It seems like Google is tweaking its search algorithm faster than Starbucks is introducing new seasonal coffee drinks. These changes are keeping search engine optimization (SEO) professionals alert to which strategies still work and which have fallen out of favor with the search giant.
One SEO strategy that's still excellent for small businesses – and should be productive for a long time – is establishing local citations. These citations give search engines valuable localized signals that help your business perform better in Search Engine Results Pages, especially for local searches where these signals are weighted even more heavily.
There are a variety of ways to establish online local citations, but today I want to show you how to use some basic competitive intelligence tricks to improve your citation strategy with an eye toward local SEO.
Local Spy vs Corporate Guy
Recently, I was in Nashville and dined at some restaurants with live music. If I was a small business owner in this space, I would conduct some competitive intelligence on some of the big corporate restaurants in the area with live music to see how they handle their web presence. This would help me create an informed local SEO and online citation strategy.
Lets use the Margaritaville in Nashville as our corporate example. This chain definitely invests in it’s web presence. So what can I learn as a small business owner? To discover the online local listings for the Margaritaville in Nashville that includes backlinks (a link from an external webpage back to your site), I use one of many free backlink checking services, type in the URL for Margaritaville Nashville and look at large list of webpages that have linked to this specific restaurant's website (I used Backlinkwatch, other backlink checking services include ahrefs and Open Site Explorer).
Scanning the Margaritaville backlink data provides some great insight into local SEO and citation strategy. For instance, Margaritaville has made it into various local hotel websites as a local restaurant recommendation. This wasn’t a total obvious place to try and get listings but it makes perfect sense, both from an SEO perspective with high-quality editorial links but also from a local citation source since it includes the business name and address on a localized hotel directory page.
This competitive backlink check also shows that Margaritaville has many listings in local online "events" publications. Another good source for Margaritaville is local bloggers. There are plenty of food blogs and music blogs in Nashville and if I had a local restaurant with live music, I'd want to be listed and mentioned. With this brief amount of competitive intel I now have list of websites that I know accept citations and links for restaurants in my niche!
Gathering this kind of intelligence on competitors can pay off in big ways. I discovered that a local business group recently held a mixer at Margaritaville. From this one simple event, the restaurant received an online listing, an evening of extra business and a lot of local exposure. Maybe this group will hold its next mixer at my pretend restaurant?
My advice is simple: find out everywhere your competitors are online and get there too. If you can afford it, using a paid service to place local citations on the Internet can save time and help cover all your bases. The paid services will get your listing on Yelp and into many more directories; however they will not get you a calendar listing in the local newspapers, into the promotional material on hotel websites, or other intensely local online publications. You will have to obtain those through old fashioned outreach and relationship building.