Sick of seeing aggregated lists taking up the top ranking spots for your keywords? Why not “borrow” one or two (or seven!) of their tricks? HubSpot’s Alex Birkett is here to show you how to get your website in amongst the masses of lists in top SERPs.
For those working to help local businesses get their fair share of attention from local search queries, it can be frustrating to see SERPs filled with nothing but review sites and other aggregators like this:
For nearly every locally relevant query, you’ll find at least a few giant sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor and Thumbtack crowding out local businesses from the results. These sites have aged domains, high domain authority, and lots of money—everything they need to rank in the search results.
Competing with these 800-pound gorillas can be intimidating and challenging, which is why many local SEOs focus most of their effort on ranking in the local pack, and either ignore or neglect their organic rankings. But is that enough?
Why the local pack isn’t enough
The local pack is where local businesses are pretty much entitled to a listing (though not always in the top three, of course), and can earn reviews and fill out their profiles with content of their choosing. It’s also where local citations tend to have the most impact. However, focusing exclusively on the local pack means you’re leaving money on the table.
Because the local pack is front and center on the page, one might assume it gets a lion’s share of the organic clicks. Unfortunately, there are reasons to believe otherwise.
One study from Nifty Marketing suggests that the Organic section of the SERPs still earns 49% of clicks (though this is certainly a study using small numbers).
In February 2018, Moz revealed that 0.9% of all searches result in a click on the local pack. Of the keywords they track, 15% show a local result. If you multiply those two together that’s a mere 6% of clicks on the local pack. This seems low, but it’s one of the few publicly available data points we have.
The local pack is ever-changing. A couple years back, Google switched it from 7 listings to 3, including an area where users can browse.
Link Assistant noted that “while the redesigned local pack looks even less like the organic snippets, chances are that more searchers will stick to organic results.”
Additionally, businesses can only earn a listing where they have a physical location, and proximity to the business is an important factor. That makes it particularly hard for service area businesses, like pest control companies, to attract customers through the local listing alone.
Finally, Google has already started replacing local results with ads, so local businesses may find their local listings even further reduced.
The point of this isn’t that you shouldn’t ignore the local pack, but that rather there is both opportunity for both growth and risk mitigation by earning a spot in the organic results.
Stealing tactics from the big guns
Given the points previously mentioned, I firmly believe that local businesses should make sure to put focus into earning a spot in the organic results.
While you, the local SEO or in-house marketer, certainly don’t have the resources that large companies have, you do have the luxury of having a smaller, more locally relevant site to worry about. Additionally, with their million-dollar budgets, these aggregators have figured out a thing or two when it comes to earning rankings.
Here are some tactics that local businesses can steal from the giants to secure placement in the lucrative organic results for local searches.
1. Get creative about badges
Since the early days of SEO, aggregators have been tricking local businesses into linking to their city pages through the form of badges. Once a local business joins an aggregator, the aggregator prompts the business to add a badge to their site, which involves a link back.
While these companies have gotten less aggressive with anchor text, and Google has issued several warning shots, badging remains a popular way to earn local, relevant links.
However, if you’re not an aggregator, you don’t have other businesses joining your site. That doesn’t mean you can’t think outside the box and earn links from badges.
One method is to curate a list of bloggers that are either local or relevant to your niche. Create a top 10, 20, 50 (or beyond!) list. Hand-write a flattering description of each blogger, and create a well-designed badge as an award. Then reach out to each blogger on the list, informing them they were recognized and that they can add the badge to the site if they’d like.
Homeaway recently leveraged this tactic to build links to their post on top Filipino Travel bloggers.
They earned a number of links from the bloggers they featured.
You also might try this tactic with local businesses that you don’t directly compete with.
For example, LawnStarter Tampa primarily provides lawn mowing and maintenance services, but not landscape design services.
The company created a list featuring the top 8 Tampa-based landscape designers, where they featured 8 prominent landscape designers in the area, earning badges from some of their websites.
This works for them because LawnStarter Tampa is relevant to but does not compete with the Tampa landscape designers they featured.
If you or your client is a martial arts studio, you could make a list of the top yoga studios. If you or your client is a yoga studio, you could compile a list of the top places to get an Acai bowl. You get the idea.
2. Join your local chamber(s) of commerce
Do you think Homeaway joined the Chamber of Commerce of Lee Vining, CA (population 222) because they wanted to network and engage in the community?
Of course not. They wanted local links.
Chambers of Commerce and other professional organizations that provide links can be extremely valuable. These sites are credible and have local relevance. That’s why large companies like Homeaway pay to join.
Membership fees typically range from $200-500 annually, which is well worth it in my opinion. Just make sure that you get a followed link on your profile and that your profile is crawlable.
Larger cities will typically have more than one chamber of commerce, presenting an opportunity for more links. Austin, Texas, for example has six:
- Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce
- Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce
- Austin LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce
- West Austin Chamber of Commerce
- Black Austin Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Additionally, you may consider joining adjacent cities’ chambers—especially if you’re trying to rank for terms relevant to those cities. Those links will give you local relevance, and you can typically point the links directly to that city page should you so desire.
3. Create content-rich city pages (even if you aren’t in that city)
For many local businesses, it’s beneficial to rank for search terms relevant to nearby cities.
Just as Yelp, Tripadvisor and Thumbtack create pages for nearly every city, you can create these ‘city pages’, provided these pages do not appear to be doorway pages.
Google defines a doorway pages as follows:
“Doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.”
How should you interpret this? In theory, you should only have a city page if you would have it outside of search engines. In reality, you’re building these city pages for search engines—just as all the big aggregators are. But you should think about how you can make these pages unique to that location.
Reviews, maps, employee biographies, and custom written text are all options, and will be covered in this piece.
4. Create lists of top professionals
Ever wonder why so many Top 10 (or 15, or 20, and so on) lists show up for nearly every local search?
It’s because the human brain is hard-wired to like lists. And since humans like lists, Google likes lists.
Many local businesses have a number of employees, and often the businesses will put their info on an ‘about us’ or ‘meet the team page’, as Austin Family Health does.
This business could easily turn this content into a list of ‘Top Mental Health Professionals in Austin, TX’, creating the sort of list results that both Google and humans tend to prefer.
5. Generate reviews continuously
Reviews are the key piece of content on nearly every local aggregator’s landing pages.
While most local SEOs understand the importance of reviews on Google and other third party sites, local businesses typically fall short on collecting content for their own site.
Getting your customers to write reviews or testimonials for you is great because you don’t have to produce the content, and the reviews are likely to be relevant to the services you offer.
Additionally, local businesses can use Schema markup to show rich snippets with their organic result.
Additionally, reviews are a form of social proof that can increase conversion rate.
6. Write paragraphs of relevant text on your landing pages
Most businesses with location pages either have thin content, or a paragraph of uniquely written text.
It’s probably not best to rely on this strategy, as Google might deem your pages doorway pages.
However, a paragraph that’s unique to both your vertical and your area can help SEO. There’s a reason why nearly every SEO giant does these.
As someone who lives and operates in the local area, you can probably write a far better paragraph of text than these aggregators.
If you’re not much of a writer, or not actually in the area of your client, you can usually find folks willing to write 500-1000 words pretty cheaply on Craigslist.
Tools like Clearscope can help you or your freelance writers choose which words to include.
7. Add maps to your pages
Maps are a great way to make landing pages unique and to tell Google that your page is local. Additionally, they can be beneficial to users. Nearly every large aggregator uses them.
Think about how you can make your map useful. If you’re a service area business, highlighting the areas you serve is one option. If you have a single location but are trying to rank for an adjacent location, you could include driving directions to your store.
Wag takes a cool approach where they overlay recent dog walks on maps, which you can see below.
Bonus: Personalize your mid-funnel content and conversion points
While these tips have given a comprehensive look at ranking against the big guys, it hasn’t talked much about converting. There’s a lot to discuss in this area, but we can start off with some basic advice.
Use smart content and personalization to score alignment with local pages.
There are quite a few software options available nowadays to target based on geolocation. Some of it is pretty broad and the targeting is messy, but some of it is surprisingly accurate.
What this does, at scale, is reduces technical and design debt and allows you still to maintain a good UX and conversion experience.
You can often get more granular when you start firing things through something like Google Tag Manager, and using more advanced personalization methods. However, at a broad level, most marketing and website tools at least let you customize by country, which is important if you’re operating internationally.
Many local SEOs give up on earning organic results just because there’s a reviews giant or two (or eight) hogging all the clicks. Since nobody else is trying, that presents an opportunity for you to rank your local business, and there’s no better way to do it than by using the tactics of said giants against them.
Alex Birkett is a Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot. He lives in Austin, Texas, is traveling half of the time, and enjoys experiments, data, and good writing.