Advance Your Agency is a BrightLocal series designed to equip you with the skills, knowledge, and advice necessary to take your agency operations to the next level.
Web design is a great career. It’s creative and consultative, you get to use the latest techniques to solve very modern problems, and as an industry, web design isn’t likely to be going anywhere soon.
But there are downsides, too. It can be quite repetitive work, it can be hard to price if you can’t foresee required amends, and it can be hard to attain new clients in such a saturated market.
The greatest stress put on web designers, though, is that because web design tends to be contract-based, they’re always on the lookout for the next job, and always a little concerned about whether the work might dry up.
It’s no surprise, then, that more and more web designers are looking to expand their services to offer ongoing value to their clients. Offering local SEO to your local business clients is a natural next step in expanding your revenue and potentially blossoming from overworked web designer to starting a local SEO business. Your first local SEO client is never far away!
In this piece I hope to provide anyone hoping to offer SEO services to local business clients the advice and tools they need to get started. We also have a really popular white-label pitch deck for retainers which you can make a copy of and use yourself here.
Why would I want to deliver local SEO services?
There are plenty of reasons to start offering local SEO services to your web design clients.
It goes without saying that offering more ‘paid-for’ services naturally allows you to increase profits from your current client base. How much revenue, though, is down to the effort you’re willing to put in.
Longer lifetime value of clients
Because improving a local business’ online presence is not a ‘one and done’ job, you’ll be delivering ongoing value to clients, most likely via a retainer, and therefore keeping them longer. Again, how long you keep them will be dependent on how much you’re willing to learn and do.
Thanks to having clients paying you more and staying with you longer, you’re far less likely to be spending sleepless nights wondering where the next client is coming from.
Your clients are already asking for help with it (or they assume you already offer it)
Many web design clients will assume that because you build their websites, you’ll be doing the SEO work on them, too. Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for the opportunity, and it just presents itself!
Future-proofing your career
Sure, web design is a fairly resilient industry at the moment, but as Google inserts itself more and more between customer and business in search, with the various tools it offers like Google Sites and Google My Business, the local business need for attractive websites could well start diminishing.
More variety in your work
Unless you start working with larger clients with more advanced and developed needs, there’s a natural skills ceiling you’ll hit in web design, where you’ll be putting the same skills into practice month after month. Offering additional services gives you a chance to learn something new and feel the excitement of discovery when putting these new skills into practice.
More attractiveness in the market
Offering local SEO services alongside web design will naturally put you in a better position to win clients. This is crucial in such a saturated market where competition is fierce and proof of success is everything.
Where do I start?
There are two ways you can go about offering local SEO services for your web design clients: the hard way, which delivers ongoing results and develops your business, or the easy way, which will get you a quick buck but no real retainer work or recurring revenue.
If you’re looking for the latter, hey, I’m not here to judge you. We’ve got plenty of resources on getting the fundamentals (like building citations and Google My Business) in decent condition for a new website, but do bear in mind that that work is pretty much ‘one and done’ and you stand little chance of getting ongoing retainer work.
No, I’m here to talk you through the other way: the way that requires learning, development and improvement, but that will ultimately make you a better marketer and secure your future career in digital marketing.
Still here? Great, you’re already achieving step one on your way to becoming a local SEO hero. You’ve stuck around to learn.
Step 1. Learn about local SEO
I can’t stress enough how important it is to really knuckle down and get to grips with the key elements of local SEO and how they can benefit your clients. Not only will this allow you to actually perform SEO work that achieves results, but it’ll make you much, much more confident when pitching the benefits in the first place.
There are various ways you could go about training for local SEO, but I’d naturally recommend BrightLocal’s wealth of resources as a great place to start.
Firstly, I’d suggest you sign up for our Local SEO FastTrack course, where you can learn the fundamentals of local SEO over email in just two weeks. The course covers everything from citations and Google My Business to rankings and reviews, and will put you in a great position to start putting these skills into practice for your clients.
If you’ve got time to spare and you’re eager to learn right away, read our Google Business Profile Learning Hub, then check out the ‘Learn Local SEO’ section of BrightLocal’s Local SEO Insights, which is filled with dozens of educational pieces on getting local SEO right.
One thing worth noting here is that you shouldn’t just seek knowledge about the best way to do local SEO, but also the worst ways. You might remember that in the early days of the internet there were lots of spammy, ‘black hat’ tactics that SEOs could use to gain traffic to a website.
While those days are mostly no more for the wider internet (thanks to ongoing algorithm updates by Google), in local results there are sadly still lots of ways local SEOs can manipulate rankings.
It’s important to learn about these spammy techniques, too, because your clients may well be aware of them and you’ll need to explain why the quick, cheap route is never the way to long-lasting success. Not only that, but spam is so prevalent in Google My Business that fighting spam can often be a quick route to better rankings in itself!
Another benefit to learning about spam is that you might have other SEOs making guarantees when pitching for the work, which is never the sign of a sustainable approach; your job is to be the more realistic, honest, trustworthy SEO and quickly debunk myths proffered by your competition. And that starts with education.
Step 2. Test out your new-found skills on your own website
As a web designer, you’ll no doubt have a website you use to show off your design chops, and you may well have spent some time working on its SEO, but have you ever considered your local SEO? Now’s a great opportunity to put everything you’ve learned about to the test!
Even if you don’t consider being in your local town or city a prerequisite for your web design clients, working on the local SEO of your own site is a great way to start practising your skills and going through the processes you’ll need to use for your clients.
If your first local SEO client is reticent to work with you, you can point to the excellent reviews, rankings and local performance of your site as evidence that you can be trusted with theirs.
Step 3. Learn about your preferred industry
The factors that impact local SEO, and the tools available to you, can be very different depending on which industry you’re working with. For example, service-area businesses like plumbers need to consider their service area when setting up their Google My Business profile, while medical practices have to bear in mind HIPAA compliance when working with reviews.
It really helps to have a niche in mind when starting to look at developing local SEO services, so I’d strongly recommend picking one to focus on or perhaps picking a specific client to work with first, and choosing that industry to learn about.
When learning about local SEO for a specific industry, you’ll need to research the competitive local landscape and be able to effectively benchmark performance. Luckily, BrightLocal has tools and resources to help you achieve both.
Research the competitive local landscape
BrightLocal’s Google My Business Audit allows you to perform local competitive research with ease. Just search for a specific term and location and you’ll get invaluable insights on which businesses are ranking for those terms, saving you the hassle of individually assessing each business using a host of other tools.
You’ll learn about which competitors are performing the best and get a measure of why, by looking at insights such as their number of citations, their DA, the number of links back to their website and much more.
Understand what’s ‘normal’ in your preferred industry
It’s all very well cracking on with local SEO work for a client and seeing success, but you’ll need to communicate that success in a way your client will understand. While some clients will be happy with you proving that your local SEO work has led to the phone ringing off the hook, others will want to understand how they compare with the competition.
BrightLocal is well-known for its research, much of which dives into industry-specific data. We have a number of published studies that will allow you to understand everything from the average number of reviews a particular industry tends to get to how many people click through from its average Google My Business profile.
Take a look at the following research pieces to get the benchmarks you need to prove that your clients are performing well across the board.
Just as an example, here’s just a small portion of the data available for Locksmiths in our SEO Citations Study:
Using the research above, it should only take a few minutes to gather all the benchmarking data you could possibly need for any given niche.
Step 4. Understand your client
So you’ve got a handle on which industry or client you’re focusing on, and you’ve used the above tools and resources to fully understand the competitive landscape. Great! Now you have the context for success, it’s time to turn that analytical eye towards your client’s online presence.
Again, BrightLocal has an excellent tool for this in the form of the Local Search Audit. This tool takes a few readily available details about the business and pulls data on the its online presence, as well as the averages for competitors.
The Local Search Audit gives you a full breakdown of current search performance and more, showing data on backlinks, local listing health, reviews, on-site SEO, Google My Business, and even social channels.
With this tool, you can quickly understand the work needed for a website to perform better in search. This not only tells you what you need to fix first, but it enables you to present a very strong case to your client for local SEO work, too. You can even white-label this report and present it to them; the word ‘BrightLocal’ need never cross your lips!
If you don’t yet have a BrightLocal account, you can try our free Local Listings Health Scanner to assess how well your client’s business listings are set up, and to see if there are any opportunities in the form of missed citations, or risks in the form of inaccuracies.
Step 5. Hone in on rankings
If there’s one metric, beyond revenue and sales, that SEO clients really think they understand, it’s rankings in search. There’s something so simple and pure about the goal of ‘being #1 in Google’ or ‘at the top of Google’. When it comes to ranking in the local pack, though, things aren’t nearly that simple.
It’s safe to say that pretty much all local SEO efforts are in service to your local pack rankings, so when developing your local SEO pitch, be sure to show you understand your client’s current position in rankings and hang all other tactics on that.
Oh, and you’ll never guess what? That’s right, BrightLocal has a tool for rankings, too! Use the Local Search Rank Checker to understand your client’s current position in local rankings and to monitor performance during your work with them.
Step 6. Manage your client’s expectations (and your own!)
It sounds like a cliché, but good things really do come to those who wait. Neither the results you want to see in your accounting books or the success your client wants to see in their rankings are going to come overnight, so it’s important to be realistic, plan ahead, and manage expectations.
Depending on the competitiveness of the local area and industry, it can take up to eight months for a brand-new business to rank in Google using compliant methods, so be sure not to make any guarantees for immediate success (this is often the mark of a shady SEO) and instead sell your local SEO services with long-terms goals in mind.
Remember that this is good news for you, too! A more considered ‘retainer’ approach, taken over a longer timeline, gives you longer to build an ongoing relationship with your client and develop your local SEO skills, let alone making this revenue stream more secure. Plus, this approach will help deliver real results that you can then use to showcase your work for future clients.
Which local SEO services should I start with?
Your first local SEO client may have come to you with a specific need, or you may have uncovered one in your analysis of their website, but more often than not, if you’re working with a web design client you’ll be working with a brand new business.
Starting from zero like this is difficult because it’s much harder for new businesses to rank in Google, but on the flipside, you can kick things off from a blank slate, with no messy code or prior failed tactics to have to deal with. This can give you and your client the confidence that every success seen during your work is entirely down to the tactics and strategies you’ve used. But which should you use first?
Here’s a brief overview of the core, most fundamental tactics you need to put in place first. These form the foundations that all future success will rest on, and in many cases, they very much are a ‘one and done’.
1. Get your client’s citations in order
‘Citations’ is the local SEO way of talking about business listings. The consistency of Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) across these listings is important to local SEO. In fact, recent research by Moz suggests that marketers believe their consistency is the fifth most important factor in local rankings, so it’s definitely something you need to get right early.
Source: The State of Local SEO Industry Report 2020, Moz
“Why should I prioritize citations above all the other factors in this list?” I hear you ask.
Well, it’s pretty simple: getting these citations built is very simple and very cost-effective if you use a service like BrightLocal’s Citation Builder, but it can take a few weeks for the citation building campaign to finish, due to time it takes for some of the sites to publish listings. So it makes sense to get the process of building accurate citations kicked off as early as possible so you can get to work focusing on the other stuff.
If, on the other hand, you’re not going from a standing start, and are instead working with an established business, you’ll need to first audit the business’ current citation profile to find out where opportunities have been missed and where inaccuracies and inconsistencies occur. BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker can help you do this quickly and easily.
This will also be a useful tool should you feel there’s an adequate opportunity to regularly monitor citations and continually look for potential citations for your client, and add that to your ongoing retainer work.
2. Set up Google My Business
With your first raft of citations ticking over nicely in the background, it’s time to move on to the meat of local SEO, your client’s Google My Business (GMB) listing.
While there’s plenty you can do to improve performance and continually optimize GMB over time (such as testing categories, using Google Posts and asking and answering questions using Google Q&A), there are a few key things you need to get in place right away.
Set up a Google My Business profile
First you’ll need to get the profile set up, if it doesn’t exist yet. Here’s a helpful guide on doing that.
Enter a suitable business name
This is where so many go down the spammy route of adding their locations to their GMB business names in order to boost impressions in search, but this is a flagrant violation of Google’s lengthy rules and guidelines on GMB.
According to Google’s guidelines, your GMB business name should “reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.”
Select a suitable category
There are literally hundreds of categories and subcategories you could select from when updating your client’s GMB profile, and you could test some later on, but at the start it’s important to select the categories that make the most sense to your client’s customers and actually reflect what they’d be searching for.
Write a good description
Google My Business allows you to upload a short business description, but it also has a ton of guidelines around what you can and can’t add, to prevent misleading claims or spammy activities. Take a look at our guide to optimizing GMB business descriptions for help, and be sure to follow the Google guidelines at all times.
Add photos to Google My Business
We’ve shown before that there’s a correlation between number of photos and local rankings. This alone should convince you to get some uploaded, but it’s also a given that users are more attracted to GMB listings that showcase the business in an attractive way.
As I’ve said, there are plenty of other things you should consider doing with GMB at this point if you have time, but at the very least you need to get the above in place before moving on to optimizing your client’s Google My Business listing. At this stage it really is just about giving your client’s Google My Business listing a clean bill of health so it’s eligible for search.
3. Ensure the website is optimized for search
You’ll notice that, so far, we’ve barely talked about your client’s website! Beyond you probably needing a break after having designed it, that’s because in local search it really does play second fiddle to your client’s Google My Business listing.
However, that’s not to say that it’s not important; just that your client’s Google My Business listing is likely to get more views than their website. In many cases, GMB acts as a gateway to the website, where a much more honed image and defined idea of the business’ brand can be found.
Our own research shows that even with the prevalence of GMB listings and knowledge panels in today’s SERPs, only 8% of consumers say they never look at websites when choosing which local business to use.
This step is all about making sure the SEO of your client’s website is all up to scratch, and optimized for performance in search for the desired terms. While things like localized content and broader content marketing might factor into an ongoing on-site SEO strategy, the fact is you won’t have the time or budget to get to work on that right now.
So you need to make sure all these foundational SEO website elements are in place:
- Is all meta data and page content optimized for the right keywords?
- Is schema markup where it should be?
- Does the site have an SSL certificate, and is it using ‘https’?
- Does the website load quickly?
- Is the website optimized for mobile?
This all goes outside the bounds of local SEO so I won’t cover these techniques here, but it’s safe to say that getting these things in place and optimized are not only critical to organic and local rankings now, but factors like site speed and user experience are only set to become more important.
You may have covered a lot of these already while designing the site, but if not it’s important that you revisit them, as the stability of the website is a key factor for search engines and users.
If the site is an existing one, the core thing you have to do, above all else, is to rule out anything that is preventing the site from ranking at the moment.
Which local SEO services should I provide on an ongoing basis?
With citations sorted, GMB set up and website optimized, your client should have all the ‘table stakes’ elements in place to put them in good stead for ranking in local search.
But what’s next? What tactics and strategies can you learn and put in place to help them on their way to local search domination? Not to put too fine a point on it, but what will ensure they pay your retainer and see value, month after month?
Aside from monitoring citations and looking for more listing opportunities, there are many ways local SEO can provide real ongoing value for your clients.
1. Regular reporting
If you want to convince your client you’re doing a good job and achieving results (and I’d like to think you will), you’ll want to regularly report performance back to them, potentially using a customizable, white-label reporting tool like BrightLocal.
This is especially important in the early going: to ensure you’re developing a relationship of trust with your client, and therefore encouraging further business down the line, you’ll want to take some time out of your day, just once a month to start with (or maybe once a week for the first month, just to bed them in), to supply your client with a breakdown of performance and talk them through the results.
What you choose to measure and report on is really down to the KPIs and expectations you’ve set with your client, but it’s important not to just present them with some charts and let that be that. The most successful local SEOs know not to waste their clients’ time with metrics they’re not interested in. Instead, they focus first on the results the client is most interested in, and use the data from their reporting tools of choice to add context and color to those results.
Whether you choose to charge for reporting or not is up to you, but you should bear in mind that everything you charge for should provide value, and simply running and sending a report alone, without context, guidance, strategy or explanation, really doesn’t provide much value at all, and is more likely to confuse your client.
2. Ad hoc consultancy
For better or for worse, SEO is an ever-changing game, and local SEO is no different. The way people use search is always evolving to meet changing technologies (look at voice search, for example), and SERPs and algorithms are regularly evolving to meet user needs. This means that there’s always an element of risk inherent in SEO, because no-one’s rankings are ever 100% stable.
But instead of balking at news of changes to Google’s algorithm, for example, a keen SEO will instead rejoice upon seeing an opportunity to generate revenue. Provided you’re willing to do the work and research on your client’s site to react to an algorithm change, you’ll always be in a good position to offer ad hoc consultancy services to your client, build trust and prove that you’re a reliable pair of hands for future ad hoc questions.
If you want to be among the first to learn of rumblings in Google’s local algorithm, be sure to sign up to Local RankFlux, completely free, to get alerted to big fluctuations in local rankings.
3. Review management
The stats really do speak for themselves: reviews are critical to local business performance. And if you or your client don’t agree that they’re worth the effort to manage, I’ll point you to our previous Advance Your Agency piece, filled with solid arguments for making them an ongoing priority.
Before pitching review and reputation management to your client, though, it’s worth considering what their experience has been with reviews, and what their attitudes towards reviews and reviewers are. Is there a culture of appreciating and generating reviews within their business or are they known skeptics? Use this information to ensure you’re ready to handle any objections they might have, and to better plan your strategy.
For example, someone who has been burned by negative reviews might perceive going through the process of requesting reviews as a risk. In this case, tell them you’ll take it off their hands and manage review generations and responses yourself, perhaps with a tool like BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager.
On the other hand, someone who is much more customer-facing and delights in providing the customer experience might be very precious about how you’re handling their reputation. In this case, you could provide training on how best to generate and respond to reviews and leave them to it, or better yet, use reputation management software that offers white-labeling and client access. This way, they’ll be taking charge of their own review management, but using tools you’ve provided them with to do it!
4. Local link building
Despite claims to the contrary (sometimes from Google itself), links are still very much the backbone of search. Links back to your client’s website will tell search engines a great deal about how well the website (and by association, the business) is trusted and what topics it should be associated with.
While you should certainly be considering offering (or outsourcing) content generation and building links from reputable websites as services for your client, an area that’s far too often overlooked is the local link. And it’s a shame because it’s comparatively easy to acquire.
In short, local links are links from businesses, organizations and websites that are highly relevant to the local community around your client’s business. They don’t have to be from high-quality, high-DA websites, and they don’t even have to be ‘dofollow’; they just have to be locally relevant. I’m talking here about the websites of local charities, religious groups, sports teams, and the like. These are important because they show Google that your client’s business is trusted in the local area, naturally giving it better mileage in local search.
But how do you get local links? We have a great guest post outlining some local link building tactics here, but the gist of it is that by sponsoring local organizations and finding ways to help in the community, you’re likely to open the door to getting their websites to link to yours. Who knew local SEO could result in so much community spirit?
5. Google My Business management and optimization
As mentioned earlier, there are many ways you can be getting more out of your client’s Google My Business profile. Consider testing different categories, creating Google My Business posts, adding Products and Services, using Google Q&A, and generally fleshing out the GMB profile until you’re providing searchers every reason under the sun to do business with your client.
GMB is always changing, too, with new features being tested and released all the time. This provides a huge opportunity for you to show off your local SEO nous to your client, and offer to take advantage of new features early while their less innovative competitors lag behind.
I’d recommend joining the Local Search Forum (and, of course, signing up to the BrightLocal newsletter) to find out about any opportunities presented by changes to Google My Business as soon as they emerge.
6. You need more?!
If you’ve put all the fundamentals in place, are regularly managing link building, citations, GMB and reviews on a retainer, and are looking for even more ways to generate revenue from your clients, I’d first ask how you’re even finding the time to develop websites any more!
But it’s entirely possible that the above ongoing SEO tasks are already being dealt with or just of no interest to your client. In that case, I’d suggest expanding your services to include the following:
- PPC: Online advertising can lead to quick wins providing the website content is tailored to the advertisement, and for service-area businesses, Google Local Services Ads present a unique opportunity to take the lead in search.
- Social media: It’s not suitable for every business type, but these days many industries can do exceptionally well building a community on social media. It’s always worth managing because it’s a popular avenue for customer feedback and questions, too.
- Content creation: Links are still everything in search, and once you’ve got all the local links you can, you’ll need awesome content for the wider world to link to! Whether it’s writing guides on local activities or making industry-specific how-to’s and videos, content creation can be a very lucrative revenue stream, providing you can always prove it’s having the desired effect.
- Email marketing: Customer engagement and building relationships should be at the heart of any local business, which makes email marketing an essential tool for generating loyalty with news and exclusive offers.
- Offline advertising: It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to advertise in local newspapers, magazines or with ‘out of home’ advertising, so this is an area certainly worth investigating if your client has the budget for it. As you’ve designed their website, you should be in a good position to design their advertising, too!
So there you have it! I hope I’ve been able to give all you budding local SEOs out there some guidance on how to start generating more revenue from your web design clients.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to put the effort in and really learn and hone your skills. It’s an incredibly competitive market out there and those looking for a quick buck are always going to find themselves outgunned by more experienced and skilled digital marketers.
I wish you the best of luck in your local SEO journey, and hope you’ll comment below when you’ve seen some success with your first digital marketing client! And if you want to bag a few more after the success of your first, listing your agency on BrightLocal’s Agency Directory is a no-brainer!
Wait! What about pricing and packaging my services?!
I thought you might ask that! Don’t worry, we’ve got that planned for an upcoming Advance Your Agency. As with all SEO, the answer is often ‘it depends’, but I’ll be doing everything I can to explain how best to make these decisions. Look out for this in a couple of months! (Update: here it is!)