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Local SEO in 2017 and beyond: managed strategy vs. automation
There are many great software options for automating local search tasks, but columnist Andrew Beckman argues that a human-managed approach may still be necessary to see results.
Over the past five-plus years, the digital marketing world has seen an influx of Local Search SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platforms emerge with different value propositions for brands with physical store locations.
Generally speaking, these platforms allow companies to store business location data (Name, Address, Phone Number) in one central location, and then subsequently push that information out to various channels.
While SaaS platforms allow digital marketers to manage local business listings on social media and search engine channels, brands themselves are actually expecting greater visibility in organic search results in the process, which does not always occur.
Brand marketers are also realizing that using a SaaS platform requires that they must also budget the human resources to not only manage the platform on a day-to-day basis, but to also consider the various other organic ranking attributes that are needed for a successful SEO program.
While SaaS platforms are often presented as turnkey solutions that operate automatically with need for little else, the aforementioned internal resource expenses still need to be factored into an overall ROI in addition to the general SaaS subscriptions and fees.
While automation has some benefits, there are still many aspects of local SEO that need to be both monitored and managed by real human beings on an ongoing basis. These include:
- Analysis of where individual business listings are appearing in Google, Bing, Apple, etc.
- Data accuracy and ranking position.
- Percentage of visible business listings for key search terms and phrases (mobile and desktop).
- Content management and optimization for better user experience and SEO performance.
- Analytics tracking, measurement and analysis to better inform key strategy adjustments.
- Which channels are actually contributing to conversions.
While SaaS platforms can help streamline portions of your local SEO strategy to be more effective, a managed service approach that utilizes both technology and actual digital marketing experts can provide even greater dividends. Let’s break down the benefits of each approach and highlight some differences as well:
Using SaaS platforms for SEO
A large number of SaaS platforms allow brand marketers to centralize, authenticate and distribute business data and information across directories and networks. The syndication of data goes directly to various search engines, social media networks and other directories, which helps brands scale location data in order to rank organically.
It’s important to note that many SaaS platforms have revenue sharing agreements in place, and as a result provide paid inclusion programs that help update your listings faster and with additional enhanced content fields (for a price). However, paid inclusion programs can only be leveraged to improve ranking in local business directories, such as Yelp, 411.com, Local.com, etc. Major search engines and organizations like Google, Bing, and Apple do not allow these types of paid programs to influence organic ranking.
Here are some benefits to using a SaaS platform:
- Ensuring business listings are updated with appropriate content.
- Social content publishing.
- Citation distribution to hundreds of directories.
- Pin verification (giving you the exact latitude and longitude of a location).
- Citation analysis (making sure NAP is relevant on all directory locations).
- Compiling reviews from various sources.
In addition to pushing data to channels directly, you also have the ability to use database aggregators to distribute the location data to numerous directories that assist with citation building. The main companies who have a list of channels they push data to include Factual, Acxiom, Infogroup and Neustar.
At the end of the day, SaaS helps automate aspects of your local SEO campaign, but automation can only take you so far.
Managed services + technology platforms (the agency model)
Technology obviously makes digital marketing much easier in many ways, but managing a proper local business listing and local SEO program requires actual human resources to dig into the data, channels, performance and strategy in order to better optimize for improved ROI.
Web analytics, Google Search Console and paid search data must truly be analyzed and interpreted in order for the right actions to be taken. Content needs to be created, distributed and optimized. Citations must be routinely monitored. Backlinks pointing to the primary brand domain must not only be in place, but continually evaluated for authority and ranking value.
After the Google Venice and Google Pigeon algorithm updates, there has been an ongoing integration of traditional organic ranking factors into local search results. It is wise to expect there will be more changes coming as the local search ecosystem continually evolves; and since Google has a significant investment in crawling and ranking the web, brands can be better prepared for those changes by focusing more on what lies at the heart of SEO: site structure, content, and links.
Although some of the automation platforms available on the market today can provide for a centralized repository for your brand data, it’s what happens to that data after you have it centralized that is the most important element to your local listings strategy. No automation technology or SaaS platform by itself can tackle the primary SEO elements that actually impact ranking — it’s simply not possible. Brands need to employ a comprehensive strategy that includes:
- High-touch strategic analysis and execution for increasing exposure of your local assets and for assessing an ROI relative to a successful local listing management program.
- Constant analysis of paid search performance data through web analytics, thus providing actionable analysis for an agency to make the beneficial changes.
- Site structure, content and link analysis are the pillars of SEO and need to be managed and evaluated on an ongoing basis to maximize organic traffic opportunities.
As local listing management becomes more complex, the need for organic optimization is becoming even more important than ever for achieving higher rankings. Having a SaaS platform run your program ultimately becomes a challenge; other SEO factors are playing a part in impacting higher rankings, and by only using software, you’re essentially leveraging a single arrow out of the entire quiver of that is a comprehensive local SEO strategy.
Having actual human beings constantly managing the complexities of a sound local SEO strategy is always going to be much more effective in the long-term approach that is inherent to SEO itself, and simply checking a box by deploying SaaS tools is no longer going to pass as having a strong SEO strategy. While a SaaS platform gives you the ability to make some updates to your local listings, you still need to apply human resources that are responsible for actually getting involved in the day-to-day activity of optimizing the program in order to ensure the best possible organic ranking.
Furthermore, someone needs to be held accountable for performance and analysis, and SaaS platforms aren’t in a position to provide those details — their responsibility and accountability often ends at execution of the campaign.
In conclusion, the fact remains that legitimate SEO strategies cannot be automated, and taking shortcuts by using nothing more than automated tools will result in less-than-satisfactory performance. Furthermore, when you discontinue using a SaaS platform, your organic ranking authority diminishes because rich listing content like local images often get removed, while NAP info becomes increasingly vulnerable to changes (or lack thereof).
We’ll leave you with this analogy to clarify it even further: a SaaS platform is like a rented apartment, whereas a managed approach to SEO is like owning a mortgage on a home. At the end of the day, the apartment may be satisfactory, but you don’t actually own the equity you’ve worked so hard to build up.
When you take a strategic, hands-on approach that requires human beings doing the real work, the dividends pay off in both the short term and the long term. Brands should no longer be satisfied with minimal short term lift provided by SaaS platforms, but instead should be demanding tangible, long-term performance and results that can only be provided by implementing a managed approach to SEO.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.