Episode 23: Local SEO with John Locke

Episode 23: Local SEO with John Locke

Photo credit: Sasha on Unsplash

Getting Started with Local SEO

John Locke is back on Rethink.fm and this time we are talking about SEO and specifically Local SEO, what it is, who needs it and how to approach it. Whether you are just starting with SEO or have been struggling with it, this episode is sure to provide some valuable insight. John was my guest on Episode 1 of Rethink.fm where we talked about developing a content first strategy.

John Locke

John Locke

John Locke is an SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps established businesses rank higher through his agency, Lockedown Design.

Listen to Episode 23

Where to find John:

Website: Locke Down Design

Tools and Resources discussed:

DIY SEO Courses by Rebecca Gill
KWFinder – Hundreds of keyword ideas
SEO Audits
Time To First Byte
Brian Dean’s Study of One Million Search Results
Ahrefs – Tools to improve your search traffic, research your competitors and monitor your niche.
SEM Rush
Yoast Local SEO Plugin

Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode


Jackie Hey, everybody, it's Jackie D'Elia with Rethink.FM, Episode 23, and I have a very special guest John Locke from Lockdown Design. Hey, John?

John How are you doing Jackie?

Jackie I'm doing fabulous and thanks for coming back on the show. You were a guest on Episode One or Rethink.FM.

John Yeah, definitely. Always glad to be back.

Jackie When you were here last time, we chatted about content first strategy, which was a great conversation, and it's actually gotten a lot of discussion since then about that topic. So it was a great topic for us to talk about.

John No, I think it's something that more consultants and agencies really should think about.

Jackie Awesome. Well, for this episode, we decided to talk about local SEO, and what is it and who needs it. I think this is a great topic for developers working with clients and trying to decide what SEO strategy local business needs, and how is that different from an SEO strategy that you typically use on clients where it's not a local presence for a business. But before we get started, for folks who don't know you and know what you do, could you tell us a little bit about who you are?

John Sure. I'll give you the brief version of my origin story here. I am a self started developer. I used to be a blue collar worker, and then I taught myself, took classes and stuff like that, learned how to code in that, when I was about 39. For the last five years, I've been a self-employed independent consultant. And right now I'm servicing small businesses, mid-size businesses, increasingly more for SEO and custom WordPress development.

Jackie Awesome. So what is local SEO? Let's let's just dig right in and start talking about it.

John Sure. So most people they know that like SEO's ranking in Google or Bing or wherever else, but local SEO's kind of a subset of that, where say if you're a local business and you want to be found in a city or region that's a local SEO in a nutshell. You basically want to be found in a area, in a proximity, like you Charlotte, North Carolina.

People in that area would want to be found for whatever it is, webdesign in Charlotte or auto repair in Charlotte. So that's basically local SEO.

Jackie When you first start off, approaching a project like this, how early in the process do you talk to clients about local SEO, and what do you need to gather to build that into the site when you're putting it together?

John So definitely, and much as we talked about before, like SEO, in general, a lot of it's tied to the content that you're offering, and a lot of people approach me, and they approach a lot of people, they basically want to rank for a whole bunch of terms where it's related to a city or an area. But finding out what those people's money term is, that starts at the very beginning because if you don't have the content to rank for those specific terms, the chances that you're going to rank for those terms is pretty low.

What happens a lot is people will launch a site, and they'll want to rank for all these local terms for basically their city, plus the service that they offer or the cities around them, but they won't really have any content to support it, and nothing that differentiates their business or their website from any of the hundreds of others that they're trying to compete against. So very early in the process. That's part of the strategy that happens right at the beginning.

Jackie When you typically do an SEO strategy for somebody who's not focusing on a local market, I'm sure there's a lot of overlap that goes on with a local SEO preparation and just a general SEO. So let's go over just some basic SEO, which is search engine optimization for a typical website. Let's just talk about a general website that has a national presence, or something like that, and they don't have any content yet, right, so this is a new entity, they're going to do that.

So in the very beginning you want to establish who their target audience is, what their market is, who their competitors are. I know Rebecca Gill has a fantastic course, a DIY SEO course, and I'll put a link in the shownotes for that, which really kind of covers how you go about gathering all that information, how you go about checking your competitors, how they're ranking, for what search terms, what variations of search terms, and all of that data that you would need to collect, which is it's a whole separate process just from building a website.

Building a website is like the structure. You've put the scaffolding up, have it all there, but it needs to do something ultimately for clients, right. There's a reason why they want the website. The SEO is a big part of making that happen and bringing people and traffic to your site. When you are going through and you're doing like a national site, what kind of a process are you going through in talking with them to kind of hone in on what you want to target?

John So yeah, that's an excellent question. As you suspect, there is a lot of overlap between general SEO and local SEO. And specifically, you're not going to rank for a local SEO unless you have good organic rankings, like which is what you are calling like national SEO, which is just the unfiltered organic rankings that you're typing in.

Now your question is what sort of things do you look at when you're trying to put together a SEO strategy for a national or regional business. As you mentioned, a lot of the things that we're looking at are who are you actually trying to reach, what's your target audience, and specifically what sorts of problems do they have, or they likely to have. And that kind of leads into what things are they actually typing into Google to find you, or when they're asking Siri, like Siri like who's the top web designer in North Carolina, or how do I do this. How do I find something in Google Analytics, how do I create a campaign, or whatever it may be.

Those are the things, the queries, the search queries that we want to identify because then we can create pieces of content to go around them. Because a lot of people make the fallacy of thinking that the home page is going to be a catch all for all these terms. The home page is just one page on your site, and if you're doing SEO right, you're going to have a whole pool of pages that address separate questions or search queries that customers are going to enter in on. And your goal is to have enough of them out there to where people are going to find you, your target customers that are trying to solve these specific problems.

You want to rank for them, and then that way they enter into your lead generation funnel. So that's the first thing we're looking at. That can come from those questions, those pieces of content, those pages that we're creating. They can come from questions that are coming over the phone, through email, through your contact form, through interactions that they're having with customers. But then what we have to do is put it through a filter of how many people are typing this into Google.

So you can use a keyword finder, which is a tool. I'll give you a link to that that you can put in shownotes. It's something that I use. It basically uses Google's keyword planning tool to give you a number of how many people are typing in a certain term. So how competitive is that term, how likely is it that you're going to rank number one for that. So the more generic the term, the less like, or I shouldn't say that, not the less likely that you're going to rank for it. The more generic the term the harder it is going to be to rank for that. So everybody wants to rank for stuff like insurance or real estate or whatever.

It's difficult to do that unless it's more targeted. So again the content has to be more targeted. Now when you're adding a layer of local SEO to that, you're adding some sort of modifier to it, like life insurance in Sacramento, or life insurance in Charlotte, North Carolina, those sorts of things, or best plumber in Charlotte. So those sorts of things are adding like a separate layer to the equation. Does help answer that question?

Jackie That does. And does that fall into what a longtail SEO is, is you were talking about trying to rank for very generic terms, and then so you put together a strategy then for ranking for more complex terms that are very targeted for the niche that you're trying to fill.

John Yeah, so exactly, in a generic SEO strategy, you identify what we call the head terms, which are the most generic terms, and then what you want to do is identify the long tail keywords that are getting some search volume. So those longtail keywords actually make up more of the search volume than the ones that are at the very top. That's where that terms comes from. When you look at a graph of where the generic search terms are, they're like right up here. But that longtail, meaning those longer search phrases.

These are going to become more common as voice search becomes more common because everybody has that either in their phone or you're seeing things like the Amazon Alexa or Google Echo. They basically go and get those search results for you. So if you use a voice command to search it's just going go search results, get those search results from Google or Apple Maps or wherever. That's why it's important to figure out how people are searching for what they're looking for, and creating content that's optimized for those search terms.

Jackie I'm assuming mobile plays a big role in local search results, especially for places like restaurants and local retailers and things like that, where somebody might be, where is the closest whatever it is you're looking for, and you'll get clients that will go, well, how do I rank well for that, how will my website come up very early in the search when you're looking for something specific, especially on a mobile device. So what strategies do you use to optimize the process for mobile?

John So you're bringing up a very excellent point, and that's how mobile search really differs from desktop search. But a lot of that is extended also now because Google, for the most part, can tell where your device is, whether it's a desktop computer, whether it's a mobile computer. Now what you're addressing is there's basically three factors that determine what's going to come up in what we call the three pack, which for a lot of searches and especially if you're using a modifier like a city or a state, you're going to see a map with three results at the top of the search results. This is what we call a three pack.

The factors that go into determining which three things show up there are proximity, how close are you to a cluster of those businesses, relevance, meaning how closely do these results match what you're searching for, and the last one is how well your business is branded, or how many times it's being mentioned out in the rest of the world, and on the web. So basically if you're in an area where there's a bunch of similar businesses clustered, it's only going to show you the ones that are close to you.

In that regard, there's not a lot of way to overcome that, unless you've got really superior branding, and you are far and away looked at as superior to all the other businesses that are in your category in that area. So in that regard proximity is going to be a trump, and especially when it comes to ... In certain districts, like a financial district or a flower district or things where there's clusters of businesses altogether, Google is going to be more likely to show you those in the map.

So a lot of it again ties back to organic search. The proximity part of the factor you're not really going to overcome, if you're, say if you're downtown and you're looking for a bunch of shops. It's going to show you the ones that are closest to you. But if you're farther away from those sorts of districts, you have to have a superior back link profile and superior branding. And that's where that comes into creating content being seen in the world, doing those things that your competitors are not doing. And that can be all sorts of things like making YouTube videos, addressing needs that your customers have, having a podcast, appearing on other people's podcasts, a guest blogging, having like a really deep blog that answers a lot of questions because most people try and attack local SEO from a standpoint of only having like one to five pages on their site, and that's really difficult to win unless everybody else in your category has a similar site.

An example that I'll bring up is here in Sacramento one of the top people that ranks for real estate, which, as you know, is a very competitive thing where everybody wants to rank. The person who's doing the best here, they have a daily blog. They blog about different neighborhoods within Sacramento. They talk about different things that are happening in each of these neighborhoods. And that's another way that you can dominate in local is to have relevant information that for the people in your city or your region.

What a lot of people were doing six and seven years ago is they'd add a whole bunch of footer links to their site, where it would say something like, best web design in Sacramento, in Rancho Cordova, El Dorado Hills, and all the other neighboring communities around. The landing pages would be basically the same page, the wording not really changed a whole lot. But what Google really wants to see is targeted information that's relevant to local areas if you really want those landing pages to be something that pulls people into your site.

So this real estate I'm mentioning she has a lot of that local unique content relevant to the local area, not replicated anywhere else, and she publishes often. So when you compare a site like that compared to other realtors where it's just basically a bunch of listings and not really any other information about the local area, it's very clear like who should rank number one.

Jackie That's a really interesting point. I think that a lot of people overlook that that's a mistake that they make, especially in the real estate market because I've had plenty of experience helping folks with that. I've always encouraged them to create neighborhood pages. You can put some listings on the page too but you need to have unique content on there. And then a blogging strategy where you link back to that page. So if you're talking about that neighborhood in a blog post, well then you link to your neighborhood page that shows the listings. It has all of like the facts and basic information about that neighborhood, and that's all content that you've written not that you've copied and pasted from somewhere else. It has to be unique content.

Blog about things that are going on in that area. So like you see a new restaurant being put up, you mention that and you talk about the neighborhood that it's next to. There's lots of ways to weave all of that in and using links even within your own site to link from one article to another, from one page to another. I think that that's a really good strategy.

I wanted to just go back and ask about something like Google Webmaster Tools for local SEO. Are there any additional things that you need to do because you'll see where you get those map results, and they might even list more than three on a desktop, and you can see, how do I get my business to show up in that local search result box at the top, what is that?

John So yeah, okay. So there's two different things here. If you go in Google Analytics, you can definitely drill down and you can see what cities are actually coming to your website. So you can actually see where your traffic is coming from, and that will give you a clue of whether your local CEO is working as you're intending or not. But what we are talking about is what things can you do to get in that top three pack, the maps at the top of the search results.

Well, one thing that has been found is numerous studies have shown that 75% of the ones that show up in that three pack map are things that are off the first page of organic search results. Organic and local SEO are very closely tied.

So your first goal, say if your target term is Charlotte real estate or Charlotte auto repair or Charlotte HVAC, your first goal is to get your site to the first page because Google is going to be three times as likely to grab your result if it's already on the first page and organic. It can go down to page two or three. It's just a lot less likely.

That's goal number one. To do that, you've got to apply some foundational SEO principles, which would be creating content that's compelling, so pages that people spend a lot of time on, that answers their questions. They don't go back in and search for another answer. You want to have a really robust back link profile. If you're looking to win in local SEO that's going to include a lot of local links.

So Google knows who's linking to you. So not just any links will do, but ones that are from other businesses or other websites or organizations within your local area those are going to be more relevant. That includes things like having, like, your name, address, and phone number, what we call structured citations from sites like Yelp, Facebook, yp.com, your Google my business page, having all the information accurate, updated all that's filled out photos there.

Then also having profiles, say, like on your better business bureau site, your local chambers of commerce. It's just going to look at you as more legit if you've got back links from other business organizations within your area.

One other thing that not a lot of people are taking advantage of right now is if you've got a physical location, as you can hire people to come in and do a Google 360 of where they come in and photograph the inside of your business, and they stitch it together. You'll notice this on some Google Maps results where you can go in and look at the inside of the business itself.

Google seems to favor these businesses that have done this a little bit more than businesses that have not. You can actually just look this up. I'll give you a link to put in shownotes as well, but there's a lot of certified Google 360 photographers in most cities. So you can find one close to you and find one that will do this for you. It's another thing just a way to invest in your business and make sure that you're doing above and beyond what your competitors are doing.

Jackie That is great advice, John. One other question I wanted to ask you about is how does your page speed, and I know mobile page speed is really important. How does that affect local SEO, or does it at all? Does it come into play in helping you get ranked earlier in the search results?

John Well, I would say that Google does look at speed as a factor, like how much of a factor is kind of debatable. The things that you would want to do most importantly, and you're going to want to look at the actual download speed of your site as opposed to what page metrics or Google Page Speed insights tell you. But how long does it actually take to download your site, and especially the stuff that's above the fold on whatever device you have. So the very first stuff how long does that take to render.

It is important because your customers are more likely to bounce out of the page if it's taking more than three seconds to load. So your site should be loading in less than three seconds, and that's just from a UX standpoint even five years ago. Studies were showing that people did not want to wait around. So the faster it can load the better it is more likely people are to stay on your site.

If they bounce out of your site that's what's going to hurt you. If they're not dwelling on your on your page and not going further down, those are things that are going to hurt you because Google does actually look at things like that as indicators of whether your page satisfied their search result or not.

One thing that you really will need to do is invest in good hosting. Beyond a good host don't go for this $5 Hostgator stuff or shared hosting on Go Daddy. Invest in something good. And I would recommend getting on something like WP Engine or a Flywheel or another managed WordPress host that's actually optimized for speed.

One thing that you're really looking for is the time to first byte. Brian Dean from Backlinko.io has done some studies into this. One of the factors that actually does seem to have a positive influence when it comes to speed and SEO is your time to first byte.

Now if you look at a page on your site and you do right click and specked, if you go to developer tools, it will be a tab in there, that says network. Where when you reload the page it'll show you all the assets that are loading for that page. If you click on in Chrome, if you click on the actual first resource, which is your website domain, and it will show you TTFB, time to first byte, how long does it take.

People that are on a really cheap, crappy hosting plans, this can take a second or more. So right there is a second of page loading time that really shouldn't be there. That number should be as low as possible. It should be 30 or 40 milliseconds at most. So that's why I say get on a good host. This actually does make a big, big difference to your SEO.

If you're on a junk host you're not going to ... It's very unlikely. I'm just going to say, it's very unlikely that you're going to rank number one, two or three because you just have to have a site that loads at a decent amount of time.

Jackie Okay, that sounds great. So let's just talk really quick for the final question I wanted to talk about this is black hat SEO hear a lot of clients. I get e-mails from clients all the time where they'll forward me some e-mail they got from somebody that says your site is ranking poorly for this, this, and this and we can fix all of this for you, and guarantee you to get certain placement here or certain results here.

I usually tell them this is typically not a good approach to do. As you have said through this entire episode, most of the results come from hard work. It actually comes from writing content, planning, doing a strategy, and then implementing it, and following up, and putting all of those pieces together. And it doesn't come from anybody pulling some magic switches somewhere that is going to instantly make your site show up. So black hat SEO, a lot of people fall for that, and they get short term results, but those typically don't last.

John Well, you're bringing up an excellent point. A lot of people want to believe that SEO is just some magic fairy dust that you sprinkle over your site and it makes it rank forever, or they have the feeling that it's a title belt that if nobody knocks them out they should hold it forever. Because I've heard people say that, like, oh, like, we used to rank 10 years ago, but you haven't made any changes, and all your competitors have gotten better. They've gotten better sites. Your site is old and slow and it's just not that great.

Yeah, you're right. If people are guaranteeing you any sort of thing like we can get, we guarantee, we can get you to number one. You should run away as fast as you can because the Google algorithm fluctuates all the time and keeping up with it is like staring into a crystal ball, you don't know what's going to happen. All you can really do is follow best practices for SEO.

If you read the Google search quality, the guidelines that they put out every year, it pretty much boils down to doing what's best for the customer and having really good user experience, if you want to distill it down to just that. You're right there's a lot of people that use tricks. They use things like private blog networks where it's kind of like old school like web rings where everybody links to one another, and it passes link juice.

Rebecca Gill would say just take that term too. But those are tricks, they're not really serving the need of your customers. If it relies on tricks, you are like building your house on a bed of sand, it's going to wash away. Good SEO is it takes time. It takes effort. It's not magic fairy dust that makes you rank overnight. You have to actually be better than your competitors in order to rank. So you need to analyze what they're doing and figure out how you can go above and beyond.

Jackie I think that's great advice. I've heard people being asked to spend $500, $800 a month for SEO services. My advice would be to take part of that money, save it, and keep it, and take the other part and pay somebody to write content for you, if you're not good at writing content. And I think money is better spent there in creating something that's long lasting. Number one it stays on your site, it's yours, it's content. I think that that's a much better strategy than paying somebody to try to manipulate your rankings in Google through whatever flavor of the month is in vogue to try.

I don't think it works. I know from experience with my e-commerce business that I had for 10 years, I spent a lot of time building search rankings. It was a strategy of creating good content, having something valuable that people wanted to come and read about this product, and within a year I was ranking number one in natural search for that product above the manufacturer.

I actually really spent the time to do that. Now I had a choice back then I could pay for Google AdWords, like some of my competitors were doing, and that was expensive. And so I chose the other way, which was basically just creating a really nice site with great content, lots of great links to be able to find all the different parts of. This product had like 72 variations, so it was a great opportunity to create like lots of pages with unique stuff that all linked together and that worked. That worked.

I went from being like on page four in Google to number one on page 1, which was amazing. So it does work. But it is hard work. I think as you pointed out, I think that's what people need to realize from this episode is if you are struggling with your search rankings and you've got a local business and you want to rank better, your first thought should be is what do I know about my market, my area that's unique, and how can I write about it, convey it, share it, blog about it, whatever you need to do to be unique in your market.

John Yeah, most definitely. Like I said short term tricks. They're just tricks.

Jackie Absolutely. All right, John, well, one final question. Are you rethinking anything in your business right now?

John I'm always rethinking stuff in my business. I'm always reevaluating. Like I said right now I'm going through a shift where I am focusing more on being a general SEO consultant as opposed to being just a general WordPress consultant. There's a lot of reasons for that. There's always things I am rethinking as people should be doing. I'm focusing more on serving people wherever they are as opposed to just within a proximity of 50 miles from my home.

One thing that I'm offering now as well is a SEO audit. If you have a small site it's not going to cost you as much as if you have a very large site, but this is something that I'm offering just a [prioritized 00:35:52] package. If you are struggling with SEO, and you feel like your site needs someone to look at it and just give you a detailed report and an analysis of where you're at and what you need to do, you can go to lockedowndesign.com/SEO-audits, and you can fill out the form there and I would be happy to set you up with a SEO audit of your site, and let you know what your opportunities are.

Jackie That's awesome. If you have a need out there take advantage of this folks and hook up with John. It's been a pleasure having you on the show again John. I always learn a lot when I talk to you. I hope everybody else has a great week, and I'll see you on the next episode.

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