SEO Strategy for Local Businesses

SEO doesn't get you over the finish line.
SEO gets you to the top of Google… with half a dozen other businesses that also do SEO. How do you get over the finish line to make them choose you over them?

Recently, a client asked me how branding, especially through community publications, would assist an SEO strategy. Internet marketing companies as a group are very good at convincing businesses that some form of SEO, SEM, social media, or some other kind of digital snake oil will magically transform their business. The fact remains that the fundamental principles of marketing will always apply, and these new strategies are only valuable in as far as they serve these principles.

Principle 1. People like do business with people that they know, like, and trust.

Principle 2. Customers have to be able to find your business when they need it.

For this reason, while SEO can push you to the top of Google results, serving that second principle, it cannot get people to pick you from among the top 3 or 5 or 10 that customers are looking at. That’s where the first principle comes in. Once they reach that point, the greatest determining factor in their selection is their awareness of the brands of the businesses they find there, and community publications are one of the most effective platforms for creating that kind of brand awareness.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Put simply, SEO is getting your page to the first page of Google search results. If you are not on the front page of Google for the terms you expect to be searched for, then you are not in contention unless customers already know you and are looking for you.

This is especially important in crowded markets, less so in less crowded markets. If you are a painter, and you hope to be found online, then SEO is important. If you are competing in the national marketplace, say a marketing firm, an accounting firm, etc, then you are jostling with businesses across the country, and need SEO to get to the front of the pack to be seen.

If you run a toy store, a supermarket or a funeral home, SEO is far less important because there simply are not enough local results to push you to page two.

Top of the page results.
Pictured: All three toy stores in Mystic. Yes, we do have three independent toy stores. Mystic is a pretty awesome place.

SEO is a very arcane field. Google creates a set of rules which are constantly changing in order to provide to the user the most valuable and relevant content. SEO companies work tirelessly to contravene those rules to push their clients to the top. This is why scrolling down on that toy store search above yields Yelp, Facebook, ThisIsMystic, and YellowPages, all directory or social media sites which use their content to push SEO results to them rather than directly to what you are looking for.

More of the SEO results on this page
More of the results on this page.

How does SEO work? There are countless articles out there on optimizing SEO for your site. There are plugins like Yoast for WordPress that help you optimize your pages.

The algorithms are intended to determine which pages are most relevant and popular, the theory being that popular pages are more likely to be useful. Part of popularity has to do with how many other pages link to them. This is why bloggers are encouraged to back link to as many of their articles as possible to drive SEO. SEO just happened right there, in front of your eyes!

SEO agencies have various strategies and techniques such as setting up a variety of web sites to link to their client’s pages and other such arcane techniques.

With SEO being as mysterious as it is, my personal opinion is that you should only hire an SEO firm that can get themselves to page one.

Ads are nothing, real results are what matters.
If I were to hire and SEO company, I’d go with DeveloMark. That is a hard spot to get to in that search.

Most people have been taught that ads are to be avoided. Anyone can buy an ad, so most Google users will skip the ads and scroll down to the first real search result. All Zero Gravity Marketing and Digital Marketing Agency are proving is that they can spend a lot of money on AdWords. DevelopMark, on the other hand shows that they have mastered SEO sufficiently to rise to the top of all SEO companies in Connecticut, of which there are many. 11,200,000 according to the top of the page.

You’ve Got Great SEO, Now What?

SEO is great for getting you into the top results. That’s like getting the playoffs, but it won’t get you that Superbowl ring.

Let us assume that you have been doing SEO and you are in the top 3. Good job. People now see your name. We’ll use the funeral industry as an example, but the same principles apply to most industries.

Results for funeral in Stonington.
Results for “Funeral in Stonington”. This is not so much SEO as a relatively not crowded market.

In the funeral business, many of your clients are not expecting to need your services, or at least they are trying not to think about it. When the time comes, they tend to be rushing for a solution. After doing the search above, they will see three options: Dinoto, Mystic, and Buckler-Johnston.

Dinoto has a slight advantage because they are on top. Mystic has a slight advantage because they have higher ratings. Who will they pick?

People will immediately gravitate to the names that are familiar. If they have personal experience with one of those three, they are much more likely to click it. Failing that, brand awareness is what will determine which of those three gets the call. Funeral homes that they have seen in the community, through community publications for example, will have the advantage.

How do you create brand awareness? You need to put your brand in front of your future consumers before they have the slightest inkling that they may need you.

There are many advertising platforms dedicated to putting you in front of people who are in the market right now, and they put you and all of your competition in front of these customers at the same time. To have an advantage, you must be in front of them before they need you. This is called top of mind awareness.

I discussed a number of these strategies in a recent post written specifically for Realtors. One of the the most powerful platforms for creating top of mind awareness, which will push your SEO efforts over the finish line to clients in your office, is that of community publications.

A community publication, such as those created by Best Version Media and N2, is a monthly, high quality publication that connects a local community. Reaching between 500 and 5,000 homes, the content of these magazines is hyperlocal, featuring local families, events, charity activities, and other positive news that people are desperately craving in a world of Social Media strife.

Groton-Mystic Neighbors. A more organic SEO.
Groton-Mystic Neighbors reaches just under 3,000 affluent and influential home owners in the Groton-Mystic area every month. Feedback from readers has been overwhelming, as has the feedback from the sponsors who help bring it to them.

People read these magazines over and over because the content is their own, and because the content makes them smile. This places their smiling eyes near your ads and branding multiple times every month.

Branding is an indirect and passive activity. Readers don’t need to stare at an ad for it to work. Seeing it next to content that they enjoy will create an association in their mind between their joy in their community and the business’s brand, and that creates awareness.

The payoff is that, when the customer is staring at a Google results page, one business name may jump out at them, causing them to select is and give them a call first.

Tracking

Many businesses believe that they can track everything. Unfortunately, with humans, that is not always the case. Often times, a customer will go through the process I described. They will become familiar with you through your community sponsorships, Google their need, and click your link because of your magazine presence.

As a diligent business owner, you ask them how they found you. They reply, “Google.” You mark another one in the “digitial” column. Oops. In reality, they found your number on Google, but they clicked on it because of your branding.

SEO results
That’s a lot of data! That line sure is squiggly. How much money did we make though?

Digital gives you loads of data with dubious concrete business results. Community print gives your powerful results with less data.

Results mean checks in your hand. Data means… um… data. If you can pay your bills with data, then you should absolutely use a pure digital strategy. However, if your vendors require money, and you work in local communities, I’d recommend that you employ a bit of community branding in your marketing strategy.


To learn more about community branding and marketing strategy or to learn more about becoming a sponsor in the Mystic community, contact us.

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