Posted by randfish
I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently with websites in need of better rankings for keyword + cityname combinations in cities across the country (or around the world). This is one of the most challenging tasks in the SEO field, for four big reasons:
At least 4 of the top results are showing based on my location alone (and I’m feeling really weird that I don’t know anyone at any of these Seattle SEO companies – where are you guys? Come to a meetup!).
This makes it even harder for single sites with landing pages to get into the results (and honestly, I question whether this is a smart algorithmic move on Google’s part).
Before I continue, I’ll first point out that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Google biases towards local sites ahead of national or multi-city ones. It’s quite likely that doing so has actually improved relevance and searcher happiness from a few years ago (when national sites with multi-city listings dominated these types of queries).
However, this post is here to help those of you who are aiming for those multiple city listings, so let’s dive into strategy and tactics.
There’s two ways to get results from SEO in local keyword campaigns:
Competing in one is hard – in both, harder still. Yet, given Google’s propensity to make localization and geographic queries leverage Google Maps (and the announcement today that they’re doubling down with former VP of Search, Marissa Mayer, moving from to local), it would seem this will grow in importance and reach.
In Google Local & Maps, it’s all about the listings (rather than the links). You need to:
Need more? Read the Bible on Local SEO.
Content for local searchers is hard to fake and hard to make "great," often because the intent of a local query can vary more than initial instincts might lead you to believe. In my experience, local searchers are seeking:
If you’re going to stand out in the field, you need to identify the intent successfully and fulfill it exceptionally.
This means you can’t go the classic route of building a single page of content and simply replacing the geographic keywords with each city you’re targeting. Content needs to be meaningfully unique and target the intents described above. My best advice is to follow these three steps:
Content alone won’t win the day (sadly, it’s a myth that the best content earns top rankings), but it is critical to building the foundation for long term success.
The standard best practices for keyword targeting & on-page optimization apply, with a few twists.
Be careful not to get too addicted to a template approach, particularly if your template isn’t a robust platform for nailing the user intents described above. It can be good to vary keyword usage based on demand – for example, some cities might have more searchers using "Seattle Men’s Suits" while others use "Mens Suits San Diego." Do the research and the testing before you commit – and be ready to change if the data shifts.
Link building in general is tough – in the local space, particularly when you need dozens of hundreds of links to hundreds or thousands of pages, it’s nightmarishly challenging. But, that’s what makes SEO a true competitive advantage (vs. PPC, for example).
The tactics I’ve seen work best for those scaling out local pages include:
Offer graphics or embeds that local businesses can use to promote themselves and you’ll see plenty of links (so long as your site/brand has a reputation that impresses the business owners).
As always, there are a plethora of link building tactics that can work, limited only by your creativity and willingness to experiment.
For larger sites going head to head with local niche sites in the rankings, what seems like a struggle can actually be an opportunity. Try reaching out to indirectly competitive top rankers to see if affiliate deals, advertising, sponsorships or other partnerships could work. Sometimes you may not be able to earn a link, but you can buy some of that super-relevant traffic that’s landing on someone else’s pages.
If there is a true head-to-head and you have the size/resources to pull it off, turning highly successful and rankings dominating sites into franchisees or buying them outright can make sense from a long-term business perspective. It can also be a great way to acquire "boots on the ground" if that’s part of what your model needs to succeed.
If none of these are available and you’re facing 3-4 keyword match domains that are out-linking, out content-building and out-optimizing you, you might consider "sneaking around" the competition. Instead of targeting the cityname, try individual neighborhoods, outlying secondary regions (e.g. Bellevue, Tacoma, Renton, Redmond and Everett instead of "Seattle") or even states/counties. You can also approach the long tail demand in local by building more and better content around the topic, engaging with UGC and mining alternative sources for keyword data.
In a number of sectors, certain sites have had dramatic success over the years and maintained it. Looking at these domains and understanding their strategies is an excellent way to bolster your knowledge of how to play this competitive game. Some of the sites that have impressed me the most on this front include:
I’ll leave it to you to run the queries, see the success they’re having in local rankings and reverse engineer their strategy.
Looking forward as always to your thoughts, ideas and questions on this.