Miriam Ellis Asks A Lot of Questions

March 12th, 2008 by Will Scott

At the risk of repeating myself, Miriam of Solas Web Design in her SEO Igloo blog has been engaged for a few weeks in an investigation of Local SEO culminating with a series of interviews. Miriam was nice to include me and most recently asked me to respond to some questions from the comments on one of her recent posts.

This is an answer both to Miriam and to current and future clients wondering about our process.

What this post will not cover:

  • Managing offline conversion (I’m working on a case study for this)
  • Effective map spamming techniques (If I knew, I wouldn’t tell – “first do no harm”)

So, here we go!

Most of what we know around here comes from years of testing in the local space on behalf of yellow pages publishers.

Yellow pages are in decline and usage is moving online. In response to this, Google, Yahoo, MSN and a hundred other folks small businesses never heard of are trying to connect local searchers to local businesses.

I believe that small businesses need to control their own destiny. They give up this control whenever they pay someone else who has a vested interest in outranking them.

This argument sometimes leads us to counsel against paying for inclusion even when there’s traffic to be had from that source. And it always leads us to be skeptical… and to test (see upcoming post on managing offline conversion).

In working with local small businesses we believe the following to be self-evident:

  • Expectation setting is the hardest part
  • Local SEO is long tail SEO (long tail: more specificity leads to higher likelihood of conversion)
  • “Low value” links are still valuable links

We work with clients with monthly budgets of $99.00 to $9,900.00 and more. In every case, it’s important to realize that even small results can have a big impact when the expectations are right.

And, amazingly enough we have been able to obtain #1 rankings for our clients’ “money” phrases at even the lowest budget levels. It just sometimes takes time (expectation setting is key).

Working with service businesses with a local focus we find we can leverage the long tail nature of local search to deliver ready to buy customers.

Here’s the great news: given the long tail nature of local service searches, link-building becomes less challenging.

Even low value, free inclusion, directory links can have significant value.

Not everyone needs Yahoo! directory and BOTW to win. For local businesses targeted inbound links in abundance can make the difference.

Two examples:

baton rouge wedding portrait photographer — we were working with this client’s content longer than expected and started our link-building before site changes were deployed. They ranked #1 for this phrase without saying it once on their site with “low value” links alone.
baton rouge signs — having hovered at #4 & 5 forever, our client finally turned the corner after a year and took the #1 spot. Again, no paid links, no heavy duty paid directories, just steady link-building with directories and articles over time.

These two are indicative of our small business clients. We have a package for them. It fits their budget and they get results.

It should be obvious these aren’t giant budgets or super-competitive phrases. We have clients who are after those too, but their budgets are MUCH larger, the cost of their links greater and the variety of technique infinitely more.

So, to answer the question, our lower budget clients are still doing great in local SEO with a comprehensive package of what some would consider “low value” links.

It’s an oversimplification, but I always say it’s about 2 things, content and links. With those two, lather – rinse – repeat until you move on up. The more competitive the market, the more you have to repeat.