What you need to reach the big leagues of local SEO

Looking to build a successful career in local SEO? Columnist Brian Smith is here to coach you on how to improve your game.

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It’s that time of year again. The air becomes crisp, the crack of the bat fills the stadium, the crowd roars — Chicago Cubs fans like me get that old, familiar feeling of foreboding. Major League Baseball’s playoffs are upon us, and in the spirit of the postseason, it’s time we explore how the great American pastime applies to building a successful career in local SEO.

The right stuff

If you aspire to local SEO success, you’ve got to have the right stuff. The competition in the industry is fierce, and it’s not easy to stand out among your peers. If you’re looking to wow the scouts, or if you’re considering lacing up your cleats for the first time and joining the local SEO game, these are the qualities and skills that talented young SEOs must have:

  • Adaptability. The local SEO landscape is constantly changing. SEOs need to be comfortable with the fact that each day they log on in the morning, it’s a whole new ballgame. What was relevant yesterday might no longer be relevant today. Google alone updates its algorithms over a thousand times a year. If you’re looking for consistency and predictability in a career, local SEO is not it. However, if you thrive on the challenge and excitement of never knowing what Google will throw at you next, you might just have what it takes.
  • Hunger for continual improvement. You’ve got to have that hunger, that desire to constantly learn and improve your SEO skills. Good is never good enough — not if you want to rise to the top. There’s always a way to improve SEO performance. Find it!
  • Become a stats fanatic. Search algorithms are so complex and have so many variables that once you’ve learned the SEO basics, any additional performance gains come through constant experimentation and complex data interpretation. A successful SEO relishes A/B testing and digital sleuthing. Embrace the stats. SEO is a lot like the movie, “Moneyball” — though it’s more Jonah Hill than Brad Pitt.
  • Talk the talk. Communication is an absolutely critical skill to local SEOs. Maintaining quality relationships with both clients and the other departments within your organization requires effective oral and written communication skills.
  • A knack for behavioral science and psychology. At all times, a local SEO must have three groups in mind: 1) the end user who actually uses the search results, 2) the brand you represent and 3) the search engines. Local SEOs who can intuit the needs of these three groups are setting themselves up for a long career of SEO success.
  • Specialize. Whether you focus on enterprise brands or SMBs, it’s important that you play to your own strengths. Just as in baseball, there are different positions and skillsets; find your own niche, and play to your strengths.

Learn from the best

If you’re looking to get a leg up on the competition, it’s important to learn from the best, from those who lead and define the industry. In local SEO, you’ll find that there are a few who stand taller than the rest of the field. If you’re not already following local search experts like David Mihm, Mike Blumenthal, Mary Bowling, Linda Buquet, Darren Shaw, Mike Ramsey, and the other local search columnists at Search Engine Land, now’s the time to start.

But it’s not just the league leaders you should be paying attention to. If you’re just starting out, look to the veterans on your own team. The quickest way to develop your skills is to work alongside someone who can show you the ropes. Likewise, look to the communities and forums for help and insight, especially after any major algorithm updates. The collective knowledge of local SEOs is a powerful tool. Use it.

Striking out

Local SEO often feels like you’re up to bat with Google on the mound, and the search engine giant is staring you down, and you’re left trying to guess the next pitch. You might be expecting a fastball, but inevitably Google will throw you a curve and change up the algorithm on you. The result: a swing and a miss.

Here’s an important lesson for all local SEOs (and for all SEOs, for that matter): failure is an unavoidable aspect of the SEO game. The search algorithms are so complex and change so often that after you’ve mastered the basics, it’s mostly trial and error to achieve significant gains after that.

If something you tried didn’t work, dust yourself off, study the data and try something different. Remember, it’s a long season. Tomorrow is another day. Learn from your last at bat and try something different the next time. Striking out every now and then is inevitable. Failing to learn from that experience is unacceptable. Just don’t fail too often or you’ll be out of the job and out of the league. No pressure.

Be a utility player

Though it’s important to specialize in your given field, that doesn’t mean you should be a one-trick pony. When it comes to local SEO, the hat you wear today might not be the hat you wear tomorrow. Things change so rapidly in this business that you should expect your role within the team to constantly evolve.

For example, cleaning up geocodes and manually placing pins is a time consuming process. But that doesn’t mean tomorrow Google won’t come out with an update to the Google My Business API that will allow us to automatically update geocodes. If that day comes, acknowledge the change, adapt, improve, and look for the next area to put your effort into.

In local SEO, it’s important to constantly look to the future and anticipate it. The Penguin update was predicted long before it actually arrived. All signs point to AMP being the future of mobile. The signs are there for those willing to look. Begin laying the groundwork for looming industry changes now and you won’t get caught flatfooted when they do come to pass.

Play the local SEO game the right way

“Say it ain’t so, Joe,” but integrity is an important aspect of both baseball and local SEO. Sure, you have your cheaters in both domains, but eventually they get caught and punished. Google is constantly getting better at catching spam links and bogus local listings. You might be able to stay ahead of the search engines for a while, but eventually you’ll get caught, and you’ll have to pay the consequences. Play the local SEO game the right way, and you’ll be much more likely to have success in the long run.

And that brings me to the most important lesson about local SEO. There are no shortcuts. No easy ways to the top. To gain expertise in local SEO, you’ll have to earn it, you’ll have to grind it out. But hey, that’s part of the fun.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Brian Smith
Brian Smith is Director of Local Search Strategy at Rio SEO, a leading local search marketing software company for enterprise brands. Over more than a decade, clients relied on Brian's local marketing expertise for solutions to their most vexing local visibility challenges. When this Montana native isn’t busy delivering brands exceptional value for their local efforts, you can find him chauffeuring his kids to dance practice and sporting events.

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