I’ve worked with a lot of local businesses, and most of them are really old school.
Take dentists, for example. The profession is one that makes much use of modern technology, and the average dentist has no problem operating complex machinery that me or you would be mystified by. Unfortunately, this same level of tech savvy does not apply when it comes to building a web presence.
Perhaps I am being unfair. There are dentists, normally young, who know what they are doing when it comes to building websites, doing outreach, and monitoring their keyword rankings. However, they are rarely the people in charge of surgeries, and in any case are commonly too focused on fixing teeth to pay much attention to their page rankings.
That’s my experience, though I’ve also known plenty of SEO consultants over the years, including many who work specifically with doctors and dentists, and I think they would agree with me. In most cases, I was called in by younger members of the team because they realized that the local business environment nowadays is actually pretty cutthroat, and that a good web presence was essential in driving patients to visit their business.
And once the old-timers saw business improving, they were convinced as well, even if they stubbornly refused to understand what had happened.
Today, I’ll take you through my normal approach when working with local businesses on SEO and outreach. While it may seem like a niche industry, I think that my work will be of interest to many people working on SEO.
This is because working with clients who are new to “modern” technologies like the internet represents something of a challenge! As an SEO consultant, working with companies like this forces you to go back to basics, and remember some everyday things about the way that the process should work.
The way I deal with my local business clients, therefore, can serve as a guide of how to build a dominant web presence from scratch. If you feel you might have forgotten some of the basics of SEO, let me remind you.
Here is what I do with every client, step by step.
1. Know Your Client
Before I started working with small local businesses, most of my clients were pretty tech-savvy. As a result, they pretty much knew what they were offering, and what made their business unique. The same is not true of clients who are new to online marketing.
In the words of dental SEO expert Justin Morgan, “whenever I get a new client, therefore, I take time to understand who they are, and what makes them unique. This could be anything from a particular clinical specialty, to a customer services team who are the friendliest in the neighborhood”.
Sometimes, it takes a significant amount of time to understand this – clients are generally focused on their day-to-day work rather than on marketing themselves. However, time spent at this stage is invaluable. It gets your clients one board, for one thing, because everybody likes talking about what they are good at.
Critically for an SEO specialist, however, it also allows you to focus your efforts on a specific set of keywords. This saves a whole lot of time during the later stages of SEO, allows you to limit your competition to a smaller pool of competitors, and ultimately makes you more effective.
2. Build A Good Website
This is what I mean by going back to basics! The majority of local businesses I work with have websites, but when I first turn up they are terrible: normally just one or two low-resolution pages that have a picture, a phone number, and an address. Not an email address: a snail mail address!
I think my experience is pretty unusual, but I also think that it can serve to remind us all of the importance of a decent website. You can get all the backlinks you want, and your page can climb to the top spot in Google, but unless your web site is good you’re going to loose a lot of customers.
In reality, SEO and the quality of your base website are inherently intertwined. Without a fast website, you are not going to climb up the page rank, because Google now ranks pages partially on their speed. Improving the speed of a site encompasses everything from comparing popular web hosts to find the fastest one for the area, to making sure the images and code on a site is streamlined.
There is one golden rule, however: keep it simple. It’s no accident that websites that win awards are built on a minimal design. Not only do these designs make it easier for customers to find what they want, but they also load faster, which in turn improves their page rank.
3. Making The Blog
This is another basic step that a lot of SEO consultants hardly ever have to do from scratch. Publishing engaging, relevant content on a dedicated blog is the bread and butter of SEO, of course, but setting up a blog from scratch is a good reminder of the primary purpose of a blog: putting a human face behind your brand.
In this context, it’s worth working with what you’ve got. Sure, you can hire a load of freelance writers from Upwork, and they’ll probably generate a lot of content quickly. However, my experience with dentists has shown me that what clients value is an expert opinion. It’s not hard to convince professionals – dentists in this example, but it could equally be coders or engineers, depending on the client – to write about their day-to-day work.
The trick here is to make sure they stay focused on subjects that will rank well. Using standardized tools like the now-famous Skyscraper Technique, I will normally generate a list of top-ranked sites and pages for a client’s specialty, and then use these as “inspiration” for my writers.
This means they don’t have to come up with subjects on their own, which can be the most time-consuming part of writing a blog, and it also starts the SEO process at this early stage.
4. Sorting Out Customer Service
In addition to redesigning the website and starting a blog, at this stage I register my clients with every local business listing possible. Google remains the most important, but also bear in mind that many cities have local business sites that a lot of people use to search for products and services.
Once you’ve got a killer website and a blog with plenty of good content, it might be tempting to immediately start your SEO in earnest. My advice, though, is to be patient, and get your customer services ready first.
The clients I work with are generally quite small businesses, and accordingly need only a small customer service “department”. In fact, most of the time all that is needed is for you to teach reception staff how to respond to the increased online engagement they are going to receive.
This normally includes some basic training on how to use Twitter and Facebook, and in particular how to respond to negative reviews and comments.
In my experience, most online criticism of a company can be shut down by an employee taking the time to respond attentively to such comments. In fact, in a lot of cases, this can often turn a bad review into a marketing opportunity!
5. Global Outreach
Now we get to the stage that most SEO professionals are more experienced with. I’m not going to repeat all the excellent advice on how to get your brand out there, because the process is in principle quite easy: ask your writers to write posts for sites that rank well in your specialized field, and link them back to your site. Keep repeating your keywords, and use quality content to drive visitors to your site.
Working with local businesses has shown me another thing, though, that sometimes SEO consultants forget: in a lot of industries, there are already large online communities that can be utilized in building links to your site. As I’ve said, dentists are not the most active of businesses online, and as a result there is a lot of untapped potential in the industry.
One thing I’ve found to be especially useful in this regard is to build forums for professionals to discuss work-related subjects. Customers only look for a dentist once or twice a year, but if you build quality resources, other professionals are going to visit your site once or twice a week, building up your traffic, and ultimately your page ranking.
At this stage, I normally see site traffic and page ranking increase dramatically for my clients. This is great, of course, but you need to make sure that all the stages I’ve mentioned above are in place before this happens.
Customers are going to start asking your client questions, and leaving reviews, and if staff are not ready for this then potential clients are going to become frustrated.
6. Local Outreach
By this stage, my client normally has a pretty good web presence, and is on the way to the top of the page rank. For companies that are global, and sell goods and services online, this is great. However, working with local businesses has taught me another lesson – some companies are inherently tied to a local community, and you need to reach out to the neighborhood as well as the internet!
You can’t get your teeth fixed online, of course, and so all of my dental clients’ business comes from the local community. This is also true of many retailers, even if they ship their products worldwide.
What this means from an SEO perspective is making sure that your page rank is high on a local level as well as a global one. There are many ways of doing this, but one that I find to be particularly effective is to make sure that your content mentions local activities and businesses.
You can even set up a separate blog, or a separate “stream” of guest posts that are specifically geared towards the local community. There might even be a local historical society, or community forum that gets a load of local traffic, and will be only too willing to accept articles about your client’s services.
Another key part of local outreach, which will also boost your global page rank, is to make sure that people leave positive comments on Google or similar sites. This can be achieved by asking the employees of your client to ask their customers to do so – people can feel deeply connected to local businesses, and their dentist asking them to leave some warm comments on Google can feel like they are giving something back.
7. Keep In Touch
Finally, make sure you keep in touch with your client. My experience of working with local businesses has forced me to go back to basics when it comes to SEO, which in general has been great.
However, it can be frustrating to work with clients like this in another way – I’ve sometimes checked in with a client after 6 months, only to find that their blog hasn’t been updated since I left, and there is a stack of unanswered messages on every platform I’ve given them.
My trick, here, is to give responsibility for SEO to a particular person at the company. Choose someone who you think can handle it, and spend a few hours teaching them about every aspect of what you’ve done. And I mean every aspect – show them how to use skyscanner, put them in touch with your writers, and most importantly show them how to measure success. In my experience, they will be only too happy to learn a new skill, as it will ultimately give them more leverage in the workplace.
Some Final Thoughts
That’s it! Though some of these steps will be obvious to any SEO professional, I hope that by going back to basics I’ve reminded some of you of everyday steps that you might have forgotten.
And if you ever come to work with a dentist, a local business, or someone who is similarly old-school, perhaps this guide will come in useful!
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.