The Internet is a fast-moving and ever-changing landscape.
Two years is a long time here, and for digital marketers, it’s essential to keep up with all of the latest developments.
And arguably, no facet of digital marketing changes faster than SEO.
What worked three or four years ago is often woefully outdated today, and Google is constantly changing the game as they refine their algorithms to provide better, more accurate search results.
Over the nearly two decades that SEO has existed, it’s changed dramatically.
The mercurial nature of SEO is part of what makes it so challenging. Learning the basics has always been relatively simple, but SEO is hard to truly master.
In a recent article on the Moz Blog, web design agency owner Miriam Ellis talks about how the shifting sands of the SEO world affect SEO strategies for local businesses.
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:
- Market to humans, and let that rule how you write, earn links, design pages and otherwise promote your business
- Have a technician handy to avoid technical missteps that thwart growth
- 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:
- Organic strength impacts local rankings
- 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.”
It’s organic SEO that populates your clients’ most important organic search results with the data that speak most highly of them, even if this SEO is being done by Yelp or TripAdvisor. Because of this, I advocate studying the history of Google’s updates and how it has impacted the organic SEO community’s understanding of Google’s increasingly obvious emphasis on trust and relevance.
And, I will go one further than this. You are going to need real SEO tools to manage the local search marketing for your clients in the most competitive geo-industries. Consider that with the release of the Local Search Ranking Factors 2017 study, experts have cited that:
- 5 of the top 20 local pack/finder factors relate to links
- Quality/authority of inbound links to domain was chosen as the #1 local-organic ranking factor.
Add to this the top placement of factors like domain authority of website and the varieties of appropriate keyword usage.
In other words, for your client who owns a bakery in rural Iowa, you’ll likely need basic organic SEO skills to get them all the visibility they need, but for your attorney in Los Angeles, your statewide medical practice and your national restaurant chain with 600 locations, having organic SEO tools at the professional level of something like Moz Pro in your marketing kit is what will enable you to grab that competitive edge your bigger clients absolutely have to have, and to hold onto it for them over time.
The organic river is definitely feeding the local one, and your ability to evaluate links, analyze SERPs, and professionally optimize pages is part of your journey now.
You can check out the full article over at Moz, which goes into more detail about the current state of local organic SEO.