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What are the Habits of Successful Local SEO Experts?

As Aristotle put it, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit”. And as Jocko Willink say’s “Discipline equals freedom”. In order to be a great local search expert, it requires repetition and the discipline to continuously invest your time into learning. I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately and after reading Atomic Habits, I was inspired to explore what some of the top local SEO experts in our industry consider to be habits that have contributed to their success as local SEO practitioners.

In the book, James Clear goes into actionable details that can be summarized by three main lessons:

  1. Every time we perform a habit, we execute a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, reward.
  2. If we want to form new habits, we should make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
  3. You can use a habit tracker as a fun way to measure your progress and make sure you don’t fall off the wagon.

I encourage you to go and check out the book. In the meantime, I am excited to share some habits from a few of the local SEO industry’s top experts. These should be useful for anyone that is thinking of starting a career in Local SEO as well as seasoned pros who are looking to level up. Enjoy.

Create a Mental Model

Here’s what Mike Blumenthal from Near Media shared with me on mental modeling.

For me the most valuable “habit” was to create a mental model of how local search functioned by reading patents and then testing the actual impact of changes. I would then, when seeing something new, either figure out how it fit into the model or updated the model with my new understanding. 

This sort of mental modeling allows me to solve problems more quickly and understand what I am seeing more quickly. So while it took a while to get the basics of the model, it has saved endless hours and makes adapting to the changes easier.

Obsess Over Customer Experience

Here is what Cori Graft from Seer Interactive shared with me about the customer experience.

One of my most helpful habits as a Local SEO was obsessing over customer experience. I really see Local Search as an extension of an in-store experience, so I always encourage my clients to think of it the same way and make sure their digital and local interactions matched the caliber of their in-person interactions. Anchoring recommendations around CX made it easy to make cases for things like high quality photos, review management, and chat management because companies invest ridiculous amounts of money in the in-store/in-person experience, so why would you cut corners on Digital – specifically Local, which is often someone’s first interaction with and impression of your business?

I should say, it made it “easiER”. It’s still not “easy” to get buy-in for everything haha

Nuts-And-Bolts, Client Satisfaction & the Big Picture

Here’s what Phil Rozek at Local Visibility System shared with me about habits.

Nuts-and-bolts habit: study Google Search Console often, when a question arises, and when you smell trouble.  I’m talking mainly about the “Pages” and “Queries” areas (under “Search Results”).  Unlike in Analytics, it will show you where and how you’re visible, and not just the clicks produced by that visibility.  Unlike in a rank-tracker, it allows you to see what your visibility brings you and to see and compare long-term data.  It’s indispensable for troubleshooting.

Client-satisfaction habit: constantly ask your clients how business is and about developments and patterns they’re seeing, and prod them into sharing with you (if possible) a daily or weekly log of leads/bookings/sales.  It’s a problem if you don’t know a good day or month from a bad day or month, or what your client’s results were before you started working your magic, or what’s happened as a result of your magic.  Later on you can get into attributing those customers to this or that source, and how to get more or fewer of this type of customer.  Just get the basic numbers first, so you’re not flying blind.  A side benefit: it takes some temporary pressure off of the struggle for rankings and traffic.  Let’s say the SEO hasn’t gained much traction yet, but in one way or another you helped to produce a bump in business.  That’s a good outcome for now.  It buys everyone some time to work on SEO the right way, and it lessens the temptation to take wild swings you don’t need to take.

Big-picture habit: study and practice other disciplines and other industries, and transplant what you learn from them into your SEO campaigns and your business.  The late, great Eric Ward once said (https://searchengineland.com/a-portrait-of-the-perfect-link-builder-11496) that a library background helped make him the link-builder he was.  That is a huge lesson, and it applies more broadly.  

Maybe you’re an amateur or former professional carpenter, or an artist who draws those hyperrealistic Coke cans, or a submarine engineer, or a birth doula, or a hippie who lived in an ashram for 3 years (and doesn’t remember a thing).  You don’t know exactly what will be useful, or how it will be useful.  Even so, find something you like from your non-SEO life and graft it onto your SEO life.

That also means you probably shouldn’t work in only one industry.  You need to collect experience the way a carpet collects cat fur, because to be most useful to your clients you need to be able to grab a great idea from over there and use it right here.  You’ll experiment a lot, for your clients and for your own business, and that’s crucial.  Helping a new business is very different from helping a business that’s had 13 other people or agencies make an attempt, or a business that’s down to its last bullets.  If everybody’s thinking alike, not everybody is thinking.

It’s always a good sign when someone says, “You know, if this SEO gig doesn’t work out for you, you should just do _____ for a living.”  Every effective and successful SEO I’ve ever known is “weird” in some way (or most ways).  Be a mutant. 

Stay Up to Date With What’s Happening in Local SEO

Here’s what Claire CarlileLocal Search Expert at BrightLocal, shared with me.

Changes in the way that Google presents results, the way that Google ranks results, and the opportunities available to local businesses in both the local organic and map pack take place pretty regularly, and as a Local SEO you need to make sure that you stay on top of these things so you can serve your client or your organization in the best possible way.  

Also, as a real-life person, it’s your job as a Local SEO to not give yourself s*** for thinking you don’t know ‘all the things’ and to make sure that you have some sort of work/life balance.  I’d recommend spending a small portion of your day, or a bit of a bigger chunk of your week, keeping on top of what’s happening in search.  Focus time and effort in the places where you’re likely to get the best return: follow knowledgeable (and kind) local search people on Twitter, and use a Local SEO focussed search engine when you’re trying to find answers to your Local SEO questions.

Frequently Communicate Wins to Clients

Here’s what Allie Margeson, Director of SEO Services at Whitespark shared with me.

If you don’t report it, it didn’t happen (or it might as well not have because your client doesn’t know about it). Building rapport and trust with your client is critical to the success of your work. Consistent communication should be a top priority. We do this with monthly reports that focus on what uniquely matters to each client’s business, using language that makes sense to our clients, and sharing “wins” as they happen throughout a project. Attribution can be tricky for marketers, let alone business owners. Bite-sized emails that share these wins are frequent reminders to your client that they invested in the right expert. Do this and your happy clients and high client retention rates will make you a success.

Embrace Curiosity, Go Deep, Track Your Vertical

Here is what Noah Learner VP of Product at branchtools, shared with me.

I try to embrace curiosity, go deep into the data, track key verticals that I work in using rank-tracking software, and create hypotheses to test in order to drive continuous improvements.

Staying curious means asking lots of questions all the time.  My favorite two questions are, “Why,” and, “What if,” because they unlock all kinds of investigations that will lead to traffic and growth in conversions. Going deep into the data means not taking aggregated data at face value, but looking at the raw data too to try and see what patterns are hidden below the surface.

Tracking your vertical is important so that you can have a deep understanding of your competitive landscape.  If I see that videos are now positioned above organic results it makes me want to build video content.

Creating hypotheses and then testing them is a process/workflow that I heartily condone as the best way I know to learn what’s working so that I can scale it across a website or even across our agency’s accounts.

Data, not opinions, is going to help us win the day.

And lastly, be nice and help as many people in our industry as you can.  It will accelerate your career in a huge way.

Be in the Habit of Always Learning

Here’s what Krystal Taing, Sr. Manager of Solutions at Uberall shared with me.

In my experience in Local SEO, this industry changes constantly and nothing is ever absolutely true in all scenarios. Knowing this, I’ve developed the habit of not just learning, but engaging with others in local SEO that share and also think differently. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to learn about approaches, strategies, successes, and failures from industry colleagues even if you work with different types of clients and businesses.

In Summary – Your Local SEO Habit Checklist

  1. Create mental models of how local search functions by reading patents
  2. Obsess over customer experience
  3. Study Google Search Console often when a question arises, and when you smell trouble.
  4. Constantly ask your clients how business is and about developments and patterns they’re seeing, and prod them into sharing with you (if possible) a daily or weekly log of leads/bookings/sales
  5. Study and practice other disciplines and other industries, and transplant what you learn from them into your SEO campaigns and your business
  6. Spend a small portion of your day, or a bit of a bigger chunk of your week, keeping on top of what’s happening in search.  Focus time and effort on the places where you’re likely to get the best return: follow knowledgeable (and kind) local search people on Twitter, and use a Local SEO focussed search engine when you’re trying to find answers to your Local SEO questions
  7. If you don’t report it, it didn’t happen (or it might as well not have because your client doesn’t know about it). Building rapport and trust with your client is critical to the success of your work. Consistent communication should be a top priority
  8. Embrace curiosity
  9. Go deep into the data
  10. Track your vertical
  11. Creating hypotheses and then testing them is a process / workflow
  12. Be nice and help as many people in our industry as you can
  13. Develop the habit of not just learning, but engaging with others in local SEO that share and also think differently.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this article.

What habits have you developed that made you a great local SEO? Let us know in the comments.

 

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Colan Nielsen

Colan started in the local SEO world back in 2010 and is also deemed a product expert by Google as a Top Contributor on the Google My Business Forum. He is a contributor to Moz’s famous Local Search Ranking Factors survey and is a former Google MapMaker Regional Lead. Read Colan's full bio here.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. What is considered a Local SEO focused Search Engine? I currently do most of my searches on Google, Yahoo or Bing and occasionally on DuckDuckGo, ASK, Onion.

    1. Local SEO is traditional SEO, plus a ton of other stuff that applies specifically to businesses with local markets, such as Google Business Profiles. This can be applied to all search engines.

  2. #4 has inspired me to send an email questionnaire to all clients asking how business is doing in the current economy. Then create a report and share it with our database. Thank You!

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