Miriam Ellis Asks A Lot of Questions
March 12th, 2008 by
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.
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.
Hey, if you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll never get the right answers, right?
Will, this was a great post. I know that many, many SEOs groan about directory links…call them old-school, but if they work, what’s to complain about?
It sounds as if you are able to get measurable results for your small budget clients with what Search Influence is doing, and I bet they are very pleased with that.
You know what I love hearing? ‘Ever since you re-did my site, I’ve been getting at least 3 calls a day from people who say they found me in Google.’ You just light up when you hear that from an SMB. Very cool.
Thank you so much for answering my questions.
Tim and Miriam,
Thank you both for goading me into writing more.
I go back to the WWJLT post. Old-school or not, we’ll keep doing it as long as it works.
And, one of those I highlighted gets 40% of their business from the web site!
That’s a VERY significant return on investment @ $99.00 / month.
Some very good stuff here Will… thanks.
Miriam, keep on him!
Impressive numbers, Will.
We just signed a contract last week with a very local-oriented company. They’ve owned a domain for years, but have never had a functioning website on it. When I think about the difference finally taking this step to get online and go local is going to make for this business, I get excited. They have the ability to do so much to capture local market share.
That is interesting reading. Truth be told I built one local business’s high rankings based, primarily directory links. I did it over several years and the links were invariably free, low value etc.
At some point, the directory links stopped working. I was at a point where anchor text was getting to be very varied to pick up the wide variety of long tail geo/business service term phrases.
At some point, and I don’t remember when, those crummy links weren’t resulting in very quick #1 rankings at google for terms that had virtually no competition.
So I stopped.
I haven’t done it yet, but I’d need to look at your volume of links for those clients and the volume of links for competitors and the uniqueness of those links.
If there is no competition for a phrase then I expect the low volume links would still work.
LOL, aren’t places like DP great for that stuff? Actually since I haven’t done this in a while I don’t know if that endless flow of free directories still exists. LOL.
Nice description. I do believe the low quality links are a simple function of the volume of competition. But thanks for the reminder, its a good strategy for a small budget and non competitive phrases.
It’s still there. There’s even a “directory announce” thread. Though most would say this ship has already sailed they still clamber to get on.
The inherently low competition for very local, long-tail phrases is definitely what enables this technique to work.
When coupled with the slightly higher value article and social media submissions we’re able to make a big difference at a local, local level.
And, the lower the “I”, the higher the ROI 😀
Thanks for your input!
Thanks for your comments, Will. I stopped doing this. I guess with a new site I’ll go back and add it to the list of potential link sources.
I’ve one business with some serious comp from one site. It will take more than directory links, but it can all help.
Your comments here and at Miriam’s blog really sparked my curiosity, so I looked a bit deeper at the links to your client and those of one of the competitors and made further comments at Miriam’s blog.
Based on only looking at one competitive situtation I see where the links you reference have value, but it appears the value is relatively weak.
I think I’ll go back to that old strategy that I thank you for reminding me about, but do it with a grain of salt, using it more as the “spice” than the “beef”.
I see how it works, but I also see that it does not have the effectiveness it once had.
Nevertheless, it is definately applicable for a client with a small budget.
I agree that directory links can still have a major effect for small businesses. It’s by no means the only strategy I use for my clients, but in less competitive markets, there’s just a baseline level of citations that seems to get the engine spiders to trust that the site is legit.
Personally, I am starting to doubt that Yahoo is worth the $300 every year, but I think that BOTW’s permanent link at something like $199 is WELL worth it.
I’ll have to do some controlled testing, but when we use one we typically use the other as well.
I guess I buy into the “If it’s in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines” rap.
Thanks for dropping by.
I’ve spent time and effort on one business, slowly adding the links you suggested. The site is 3.5 months old and is a local business. Not a lot of competition, though competing sites are old.
Currently, for the 1st two targeted keyword phrases, that I believe are the most important, I’ve gotten current Google rankings of #1 and #3.
got about 10-12 other phrases to work on. 😀
Bravo. thanks for the tip.
You know what I love about #1 positions? You can’t do much better.
Thanks so much for the follow-up.
I’m really glad to hear it was effective!
Keep me posted as it goes along. I want to hear if it has longevity or it’s just what I always call the “pop and drop”.
Seriously, I appreciate the update.
the rankings are being maintained and I’m expanding higher rankings for the business service with the state name and initials. virtually all links since my last contact have been the kind you referenced.
ps…so far no pop and drop 😀
Dave, you rock man. Thanks for letting me know.
I’d love to have a guest post with your case study any time!
at a forum, one person asked if I monitored this stuff. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t monitor this stuff if I don’t have to. I just zip through as many as possible, hoping some will stick. I don’t review the pages, look to see if the pages are cached, check PR, etc. I just throw as much sh!t against the wall and hope some of it sticks. lol.
on the other hand, I was looking at some bls from years ago that include the directory links that were devalued. Of course these are old rather than the new stuff I’m primarily adding now.
Of interest the deep pages that had anchor text links had fairly recent cache dates in google and some had PR.
I suspect most of those directories were new when I added them.
I guess they’ve aged fairly well…even if they were devalued. heheh.
and @David….(if you are reading this) 😀
I read at your blog how you reccomended Yahoo directory…and here you are questioning it.
Cripes make up your mind.
Does anyone have a REAL feel if those things work at $300 or $200.
I don’t know about Mr. Mihm, but if I have any kind of budget I’m paying Yahoo! I figure if Google tells me to do it it must be worth it.
And, for real I’ve seen big moves in the search engine results pages in the days and weeks after Yahoo acceptance. Could be coincidence but I’m not the kind of gambler to stop when I’m ahead.
I’m seeing pop and drop if I don’t keep adding links of this ilk.
To date the phenomena is very attached to specific anchor text. If I’m shooting for 20-30 phrases just using the above referenced methodology it tends to become more difficult to do.
10 days after last checking rankings on 16 geo oriented phrases, primarily using this methodology I’m seeing the following: (using mcdar tool)
3 phrases dropped in rankings by 1 position. 8 increased in rankings of various degrees. We are currently ranked 2&3 for the busiest relevant prhase from 3&4. We have maintained the #1 ranking for what is probably the 2nd most important phrase. In one of the phrases where we dropped we now have an authoritative onebox. On one phrase, which has been exclusively on first page we jumped from 5-2.
We had some phrases that reflect the business with state names and jumped significantly from 2nd page rankings of 17 and 18 to 7 and 10 respectively. The phrases with state abbreviations on which I’m working moved upward from 5 and 10 respectively to 5 and 4.
You have more history tracking this, but my sense is if each phrase isn’t getting links it might go from the “pop” category to the “drop” category.
ugh. I think I’m across the board experiencing the drop characteristic of pop and drop.
At Seo refugee there is a thread in the seo tools section about some link analysis tools including something called Link diagnostics. If you look at how that tool evaluates these aforementioned weak links, it gives an idea why DROP could be a big element of pop and drop. 😀
After about 3 weeks of tracking 25 variations of terms and laying off the weak links for about the last 2 weeks I see a continuation of slight droppage. The phrases that stick on rankings have either or both url and/or title strength. There are only a few substitive links backing the rankings.
On the other hand the competition is weak. Doing allintitle or allinurl searches indicates that there are only a couple of competitors.
I’m going to focus on better quality of links based on our discussion vis a vis a certain website that had a super onemap and the findings I saw, and change and add pages to strengthen titles and urls to reflect necessary phrases.
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