[Webinar] Local SEO: How to Rank in Surrounding Areas

Webinar Overview

One of the most common SEO questions we hear at ChampionsWay is: How can I rank in other towns/cities? Ranking well for nearby locations can help you reach new students. In this webinar, you will learn proven strategies and new approaches to help improve your rankings in surrounding areas.

Jason Kamara, Senior SEO Specialist at ChampionsWay, will guide you through this confusion with tips you can start applying today. Be sure to attend the webinar so you can get your questions answered.

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • What factors affect local rankings
  • How to avoid Google penalties
  • Which nearby towns/cities to target
  • Optimizing your site content for multiple locations
  • How to learn from the competition


About the Speaker

Jason Kamara
Jason is the senior SEO specialist at ChampionsWay and has been optimizing websites for over a decade. He has worked on SEO and conversion rate optimization campaigns for local, national and international businesses, ecommerce companies and more. He is passionate about search engine marketing, technology and consumer behavior.



Video Transcript

Whitney: Hello everyone! Before we begin, I would like to do a quick sound check. If you can hear my voice, can you please type 'yes' into the questions or the chat box? Yes, good, great. Good work there /. Happy Thursday, I'd like to welcome all of you to this webinar. We've got a fantastic presentation coming up for you this morning, or afternoon depending on where you are.

Jason Kamara, our Senior SEO Specialist at ChampionsWay is going to knock your socks off with all the valuable information he's about to provide. He's got over 10 years of web content optimization experience. He's going to be talking to us about an important topic that resonates with every business owner - SEO, and more specifically local SEO and how to rank in surrounding areas. Throughout the webinar you can ask questions into the questions box and we will look at them after Jason's presentation. If you end up having questions after the webinar is finished, feel free to email marketing@perfectmind.com. Once again email marketing@perfectmind.com. For those of you not following us, we'd love to connect, so follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/championswayfans, and our twitter is @championsway. This presentation is being recorded and the slides will be available early next week so we'll be sure to send you an email as soon as that's ready. So without further ado, let's bring Jason out. Jason, welcome to the stage!

Jason: Hey everyone! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to join us here for this SEO webinar. I promise that your time will be well worth it. In that you're going to learn some of what it takes to rank in your nearby areas, municipalities and neighborhoods, things of that nature. I really wanted to host a webinar on this topic because we have been getting a lot of questions from our clients about how they can rank in nearby locations. Before we jump in I want to do the thing that Whitney just did, I just want to do a quick sound check from my computer. Can you go ahead and please type in 'yes' if you can hear me clearly, just in your chat box? Okay awesome. Whitney's telling me that she's seeing a bunch of yes's, okay perfect. Alright, let's dive right in.

In this webinar we're going to look at a few different things. This is going to be a little bit more of an advanced webinar than I have had in the past, but I'll try to answer any questions that you have at the end as well. Remember that it is going to be recorded so you can always go back and rewatch certain sections and the slide that will also be available.

What we're going to look at first is what factors affect local rankings, how you can avoid getting those nasty Google penalties, you know they can have really an impact on your website traffic. Of course we're going to look at which nearby towns and cities that you guys should be targeting. And then once you choose those locations, how do you optimize your website content for them. We're going to look at how you can learn from your competitors. And of course at the end I'll be taking your questions, so make sure that you stay tuned in.

What factors affect your local rankings? Well one of the most important really is how far away your school is from the searcher. Whether it's a desktop searcher or a mobile search, Google's pretty good at determining your location. It uses things like your IP address, your ISP, your NS service provider, your GPS if you're using mobile, your location. And all things being equal, the school that is closer to the searcher is going to rank better, because it is a local search. Another thing that's important is with your Google My Business listing, the categories that you choose. I did a previous webinar specifically on this. But for those of you that aren't familiar with Google My Business, it's really Google's online directory listing and it's extremely important for local SEO. When you set it up, it lets you choose categories. You can choose a primary categories and then a secondary categories. The categories you choose can actually have a big impact on your ranking. I'll give you an example. Let's say that someone's looking for a Jujitsu school and they're in New Jersey.

05:00

So they type in 'jujitsu new jersey'. And let's say that your school has a primary category of martial arts school, that's what you chose. If your competitors chose Jujitsu schools as their primary category, it is possible that they will outrank you because their primary category is more specific to that query. So you have to be careful which category you choose.

Another thing is online directory listing. Powerful directories like Yelp, Merchant Circle. Is your school in those directories right now? If it is, is it in the right ones? And is your contact information consistent throughout, are your listings complete, that type of thing. Or is your school nowhere to be found if people's searching for you.

Fourth one is reviews. So really it's about the quantity of reviews that you have. How many reviews do you have on Google My Business, and how many reviews do you have in the most important relevant directories. It seems to be that the rating, like the actual star rating, is not as important as the quantity of reviews and where they are. So don't worry if you have like a few bad reviews or whatever, like a 1-star, 2-star review. It doesn't seem to have as big an impact as just the number of reviews that you have. Also there's traditional factors like the quality of your website, the backlinks, the metatags. So this third thing's like how many people are linking to your website, how good is the content, how good is the text, what quality are the images, how intuitive is your navigation, how fast do your pages load, is your website responsive or mobile friendly. These types of things also affect your local rankings, and of course throughout many others.

I mentioned that traditional factors will also play a role in local rankings, and this actually wasn't the case until last year, when this Pigeon ranking algorithm update rolled out. Pigeon is the other code name that's now given to this huge update that rolled out last year in July. It rolled out in the US and in that time it's also hit Canada and a bunch of other countries. This was the biggest local search update ever released by Google.

Some of the things that we're noticing are a big decrease in the search radius. Let's see in the past that on Google Maps there is a search radius of 10 km from the searcher. After the Pigeon update, that radius could've decreased to 5 km.

Oh I'm just seeing that RJ is having trouble hearing me. Are any of other attendees having problems hearing me? I just want to do a quick sound check. Okay, RJ maybe let us know again, and we'll be sure to get you a link to the recording afterwards, and of course my slide that will be available as well. Everyone else seems to be okay so far.

Alright, back to the decrease in search radius. Let's say that you're in a town or a small city, and let's say that your school is kind of farther away from this searcher, let's say it's around that 10 km radius. After the Pigeon update, the radius is shrunk. So after that update, your school may not show up now on that map, unless the searcher zooms out to see your school. So you can see what type of impact that would have.

Another thing that we're noticing are webpages that reference specific neighborhoods tend to be ranking better. So it's not enough to just have your city name peppered throughout your website, that's not enough. You also want to start targeting neighborhoods and having that in your content. That doesn't mean you have to go and put your neighborhood in your title, description and everywhere like that, but you do want to have it in a few places throughout your site. So you can add neighborhood, you can also add other things like landmarks and streets and things like that, just to give Google more cues as to where your school is. And like I said before the traditional ranking factors as well.

09:59

The biggest one and the worst one in my opinion here is that there are no more local 7-pack results. This is huge. In the past before the Pigeon update, there were usually seven results, so there's A, B, D, E, F, G, if you remember that. After Pigeon a log of 7-packs will be decreased into 3-packs, 2-packs and 1-packs. In fact as of last week, there's another update last week, 7-packs are completely gone. I'm going to show you what I mean here.

Here you can see, I did a search for, at the top here, 'krav maga inglewood california', and I get a 3-pack of results here. There's this Google AdWords here, there's some map and then there's the 3-pack. These are local results. In the past this probably would've been a 7-pack. But now as of last week, no more 7-packs. And this is just not martial arts industry, this is across the board. You can even try this if you want to try from home or from school, wherever you are, if you want to try doing a search for a local service and you can see that there are no more 7-packs.

So you can imagine if a couple of weeks ago your school is ranking fourth or fifth in the local search results, well now as of last week your school's off the first page. This is obviously a huge impact. If you were fourth and you still are fourth now, a person would actually have to click on this map here or sometimes you get a link to see more listings. Otherwise you're off their first page. You can also see here that there's no more Google+ link to your page. And as well if any of you can notice there's something else huge that's missing here, what is that there's no more phone numbers. So this is really brutal. It kind of seems like Google is doing this because they're trying to push their AdWords because this is really kind of devastating. But it just goes to show you the impact that these updates can have on your website traffic and then the bottom line is on your revenue. And actually at ChampionsWay we constantly evaluate our SEO strategies to adjust to this type of changes. Let me tell you that's not an easy undertaking.

Takeaways here, what does all this mean for you? Well because of the complexity of this ranking algorithm and this type of updates, you need to really focus on more than just keywords to rank well locally. You should try to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket and don't just focus on SEO to drive all your traffic, because what happens if something like Pigeon comes along and wipes you out. Try driving leads from other channels for example social media, online paid advertising or things of that nature, just to diversify and balance things out. And of course it's important for you if you're doing your own SEO or for your SEO provider to stay up to date on changes made by Google.

I'm going to sound like a broken record here, because I've said this in previous webinars, but just try to resist the urge to take shortcuts and to try to game the ranking algorithm, because it just really doesn't worth it. If you're intentionally or unintentionally violating Google's guidelines, you could end up with a penalty which can decrease your rankings. Or even worse you can end up with something called the Manual Action. If you look here on the left screen, this is like a little snippet from Google Webmaster Tools account. This is a free service that Google provides. It tells you how Google's interacting with your website. If you don't have this account, I suggest that you go and get it, it's very valuable. It doesn't cost anything.

What this is is it's a Manual Action notice. What this means is that someone on the Google spam team has gone to your website and they've detected that you're breaking their guidelines, and they've gone out and penalized you. This is even worse than a penalty because what happens now is Google says 'You're busted. We know that you're screwing around and we're going to penalize you.'

15:00

What you actually have to do now is you have to say 'Oh I'm sorry, I know I did wrong,' and you have to do your penance. So you have to go and you have to clean up whatever you did that was wrong. Whether that was intentionally or not, you have to go fix all those problems, and you have to document this. So you actually have to say 'Okay I remove this link or I bought this link and I got rid of that, and I contacted this webmasters.' You have to document all this. Then you have file what's called a Reconsideration Request. This red button here, this requests a review. You have to file your request and you have to click on it, and then someone will review that. Kind of depends on the size of your website, whether it's small, whether it's large, or how popular it is, depends on how long it'll take to get that review considered in. Typically it's taking a few months. In that time, your website could be nowhere to be found. This again just goes to show you the importance of making sure that you're playing by their rules, and making sure that you or your SEO provider is following Google's guidelines. Because there are providers out there that are using black hat SEO tactics to rank their client's sites, and it's just not really worth it.

Alright, so after I scared everyone sufficiently, I'm just going to jump to really the meat and potatoes of this. Look at what you can do to rank in nearby locations.

First we're going to start out with choosing the most important areas. How do you choose which locations to target? The answer is not all of them, it's not. If there's 10 neighboring neighborhoods or towns or whatever you have, don't target all of them. I would say personally as a rule of thumb, don't target more than five. The reason for this is that you can harm your current rankings. If you start targeting too many nearby locations, you can decrease the relevancy of your current location. So what happens is you actually start diluting your focus and you really want to avoid that. This is specifically important if you're in a competitive area or a large metropolitan area, because you can actually hurt your current rankings.

These are actually questions that are directly from our playbook, from the ChampionsWay playbook. Some of the questions I'm going to go through in this presentation are ones that we ask our own SEO clients during onboarding. I'm going to give you some pages out of our playbook.

Let's say there are 10 or more neighborhoods or municipalities that you could potentially target. How do you choose which ones are most appropriate? Some of the questions that you can ask yourself really are how many students from those areas are currently members? How far away is the town or the neighborhood from your school? If it's far away, your school better have some amazing brand recognition because otherwise it's going to be a tough sell, convincing people to drive that extra distance.

You also want to look at how strong the competition is in your own area. Like I said, if competition in your own current target location is fierce and you try targeting other locations, you can reduce the rankings in your current area, and that what's called like locational relevance. So you want to be careful there.

You also want to look at how strong the competition is in your target area. If competition is too strong there, is it really worth going after?

The final one here is, is it worth targeting that location to begin with? A few things you can look at really are something like population and demographics. Let me give you an example. Let's say that your tuition is a little bit higher than average. Maybe if that's the case you don't want to target a nearby area that's lower income. Another one is if your student base is primarily kids, then you probably don't want to target a neighborhood with the majority of seniors right.

Now obviously a lot of these questions you can already answer, a lot of this is information that you already know. But you can actually conduct further research using Google. What you can do is you can do a population search for surrounding areas. This may seem kind of strange like I know how big the surrounding areas are, but for example I've lived in Vancouver for almost three years and I thought the population of a nearby city called New Westminster, I thought it was around 20,000.

20:06

In preparing for this webinar, I did a Google population search and I found out it's actually around 65,000. So I was way off. Geography was never my strong point, but it kind of gives you an idea of, you might be surprised at the size of nearby markets.

You can also do a Google search in those targeted areas. What you want to do is evaluate how strong the competition is in those areas. And if you do a search in that surrounding areas, for me for example I'm in Vancouver, if I want to do evaluate New Westminster, I would target New Westminster karate or something like that, and just see how many results show up, and then how good did those results seem to be.

The third one here is another Google service, it's Google AdWords. It's the Keyword Planner tool. AdWords does cost money but it's free to use Keyword Planner. All you need to do is sign up for an account. You need to set up a campaign but you don't need to pay anything, and you can use the Keyword Planner to help you do your research. I'm going to show you, actually it's a couple slides back here.

Here on this previous slide, you can see at the top here. This is from the Keyword Planner. Sorry actually this is not from the Keyword Planner, this is from the targeting aspect. What you can see is I entered in a target location, Olympia Washington. What Google suggested is three nearby areas - Mason County, Lacey and Turnwater. What I did is I chose Lacey, you see it's added here, and Turnwater added. What it does it draws polygons on the map. So you can kind of getting an idea how big the boundaries are for those areas. And so I added Turnwater here and Lacey. This is kind of useful as well for suggestions.

Alright, now you've selected a few attractive locations to target. Now what you're going to do to optimize your site? Let's look at a few tips here for optimizing your online content for these new locations.

The first tip is to create additional webpages on your site that are targeting these locations specifically. This is the strategy that we've been testing for several months and it's been producing fantastic results for our clients.

Let's say that I have a Muay Thai school in Dayton, Ohio. There's Dayton right there. I decide okay I want to target Trotwood and Kettering. What I'm going to do is I'm going to create a specific pages on my website targeting these two locations. So I create one page for Trotwood, I create another for Kettering, and I keyword optimize those pages. That means that I target page title, meta description, heading, the regular things, targeting those keywords. But I don't stop there. What I need to do is I need to add new content to these pages.

Google does not like duplicate content and it also does not like what's called thin content. If you have a page, you really want to make sure that you have text on there that search engines can read. What can you do, what can you add to these pages? You don't want to copy paste your homepage or a program page to this page. So what are you going to do, what kind of content can you put on there?

Let's say that you currently have students that are from these locations. What you can do is you can try and ask them for testimonial and then you can put the testimonials on those pages. You could also do something like you can put the directions on those pages. I'm sure you can think of some ideas yourself about how you can target those locations.

Third tip, same thing. Once you have those unique pages, then you want to make sure that you're linking to them. You can link to them from your primary navigation, you can link to them from your footer, you can also link to them strategically from text in your body content. But this is important because if you create these pages and you don't link to them, Google's going to have a hard time finding them. It's also going to think 'Well there aren't a lot of links to these pages, they must not be too important.' So it is important that you do link to these pages strategically.

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Fourth tip here. This does now offsite optimization. So you added those pages on your website, but make sure that you don't go and create specific Google My Business listings because that is blatant violation of the guidelines. What could happen is they could end up deleting all your listings, including your base listing, so don't do that. What you can do is you can go and modify the description and add these locations to the description.

What I've done here is I've taken one from East Texas Refrigeration. Obviously this is not a martial arts school, but I want to use an example from a different industry because as much as I love educating everyone, I don't want to give the competitors of our clients too many ideas, too much of an advantage. So what I've done is I've taken one from the air conditioning repair industry, and actually this is a very competitive industry in terms of SEO. I selected these guys because they've done a good job with description. So this is taken from their Google My Business, About section. I highlighted this part here in yellow and they say 'We serve Tyler, TX and Longview, TX as well as all surrounding communities.' So they're located in Tyler, Texas, you can see here, 4700 Old Troup Hwy Tyler, TX, but they also added Longview, TX. And I would even personally add a few more locations in there. But this is a pretty cool area that most people ignore because it's actually rich text. You can see bolded keywords in there as well and you can even add hyperlinks and bullets and things of that nature. So I think hopefully there's like some ideas percolating in your head of how you can better optimize your description.

Tip #5 - you can really do the same thing for other directories. So the same thing that you did for Google My Business, you can do for your most important directories. Yelp is huge, so I would probably start there. Yelp and a few top other directories, go and modify your long descriptions the same way, add in those new locations. Usually a lot of these directories give you short description and long description. Long description is the perfect place for you to add in these locations.

The final tip is to check your Google Analytics location data. At CHAMPIONSWAY we actually provide our clients with monthly ranking and customized Google Analytics reports. What I've done here is, this section here is taken from one of our client's custom reports, and this is the Top Cities section. What you can do is you can see over a month's time where your searchers are located. People that are visiting your website, where are they, and you can get some ideas and find some opportunities there.

Just before I move on here, can everyone still hear me fine? I just want to do another quick sound check. Alright cool. I'm seeing yes, yes, yes, alright.

The final section is about competitors, how can you learn from the competition. I really want to know, I'm curious, how much do you guys that are listening there, how much do you know about your competitors online marketing strategies? How much do you know? Do you study them? You know a lot, a little, nothing, some. Could you please go ahead and type in the chat box? I just want to get a baseline. Can you type in like some, I know a little bit, I know nothing about my competitors' marketing, that type of thing. Sorry, Whitney, I'm keeping you pretty busy. Some some, not much, yes - Facebook, some some, not much, some some, okay. So we're getting some some and not much, okay. It really is, you've heard of not reinventing the wheel, well it really is great to start with the competitors. I kind of want to bring in a story here, it's actually a joke. I'm sure most of you've heard it. It's the one about the lion and the running shoes. For those of you that haven't heard it, this is the basic gist.

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There's two guys walking through the jungle. Suddenly they realize they're being watched by a lion. It's a big lion with a hungry look on his face and the lion's watching them intently. The first guy, instead of running, he reaches into his backpack and he takes a pair of running shoes. 'Are you crazy?!' says the second guy, 'do you really think you can outrun a hungry lion?' Calmly the first guy keeps on lacing up his shoes. 'I don't have to outrun the lion,' he says, 'I only have to outrun you!'

Well the same thing applies to SEO. So don't try to outrun Google, it's not going to happen. It's much easier to try and outrun your competitors. There's really too many ranking variables, too many updates, to try to master SEO. It's really just easier to focus on your competitors.

How do we go about doing that? Well we want to learn from them by reverse engineering their strategies. Typically schools that are ranking near the top in competitive areas, they're doing at least a few things right that you can learn from. At ChampionsWay we actually conduct a preliminary audit for all of our new SEO clients, and competitor research is really a part of this analysis. But for the purpose of this webinar, we want to know which locations they're targeting and how they're ranking in those locations. And ultimately we want to know if we can outrank them over there.

What we can do is we can check their onsite optimization. One quick way of doing that is what's called the site / in search. You can go to Google, google.com or google.cf if you're in Canada, and you can get a quick overview of their meta optimization. What you do is you type in 'site' just like here s-i-t-e, colon, followed by your competitor's domain.

Let's say my competitor is North West Fencing. So I type in 'site:nwfencing.org' and you can see that I didn't type in the www, you just leave that out. What this shows me is all of the search results that Google has for that domain. Here there are 146 results, 146 pages indexed in google.com. I can quickly kind of go through the site and browse the titles, the URL's, the descriptions, and I can kind of see what are they targeting, how well are their keyword optimized. I can also, like I said, it shows you how many pages there are. Typically sites that are bigger tend to rank better. And that is because Google does love content. So my / here. That is because Google does love content. If you have a website that has 1,000 pages and they're really good, versus a site that has 15 pages, often the larger site will rank better.

And then of course you should also go and visit the website and examine their contents. So go visit your competitor websites, take a look around and see how fast do the pages load, is it intuitive navigation, what programs are they offering, are they doing any of the things that we talked about earlier where they seem to be targeting additional locations. So you can do those types of things to find their onsite SEO.

And then you can do the same thing in Google to look at offsite SEO. What you can do is go to Google once again and do a site / in search. What we want to do is find out how strong the competitor's Google+ pages are. It used to be that you could just go and search for their school and then there will be a Google+ link. But remember those are gone as of last week. So now it's getting harder and harder to find Google+ pages. So what you can do is the site / search. I think there may be easier methods than this, it's just that the one that I've kind of found. You go and you type in 'site:plus.google.com' followed by your competitor's name. I typed in 'ottawa' here as well, and the reason I did that is because we're in Vancouver. If I don't do that I'm going to get a bunch of other irrelevant results. So you likely won't have to type in a location over here. This should be sufficient.

35:00

So I type this in and look what I got. First result, boom. Final Round Boxing, it's their Google My Business About page. So I click on this link and check out their listing, and see how many reviews do they have, how good is the description, they have lots of photos, that type of thing.

Of course you can do the same thing for your directory listings. You can go to Yelp, go to Merchant Circle and Yellow Pages, that type of thing. Instead of typing 'site:google.com', you would type in 'site:yelp.com' and then the same type of thing and check out their listings to see how strong they are.

And of course you can do the same thing with social profiles. Check out their Facebook, check out their Twitter, YouTube, that type of thing, just to get a quick overview.

So we've covered a lot in this webinar and I hope I didn't lose too many people, like / like I said this is some kind of advance stuff. But remember again the recording's going to be available. I just want to do a quick recap.

So what we talked about was the importance of following Google's quality guidelines. Just to make sure that you don't get a penalty or a manual action, that type of thing that can really hurt your business.

Making sure that you don't target every nearby location. Make sure that you're kind of picking the best locations because you don't want to dilute the relevance of your current location.

When you do find your target locations, you want to make sure that you're creating new pages on targeting those keywords, as well as linking to those pages and creating lots of unique content as well.

And then we talked about offsite optimization. For example tweaking your Google My Business description and then doing the same thing for online directory listings.

We also talked about learning from your competitors, onsite and offsite tactics.

And that's really about it. So I kind of hammered throughout all these stuff quickly. I hope that it was educational that everyone learned a lot. I want to thank you guys again for attending this webinar. And I'm going to turn over to Whitney to wrap up before I take questions.

Whitney: Thanks Jason, that was awesome, you truly are an expert in this field. We're really lucky to have you, taking time of your / today. So I hope all of you got as much information out of that as I did. Now we're going to move to Questions and Answers.