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Local SEO is about so much more than tools
Tools can help us do our jobs more efficiently, but columnist Greg Gifford reminds us that they aren't meant to do our jobs for us.
Welcome to my first Local SEO column of the year on Search Engine Land! While most other sites are publishing roundups or predictions for 2017, there’s really only one way to kick off the beginning of a new year: a new installment of Greg’s Soapbox!
As you faithful readers know, my posts are almost always influenced by recent conversations with clients or near-clients, and this one’s no different. A few weeks ago, one of the auto dealers on our website platform called our support department with a question about inbound links. Our support team forwarded the call over to our SEO team.
The dealer wanted to know how to “get rid of some links.” Obviously, we asked for a bit more detail — and were blown away by the answer.
The dealer explained that they had about 75 to 80 links that they wanted to get rid of because they were bad links. He had run his link profile through Moz and had seen some high Spam Scores, so they turned to Majestic and saw low Trust Flow. He only had 100 inbound links, and he wanted to summarily execute 80 percent of his link profile.
The problem was, only one of the links was really a bad link. The other links were actually very valuable links — because they were links from small, hyper-local websites. The dealer was taking the tools at face value without really understanding how to use them.
You have to know how to use your SEO tools
Optimizing websites is an organic process that requires human insight. If you ask five SEO professionals to optimize the same page, they’d all do it differently. They’d all agree that title tags, H1s and content need to be optimized, but they’d optimize each element differently.
SEO tools are meant to make our jobs easier by simplifying tasks or gathering and visualizing data. But you still have to know how to interpret the data that’s presented. Trust Flow is Majestic’s estimation of a link quality score, based on the inferred quality of links from various sites. Moz’s Spam Score is calculated by looking at various factors that tend to belong to spammy sites.
Those of us in the local search sphere approach link building a bit differently from traditional SEO practitioners. We know that a link from a small, hyper-local site can carry a disproportionate amount of weight in the local algorithm — but the SEO tools don’t take “local” into account.
In fact, many of the elements that Moz correlates with spammy sites are also elements we see on most smaller local websites. Let’s look at a few of the “spammy” elements:
- Low link diversity. Many local sites don’t have lots of inbound links, or they’ll have a lot of links from just a few sites.
- Thin content. Many local businesses run their own sites, so they don’t have lots of content.
- Large site with few links. Because most local businesses run their own sites, they don’t do any link building, so they won’t have many inbound links.
- Low number of internal links. Again, since businesses run their own sites, they’re not optimizing internal link structure (and many times, have no internal links in page copy at all).
- External links in navigation. Because most business owners don’t know best practices, they’ll often include external links in their site navigation.
- Low number of pages found. Local businesses typically have smaller sites — which means fewer pages.
See what I mean? A small site for a local business that’s run by the business owner could trip a significant number of Moz’s Spam Score criteria.
If the client had simply looked a bit harder at the domains that were linking to him, it would have been clear that the links were valuable. The links came from local businesses, local clubs, local churches and local charities. They were exactly the kind of links his dealership needed — but because he was only looking at one element of the tool, he was ready to burn nearly every valuable link he had acquired.
Looking back at my recent posts here, I seem to rant fairly often about SEOs looking for silver bullets and shortcuts. Incredibly enough, many of the SEO tools out there help people fall into that very trap. Tools are meant to help us do our job — not do our job for us!
Your tools are a starting point. You need to understand the data the tools present so you know how to interpret what they’re telling you. SEO is a complex and nuanced discipline, so look beyond the tools and use your big brain to optimize your sites.
Let’s make it our New Year’s resolution to emphasize the human element in SEO. We’ll be better at our jobs, and we’ll get better results for our clients.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.