Today I’m getting personal about things I learned on my journey into learning about SEO specifically for my local service business as a wedding photographer.

You see, when you’re a small local business owner, it’s easy to see content marketing and SEO as ‘just another one of those things’. I’ll get to it one day, you say. I just have to deal with this [seasonal rush/ staffing crisis/ logistics issues/ huge backlog of work] then I’ll finally have time to get to grips with this.

Well, for many of us that day is today! It’s never too late to learn a few helpful tips and pointers. I myself come from a non-technical background, through I’ve definitely had to learn those things. When I started I was really clueless. I then spent countless hours putting everything right, because I didn’t know what I was doing the first time around.

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Learn from my SEO mistakes as a small business owner

As a local business owner, our situation is a little different from what you might see online as general SEO advice. Our websites aren’t what make us money per se. We usually don’t sell products there or make money through ads.

A local business’ website is a way of disseminating information and reaching new clients through unique, valuable content that searchers in the local community are seeking.

So with those goals in mind, let’s dive in! I’m going to let you in on the secret sauce and share with you 11 things I wish I’d known about SEO & content marketing when I started out in my small business!

Prefer to watch me on my VERY AWKWARD first ever YouTube video? Go for your guns!!

Wondering exactly what local SEO actually is?! Check out my article linked below about how local SEO can help your business!

READ MORE  What is local SEO? [A small business owner's guide]

Looking to get started with setting up a WordPress website for the first time for your small business? I have a dedicated article to guide you through it all, step by step – linked below!

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1. Many of your competitors have only a basic understanding of SEO

When you start looking into this topic, you’ll be forgiven for thinking everyone is a wiz at it. That’s where you’re wrong. In the real, offline world, you have so many matters to attend to as a local biz owner. So do all your competitors! In truth, it is easy to leapfrog over many of your competitors when you turn your attention to content marketing. Chances are, they won’t have had the time.

The fact that you’re sitting here reading this blog post right now means you’re so much further along than you might think. Remember, you’re not competing with the whole world, just a small segment of your local competition.

Many small businesses don’t fully understand SEO, and thus don’t bother with it. They assume that it’s not worth their efforts, that it’s too expensive, or that it will take too long to see any results

Top Hat Rank, Why Should Small Business Owners Care About SEO?

I once went to a local networking group’s session on SEO. It drew a huge crowd of fellow wedding photographers because this was an extremely hot topic in our community. At the group, I realized that the vast majority of the business owners in that room actually knew zero about the topic of SEO.

Now, obviously I support my fellow industry pals, and even provided resources to help them along their way. However, I also couldn’t help seeing the opportunity here for my own local service business. I had gone in to that group thinking ‘everyone’s more experienced than me – they all get it, and I’m the one that’s lagging behind!’ When I learned that that wasn’t the case, it helped me double down on my efforts. I got serious.

Seeing the opportunity with competitors in the local community business space - beastlocal.com's guide to what I wish I'd known about local SEO

Within a couple of years of that, I was outranking every single one of them and reached position #2 on Google for our highly competitive, transactional search term.

Always looking for the newest opportunities?

READ MORE  Optimizing for Google Discover as a small business owner (with case study)

But I needed to see for myself that it was possible. And something clicked that day when I realized that yes, I can compete!

2. You don’t need everything worked out – just start, refine later.

start now, refine later - blogging advise from local business owner on beastlocal.coms guide to what I wish I'd known about local search & seo in my small business

With blogging, it’s better to start as soon as you can and then refine later if you have to. Sure, no-one wants to double up their efforts needlessly. But I also find that just starting can be the toughest part of any new endeavor.

Sometimes, we wait and wait until we ‘get it’. When we never really ‘get it’ what happens? We never start. If that sounds like you, then remember it’s easy enough to change up your content if you find that it needs that little refinement and finesse.

Updating an old post is also faster and easier than writing a new one. Because of this, it can give you more flexibility for maintaining a consistent publishing schedule.

Frontier Marketing, How to Increase Your Blog Traffic with Historical Optimization

On my own journey, I started before I was ready. I created content that truly sucked – that, of course, no one read. And then a different problem happened – one of my most terrible pieces of content somehow ranked very high on Google for a search term I really wanted to rank for.

These were two very different issues, but the response was the same.

I looked at the metrics and the content. Instead of going on vacation, I stayed home and a ridiculous number of hours. I re-edited close to 100 blog posts, adding in features I knew would sell the information better. Then I tracked everything so I could see the results.

Now, I’m not saying you should be as crazy as me. But I’m sure you can see the idea here. If you tweak a blog post Google will sit up and take notice. Match searcher intent, it will reward you with higher visibility.

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3. It builds more trust when you rank on Google vs social media

Read more about ranking signals and how to rank on Google on this post from Quicksprout.

Google’s algorithms work very hard to determine what every website out there is really about. It can only do this if you continue to publish quality content. The reward is that a greater level of trust is built. If users continue to ‘vote’ for your site by clicking on your links, and spending time on your site, the search engine will see that you indeed deserved that click.

It is therefore much harder to ‘trick’ a search engine like Google into showing your blog post or web page when someone types in a query. Whereas when I type the same phrase as a hashtag into, for example, Instagram and look at the most recent posts, I’m getting all kinds of random results mixed in with the relevant ones.

How Google builds trust with locally searched-for business so that it delivers quality results for local searchers - beastlocal.com

Searchers know this intuitively, and will go to Google for the more trustworthy results, then go to social media for social proof. Or they’ll see you first on the socials, but will not really be ready to make that purchase. Which brings me to my next point…

4. The leads you get through SEO are more valuable

There is a high buying intent behind many of the search terms that will lead folks to your website. For example:

wedding photographer near me

or,

New York plumber

The users that type those terms into Google are ready to go to your location or find out about your services right now.

Anecdotally, I can share this. I obtain about 65% of my leads for my local service business (wedding photography) through Google. The buying process for my industry looks a little like this:

Buying cycle of a high-value service-based local business such as wedding photography - infographic from zoelarkin.com
The buying cycle for high-value service businesses like wedding photography

The proportion of clients that go through this exact buying cycle that come through Google search is far, far higher than those that come through other channels.

My worst-performing for my service business is Yelp. Those leads tend to be extremely price-sensitive and overly-concerned with the quickest way of getting the job done, rather than the best. Those from Instagram tend to be briefly excited by seeing one of my images, but with little follow-through when it comes to progressing from one stage of the buying cycle to the next.

So not only is organic search generating a majority of my leads, but those leads are valuable because of they are ready to progress through the buying cycle with the least amount of friction.

5. Having aged content is an advantage for local search

Older content tends to rank better on Google’s local search. This is something specific to certain search terms that don’t change over time. Sure, if I type in ‘Kim Kardashian’, that’s not a local search term – and Google will deliver the latest news stories on our topic, because it registers a high volume of relevant news stories.

When you blog for your local service business, however, you’re providing evergreen content. In my business, when people search for ‘their wedding venue + ‘wedding photos’’, they’re don’t want to see the latest blog posts, but the best and most relevant. They want to see the info that has stood the test of time.

Only 5.7% of all studied pages ranked in the Top 10 search results within 1 year for at least 1 keyword.

ahrefs, How long does it take to rank in Google? (A study by Ahrefs)

One great way of showing relevance and quality is through age. When your site has been live for a long time, this builds trust! You’re clearly not a fly-by-night if your business has been blogging about the same topics for years, and users have been clicking on them and staying on your site.

This is great news for those of us who are used to social media. Certainly, when I first started my local service business, my only experience pumping out content was through Instagram. I was very familiar with the treadmill – post, gain a flurry of likes and comments and then a few short hours later, zero. Time to post again.

in SEO, content gains traction over time - beastlocal.com's guide to what I wish I knew about local SEO in my small business

In SEO, content actually gains traction over time. It’s an about-face from what you may be used to if you had never really created website content before. So stick with it and remember that SEO takes time, but the results can be exponential once you hit a certain benchmark.

6. SEO isn’t just Google! (Or Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo)

Though I often only mention Google, there are of course many other search engines out there. The process of making blog content is pretty much the same for all of them. If you’re optimized for Google, you’re pretty much optimized for Bing, Yahoo and all the rest.

What I’m referring to here is that we need to pay attention to platforms we sometimes merely think of as social media. The platforms are Pinterest and YouTube. As users, we sometimes see these are social ways of passing a little time. But as marketers of our small businesses, we need to create and optimize content especially for Pinterest and YouTube.

After all, Pinterest is the visual search engine.

YouTube is the video search engine.

When you start seeing it in those terms, you’ll realize you’re leaving money on the table by not creating pins and videos that promote your written content.

Consistency is very important on YouTube if you want to keep growing your channel. As with blogging, the more content you put out there, the better the chances you’ll reach a wider audience. Most successful YouTubers have a very strict publishing schedule – and they stick to it. 

WordStream, The Beginner’s Guide to YouTube Marketing for Small Businesses

I’ll admit that videos are much more of an undertaking. You’ll probably need to think about lighting, audio, cameras, tripods, editing, scripts and a ton of other things that had never crossed your mind. But the good news is your videos don’t have to be perfectly produced to rank on YouTube, provide value to local customers, and drive traffic to your business.

Your videos don't have to be perfectly produced to rank on YouTube - video is a great way of separating yourself from your local competition!

I was very late to the Pinterest game myself, and boy was that a mistake. I thought it was just another social media platform – and because as I didn’t use it myself, neither did my potential clients. That was incredibly silly of me! It’s actually a huge driver of traffic and pretty easy to see results. I currently have almost half a million monthly viewers to my Pinterest. And this is only 6 months after I learned anything about Pinterest.

I’d advise all local business owners who are serious about getting found there to invest in a scheduling tool (Tailwind is the best, and it’s an official Pinterest partner!). I have a post coming out about this soon. But in the meantime, be sure to grab the Pinterest and YouTube handles you want. This way, when you’re ready to start creating content, you’ll be able to do so smoothly.

What I wish I'd known about local seo - don't forget Pinterest for visual search and Youtube for videos - easy ways of getting your small business found online
Though we all think of content as blog posts, don’t neglect video and visual content, too.

7. You shouldn’t expect instant results

Ah yes, the huge feedback delay between publishing your content and seeing it generating traffic. I’ve heard it said that it takes Google about 8 months to rank your content to within 25% of the highest position it’ll reach. Other studies say less, others more.

The truth is, while there are no hard and fast rules, you definitely will need patience. I know this is difficult these days when we’re so used to (and honestly, addicted to) the instant validation of social media. It takes a mindset shift to play the long game.

It takes a mindset shift to play the long game - beastlocal.com's what I wish I'd known about SEO when I started my local business

So use it to your advantage. Others in your field will have dabbled with writing a few posts, seen no huge spike in their traffic after a week or two – and then never blogged again. It gets easier over time, as Google will see your newly-published blog post or webpage and rank it highly because it already trusts your site.

The first couple of years with my site, I thought I was doing something wrong. Nothing I wrote ever showed up on the first 10 pages of Google. The pages or posts that did rank were for completely random terms that had nothing to do with my services. That was because the search engines had a lot of trouble figuring out what the heck my site was.

As I continued, much of that confusion cleared up. And the long lead time between publish > ranking seemed to diminish greatly. I’m talking a reduction of many months.

One other pitfall you should be aware of is this. Google will often reward you with a very high position in the rankings immediately after you publish a post. This is, I believe, to trial a mixture of fresh stories as well as aged content for some searches. It’s also trialing your site to see if it’s a hit with searchers. If that happens to you, you’ll see a drop after a day or two when it reaches its natural organic position.

I think once you know what’s normal, it’s less likely to panic when you see your hard work seems to go unnoticed.

8. What you title your post should match what users search for

It’s a simple point, but bears talking about here. When I started with local SEO for my service business, I had this crazy understanding about SEO. Ready? I had heard that keyword stuffing was really bad. So I used no keywords at all. I swung a little too far the other way!

I truly believed that I shouldn’t use any keywords in my content. That if I titled a post:

Brad and Brenda’s blue unicorn wedding

it would, in my mind, magically be shown to people who were searching for examples of a wedding at Vintners Inn.

But of course, look at the title of that post. No one who is searching ‘blue unicorn’ or ‘unicorn wedding’ is looking at hiring a wedding photographer specifically for their work at the Vintners Inn. And of course no-one knows who Brad and Brenda are!

Blog titles should match what people are searching - advise for local business owners starting to learn SEO

So be mindful that the title of your post needs to match what your target audience is typing into Google. It needs to be both relevant to them and also able to help Google decide what search should trigger it. Spend some time before publishing crafting exactly what keywords you are using in your title and peppered throughout the text in a natural way. You can get a good sense of keyword ideas just from using Google’s autosuggest feature on Google.com.

Want to know more about keyword research for small business blogging beginners? Check out my guide to the best free tools, linked below!

READ MORE  16 free keyword research tools for your small business in 2020

9. You don’t need to hire anyone to do your SEO

In my own experience, I noticed there is no shortage of people out there who will promise you the world and ‘get you on the first page of Google’! Some are very reputable, others are pure spam! Most begin at anything between $500 – $1,200 / month.

Even back in my clueless days, I was a little confused how someone who isn’t me can ‘do my SEO’. After all, what is going to make the content compelling as opposed to generic is, well, me! And it’s the same in your business.

I always loved throwing in little tidbits that prove hey, it’s me, I’m a real person and I would love to connect with you, future client!

I may throw up a little photo from my camera roll to my content. If I’m adding alt text to a photo, I know to describe that photo as ‘joyful, candid photography of couple cheersing after their fun first dance at Hacienda de las Flores, Moraga, East Bay, CA wedding’.

To an SEO guy, it’s surely just ‘wedding picture’? He knows nothing about the backstory of the couple or where the photo was taken, the style of photography, or the words I like to use to describe my work.

How is an SEO firm going to make that personal connection? And sure, maybe they will do an audit using expensive software but you can do a pretty damn good job yourself once you know the basics. I’ve heard that a lot of the work an SEO firm does is simply getting backlinks – other sites linking to your website from theirs.

READ MORE  30 do-it-yourself SEO tips for service professionals

They also are not able to create the content that you can, as the subject matter expert. Their content is likely to be generic.

An SEO lacks the knowledge that we have as both specialists in our field and residents of our area. Often, because they have to drive results, they sacrifice quality. It makes sense. No-one is going to care as much about your business as you.

If you work on making great content and sharing it organically with your community online, chances are users will take it upon themselves to share and link to you – without taking part in some dodgy link-building scheme with high spam-rating sites.

I’m a fan of outsourcing in general, but SEO is both too expensive and too personal to hand over to someone else. Especially as it’s an ongoing thing. Also, it’s such a vital part of marketing these days, it pays to do it in-house.

It’s free to claim your listing on Google My Business, Bing Places for Business and on hundreds of other online business directories. That means free promotion for your business!

Bright Local, What is Local SEO
READ MORE  How to set up your Google My Business for photographers
The case for doing SEO yourself as a small business serving your local community. Avoid those fees and take care of your SEO yourself - by beastlocal.com DIY local SEO.
Local SEO can be done in house for most small businesses if you’re prepared to invest the time and man-hours.

10. Consistency is a major ranking factor because it builds trust with Google

To Google (and the other search engines), they don’t know your business. They do however know your website. To search engines, your website is your business. If you:

  • serve your customers with the content they’re looking for,
  • provide quality content on a regular basis, and
  • take your blog and web presence seriously,

that’s how Google can vouch for your real-world business. Like many things in life, it’s the discipline behind it that eventually gets noticed – and rewarded.

Find ways of sticking to a regular schedule to post to your business blog - tips for beginner small business SEO DIy beastlocal.com

So become dedicated to your blog rather than seeing as a task you wish would disappear. Find ways of sticking to a regular schedule to post to your business blog.

Blogging frequency guide for Solopreneur Running Own Business: 1 definitive blog post ​per month (with promotion & backlinks)

Content Champion, How Often Should I Blog As A Small Business Owner In 2020?

When I started to see the most traction was when I committed to posting twice per week, which I did for many months. Though eventually I slowed down the content, it gave me such a rankings boost (not to mention so many doorways into my site), that I still see just the same benefit today.

Your schedule doesn’t by anything crazy. Even once a month is not bad at all. Just pick a schedule you can stick to and you’ll see the benefits. Want to know how to get even more traffic to your site by creating great content? Check out my article about Google Discover!

READ MORE  Optimizing for Google Discover as a small business owner (with case study)

11. Getting personal and local is your advantage

We all know it’s tough to compete with large publishing houses, content mills and generic information that somehow ranks higher than it should. But there is one area where no-one can touch you.

The area where local businesses can truly shine is their local knowledge - what I wish I knew about local seo when I was new to my small service business - beastlocal.com

That area where you can truly shine is your local knowledge. Only you who knows your local market and area inside out, can write in such detail and with such relatability.

I started doing this myself with guides to my favorite photo locations or wedding venues in such-and-such area. Usually I focus on a city, but my most recent one was photography locations in just one little neighborhood. Granted, it’s not going to get a huge volume of traffic but people who are searching for that content are looking for exactly what I offer.

And the best thing? No-one, not a single one of my competitors has come up with a blog post with the same information. I’m the first and maybe only service provider my future clients will be looking at.

Personal blogs are a powerful tool for small business owners. In a digital world full of dry, impersonal company blogs, one that shares the unique spark of your personality and passion can go a long way toward attracting your ideal customers.

Benchmark One, Why Small Business Owners Should Write Personal Blogs

Getting hyper-local and personal is definitely a good thing for at least some of your posts!

Get the ebook about starting a wedding photography business! 🎉

Are you looking for a little help getting your wedding photography business off the ground? I have just the resource for you! Let me introduce my ebook, How to Start a Wedding Photography Business!

I’ve packed in as much information as possible into 20,000 actionable, practical words to help you start your United States wedding photography business the right way. Centered around the behind-the-scenes work you’ll need to take care of to make sure your business is legit, protected and operating efficiently.

Click here to find out what the ebook is about & watch my introductory video!

And there you have it! Remember, much of the general SEO information out there is targeted towards general online businesses and content marketers, rather than local business owners. It’s a very different kettle of fish for us.

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When you think about it, we need so little from our web efforts, to sustain a thriving local business. We don’t need hundreds of thousands of pageviews a month. It’s less about volume (that’s a vanity metric right there) and more about intentionally targeting the right customers. If you benefited from my 11 things I wish I’d known about local SEO when I first started, be sure to share and leave a comment below!

Check out the YT channel here!

Pin your choice of graphic to your Pinterest board and be sure to follow @zoelarkinphoto on Pinterest!

Want to start your SEO strategy off the RIGHT way for your small business? Learn how to serve your local community (future customers) with valuable content that they want! Content marketing seems baffling when you've got on the many hats of the small business owner.  I'll take you through my 11 helpful tips to save you hassle + wasted time so you can reach your local community. Know what to expect on your content marketing & SEO journey - and what to avoid. | #seo #localseo zoelarkin.com
11 things I wish I’d known about local SEO when I started my small business | zoelarkin.com
11 things I wish someone had told me about SEO when I started my small business! Save yourself the pain + wasted time of MANY mistakes I made when I was new to content marketing. I didn't know how to create compelling, valuable content for the internet that my target audience needed + wanted to read. No-one tells you what you need to know when you start off as a small business owner. Learn from my mistakes + get your local SEO strategy off to the best start | #seo #localseo zoelarkin.com
What I wish someone had told me about local SEO and my service business | zoelarkin.com

Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! I also help fellow wedding photographers attract their dream clients with actionable SEO & digital marketing strategies. When I’m not shooting weddings, creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog, Insta and my new YouTube channel for photographers! 

11 things I wish I'd known about local SEO when I started my small local business - for local SEO DIY

11 things I wish I’d known about local SEO when I started my small business

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