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All About Local SEO in 2020

An Interview with Justin Herring

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood talks to Justin Herring, local SEO and lead gen expert and founder of YEAH! Local. He discusses in detail about how to use content judiciously for SEO, the local SEO process used at his agency and how to win the lead gen game in the real estate sector.

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of e-coffee.

A lot of people in local SEO don’t really focus on outreach. But we do. We get huge authoritative backlinks to the service pages, the home page and also to the Google listing. And that just works gangbusters.

Justin Herring, Founder
YEAH! Local
Hello everyone, today we have with us Justin Herring, local SEO, and Lead Gen expert; owner of Yeah! Local, results-focused SEO agency in Atlanta. Their reviews and client success stories say it all.Justin, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and tell us what type of clients you mainly cater to.

I run a boutique digital marketing agency. We’ve got about 17 members. We mostly focus on local SEO service-based businesses. A lot of our clients are in the medical industry, like MRI labs or dentists or medspas.

We’ve got other clients as well, nationwide. But we like to focus more on service-based businesses than have a brick and mortar or franchises as well.

So, mainly local-businesses and the health-care industry?

Yeah, we like that space just because they continually need new leads coming in, which means new business. and they spend money on marketing.

Also, as an agency, what is good - niche versus broad?

It’s kind of a tough one because some people go all-in on the niche. Well, the problem is that if we all focus on a certain niche, we could be out of business. But since we are actually pretty broad, we focus on certain things that we like. But we also turn away a lot of clients that just don’t fit. We tell them that we will not be able to generate leads for them. It just depends on what you want to do.

I personally don’t like constantly working with the exact same industry; it gets kind of boring. But I also like it sometimes when I’ve got a lot of stuff to do and I can get a couple of new clients. Also, I don’t have to think about it too much because we’ve already worked with that type of niche before. It makes it easy. So, there’s no right or wrong answer!

I understand! Process-wise, it's kind of easier when you are focusing on a niche. But I think it's more fun diversifying new industries and new strategies.So, Justin, I was going through your homepage of yeah-local.com, and I can see that you have optimized the page very well, content-wise. So, can you tell us something about how you plan content for a particular page or set of keywords?

Well, it depends on whether you’re writing a blog post or if it’s just going to be a service page.

For a blog post, you will have to do the keyword research for that specific term.

Usually, people run their content through these optimizers and find out exactly how many terms and the top 10 pages they got. My main thing is I don’t do that!

It just seems that at a certain point, you’re spending too much time optimizing it. When there’s a lot of other factors that go into it.

So usually what we do is, we put the keywords in the title and first paragraph. We sprinkle some longtail keyword modifiers in the blog post throughout. And then we put the keyword again in the last paragraph and meta description.

I do that even for service pages, local service pages, or even home pages. And then just publish it. Wait for like a week or two and see where it falls.

Because a lot of times, it all depends on how authoritative your site is. A lot of people optimize their posts or pages to the same specifics that the number one ranking site has. But it doesn’t matter what you do; you are going to need more backlinks. Because if that number one ranking site has hundreds of backlinks to it, that means it is a huge authority.

So, don’t waste your time optimizing it too much until you can see where it falls. And then at that point, you can go in and tweak it or just get some more backlinks.

Justin, as we know, you do a lot of local SEO work with local businesses. So we want to know what your local SEO process looks like?

Our SEO is pretty straightforward and simple. What I’ve noticed with other agencies is that they build these Google stacks and use Google Maps Embed. We don’t do any of that!

We have done it before and it just seems like a huge waste of time. So, we basically go in, look at the site, see what you are ranking for currently. If you do not have location pages set up for the areas you’re trying to go after, we will build those out for each specific type of service you offer.

For example, if you’ve got five different services, we will build location pages for each of those services, for every location.

We may end up building 200 plus pages on a site, manually. And then we will optimize the homepage.

But it is all about local SEO. So it’s mainly building out those pages, making sure that Google my business listing is set up properly, and has all the info. Once we do that, it’s all about backlinks.

A lot of people in local SEO don’t really focus on that. But we do. We get huge authoritative backlinks to the service pages, the home page and also to the Google listing. And that just works gangbusters. Nobody else is doing it, so the site starts ranking quickly.

So, Justin when it comes to creating location-specific pages for a moving company and they have five locations wherein they offer residential moving and commercial moving. So if for Fairfax, I create residential moving Fairfax and commercial moving Fairfax, then I'll have a lot of pages for all locations. But then how do you ensure you're not creating too much doorway or spammy pages?How do you decide on a specific page for every county?

Usually, I just go by cities. I don’t do any counties or zip codes.

Let’s say, you want to create your main service page. So, if Fairfax is your main location, so what I would do is beef that page up. Put all the content on it, put FAQs, optimize it for conversion. And once the page is fully optimized, I use it to duplicate.

Once you duplicate it, you just change the URL, heading, meta description, and a couple of other things to the cities. What we’ve seen is you do not need to create new content. You do not need to worry about it being spammy. As long as it’s actually decent in the beginning, then it ranks perfectly fine.

So, if you just change the page for other cities and the headings, but the main content is kept the same, you're saying that it doesn't really matter?

It doesn’t matter! I’ve tested this across literally like hundreds of sites, thousands of pages and we’re ranking in the top three-four cities. And I guess you could say that it would be duplicate content for sure, but it actually has different titles and headers. It talks about the different cities a little bit but not much.

You can refer to huge Authority sites too. This is exactly what they do; even they don’t have different content. This is one of those SEO myths. People say that you need different content on the pages, but I haven’t seen it have any effect.

Right, right! Also, what are the key elements that you look at while optimizing the Google My Business listing page?

First off, you should make sure that it’s linking over to the city’s page that you want to show up for. So, if you’ve got, let’s say an Atlanta page on your site, make sure that the Atlanta listing is linked over to that page. And then you just fill out everything in that Google My Business listing.

If there are ten categories that could make sense, you should make sure that all the categories are filled out. You must search through and see what your competitors are showing up for.

Probably, you’ll not be able to get them all. But it’s essential that you search and see if you can pull up more categories that you may fall into — that you could show up too. So, categories are a big thing!

You must keep an eye on number one, two, and three businesses that are ranking, and see what categories they’re showing up for. If it’s not the one that is your primary, you need to switch it. That’s number one, and then you have to fill out.

If you have service pages on the services section of your listing, you will need to fill out all those services. Put a little bit of content in there as well so that Google understands what services you’re offering. And then, the same thing with the description — add in a nice little blurb in there with the main keyword you want to go after. Basically, that’s it!

And once we do that, we do guest posts for the Google listing. Usually, it’s got keyword-rich anchor text in it.

Okay! So, how does link building differ for local businesses when compared to a business whose focus is nationwide?

It doesn’t differ a lot. That’s the whole thing!

The only difference is if it is a national business and they didn’t want to rank their Google listing, then I wouldn’t get the links to that Google listing. But the same links that I’m getting for local – like service pages, home pages, or even blog posts, I’m getting those same links for national sites.

So we’re doing guest posts on sites that have DAs between 40 and 90. We don’t get anything that has a DA less than forty or forty plus. So if you get five to ten of those to a couple of pages on your site, you are going to start ranking pretty quickly.

Absolutely, even I have tested like GMBs and guest posts for local businesses. And, I completely agree! As long as the quality of the links you're using, the guest post you're doing and the inserted anchor text is not looking deliberate, it works for local businesses as well.

Correct! If we’re going for the GMB listing, we still do guest posts but when we link over, we actually link over to the SID URL, which is just the Google Maps URL. So we link over to that and it works. When we do an anchor text, all of a sudden it’ll boost it up within a week or so after doing so.

Also talking about GMB's, let's say, even if we are able to rank in the top three packs but the GMB doesn't have reviews, it wouldn’t help. Is there any strategy that you're using which ensures that the clients are getting regular reviews?

Yes, so we have campaigns that kind of encompass all this. We don’t take on clients that are just doing link building or optimizing the site. When we take on clients, we’re doing the whole marketing campaign besides social. That’s the only thing. We don’t do social posting or anything like that. But we set our clients up with a review marketing system and if they’re not already doing it, we integrate it into their system where they’re able to use our autoresponders to send out emails and texts and go through a review marketing funnel. So that allows them to continually get new reviews on a daily or weekly basis. Getting those reviews is one of the top priorities.

Can you suggest any good tools for reviews?

We’ve used Grade Us for probably five years. I’ve looked at other stuff. There are tons of tools out there but as far as the price point, you just can’t really beat it. I think they’ve raised the price a little bit.

What are the best practices for doing citations? How many are not too much or not too less? Which ones to go after and how often?

Citations, I think, are pretty worthless.

When we get a new client, we run it through that BrightLocal citation grader, and then we see if they’ve got citations. If they’ve got between forty to sixty citations already, we’re not going to do anything. If they don’t, we’ll just order like an aggregator through BrightLocal, and push them out to the four different aggregators and just roll with it like that! That’s the only thing we do with citations besides getting the main four or five — Yelp, Facebook, Google, Bing, Apple. But that’s it! That’s all we do! After that, there’s no citation building at all.
So it’s more of guest posts.

Justin, what tool do you use for the local rank tracking?

Right now, we use BrightLocal for all the rank tracking! Again just because it’s got accurate rank tracking, and the price point is pretty good when compared to the number of keywords you can track.

Per every client, we probably track at least three hundred to a thousand keywords. So the tool allows you to track a lot.

So, Justin, you have had a successful tenure in real estate.When you were doing Lead Gen for real estate, you were able to generate tons of leads. What actually works as far as Lead Gen is concerned in the real estate niche.

So, actually, in that niche, we were using software that gave us home selling reports. It’s kind of like Zillow, where the home sellers would put in their info because they wanted to find out what the property was worth. And then we’d run Facebook Ads to this software.

Once they got their information in there, the real estate agent would just follow up with them.

And a lot of times, these were leads that weren’t ready to sell right this second. But there was a year-long email campaign that went out, continually messaging them saying – “Hey, it looks like your home price has changed!”

“Get your new home seller report, showing what your property is worth!”

And, so once you fill the pipeline, you would get five to ten new leads a month based on listings in a certain local area that you had generated from Facebook of those leads. So, it worked pretty well.

Right, and how did these emails look like? Were they like generic or like newsletters specific to specific areas? How would you plan that?

Yes, so the emails were more generic. But they looked like plain text emails; they weren’t anything like a nice email.

They just said, “Hey Bob, it looks like your home’s price has changed this month. Get your home seller report updated now.” And then he would just click, he’d go back over and get his home seller report updated.

The landing pages were also very city-specific.

These were more generic emails, but they looked non-generic.

How are you using visual content productively and effectively, as far as local SEO is concerned? Like videos? Infographics?

We use some. We don’t use them a ton!

Usually, we’re using it more for conversion on the actual website or the blog posts. We upload them to YouTube sometimes and also on the Google listing. But we’re not using them specifically for generating leads. Most of the leads that we get are generated off of those Google listings and then the organic listings.

So, it’s like could I do it, sure. But I’d rather spend money in different ways.

Also, you know talking about local businesses, the need for voice search is increasing. Have you done any tests on that?

For the voice searches, you more or less optimize the same as your regular SEO. You don’t have to do anything differently! If you’re optimizing it correctly with the terms, some frequently asked questions, you’ve got a table of contents, there’s not much you’ll have to do.

You can put some audio, some podcasts or you can audio your blog post, but I don’t think there’s a lot more you need to do. Besides getting featured in those snippets and other things if those are popping up.

We have a couple of clients that show up in a bunch of featured snippets, but for those, you just need your table of contents on the page and to make sure it’s optimized. It’ll work the exact same.

Justin, what has been your biggest challenge in SEO so far?

Just figuring out what actually worked, and what was a bunch of junk. As I said, people are just doing so much for local SEO that just doesn’t need to be done.

People put the images, geotag these images, build all these second-tier links and according to me, that may work. But it just seems like a lot of work to check if it can happen.

Figuring out the process of what you really need to do and what is just fluff. That’s kind of the hardest part of any SEO!

So, once you can get down your process. Figure out step 1, step 2, step 3 and you know you can do this on every client, then you’re good to go. It’s pretty easy.

The other part is just being patient. Most of what should happen does not happen even if you’re doing everything correctly. The site could literally go backward for a month. And if you get scared or you don’t know what you’re doing or you’ve never done this before, you could stop what you’re doing or try to do something else and mess it all up. But we’ve seen sites go backward for a month and suddenly shoot up to number one. So you just have to keep going with what works.

For a lot of agencies the churn rate for local businesses is high, because SEO might not be a good fit for every local business. I know that your process starts with a consultation call to see whether SEO is the correct solution for them? So, tell us more about the consultation call.

Yes, so this is another thing that we’ve refined down the process. Because I don’t want to waste my or business owners’ time.

We, basically. schedule about a five to fifteen-minute call with every lead. And before I get on the call, I usually run like a quick five-minute audit, look at a couple of things just to see where their site is at, what’s happening, and if they’re in the realm.

And when I get on the phone, I just ask them a couple of quick questions, feel them out. If they’ve been doing marketing, what have they been doing? If they’ve been spending money, how much are they spending? And just get an idea if this would be a good fit or not.

If they’re generating leads right now or they’re a startup, then at that point, I blatantly tell them what our prices are and say, “Hey look, our pricing starts at fifteen hundred dollars a month. We don’t have any contracts. Is that within your budget range?”

If they say No, then I say, “Okay cool, no problem.” And then I tell them don’t go with anybody that’s telling you to spend less than about a thousand dollars because they’re not going to be able to do enough.

And, if they say, “Yes, that’s within my budget range”, we schedule a strategy call for about thirty minutes within the next 24 hours to a couple of days. I work up a whole strategy for them and get back on a call, at that point.

One more very important point here is that you also need to ask the businesses whether their budget actually will do justice based on what the competition is doing. And if we know that the business has pockets to spend, we can logically explain them with proper reports, and that can help agencies working with local businesses, a lot.

A lot of times, we don’t have a whole lot of churn. We’ve had clients for years!

We usually don’t take on clients that haven’t been doing marketing or spending money on marketing before or even if they’re just starting a business.

It just doesn’t make sense unless they want to do Pay-per-click and they’ve got a healthy cash flow because they will have to spend money and they may probably not get a whole lot of leads.

Also, you’re going to get a churn if you go into a low price point. A lot of businesses that only want to pay 300, 400, 500 dollars are probably not thinking long term as far as marketing is concerned. They’re just looking for a quick fix, and that’s not gonna work.

Justin, you help businesses generate leads through LinkedIn. That's one more service which you offer. So, what are the elements to look at when one is optimizing his LinkedIn profile page?

You must have your LinkedIn profile set up to where it’s talking to your prospective clients, customers, patients, etc. And it should look nice and robust. So, put some videos and images on there. As far as the summary is concerned, make it like a sales page, a landing page.

We go and actually write that for you. We also write up a headline, put in all the features along with the videos & images, just to make it look really nice and snazzy.

At that point, that’s only going to get you so far. Once people come to your profile, that’s going to look good but if you want to take it to the next level, you’ll have to do some outreach through LinkedIn messages and connections.

We help with that too. We send out messages to build connections and after that like a follow-up message, depending on how aggressive you want to get in the sales process.

When you're trying to outreach via LinkedIn, Is there a strategy that determines the number of requests or messages you should send daily?

You can do 50 to 100 requests a day, and then at a certain point, you have to either withdraw those connection requests. For example, if you have about 5,000 outstanding connection requests, you will have to withdraw some of them. But it all depends on the message that you’re sending along with the request, and if they are actually decent prospects.

Because we all get them. The messages look generic and you can tell that they’re sending this to hundreds of people.

You can either accept it or not. But if you get a decent message that indicates that the receiver actually looks at my profile, knows what I’m doing, then those get accepted a lot.

I believe these should not be direct sales pitches because the first step is to get connected, right?

You don’t want to do a sales pitch on the LinkedIn connection message. You just want to get connected, and even on the second message, I don’t do a sales pitch. Usually, on that, I send over a blog post or checklist that is beneficial to the connection or their business. This way, you don’t look like you’re trying to sell them something.

I mean obviously, you probably are, but it’s like soft selling. Then, the next message could be like – “Hey, here’s another article.” You are just giving them info so that they can then be reached back out.

On average, how long is the sales cycle for you?

It depends! Sometimes, you’ll get people right on the first or second message. Other times, it can take months. It depends on if the receiver’s ready to go, the number of messages you’re sending out, and how you’re doing it.

I would say the sales cycle could be a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

How do you see the current COVID 19 situation affecting the local businesses and agencies working with them? How have you seen the impact?

It’s definitely affecting! Like we haven’t had anybody specifically say, I’m canceling with you or I’m not coming back, But we’ve had 40 to 50 percent of the clients that had to pause the campaign for a month or two.

Now, a lot of people are saying, “Don’t let your clients cancel or don’t let them pause. Just figure out a way to keep them.” But that doesn’t make any sense.

If the business is closed down, they cannot take customers but they’re already ranking pretty good, I just can’t, in my right mind, not let them pause a couple of months if they’re hurting.

You can do whatever you want with your agency but if you actually want a client to come back, you shouldn’t dupe them into staying.

There’s nothing you can do. It’s not like you’re not doing a good job. It’s just they’re not getting any business, so some of them had to furlough their staff or let them go. Marketing is probably not the number one thing for them.

On the other hand, I have the other 50%, their leads have diminished a little bit but they’re still getting business and so they’re continuing on. And then we’ve even gotten some new clients from different niches like the home improvement niche and a couple of national clients. It’s kind of all over the place.

I think this is where we run super lean, and our expenses are super low. The fewer clients we have, the lower our expenses get. So it doesn’t correlate to where we still have high expenses if we lose clients. But a lot of agencies, they have a ton of staff that they gotta pay; those people are gonna be in trouble.

At that point, you may have to read how you operate and figure out how to get lean. You may have to let some people go and bring them on a contract basis.

Absolutely, I think that's the beauty of an agency. I have always seen it on how the client base or influx is. Because you need to plan your expenses accordingly.I have come across agencies that are exceptional with the backend and tech without actually having a set plan of influx. And I think, nowadays with all these systems. processes, technology out there, it's very easy even for agencies who have a big client base to smartly plan what parts of the business they can outsource.Obviously, you need to carefully vet the partners. But then, you also need to be sure about which parts to invest heavily in and keep them in-house.I think this situation will also cause a lot of agencies (who never tried to go that route) to plan accordingly.As an agency, you should plan your expenses and profits based on your client base or influx, however a lot of agencies have invested in a strong backend or tech without the planning. What are your thoughts about having all processes in house vs outsourcing?

If you are an agency, you need to be running at a certain profit margin continually. It doesn’t matter how many clients you have.

You should hopefully be in that 52 to 70 profit margin range if you can figure that out. And that’s where you can really adjust. In case you lose clients, you’re not sweating!

Justin, I would like to ask another question concerning LinkedIn. What are the niches that work well for LinkedIn? As an agency, when you're trying to outreach which niches are the best fit?

So, if you’re trying to outreach on LinkedIn, you have to think about who’s actually going to be on there a lot.

We’ve actually outreached a lot of dentists before and if they use LinkedIn, then they’ll respond. But a lot of them never go on there.

If you’re looking at more businesses that do B2B than B2C, we’ve got a print shop that does a lot for law firms. So them going after lawyers on LinkedIn actually makes sense and it’s a lot easier because lawyers are a little bit more business-oriented. They use LinkedIn more, but if you think of dentists, they’re not sitting there all day on LinkedIn looking for clients.

Now, can it work? Sure, but you will have to think about the niche you are after and if they are playing around on LinkedIn a lot.

For law clients, apart from LinkedIn, what are the other strategies that agencies focusing on law clients should adopt?

We run Pay-per-click ads and had pretty good success with paid ads on Google. You can run those for your law firm clients and get them through a funnel.

We’ve also done outreach through email. Although, that hasn’t worked that well but they did get in front of some people.

LinkedIn and the paid ads would be my two. The strategies I go after and along with running some Facebook ads, specifically for lawyers. Something that gets them to download a checklist or sends them into some kind of short webinar real quick, and gets them to book a call.

Thank you so much for your time today. We tried to bust some myths concerning local SEO. I'm sure a lot of people are going to benefit from it.

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