Offline & Organic: The Two Rivers That Feed Modern Local SEO

Posted by MiriamEllis

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The craft that is your business navigates the local waterways. Whether yours is an independently owned natural foods store or a medical enterprise with hundreds of locations, it can be easy to get lost cresting all of the little waves that hit our industry, week by week, year after year.

Google endorses review kiosks and then outlaws them. They pop your dental practice into a carousel and then disband this whole display for your industry. You need to be schema-encoded, socially active, mobile-friendly, voice-ready… it’s a lot to take in. So let’s weigh anchor for a few minutes, in the midst of these never-ending eddies, to evaluate whether all of the developments of the past few years add up to a disjointed jumble of events or represent a genuine sea change in our industry. Let’s see which way the wind is really blowing in local search marketing.

The organic SEO journey is now our own

If you’ve only been working in SEO for a couple of years, you may think I’m telling you a fishy yarn when I say there was a time not long ago when this otherwise brilliant industry was swamped with forum discussions about how much you could move the ranking needle by listing 300 terms in a meta keywords tag, putting hidden text on website pages, buying 5,000 links from directories that never saw the light of day in the SERPs and praying to the idol of PageRank.

I’m not kidding — it was really like this, but even back then, the best in the business were arguing against building a marketing strategy largely based on exploiting search engines’ weaknesses or by pinning your brand to iffy, spammy or obsolete practices. The discourse surrounding early SEO was certainly lively!

Then came Panda, Penguin, and all of the other updates that not only targeted poor SEO practices, but more importantly, established a teaching model from which all digital marketers could learn to visualize Google’s interpretation of relevance. There were many updates before these big ones, but I mention them because, along with Hummingbird, they combine to set much of the stage for where the SEO industry is at today, after 17 years of signals from Google schooling us in their worldview of search. If I could sum up what Google has taught us in 3 points, they would be:

  1. Market to humans, and let that rule how you write, earn links, design pages and otherwise promote your business
  2. Have a technician handy to avoid technical missteps that thwart growth
  3. Your brand will live or die by the total reputation it builds, both in terms of search engines and the public

Most of what I see being written across the SEO industry today relates to these three concepts which form a really sane picture of a modern marketing discipline — a far cry from stuffed footers and doorway pages, right? Yes, I’m still getting emails promising me #1 Google rankings, but by and large, it’s been inspirational watching the SEO industry evolve to earn a serious place in the wide world of marketing.

Now, how does all this relate to local SEO?

There are two obvious reasons why the traditional SEO industry’s journey relates to our own:

  1. Organic strength impacts local rankings
  2. Local businesses need organic (sometimes called local-organic) rankings, too

This means that for our agencies’ clients, we’ve got to deliver the goods just the way an organic SEO company would. I’d bet a nickel there isn’t a week that goes by that you don’t find yourself explaining to an SAB owner that you’re unlikely to earn him local rankings for his service cities where he lacks a physical location, but you are going to get him every bit of organic visibility you can via his website’s service city landing pages and supporting marketing. And for your brick-and-mortar clients, you are filling the first few pages of Google with both company website and third-party content that creates the consumer picture we call “reputation.”