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Learn Local SEO- The 5 step process!

An Interview with Marc Brookland

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 speaks with Marc Brookland. He is the founder and president, SEO Locale.
Marc shares with us his expertise in Local SEO and conducts a training session to explain the five-step process to build Local SEO campaigns successfully. He also talks about how businesses are adapting to the changing economic conditions during COVID 19.

Digital Marketing is not just SEO. It’s not just paid advertising. It’s not just social media. All of these platforms play a role together in building an overall successful strategy.

Marc Brookland, Founder & President
SEO Locale
Hello everyone, how's it going? Today we have with us Mark Brookland, founder, and president of SEO Locale, a premier digital marketing agency in Philadelphia.Well, thank you for connecting with us today, Marc. But before we start, it would be great if you could introduce yourself.

I’m Marc Brookland. I am the founder and CEO of SEO Locale. We’re a full-service digital marketing agency located in Philadelphia. We primarily focus on website development and search engine optimization. The majority of our clients are small businesses throughout the tri-state area.

We have clients throughout the rest of the US, Chicago, LA, Florida, Texas. And we have some partnerships vs. clients as well, who we collaborate with, in other capacities.

Since you work with a lot of local businesses, I would like to ask you how those businesses are responding in this current situation?Also, what is the consumer behavior?

The businesses that are allowed to continue their operations are doing the best that they can. There’s obviously a lot of cautions that have been put in place that they need to follow. A lot of clients have been forced to cut back as much as they can in terms of their spending because they’re trying to do what’s best, not only for them but their employees, the people who they care about. So it’s certainly been a bit of a transition. 

We’ve also been doing the best we can to support our clients who have continued to work with us, the ones that have been forced to suspend services due to circumstances, and also other businesses throughout the local area. We’ve been offering different services through social media and other platforms at no charge.

So, according to me, businesses have been doing well. We’ve had a lot of people taking advantage of our offerings. We see a lot of the community coming together, trying to help each other and support the small businesses for all intents and purposes. And everyone’s gonna come out just okay.

Mark, can you take us through the Local SEO process you follow?

Given the current state that we’re in, Local SEO is more important than ever. So we must learn what building a successful local search campaign looks like. And to do that, we have to go through the entire process from start to finish.

STEP 1:Keyword Research

First and foremost, what we do is proper keyword research. It includes doing the competitor analysis where we can identify what your competitors are doing, what has been working well for them, what keywords they are targeting for, and how they are targeting those keywords. It’s really important to figure out what’s working and what’s not when you’re identifying these keywords. And this phase is really the most crucial phase because it’s going to lay out the groundwork for the rest of your campaign going forward. 

These keywords will determine how you make decisions on what’s working, what’s not working, so if this part of the strategy is messed up, then the entire campaign is going to be messed up. 

A lot of times when we speak to clients, we tell them that a certain keyword is a perfect keyword for them. If you get right for this keyword, your business will be great. But when we conduct our research, we find out that there are not many people searching for that key term. And it comes as a shock. But data doesn’t lie. So it’s really important that you do your due diligence and research efficiently to identify the ways that people are searching for your products or services. Also, you will have to check which of those keywords have the highest search volume that you can use to make a return on your best game. 

When you’re building out a campaign, it’s also important that you are focusing specifically on the area that you service. A lot of people don’t know that one can geo-fence their campaign without actually having a specific geo fencing type of mechanism. You can do that by adding a local modifier.

For example, if I am selling SEO services, and I want to create a local campaign strictly in the Philadelphia area, I must target keywords like SEO Philadelphia or SEO services in Philadelphia. Although these keywords don’t have high search volume as the term “SEO”, they still have a decent search rate and help me target the audience who I want as a client and who I want to reach out to me. 

That said, by adding these different local modifiers and being more specific, your conversion rate is going to be much higher because you’re targeting a more specific person. 

You can use a lot of different tools to identify what these keywords are. My personal favorite is SEMmrush. However, that is a paid tool. Luckily, there are other tools you could use for free like Ubersuggest, Google’s Keyword Planner, which is through the AdWords platform. However, unless you are an actively paying campaign, they don’t give you great data on the search volume of keywords. So I would recommend if you do have the money,  go for Semrush, else Ubersuggest, or Keyword Planner.

STEP 2: Planning the content strategy

Once you identify the list of keywords that you want to focus on, it’s important that you determine what your strategy is going to look like. So what pages are you going to target that would help you in the overall campaign? 

It could be pages that already exist on your website or the ones that you might have to create. It all depends on where you’re currently ranking, what you’re not ranking for, and what keywords make sense. The goal behind this keyword mapping is grouping these keywords that are relevant. 

For example, if I’m targeting SEO services throughout the Greater Philadelphia area, I might have different landing pages for SEO Philadelphia, SEO Bucks County, SEO Montgomery County, SEO Berks County to target those specific people in those specific areas. Or I may even break it down by service, let’s say, SEO Services Philadelphia, Web Design Development Services Philadelphia, Pay-per-click Services Philadelphia. The idea is to identify what is the best strategy for you. A lot of that can be dictated by identifying where you’re currently ranking, for the keywords you’re targeting. 

Keyword mapping also helps you to avoid Keyword Cannibalization. So, if you’re targeting two or three or more pages for the same keyword, then you’re telling search engines that you have different pages, that are all relevant for the same key term. But Google and other search engines don’t understand which page is more relevant? As a result, instead of ranking well for one page, you end up ranking poorly for every page. And that’s not going to help you. Unless you’re on the first page, and even in the top five results, you’re probably not going to get much traction. 

STEP 3: On-page SEO recommendations

Once you’ve identified what pages you’re going to be targeting, it’s important that you move on to the next step, which is identifying how you’re going to target that specific page. This is called On-page SEO recommendations. 

It’s everything that you’re going to do within that specific page to build as much relevance as you can with Google search. It includes the meta title, the meta descriptions, headers, content, internal linking, and all other things that play a role in making sure that you’re ranking as best as you possibly can. 

Your meta title and meta descriptions show up in Google’s search results, refer to the presentation. These are two of the most powerful things when it comes to your On-page SEO optimized optimizations. Through your meta title and descriptions, you are sending signals to search engines that these are the keywords that you should be found most relevant for. And, these are the keywords that you want this page to rank for. So it’s important to include the keywords that you are targeting throughout your meta title and descriptions, your headers and the content.

No one wants to have a lot of content on their website and no one wants to read the entire content. But unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that matters is what Google says, and Google wants content, and they want good content. Refer to the presentation. Here’s an example of what we have as headers and content. The headers are the bolded blue, and the content is just below it. That said, it’s important to identify the keywords you want to target, have a huge search volume, and are really important for you. Once you do that, Google that key term. Who are the people that are showing on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth search? How much content do they have? What’s their content strategy? What is keyword density? In other words, how many times are they using specific keywords or phrases throughout that content? And that’s going to be what you want to replicate or even go a step beyond that and do better because the goal is to beat them out. So you have to go above and beyond and that’s where the competitor analysis really plays a role. SEMrush also has a very good and helpful competitor analysis tool when it comes to content, which is why I really like that tool.

STEP 4: Internal Linking

The last thing is internal linking.. By internal linking, we’re also sending proper signals to search engines that this landing page is really relevant for SEO services. 

That’s the idea behind a proper internal linking strategy! You have to make sure that you’re passing what’s known as Link Juice or SEO Power throughout the entirety of your website so that all your pages rank well, and Google is indexing and crawling all these pages.

Moving on, a big question that we often get is how can you target multiple locations when you’re running a local campaign?

 

To be honest, it’s not that easy. You have to make sure you are unique in your content and deeply research the target areas that you want to hit. This is important because the content that the user is going to land on should be specific to them. That’s the key when you’re creating a hyper-localized campaign. It’s very difficult to write about the same exact thing over and over again for all the different locations that you’re targeting. 

So an easy way to do that is to think as if you grew up in this area. This is the area that I serve. I know what people in Bucks County want to hear when I talk about SEO Services. I know what business owners in Montgomery County are missing, and what their pain points are. So I have a specific thing that I believe is the pain point that hits that specific user, and I am going to talk about it. Because these different landing pages will pop up when that specific user is searching for your product or service. 

I don’t have the same landing page for people in Bucks County, Philadelphia, Montgomery County. I have a different landing page and a different landing page experience for those three different groups of people. So that’s a big thing that a lot of clients don’t always understand. And it doesn’t always have to be so spammy or in your face. In other words, you don’t need to have every single landing page in your main navigation; it’s not necessary to do so. 

In fact, you should have landing pages that are accessible, relevant, and make sense for the user. And that’s how you avoid things like doorway pages or getting any type of penalties from Google.

Backlinking is one of the most complicated things to do when it comes to local search, and also one of the most important ranking factors for SEO. You will be quickly penalized by Google if you’re not doing the right things. So what we always recommend for backlinks is stay away from anything that’s paid. If it’s any type of paid service, it’s probably bad. The best way to build your backlink profile is to utilize press releases, business citations, local bookmarks, local directories, micro directories. These will help you build your backlink profile and do it effectively without getting yourself into trouble. 

A local citation is like a billboard or business card but on the internet. It has your business name, website, phone number, address, and the services that you are offering. And that’s what is going to build relevancy, and trust with search engines. 

When you have the same information all across the web, from all these different resources, that acts as a big trust factor when it comes to search engines, and you will be rewarded for that.

There are several different tools or local citation builders that you can use to monitor these things like Yext, White Pages, Whitespark. I personally don’t use them. According to me, if you’re doing it yourself, you’re probably okay. 

Some of the main local business listing sites are Yellow Pages, Yelp, Foursquare, Superpages, and it’s very easy to get these types of links. Another tool that you can use to monitor what your backlink profile looks like, is Majestic. It is a partially free tool. It helps identify if you have any toxic links, but also understand how strong your backlink profile is. Majestic.com uses these metrics known as trust flow and citation flow. 

Citation flow is the total number of links that are going back to your website. So what does that number look like? How many people around the web are talking about you and linking back to your website? 

Trust flow is what determines the strength of those links linking back to your site. And when you divide the trust flow by the citation flow, you get the trust ratio. Generally, you want to have a trust ratio over point two five (.25). The closer you are to one, the better.

Google My Business is another important piece when it comes to local search. It’s something that a lot of businesses don’t know how to take advantage of. 

All you have to do is Google “Google My Business”, claim your profile, add in all the information you want, and utilize that profile. It’s very easy. It’s simple. 

Fill out as much information as you possibly can — your name, address, phone number, service areas. You can also include the company’s description, the services that you’re offering, make daily posts, set up daily promotions, and make specials. 

For example, refer to the presentation. The screenshot to my right is the new COVID-19 update that lets clients know if you are still open, or if you’ve been forced to close down. It’s a very powerful tool.

All these different posts and promotions that you put on Google will be visible if your Google My Business page appears on the search. The user can see those and it can be very powerful. So take pictures of your office, products, or the different projects you’ve worked on, and upload them. This will help build trust with the user and you’ll be more likely to convert into a customer. 

A big part of Google My Business is reviews. It’s also the hardest part. It’s difficult to get them, stay on top, and respond to all of the reviews, whether good or bad. 

A lot of people make a big mistake by only responding to the good reviews and ignoring all the bad ones as if they never happened. That’s not what users want to see. Bad reviews are going to happen; it’s natural. In fact, it makes you look more real to the customer. If someone has all five-star positive reviews, they almost seem fake, especially if you’re getting your friends and family to write them; who just give you the five stars and don’t write anything with it. So it’s really important that you respond to every review you get. 

If you get a good review, say thank you so much and try to sprinkle in a keyword or two that you might be targeting because that’s going to help build some more relevancy with search engines. In case of a bad review, say, “We’re sorry, you had this bad experience. Could you please let us know what we could do to help you with this issue.” You want the user to know that if they move forward with you and something goes wrong, you’re going to do everything you can to make it better. That’s what users really want to feel; they want to feel comfortable.

You can also take advantage of a paid local platform, called Google Local Service Ads. It’s fairly new. It differs from Google AdWords. Let’s see how. 

Number one, it’s only available for specific industries. For example, the locksmith industry. Second, it’s not a pay per click program. It is a pay per lead program. So you only pay if someone calls you. 

There’s also a reimbursement program. In case someone calls you, and they’re asking questions irrelevant to your business, or it didn’t make any sense how they found you, or it was a mistake click, Google will reimburse you for that click (only if you can prove that you had a legitimate faulty call). It all sounds too good to be true, but I have had a considerable amount of experience with Google managing my clients, local service ads, and they have reimbursed. They also have a little Google guarantee, as you can see on the right (refer to the presentation). This is another big trust factor when it comes to users. Because people think Google is everything, and if Google says it, it must be true. So if you have a Google guaranteed checkmark and you’re showing up, that’s something really powerful for Google. 

The tricky part is going through the background check, which is required for all businesses that enroll in Google Local Service Ads. It does take time to go through the process and get your profile set up. 

I have a couple of clients who are trying to enroll, and they’re facing difficulties in getting the background check because things are so backed up right now.

When you go through the background check, it’ll ask you for two pattern checks. One will be a personal background check of the business owner, and the other of the actual business itself. Now, you’re supposed to get a background check for not only yourself or your business, but all of your employees. If you sign up for this, do not say that you have employees. Rather, say you are the only person. In this case, you will need one background check for you and one for your business. Otherwise, it’s going to be a tiring process getting a background check from all of your other employees. It’s not worth it, trust me when I say this. 

So that concludes everything that we do at SEO Locale for local SEO and what our strategy looks like. The entire process from A to Z. That’s everything that I would recommend.

Thank you, for sharing this process with us , Marc. Based on the flow of you shared , there are a couple of points that I would like to add for our viewers. When doing keyword research, something that a lot of people sometimes miss is to understand which keywords to take and which ones to leave. And like you said, a very good strategy is seeing what the competition is doing. Because, at the end of the day, you know, it's not us who are thinking that this is what people are searching; you need data.Also, one other thing that people get wrong is that most of the time, they look at the volume of keywords. This, obviously, is important because if people are searching more for that term, it is valuable. But sometimes, you should look at the long tail keywords based on the service/ business. Because they have more ROI or revenue value for that particular business as compared to a direct or a short keyword, which may have more competition or a higher volume. That is something businesses should look at. What are your thoughts about the same?

It’s always most important to see what keywords competitors are going after. Because if they’re going after it, they’ve been doing this and have been around for a while, it’s probably something that you should be looking into as well. Especially if every single competitor is going after that keyword. 

There are always going to be obvious keywords to go after. For example, SEO Philadelphia, SEO Services Philadelphia. These terms are searched, but there are also those not so obvious keywords to look after and target. 

I always try to steer my clients away from focusing on what that volume is. The volume is always an estimate. It gives you a rough idea of how many people are searching for that keyword. But even when a keyword doesn’t have any data of search volume or has zero search volume, that’s only because the area that you’re targeting is so small. But there are still people in that area who are searching for that service. For example, if you are using Google’s Keyword Planner and searching for HVAC services in Main Line. (It is a well-known area just outside Philadelphia. A lot of people try to target it.)

HVAC Main Line may not have any search, but if you change your parameters to HVAC services in the area of Main Line, it will have a high search volume. That’s because not everyone is searching like that. But what your local strategy does, going back to that geo fencing we were talking about, is that if someone in that area is searching HVAC services, you’re still going to be the one popping up because you have sent and created those signals with Google.

Absolutely! Looking at the competitors solves a lot of issues sometimes, even in the case of keyword mapping. If you have the same services for multiple different locations, the competitors would be targeting different kinds of pages.

For sure. Research is key. You need to have the research, the data. No business or individual just does anything without thinking about it. 

That said, people need to have some type of strategy or game plan. Businesses make decisions based on data and the information they have at hand. Similarly, with what we’re going through right now, the government is trying to make decisions based on data and information. In fact, they’re trying so hard to get more data so that they can make better decisions. 

So the more the data/ information, the better is the decision making process. Data can help you with keywords and landing pages to target and create.

You also talked about the importance of citations and business listings in local SEO, I totally agree. The more number of times you have your name, address, phone number on the web, the more value it adds.But does that mean we should give more value to a citation for local SEO as compared to a guest post?

I don’t ever say that this is more important than that or vice versa. Because in my opinion, digital marketing is not just SEO. It’s not just paid advertising. It’s not just social media. All of these platforms play a role together in building an overall successful strategy. So when it comes to link building, it’s crucial to have a combination of all of these different things. It’s essential to reach out to other websites and say, “I have this piece of content you might be really interested in.” It’s important to interact with those other types of websites, be a part of micro directories or hyperlocal directories, build out local citations, and do press releases. All these things are really important. 

I don’t really see one being more important and more valuable than the other. You should have a nice mix of everything. Because if you are strictly doing one thing, it actually hurts you. You can’t be doing just one piece of the overall strategy that Google is looking for.

How do you do link building for local SEO? Do you have a particular mix or formula? Or do you look at the competition and analyze their link profile and then create a strategy?

It’s definitely a combination of things. There is a list of blue-chip citation sites. You can pull them from pretty much anywhere. They’re very reputable and well known. 

They even pop up in Google searches when people type in brand names. So It’s very important that you build a profile on those key citation sites. However, don’t overdo it. Build a few this week, a few the following week, skip a week, do more the next week. The goal is to make everything look natural. 

When it comes to competitor analysis, you will want to look at the competitors constantly ranking number 1,2,3,4; all the keywords they are ranking for, and of course, their profile. Where are they getting their backlinks from? Maybe there’s a resource that has a ton of broken links, or they are always posting content from third parties that are offering great information for their users. That’s something that you could also take advantage of. 

Link building strategy should certainly be a combination of the two of those things. 

The blue-chip citations are a necessity to build trust with search engines and tell them that you are a legitimate company and here’s all of your information. But it’s also important getting those other links including nofollow links, user-generated link sponsored content links because you want to have a nice mix. And the best way to do that is to do those third party guest posts, reaching out to other webmasters, seeing how you can diversify your profile as best as possible.

The importance of reviews cannot be understated. Right? So as an agency, are you using a strategy or tool that's helping the clients get more and more reviews?

Google My Business Page has a short link or shortening. You can take that link and email it to whatever customer you are working with. And they can click on it and write a review for you. That said, Google also tries to help make it as easy as possible for you to get reviews. 

For reviews, we do a couple of things. We have a lot of review email campaigns for our clients. We also have our own tools that help generate new reviews. It’s called Notifyproof, where you can solicit reviews without even having to do anything. We implement social proof tools on our clients’ websites. As long as these widgets are on your website, they’ll pop-up, and your customers can write a review. 

We have a couple of different strategies in place where we try our best to get as many reviews as possible for our clients.

How do you leverage social media for local businesses? Can you share any case study with us?

Everything plays together. Even though social media is not directly impacting your SEO, it is going to impact your business. So it does indirectly affect your SEO because the people that are coming in from social media, the way that they interact with your website, I think that matters. Google wants to see that people are spending time on the website, they’re clicking through, they’re going through the proper channels, and that they’re not just going to the website and bouncing right away. They want to see that you have a good user experience. 

Social media is incredibly important for local businesses. We have several strategies for clients where we run hyper-localized campaigns for them, and that includes interacting with community groups and different pages throughout their local community. Whatever county or town they’re in, it’s important that they’re interacting as much as possible. 

We also mention what our clients can do during this global pandemic. Because that’s where we’re at right now. “Here’s what we’re doing to help other small businesses. Here’s what we’re doing to help the people in our community.” Those are the things that people care about. People want to know how you can help. And that’s exactly how people really connect with a business. That’s what they are doing on social media. 

So you have to think about the strategies that you can incorporate to connect with these people. It really should be easy for business owners to do that. It’s where they’re from. It’s where their business is; they know the people, they know the area. You have to understand that if it’s important to you, it’s probably important to them too.

Absolutely. Talking about local businesses, one beautiful thing is that you're taking the leverage of things happening locally because that connection helps you generate more business. At the end of the day, those people are going to be there for a long time in that area. So, I completely agree with what you said.As an agency working with local businesses, what is your favorite source of lead generation? From where do you get the maximum leads?

SEO. SEO! Local Search.

I agree. If you have to prove that you do good SEO, you need to rank yourself on the key terms.

I encourage anyone to Google “SEO Philadelphia”, or SEO any local area around the Philadelphia area, and I guarantee that SEO Locale always pops up first.

The reason we are having you do the presentation on local SEO also explains it. I don’t think anyone needs to Google that.One last question before you go. What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Coronavirus. And apart from coronavirus, the biggest challenge for me has been trying to find the right team to surround myself with.

It’s interesting because you don’t really go to school for this thing. And now, they have all these classes for digital marketing, SEO and I’ve had interns talk to me about these classes. And I can’t help but think why are they teaching this to kids; it’s just crazy. 

So, you really have to find that person who wants to learn. I always tell my clients & everyone, “You don’t need me to do this. Anyone can do it. If you want to do it yourself, here’s what to do. Just do it.” 

People hire SEOs because they don’t have the time for it. That’s what it comes down to. Anyone who is willing to learn and adjust can be successful in this. And that’s what has been challenging for us. I think we should wrap ourselves with a great team. 

There are eight of us including myself and my partner, and they do a great job. They’re always there; always reading and asking questions. We’ve certainly hired some that haven’t worked out and turned as great as we thought they were going to be, but that’s always going to be part of the process.

Whether you want to start an agency, or go out on your own, or do whatever you want to do, just make sure that you surround yourself with people who you think are smarter than you.

Thank you so much, Marc. It was lovely having you.

It was a pleasure. Thank you very much again for having me.

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