So I just read an article on Ahrefs.com which cited the lack of case studies by SEO agencies. The verdict is that we are lazy and we don’t really want show what goes on behind the scenes; how we build our links, outsourcing, failed results etc.
Most SEO providers would be out of business if they put together a case study of their actual results.
So I thought.... challenge accepted.
Granted this isn’t so much a case study of a full SEO campaign’s results, but rather it will take you through first-hand how we rank a local business on the maps pack and organic rankings, step-by-step and give you live updates on our rankings.
It took some debating as to whether we should do this, after all, what if we fail?
The fact that we’re an SEO agency, competing with other SEO agencies who (presumably) also practice this stuff is…ballsy. And just to add a little bit more pressure on ourselves, where a local seo study shows it should take an average of 9 months to rank our website given the situation (brand new domain, extra competitive keywords), we decided 90 days is plenty enough.
What you can hopefully take away from this 90 days from now, is the exact steps you need to take in order to rank your local business to the top of Google both for Organic and Maps pack.
We will not hide or omit anything we do, we will practice exactly what we preach. So depending on when you are reading this post, you can choose to follow us and the steps below live as it happens, or in 90 days’ time.
The first part of any SEO campaign is research.
First and foremost is keyword research and we use kwfinder.com for this. I already know what keywords we want to rank for but since we are mainly targeting keywords which trigger the local pack, they are usually “service + location”. In our case, “SEO Bournemouth” or “local SEO Bournemouth”.
Below is a very basic and simple keyword list of our most profitable keywords which trigger the local pack. The keywords without a location modifier show volumes searched from Bournemouth only and will return localized results.
|Keyword||Search Volume||CPC (Cost per click)||Total Value|
|SEO Agency Bournemouth||30||$3.30||$99|
|SEO Services Bournemouth||30||$15.12||$453|
|SEO Company Bournemouth||90||$2.80||$252|
|Digital Agency Bournemouth||134||$5.36||$718|
|Digital Marketing Agency Bournemouth||83||$5.73||$475|
|Web Design Bournemouth||480||$8.99||$4300|
|Bournemouth Web Design||70||$7.73||$541|
Note: These are estimates and actual search volumes may vary.
Even though the above numbers aren’t staggering compared to some niches and some bigger locations, you can see that there is over $8000 worth of advertisement up for grabs, for FREE! Assuming we can rank at the top for most of those keywords on maps and organic, we can receive around half of the total traffic.
Scouting the Competition
Now you might think going up against a bunch of SEO agencies would probably be the most competitive niche there is for SEO, but not necessarily. Most SEO agencies don’t actually have the time or resources to do SEO for themselves, however, most get the basics right and some make the extra effort.
This means that it’s not an industry where we can simply do the basics and expect to get on top.
There are 3 main categories I am trying to rank for, SEO, Digital Agency, and Web Design. Even though my primary keyword is SEO, I decided to make web design a secondary keyword due to the search volume and value of the CPC (Cost Per Click).
My competition is medium-to-difficult, on average the top 3 in the local pack has:
- 10+ Google reviews
- 100+ amount of citations
- 61 referring domains (backlinks)
- Well established (Aged domains)
- A domain authority of 32
- Good on-site optimization
On the plus side, not all of them have the “keyword + location” on their GMB (Google My Business).
What does that all mean? Well, we need to do all of the above and more in order to rank above our competitors.
Whilst you’re reading this, you will see a running theme on what we are trying to achieve with these tasks. Ultimately, we are sending signals to Google, the 3 most important signals to send for the Maps pack are:
- Brand Signals – signal to Google that you are who you say you are.
- Location Relevance – show Google where you are located and that you are a prominent business in that area.
- Niche Relevance – show you are a prominent figure within your industry.
When you combine all 3 of the above and send the strongest signals for those factors, you are effectively telling Google that you are the most important business for your location, for your industry and you are a trusted brand, therefore you should be ranked at the top.
Now on to the on-site optimization. I won’t spend too much time explaining this as most of this information can be found in our Local SEO Guide. Here are the the basics:
I make sure that our keywords or LSI (Latest Semantic Indexing) versions of it are in the URL, Title, Headings and within the body of the content, ideally in the first and last paragraph of the page.
I’m going for a flat URL structure, so rather than bubblelocal.co.uk/services/local-seo, I will move Local SEO to the second level with bubblelocal.co.uk/local-seo-services. My reasoning for this is because I believe Google attributes greater weight to the keywords closer to the left, hence one of the reasons for its love of EMD's (Exact Match Domains) as the keywords are farthest to the left.
I’ve also written a whole lot of content for this challenge including a mammoth of a guide. The guide is there as a resource but also to earn links, we need at the minimum 61 of them. We can do less but they have to be a lot more authoritative and relevant than our competition.
I make sure to internally link my pages in content to make sure to pass the juice on, I also use exact match anchor text heavily. I don’t believe you can over-optimize here if the linking is done naturally.
That’s pretty much the 20% of the optimization we need to do to achieve 80% of the results.
Build the GMB (Google My Business Profile)
The very first step to an SEO campaign for a local business is of course to build a GMB profile. This is possibly the most important step but is also the easiest. Let’s not forget that all the SEO we do is simply to reinforce the information we enter in the GMB.
This means that the NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) that is on the GMB is reinforced with schema tags on the Website, and is repeated consistently throughout across unstructured and structured citations.
The correct category is also very important and is the “industry relevance” we are trying to achieve, effectively if we say we are a Marketing and Web Design agency here, then that has to be reinforced using our website, by our citations and origins and anchor text of our backlinks.
Finally there is the Business Name which is an extremely important factor, however, we choose not to cheat the system as it could get us penalized. Calling ourselves SEO Bournemouth, for example, would help our cause but it is against Google guidelines and I wouldn’t advise any business to take this risk.
There isn’t that much work to do on the GMB profile, simply fill in the correct information, make sure it’s a 100% complete and add some photos.
The Social Fortress
Because we are a brand new domain, we don’t want to get sandboxed by Google when building links. A good way to get around this, tested by Matt Diggity is to use a social fortress. A social fortress is basically sending social signals to your website to give it the appearance of going viral, thus being able to justify the oncoming links we’re about to build. It’s all for the appearance of looking natural.
We will use QUUU to create social buzz around the content we create. QUUU is a content curating service that allows others to find quality content to share on their social media. Of course, we will also do our own promoting on our social network and encourage others to do the same.
We will also use a website such as onlywire.com or knowem.com to claim every social profile available for our business. This strategy makes perfect sense for giving your business the relevance signals it needs by being on all the major social media platforms, as any big business would be. Creating social signals is an ongoing process.
Note: This is loosely based on Matt Diggity's social fortress strategy and is not the exact process he describes on his website.
If Social signals and web 2.0 profiles signal brand relevance, then citations signal location relevance. It is also usually the next natural course of action for a business after creating their social profiles to then register themselves on business directories such as Yell and Yelp. After all, as a new domain trying to rank we want our process to look as natural as possible.
We simply signed up to Brightlocal.com (there is a free trial available) and took note of all the citations available. Including their massive list here. Because this process is incredibly tedious and I get bored easily, I decided to outsource this to a citation builder on Upwork. Now having the most authoritative citations, niche citations and location relevant citations, we are far and away from the competition with 150 total citations. Overkill maybe?
Following on from the citations, we will do a press release. Don’t bother paying $5 for a press release, it won’t do much. We’ll go for a decent service such as Presssynergy.com and the service costs about $80. We will write about something noteworthy, something related to Bournemouth and Digital Marketing, perhaps even Local SEO.
We are preparing a data-driven research piece which documents the state of SEO for local business across the UK, we will then draw something newsworthy from this piece of content and contact all the relevant publications in order to get published on the most relevant business related publications in the U.K.
The article will highlight how Bournemouth is one of the biggest markets for SEO search terms as well as the fastest growing digital hub in the UK. This has been confirmed using information from various data sets. This is newsworthy and relevant to what we do, so not simply spam news.
Press releases have had a lot of bad rap but if used correctly and not abused, they are still an amazing tool for SEO. They achieve 3 things:
- Unstructured citations strengthening your location relevance (which most of your competitors don’t have).
- Strengthens brand relevance by getting your brand name and website on high authority sites.
- Diversifies backlink profile to make it look natural, mostly with Nofollow links and helps to increase domain authority.
Online reviews are a necessity for local business, according to a recent survey 84% of users trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Although you should be looking to maintain a good reputation across different networks such as Facebook, Yell, Bing etc. for this challenge, we will be focusing primarily on Google reviews as they have the highest correlation with search engine rankings.
We will use Get Five Stars to acquire more reviews at a steady rate per week. Initially, we will simply contact previous clients and ask them to rate our service and encourage them to leave a review on our Google My Business page.
Link Building for Local Business
A lot of SEOs will advise building only local links if you are trying to rank a local business. I disagree with this idea, although it helps, it limits your backlink building potential. I will take the links from wherever as long as the context surrounding the link is relevant.
Our strategy for building links?
- Guest Posts – We'll use Ninjaoutreach to reach out to other bloggers and offer to write a quality post for their blog.
- Resource Links (build links to our Local SEO Guide as a resource page)
- Partnerships (partner with web design and advertising agencies that don’t offer SEO)
We have 90 days to build links, I say we aim to build 1 link a day and we’re going for the top. Although our competitors have more links than that, they don't have 90 quality links. 90 authoritative, relevant, dofollow links is a lot for a local business.
And that’s it, now we simply wait to rank........
Initial standings of our main keyword. Currently ranking for zero keywords.
It's been 4 days since we started the challenge. So far we have:
- Built 50 citations
- Built IFTTT for 20 web 2.0 platforms
- Built 4 editorial links within content
The results are a few of our keywords have entered into the top 100 with "SEO" entering into 6th position for the local finder.
It's now been 14 days since this challenge began and we're making some progress. The tasks we've done since our last update are:
- Built 75 Citations. We will be looking to build 200+ and this is an arduous process so we hired a Virtual Assistant to get this task done.
- Built 3 more editorial links, from guest posts and resource link to our Local SEO Guide.
- Currently, we are in the process of producing a Local Business SEO research piece for the purpose of a Press Release and in the middle of producing another guide as a resource to create more links.
Below are the results so far.
Note: The local pack results (with A, B, C) are inaccurate by ProRanktracker as those keywords are not in those positions yet. In search of a more accurate rank tracker for local pack.
Update: 13/07/17 - 23 days into the challenge and we're now in the Maps Pack for one of the main keywords. Time to turn up the heat.
Work done since the last update:
- Total citations built is now 150 and have been put through indexification to get them indexed.
- Built a 22 Web 2.0 sites IFTTT network.
As seen above, we have entered third place for the keyword "SEO". Now that Google has displayed us in the maps pack, I'm encouraged to turn up the heat on this challenge. We will be building more guest posts on high authority websites and be looking to do a press release to capture more high DA links.
Update: 09/08/17 - Over half way through the challenge and we're ranking! Sorta...
So we're 50 days into the challenge and we may be slightly behind. However we haven't completely been slacking, we have made some progress, most notably:
- #1 local ranking for "seo"
- #1 local for "seo consultant"
- #3 organic for "local seo bournemouth"
- #13 organic for "bournemouth seo"
- #16 organic for "seo bournemouth"
The good news is the "seo bournemouth" keywords have finally started to move up. Although they are still outside of the first page, they jumped from 30+ to near top 10 so thats a very positive direction. I think we can be a bit more aggressive with the "seo bournemouth" anchor text from backlinks now.
It's still fairly low at #10 for the local pack but the local pack is connected to organic rankings, I believe it will move up naturally as the organic rankings do!
Update: 17/08/17 - Goal achieved! Well almost...
As we turned up the heat on link building last week and managed to write 11 guest posts, our rankings have shot up. Not quite there yet but we are now ranking for most of our SEO keywords.
- #1 organic for "seo bournemouth"
- #1 local ranking for "seo" and #3 for organic
- #1 local for "seo consultant"
- #1 local for "seo agency"
- #3 local for "seo services"
- #1 local and organic for "local seo bournemouth"
- #1 local for "local seo agency"
- #2 local for "seo bournemouth"
- #2 local for "bournemouth seo"
- #2 local for "bournemouth seo"
We're not too concerned on the lack of "web design" related keywords. Mainly because we have not optimised for it nor sent links to our site with that anchor text. It is also not our primary service but rather we create websites that are search engine optimised.
Our next step is to create a "Google entity stacking" - I will create a post on the effectiveness of this tactic in the near future. The basic idea is Google loves itself, and therefore we stack Google properties such as google sheets, maps, slides etc. linking back to our website to increase its authority in Google's eyes.
A press release is also due which I believe will be all that is left to do in order secure the top spots. Finally, link building to our web design pages will secure the top spots for those keywords.
Update: 27/10/17 - Just over 4 months since the challenge began!
We haven't updated the rankings here in a while and this is a bit late but just to keep those who were following, we created additional pages in the site for Poole, Christchurch, Southampton and Dorset. The following are our rankings for each area:
- #1 seo bournemouth
- #3 seo poole
- #1 seo christchurch
- #4 seo southampton
Of course, we're ranking for a whole lot of other keywords but those are the main ones. We've stopped the SEO campaign for our own site (so we can actually focus on clients SEO) so we expect those to drop eventually, but I think we've proven that you can rank in under 3 months, and even rank in multiple areas in just over that. However, the usual estimates of 9 months+ would probably be correct, given that most people skip steps in their SEO campaign and as a result, may get sandboxed by Google.