How to gain an unfair advantage in online marketing

I’ve been doing SEO and online marketing now for nearly 10 years, and I have to admit – one of the most startling realizations I ever experienced was when my clients actually started reaching #1 in Google for their targeted keyword phrases.

Granted, the art and practice of SEO today is nothing like it was back then. Blackhat practices reigned supreme in what was the equivalent of the “wild wild west” in Google search. And for what it’s worth, if you wanted to have any chance of competing in hyper competitive markets back then (i.e. plastic surgeons in nyc, or personal injury lawyer atlanta) where other blackhat SEO types and their clients dominated the top search results, you had to follow suit… or else your clients never stood a chance.

But then Google started ratcheting down their algorithm to weed out those who artificially inflated their rankings. And when that process started, and you had to sit and watch your #1 ranked website disappear into places like the dreadful “omitted search results”, myself as a practicing SEO had to quickly figure out how to answer the following questions:

If blackhat SEO practices are dead, then what hope do my clients have of ever reaching the top search results?

And even worse, what hope does my business have of surviving?

That’s when a major transformation occurred in my business, and it was around 2009 or 2010 that I started to realize that both local businesses, and enterprise companies alike, could truly achieve an “unfair advantage” in the search results of Google.

But that brings up another key question: how does a business legitimately achieve an unfair advantage in Google search? And better yet, what exactly do I mean by an “unfair advantage”?

Let me first explain what I mean by an “unfair advantage”.

I realized a startling truth that no matter how big or small your business may be, if you followed a strict set of principles in the structure of your website and the content produced on your website, then you could actually outrank larger national brands – in essence, the small guy now stood a chance at competing with the big box companies.

Likewise, if you owned a large corporate brand or national level franchise, you could equally compete in the top search results. The point is, the playing field was leveled by the ever iterating algorithm in Google search.

Take a small carpet cleaning business in a major metro area like Atlanta. If you ran a carpet cleaning business from your home in metro Atlanta and worked out of your truck or van, you now had the opportunity to compete against large carpet cleaning franchises that also had a presence in metro Atlanta.

Another way to say it is, national brands could no longer buy their way to the top of Google’s organic search results like they could in the past. And if you, being a small business, took the proper steps in high quality meta data structuring, and actually invested in producing high quality content on your website, you now stood a chance at rising the #1 position in Google’s organic search results and giving your business an unfair advantage in your market space.

As Google’s algorithm became more refined, the opportunity to gain that “unfair advantage” grew exponentially.

And the opportunity continues to grow for gaining an unfair advantage, especially at the local / metro level, because Google’s Penguin updates continue to push local businesses to the forefront in the local search results – what’s sometimes referred to as the 7 pack, or Google map rankings that you see at the top of the search results for locally targeted queries.

The unfair advantage in local SEO is compounded even further by mobile phones. Nearly all locally targeted searches made from a mobile device will feature the local search results above the organic search results.

Even better, the local search results on mobile phones feature a tap to call button and directions button right in the search results. Google has refined their search results to where people don’t even have to visit a website to place a call into a business – it can all be done right from the search results.

And this is what I mean by gaining an unfair advantage in local SEO and online marketing.

When it comes to the natural search results, Google is a not a “respecter of people” so to speak… if you want to buy your way to the top today, you need to launch an Adwords campaign – then Google will be more than happy to take your money in exchange for top rankings in the search results. But as I’m sure you know, if you’ve ever invested heavily in Adwords campaigns, this is an extremely expensive proposition and one that most local or small business owners simply cannot stomach as a long term option for online advertising. Primarily because this is where the big national brands can invest heavily. But again, they are being forced to do so because of the declining ability to game the ranking algorithm with blackhat SEO practices.

Let me give you 10 tips on how to gain an unfair advantage in local SEO. And it doesn’t matter if you are well established SMB, a small local business, a law firm in a major metro area, or a national level franchise with hundreds of locations across the U.S. Following some of these techniques will put you on the path to achieving an unfair advantage over your competitors.

And by “an unfair advantage” I mean, your business rising to the top of Google local search results and YOUR business getting the phone call the next time someone searches for a “carpet cleaner in atlanta” (for example!).

1) Create and verify your Google local business page.

2) Ensure you properly categorize your Google local business page.

3) If a category doesn’t exist that precisely defines the type of business you offer, then use descriptors in your business name and title on your Google local business page.

4) If you do business in multiple cities, then make sure you create a Google local business page for each market and ensure to use a designated page for that market as the landing page within your Google business page.

5) Make sure you implement a high level of site structuring in the meta data of your landing pages within your website, making sure you highlight targeted keyword phrases within the title and description tags of those pages.

6) Create a high level of consistency with your NAP (business name, address, phone) between your Google business page and your website. This is achieved by making sure you present your NAP on your website in the exact same way it’s presented on your Google business page.

7) Create a highly authoritative citation portfolio by submitting your NAP to major data aggregators such as Localeze, Acxiom, InfoGroup, & Factual (or use a service such as Moz Local that makes this process a “little bit” easier). You might also be interested in reading an article I recently published called How To Leverage Big Data For Local SEO Success.

8) Create highly authoritative citations on your Facebook business page, and I’ve even started using Twitter as a source for citations for my clients. Twitter is, arguably, one of the most authoritative sites on the web and you can easily add your NAP to the description of your Twitter profile.

9) Start a blog and publish content on a consistent bases. For local / metro targeted businesses, one of the most effective forms of blogging that we’ve ever implemented for our clients is news. We have a law firm client where we publish news articles related to their targeted practice areas, and traffic to their website has blossomed over 30% month over month as a result of this news content. And the law firm gains 100% of the branding and exposure on this content, not to mention the value of additional backlinks that are received naturally from external sources. You might be interested in reading one of my articles called Here’s One Simple Strategy To Effective Small Business Blogging to learn more about how to leverage a blog for your business.

10) Make sure you have a mobile website for your business. There is some debate over Google giving favor to businesses that have a mobile version of their website. But where the unfair advantage is gained is in user experience. A study showed that 70% of local consumers prefer mobile websites over native mobile apps (read more here). This means, local customers prefer landing on a mobile website for a local business versus having to go to the app store to download an app. After all, when people are searching for local businesses on their mobile phone, they pretty want to be able to call the business or find directions. You might be interested in reading my article called Mobile First SEO: What You Need To Know.

These are 10 tips, actionable tips, that you can implement today to start the process of giving your business an unfair advantage in the local search results in Google.

I would love to hear your feedback on this topic, and any tips that you might add to the list I provided above.