, not only could it hurt the ranking potential of a specific article, it could bring down your entire website if you get penalized.

Avoid automated link building efforts, as well. Many different scams are always around which make claims to set your link building on autopilot so you can spend your time elsewhere. These automated methods involve what is known as “Black Hat” link building, and have been known to get websites penalized and removed from the search engines over time.

If you do feel it necessary to have links built for you, only consider a service from a source you absolutely know and trust.

Last, never take someone up on their offer who can ‘guarantee results‘ or the like. No person, company, or source can guarantee any kind of ranking. Consider this: even some of Google’s own websites have been penalized by Google. There is no magic bullet.

Plug-In Misconceptions

Over the years, WordPress has come to dominate the CMS atmosphere (content management system). One of the reasons for this is the ease of use where virtually anyone can have their own website and be successful. This is largely made possible by plug-ins, which allow users to add any number of services, modifications, and more.

However, there is a point where they can harm your site. Although it’s not a direct ranking factor in any way, it can crush user experience by slowing down your site or bulking up your code so bad things begin to break down, which can, in turn, lower rankings.

As user experience diminishes and your users start to abandon your website, this creates higher “Bounce Rates” which is a causation for lower ranking; a “Bounce” is simply a person who clicks and leaves because they didn’t find what they were looking for. Overloading your host with plug-ins can also slow the site so much that search engines can take action in the search results, as well.

Last, plug-ins also create a backdoor way for malware and viruses to enter your database. Using a plug-in from any source can cause this, but non-reputable plug-in creators are more prone.

Always be mindful of what plug-ins you’re using, and if they can be replaced with very simple code, always go with the code. It may cost you a small fee to have done, but could save you lots of headaches down the road.


Chapter 10: Wrap-Up

From the previous chapters, you should have a more than basic understanding of the many different elements which go into ranking locally. No single element on its own can withstand ranking in the search engines on its own; it is a large scale effort where all cogs work together. Additionally, it’s an ongoing effort.

Once you’ve put all of these chapters into practice, and continue to do so over time, you’ll notice many of these things become habit. While this great, always keep a sharp eye on the minutiae and details. You can even search any of these topics into Google or whichever search engine you prefer and find volumes more on all of them.

Every element is also subject to change. Each can grow in importance, or get reduced, all at the discretion of the search engines. As anything changes, we’ll always be proactively keeping you involved, but major search engine updates happen on both a scheduled and unscheduled basis; the environment is extremely dynamic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does all of my content have to focus on my local market?

The pages and posts you create to rank for a specific keyword do need to remain as local as possible. However, if you create supporting articles, a blog, or any kind of media to post both on your website and social media, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, some general knowledge article can go a long way to supporting articles you’ve created for local ranking.

I’m ranked well in the 7-pack, but I’m nowhere to be seen organically. What gives?

There are different ranking factors and weights for each one; they are, in some respects, exclusive to one another. Especially in the beginning when your site is relatively new, expect a lower correlation. As your site gains more trust, you’ll likely see a higher correlation between them.

In addition, competition differs between the two. If a very authoritative website posts an article on the exact topic you’re ranking for, they don’t have to be local and can still rank above you organically.

It can also work inversely. Think about the New York Life’s and the State Farm’s and the Progressive’s. They have local agents ranking in map packs consistently, but you won’t always see them ranking for anything organically.

Will optimizing for local hurt me when scaling nationally?

Not at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As you begin to grow your website and it’s reach, you’ll see it’s significantly easier to rank organically because your authority and trust has a foundation already set so long as you’re building links and creating excellent content.

What should we do if we change addresses or phone numbers?

As you may expect, this is going to be a lot of work. All of your citations, NAP/W information sitewide, and other elements will need updated. You can enlist the help of Axciom, MozLocal and the others to help with the automation of doing so, but you’ll have to go back and manually do a lot of them.

Because the aggregators don’t own and control all the directories and hubs they send data to, they can’t force any of them to make edits.

What is schema?

A slightly more advanced topic, Schema refers to code within a website which communicates extra information to the search engine’s bots. You can create local schema to embed on your website manually, if you are confident you know what you’re doing. It is somewhat time consuming, and adding schema or rich snippets can get a little complicated.

What they do for the user, however, can be very beneficial. Many times it is not visible, but in certain ways, it can be. Here’s an example:

schema

If someone searches for your brand (I searched for “Jim Liufau insurance”), you can have a lot of digital real estate taken up by your business information, photos, map and more.

Correctly implemented Schema can provide information on the business, links to all social networks, and even live stock quotes for larger companies. There are hundreds of things to add. While there is no direct correlation to ranking, it can help take up the space on the screen, which will likely increase your click through ratio for branded terms.

I had a particularly slow week in leads. Should I be worried?

If you have high volume and see a sudden drop, this can be worrisome. However, it’s a part of the online market.

Typically, it’s best to look at long durations when comparing conversions with your traffic. Anything less than 30 days is probably not enough because of the regular variances in rankings and traffic. Plenty of factors can cause both spikes and troughs in traffic and leads, from mini search engine updates to slow times of the year.

It’s always a best practice to look at multiple segments of time, like a 30-day period, rolling 30-day period, quarterly and semi-annually.Once you have several years of data, you’ll be able to see trends much easier based on previous years. You’ll also understand how to segment out organic traffic, referral traffic, and more.

Should I have an email newsletter?

Creating an email newsletter can be time consuming, but it can help to warm up prospects into leads. The best case scenario is setting up as much automation as you can so it’s not raiding you of your time. For local websites, it’s great for building brand awareness and ‘keeping in touch’ with those folks who were somewhat interested but not quite buyers.

The downsides are time and volume. It takes a lot of time to set up and continuously keep quality newsletters going out. In addition, you won’t see a huge return on this until you have sizable volume you are emailing. For these reasons, it’s not particularly popular, but can be a long term strategy to both generate extra leads, and cross sell.