More often than not, clients come to us and ask about our methods and processes, especially when they need help with Local SEO. Interestingly, many of our discerning customers have done their homework and know a thing or two about online marketing and SEO. However, some also hold some ideas that come from old SEO practices that used to work in the early days of SEO, or have been debunked with the use of objective data.
Don´t get us wrong, many of these “errors” come from very reasonable conclusions that would be true if Search Engines were static systems that operated in a void. But they don’t exist in a void and, in reality, they tend to react to what users need at certain points in time.
This article will cover some of these errors and misconceptions and clarify their origins.
Keyword Centered Searches
The desire to appear in the first spot of business directories is an old aspiration held by marketers even before the internet came to be. Businesses would come up with creative ways to have their number or ad placed first in phone directories or the Yellow Pages.
Changing the name of your store to land higher on the alphabetized directories was one of the oldest moves. Many would change their name to “AAA Plumbing” or “123Music” in order to get
ahead of their competition and be among the first few businesses people’s eyes would land on when browsing through the proper category.
Later on, when internet directories came into existence, targeted searches were made possible. However, people kept finding creative ways to get on top of search results by ways of buying short domain names, or “optimizing” their website content.
The Rise Of Black Hat SEO
One of the longest-running SEO legends out there is that a rock band invented black hat SEO.
Legendary San Francisco band Jefferson Starship had been retired for 7 years when Paul Kanter, the lead singer, and bassist, decided to bring the band back together in 1992. As part of their promotional marketing strategy, they decided they wanted a website so fans could check their tour dates and read the latest news about the band.
At the time, businesses had to manually index their website files through Gopher if they wanted to appear in search directories. However, search engines had come up with imaginative automated ways to search the internet and show users results based on website content.
So, when Jefferson Starship built their website, they imagined that being the rightful owners of the band name, and having exclusive official content about the band, would put them right up there on the first page of search results. However, their website was stuck on page 4 for months, and nothing they did seemed to move them one inch in any direction.
After many sessions of research and conversations with the people at Yahoo, they figured out what the problem was. The band had been playing for decades and their loyal following had been writing articles about them for years. Thousands of specialized music publications and magazines had reams of album reviews, interviews, and gossip articles that mentioned Jefferson Starship and their deeds.
The band didn’t have the time or resources to fill up their website with massive amounts of articles about the band to justify including thousands of instances of the keyword.
In a stroke of genius, their webmaster decided to write “Jefferson Starship” hundreds of times all over the website but using an invisible font color so it wasn’t off-putting for visitors. The move worked like a charm, placing them first in searches for their own name and becoming the first known instance of keyword stuffing, at least officially.
It didn’t take long for marketers to apply the same strategy and pollute search engines with useless results to promote their products. This started a huge arms race that still rages on today. Search engines and black hat SEO specialists are constantly trying to outsmart each other and there is no clear winner so far. They would stuff their websites with keywords, and buy hundreds of domains that started with variations of “AAA” and “111” in their names, and directories would tweak their algorithms to give preference to “official” websites or institute pay-to-play schemes that would result in unethical practices.
The Advent Of Smarter Engines
In 1996, two Stanford University students came up with a system called PageRank that would rank sites based on something called “link relevancy.” Their algorithm would evaluate the authority of a website according to how many links pointed to it. Popular websites would generate more inbound links, which meant more people trusted them, at least in theory.
This marked the beginning of Google and revolutionized the way search engines ranked websites and showed results.
When Google became the indisputable leader, it was clear that guaranteeing high-quality results was the only way for them to stay on top. From then on, search engines focused on offering high-quality and actionable search results for their users. Search engines today are not as easy to fool as they were back then. Modern algorithms take a lot more factors into account when evaluating the value of a website and its relevance.
This incentivized the apparition of Private Blog Networks and link farms as ways to flood sites with spam links to make them appear more popular. Google tried to combat this in two ways: penalizing low-quality links, and introducing solutions like the “nofollow” tag. Soon, all these inorganic links were labeled “toxic” and many websites were severely punished for being linked by them. The move also ignited the PageRank sculpting fever in order to control how link juice was administered.
Localized Searches And Search Intent
As technology moved forward and the adoption of smart devices became universal, Google started taking location and “nearness” into account. They also implemented voice search options so people could perform queries more naturally.
At some point, some local SEO experts realized that long-tail keywords that contained the term “near me” had search volumes that would immensely surpass more localized searches that contained the name of the city or town.
For example, “dentist near me” right now generates over a million searches every month, while “Dentist in Manhattan” only gets 46 searches a month. This was soon interpreted as if the holy grail of local searches had been found, and sparked the “near me” gold rush.
However, many started pointing out that these “near me” searches represented queries performed across the US, while “dentist in Manhattan” searches were made by people living in the area or who plan to visit the area for dental treatment. These low-volume location-centered searches are a lot more valuable as they reflect actual purchase intent.
To test this, the 1DigitalⓇ Agency local SEO team performed a little experiment last year and created a series of pages targeting several important cities in the US where we had a physical presence. We not only added location-specific keywords but also added high-quality content that was relevant for each location and was curated by marketers in those areas.
After one year, the results showed that while the pages receive modest visits when compared to other higher-traffic URLs, they have very low bounce rates and more than decent page session durations, which means that users found what they were looking for and continued to navigate through the website.
Our Local SEO experts constantly follow and investigate trends behind the scenes. One of these is the use of the “near me” modifier that is commonly added to keywords in local campaigns. A thorough analysis revealed that when Google receives a request for “near me” results, it cross-references the IP of the user to determine their actual location. Google then furnishes them with results that are actually “near them,” whether or not they contain the keywords “near me” or “near” a specific location. For instance, a user in Philadelphia who searches for “digital marketing services near me,” would get a lot of results for digital marketing agencies in Philadelphia, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and other similar keywords.
This helped us design even more effective local SEO strategies for our clients, and guarantee that our methods and processes are always in line with what search engines want to offer their users in the long term.
If you want your website to implement Local SEO strategies based on hard data and methods that are proven to work, you have come to the right place. 1Digital Agency is a team of data-driven marketing professionals who have helped dozens of clients to unleash their true potential. Schedule a call today and learn more about our incredible online marketing services.
- Marcel Casella
- May 13, 2022