Blogging as a Content Strategy for Local SEO? – You’re Doing it Wrong!

I just read a great post by Yousaf Sekander, a local SEO colleague based in the UK. He was speaking about the conundrum faced by many small businesses who’s expertise is in running their business, not in being a blogger and spewing out content to satisfy the search engines and that silly internet mantra of “content is king”.

Think about it, what is the prerequisite of being a good locksmith or a mechanic or a painter decorator? Is the prerequisite being “good content” creators? I don’t think so.

I know this is an issue many small local business owners struggle with. I’ve had this conversation over and over with clients. They don’t know where to start with blogging, nor are they sure they have the time. Not to mention the fact that they get inundated with bad advice on the topic of how to blog for their business.

Now, I originally was going to write this as a comment on Yousaf’s post but it got long winded and I felt it deserved to be a full blog post instead. It’ll also illustrate my point better as a stand alone post. Read on.

Hello – You’re Blogging to the Wrong People

Where most local businesses fail on content generation (additional blog content – not the home page, services, about us, and contact pages) is targeting the wrong audience.

Take the locksmith example. Typical blog posts you’ll often see might be things like;

  • 5 things to ask before hiring a locksmith
  • How to recognize a reputable locksmith
  • The Chicago locksmiths people trust most is AAA Locksmiths, LLC
  • just another self promotional fluffy fluff blog post, powered by wordpress

What these locksmiths, or their hired gun seo’s, don’t realize is NOBODY CARES. Really they don’t. You see the same crappy stuff over and over from plumbers, lawyers, or just about any local business trying to go down the content creation route. Boring topics. Crappy writing. Keyword stuffing. They’re just doing it wrong.

Don’t blog to customers, they don’t care. Is your average Joe local customer gonna come back and read a locksmith’s, or plumber’s blog again and again? Will they subscribe to the RSS feed for that? Pfft! Fat chance of that.

Who Then is Your Blog Audience?

I tell most my clients, those that are thinking about going down the blogging road, the blog should be a separate portion of the site and is primarily NOT a marketing channel. Instead it is an authority building tool that should be directed to their peers, not their customers.

Blog about the industry you are in. Trends, changes, challenges in marketing, hiring, taxation, regulations, education, etc… It is the professional development arm of your website. Engage primarily with others in your industry (maybe not those in your immediate competitive local, but that rule is not set in stone).

This kind of approach will make that locksmith a better locksmith and a better business person through information exchange with others in the same industry. It’ll foster link building far better than the crappy self promotional blogging that nobody wants to link to, at least not naturally link to. Others in your industry who are blogging, serious industry blogging not crappy self promo blogging, can be engaged, linked too, and they may link back as well. Industry level controversies may get covered by the press. If you’re at the forefront of blogging about those issues you may get a mention, and possibly a link from a local, regional, state or even national newspaper, or a prominent industry website, or even government website.

I stumbled across a rather stellar example of this recently. The people at Energy Vanguard, an HVAC training, consulting and design firm in Decatur, GA are doing a top notch job of blogging about technical issues and standards for high performance and energy efficient home cooling and heating. Their home page is a common Page Rank 3 yet their blog page is a PR5 – that’s link authority for you!

Look at a few of their posts and check out whose commenting – other HVAC professionals from around North America. Look at the content of the posts. Often quite technical stuff – not quite what the average homeowner in need of a new HVAC system needs, or even wants, to actually know. And it’s working for them. Check out what they wrote about blogging over the past year and half, what they learned and how it’s been great for business.

Freshness is a Stale SEO Tactic

I hear fresh content mentioned as an SEO factor far too often. I don’t believe it! Well, not entirely.

A new blog post can get some extra ranking love for its freshness, but freshness wears off – rather quickly. And that blog post is not ranking for the primary search terms customers are using to find a local business. In the case of a locksmith, or any other kind of local business (landscaper, painter, lawyer, dentist, plumber, restaurant, etc…..) it is usually the home page of the website that is ranking for these primary terms. Separate internal service pages may target other offshoot phrase variants and related business services. These static pages can rank and continue to rank for years and years without ever so much as a single edit, providing they are worthy of ranking in the first place (good on-page SEO, keyworded anchor text linking to them, domain age, etc…). A fresh blog post just won’t be outranking those pages for those kinds of terms.

It’s in the long tail you may see a blog post get great rankings the day of posting it only to see it slowly slip away, to where it actually deserves to rank in the grander scheme of things, over the next days and weeks.

So if you’re thinking you need a blog on your local business website solely for satisfying the “freshness requirement of SEO” and that it’s somehow going to help you rank better for your primary search terms just because it’s fresh, well, you’re probably wasting your time.

Oh, I See What you Did There

Dear reader, let me guess, you are probably a fellow SEO practitioner, most likely in the local search marketing space. I’d bet money on it. I’d probably win that bet far greater than 50% of the time, making it a profitable bet. Why? Because my audience here on my blog is mostly other SEO’s. Look at all the other prominent SEO blogs out there. Who is reading them? Who is commenting? Who is sharing links to those posts on twitter? Who is taking the discussion further on their own blogs, and linking back to their sources of inspiration for the topic? It’s other SEO’s!

My blog builds my authority in the industry. It’s mostly other SEO’s that interact with my posts here. I gain a few links here and there that way too. These are internal links to the specific blog posts, but that link juice flows through the site and in turn helps my service pages rank for terms my potential customers can find me with. Some customers, small business owners looking to hire an SEO, mention that they checked out the site and even looked at some blog posts. They didn’t actually read them so much as just scanned through them. The content of the blog posts is often over their head but those that mention it say it seems like I know what I’m talking about. And that’s authority, real authority that goes beyond what Google interprets as authority based on link profiles.

See, this is why I ended up writing this as a post instead of a comment. Yousaf got himself a couple links out of it. I might too. There’ll be a few comments from some of my local seo colleagues, and it’ll make the rounds on Twitter for a bit. There’s a good chance the majority of potential customers that find my website will never read this post, and that’s just fine. I’m not really blogging to them anyways.

25 Comments on “Blogging as a Content Strategy for Local SEO? – You’re Doing it Wrong!”

Darren Shaw on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

This is a fantastic post Stever. I completely agree. I’ll be passing this post and the excellent Energy Vangaurd example on to the handful of clients I have that bother to take the time to blog.

Dubrod on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Some really beginner advice here. I’m not linking nor posting my link thanks for hvac source though. Surprised blumenthal retweeted this

Stever: WT-actual-F are you talking about? You might be right in that this SHOULD be beginner advice but 99% of small businesses aren’t getting that advice and not enough of the Local SEO community even get it. And I’m emailing Mike Blumenthal right now, gonna get him to RT it again. Ha!

JudeWates on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

How very true – you would win your bet with me! I deal with local internet marketing and have read your blog from top to bottom!

Matthew Hunt on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Steve,

Nice post!

Funny to read this b/c I am in the process this month to pushing all my clients to add more content, because bigger sites always get more traffic…. and as long as the content is related to your niche it should be fairly targeted traffic. b/c “targeted traffic” is key. no point in getting lots of un-related traffic to your local SMB site.

I too noticed it’s really hard for my clients to write content for their site(s), so we just recently hired a whack of writers to do it for them.

So far it’s worked out well. We even have our guys call the SMB’s owner and we ask Q’s and record the call, then we send it to our writers to create the content. Works brilliantly.

The goal is to write helpful, and high value content – give away your best stuff. It’s not about writing cheesy sales blog posts like your examples in your post today.

At the end of the day, building new pages is a chance to own more virtual real estate. Virtual real estate is very similar to real physical real estate. The better location you have (rankings for virtual) the more traffic you get and the more rooms your property has (pages for virtual)the more space you have to rent, lease out.

This is why sites like wikipedia, Youtube, etc dominate everywhere online – HUGE sites. With bigger sites you have more internal linking opportunities, more keywords you can target, and the list of benefits goes on and on.

For the SMB, all they need to understand is: More pages = more traffic. More traffic = more leads. More leads = more sales. More sales = more profits. And more “profits” is what all SMB’s are after, right?!

Robin Parduez on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Thought provoking piece, you are absolutely right, no one cares (for what ever reason) about some of the content being produced for local businesses, however, writing content that makes these businesses stand out amongst their peers builds trust and encourages interaction. It also shows potential cusomters that you are on top of your industry, looking ahead at trends and changes that could affect your business.

Nifty Ryan on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Very good article. Kind of one of those things you know in the back of your mind & when you read a good article like this it makes that light pop on & brings it back to the front. Thanks for the post… & yes, from another SEO. :)

Dave Oremland on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Stever: This is a great article. After a couple of years of blogging for small businesses and striking out a lot I believe you hit the nail on the head.

I’ll say that on some pieces I’ve gotten pretty nice long tail traffic and it has stuck….not slipped away over time. One aspect about that long tail traffic though….the phrases weren’t competitive…even though some of them are nice long tail converters.

I took your article and spread it to some of our smb operators. I’ve been trying to tell them this over time…but your article far more clear and to the point!!!

Stever on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

@Dave, you’re right that for low competition phrases a blog post will rank and continue to rank regardless of freshness. Where I think many get the freshness idea wrong is that in having some fresh new pages pop up once in a while it will somehow help the rest of the site with rankings for the other main pages and primary terms. I doubt that.

Even with using the blog as a professional development tool and blogging primarily to industry peers, you could still throw in the odd post that is more directed to customers and trying to target certain keyword phrases some of your core pages might be missing out on. But it’s the industry level stuff that stands a much better chance of turning the blog into a link magnet and those links in turn helping to give the entire site a boost in the search engines.

Adam Steele on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

@Stever “99% of small businesses aren’t getting that advice” – I thought these posts were meant for your peers? :P Great post : )

Stever on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

@Matthew Hunt,

That strategy works simply for pulling more and more long tail traffic. In essence it is the strategy most are going with, but on the far lower end of the quality scale. It is pulling traffic, good traffic that will convert, but it ain’t really gaining anyone link love – outside of the extra internal linking to your own web pages.

You’re so right that business owners struggle with what to write about. They too easily get trapped in the mind set of sell, sell, sell. But if they take a step back and just start writing what they know about running their business, flex their true expertise, it becomes easier and easier.

A plumber should not have that hard of a time writing about how certain types of fixtures or pipe fittings should be used within context of local building codes and when to go for larger above standard fittings vs. going smaller just to save $5 on a part. A lawyer should be able to write about a legal issue that’s making the rounds in the news even when that issue is not within their specific area of practice, but they still have a valid opinion on the topic.

All that said, for my clients that I recommend going the “blog to industry peers” route, even those where it’s obviously the best, maybe only, strategy for their industry they get it and understand what I’m saying, but few go ahead with it. Mostly it’s the fear of writing, for people that don’t do much writing. As well they are not sure about the time commitments involved, even though I tell them it could be done with only one post a month. Once a week would be better, but that could be something they build up towards as they get more comfortable.

Don Campbell on September 29th, 2011 wrote:

Nice one Stever – great perspective on this.

Dave Oremland on September 30th, 2011 wrote:

Mattew: My experience suggests that I agree with Stever on this. Haha. I say that after a boatload of blogs on behalf of a couple of local businesses of different types that got crap for response and virtually nothing in links.

Now I have added some effective long tail phrases that have stuck. But as referenced above, they have primarily been for phrases with little competition. Some of them have also been effective….which means my competition hasn’t caught wind of them. But they are long tail….so the traffic isn’t great…and while they convert….it ends up being a small number of absolute conversions..b/c the phrases by definition are long tail…and not high volume.

So what about ROI on that? Not too effective if I think about the # of blog pieces…the thought behind them and the writing and picture development time.

I’m also not big on the grow the site perspective for the following reason:

Stuff like that is often a function of relative competition. I’ve been involved in local sites wherein a site with 10-40 pages outranks sites with a couple of hundred pages. Now if there are sites in that local arena with 15,000 pages or 60,000 pages the scale of difference between 15,000 and a couple of 100 is such that the size factor can come into play. And if you are blogging twice a week over a year you have created an extra 104 pages….not the kind of change in scope IMHO where size alone comes into play. Again at least IMHO.

Stever’s comments remind me of something Rand Fishkin started saying way back when link bait first became popularized: Write for the “linkerati”. Write for the people that give out links. Stever’s article is in line with that thinking.

Obtaining links is infinitely easier from sites that are in the habit of giving links in the first place. I’ve spent too much time cajoling, negotiating, interacting w/ smb sites to get links from them…when the business owner doesn’t know the first thing about his/her website…and they owe me a big favor…and they’d like to link to me (my smb sites). It still takes them forever to get it done if it does get done at all.

I like topics that are link rich already. I want to get my articles in front of them. I want them to like them enough that they will want to share the content with their readers….hence the links.

I believe that is what worked in the above referenced Energy Vanguard example cited by Stever. The writer himself said…he had to be expert on his materials.

I suppose all that time I spent writing articles that didn’t get links convinced me Stever really hit the nail on the head…..again IMHO. I’ve also got some articles out for the “linkerati”. They are good, thoughtful, well researched and written…and they have gottten links.

Dave

Dave

Matt McGee on September 30th, 2011 wrote:

Sorry, but I don’t think I could disagree more with this, actually. And my client that blogs specifically for her customers (not her industry peers) and has three consecutive record-breaking years for online product sales, who for three years running has surpassed the previous year’s sales total by May, would also disagree.

What you see in your niches/industries/hometown is not necessarily what happens everywhere.

And on the SEO point, I don’t blog on SmallBusinessSEM.com for my industry peers — I blog for small biz owners. And the numbers of leads and clients I’ve had over the years via my blog tells me that it’s a good strategy.

Stever on September 30th, 2011 wrote:

Matt, this blog to peers strategy is certainly not the only strategy that works. It is however a strategy that does not get much mention. And frankly, most local small business bloggers fail miserably by spewing out the same sort of junk as everyone else.

Exceptions abound in any and all industries. I thought this strategy deserved to be explored.

And then there is my writing style, often kinda stating things boldly as though they were absolutes. Makes for good blog fodder and gets a discussion going on my tiny corner of the blogosphere, once in a while at least :)

Mark Bossert on October 1st, 2011 wrote:

Stever and Esteemed commenters,

IMO most smb articles are, shall we say not very effective as informative content… and if it’s an outsourced “article” … this sort of content is not worth anyones time to read let alone create.

Selling & pitching & thin content won’t work no matter who you target; quality is what works.

I bet that all of us in local seo have just a few super clients who take the time and have the talent to build great content – and they reap the benefit. Many others need volume services like Matthew is describing which while not ideal are at least targeting many keywords.

This is the biggest gap in online marketing – getting that great content produced and shared. We all know it is rewarded even more now than ever. But few have the time, money, talent or resources to create great content.

The ever rising importance of social media and repurposing content for those platforms just ups the demand for great useful “have a take” content.

Appreciate Stever’s take; and agree just as much with Matt’s take from experience as well. My 2 bits is quality is what wins out – article, video, podcast, white paper etc.; the target for the content can equally be clients or industry after that.

Dave Oremland on October 2nd, 2011 wrote:

Matt:

…and different opinions and experiences is what makes the world go round…and what makes both Kia’s and Mercedes effective auto brands.

Different strokes for different folks. Some topics don’t lend themselves to link back commentary from their customers. Their customers aren’t active commentators on the web. Others do.

I definitely have businesses that haven’t gotten responses of substance from customer’s including a business in its industry that most probably has the best customer loyalty anywhere. I have blogged for long tail value. I could actually do the same structurally off the site with only the slightest difference.

I do like quality blog pieces that go to the linkerati.

If there is one thing I see it is that we need to be careful with generalizations. There are lots of different types of businesses out there with vastly different audiences and customer bases.

Don Campbell on October 2nd, 2011 wrote:

I think Mark nailed it – if an SMB is writing really good content for their customer audience consistently then it’s very productive in my experience.

The problem comes in when they don’t write compelling content, or hire copywriters in the Philippines for $5 an article.

Content for content’s sake isn’t effective, but good quality content is.

Should SMBs Blog to Customers or Colleagues? on October 5th, 2011 wrote:

[...] at GeoLocalSEO, Steve Hatcher recently offered a strong opinion for why SMBs should be blogging for their peers, not for their customers. Today I thought I’d bring the other side of the argument, because I [...]

Josh S. on October 6th, 2011 wrote:

I agree with this article 100%. The toilet quality of internet content is truly tragic. You’ll hear many talking heads champion the idea of providing content that’s written for search engines and is also just so durn interesting that readers will continue to flock to your website to read and re-read your articles, but then they turn around and outsource the writing to kids looking to make a few dollars, and all you get is the same “5 Reasons Electronic Cigarettes Are Magnificent” tripe again and again.

Social Share Increases Blog Page Views on October 7th, 2011 wrote:

[...] that, there have also been some great posts recently about the value and purpose of blogging. The GeoLocalSEO Blog talked about how so many local business owners get their blogging strategy wrong by writing [...]

Robbie Becklund on October 13th, 2011 wrote:

Nice post, I have a client who is starting to blog for his business and we talked about this very subject. I do agree with the B2B authority blogging, but I think you also can be an authority and educate your customers as well.

Gary Shouldis on October 20th, 2011 wrote:

Nice article. As a business owner and SB consultant, I say it depends on the approach you take with your customers.

I agree that writing tips and theory articles are not much use to your customers and they will rarely, if ever seek out your blog.
The key is to be useful to your customers, on a local level.
I have a children’s services business and drive hundreds of customers and potential customers to our blog every month.

I do this by writing really useful content they want to know about. Examples would be, the best local sources to find _______, or an interview with local businesses owners they might be interested in. The key is to bring it to a local level, you can’t hire someone on Odesk to do that for you.

After I write the article, I use my 3000+ email database, 300+Facebook Fan page and my 500+Twitter account to broadcast the message and drive customers and potential customers back to my blog. I don’t expect them to come voluntarily, I go and bring them to it.

It might be harder to accomplish with say, a locksmith, but i’m sure if they wrote more on a local level they would be able to drive more customer engagement.

I have my employees, customers and local blogs contribute to my blog.

Who Is Your Blog For? on November 1st, 2011 wrote:

[...] If you are seen as a leader in your field there could be a case for focusing on content for your peers. [...]

Best of 2011 in Local SEO and Local SEM | OptiLocal on January 2nd, 2012 wrote:

[...] Blogging as a Content Strategy for Local SEO? – You’re Doing it Wrong! (Steve Hatcher, Axemedia) [...]

Best of 2011 in Local SEO and Local SEM » Local Search Marketing, Local SEO, Google Places SEO - NGS on April 5th, 2012 wrote:

[...] Blogging as a Content Strategy for Local SEO? – You’re Doing it Wrong! (Steve Hatcher, Axemedia) [...]

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