For a large number of businesses, “unbranded organic traffic” is the holy grail of marketing. This means visitors to your website found it, not by searching for your company name, but by searching for descriptive terms such as “Tampa lawyer” or “industrial cleaners near me.”
That comes from search engine rankings. If you can get your rankings to high enough that they are generating all the business you can handle, you’ll be in great shape. Once you get into that situation it doesn’t disappear overnight – it can last for years with little effort.
Now, in thinking about achieving that, the very first thing to consider is WHERE you are trying to show up in searches.
There are five zones, but we’ll skip international for now. Local, state or regional, and national are very different beasts. There are a lot of ways to fail at search engine optimization. This one comes first. If you choose wrongly or misestimate what it will take, you are going to waste time and money with little or no result.
The wider the zone, the more potential. The wider the zone, the greater the difficulty. The reasons for both are the same: You’re dealing with more people. In the case of competition, to take a favorite example of mine, there are about 100 times as many people in the United States as there are in Tampa Bay. So as a rough rule of thumb, there are bout 100 times as many competitors fighting for about 100 times the potential customers.
You could say, well that’s fine, I’ll take 1/100 of 100 times as much business. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s more likely to be 1/100000 of 100 times as much business. If you are ranking on page 67, you aren’t getting anyone to see your listing.
SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T MATTER
There are two situations where there is no choice to be made.
- A local business is not going to be bringing in business from outside the local area. If you’re a dry cleaner in northwest Chicago, there is very little point in showing up in rankings in Tulsa Oklahoma. There’s very little point in showing up in rankings in Southeast Chicago!
- On the other hand, if you have an online store, or you are in some niche market that is inherently national (there are only a handful of companies doing what you do), you need to rank nationally to get your share of the business.
That being said, let’s take up each of these zones and look at some key factors – what it takes to rank in that zone.
The general subject is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO and I’ll refer to it by the commonly understood abbreviation SEO.
LOCAL SEO (SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION)
local searches are of two types. Someone in Tampa is searching, or someone is searching for something in Tampa from elsewhere. These searches can be without a location in the search phrase. If you do a search for “dry cleaners,” Google knows you are almost certainly looking for a nearby dry cleaner. You could be wanting to find out about how dry cleaners work, or some such, but after trillions of searchers, Google has a good idea of what the intent is on a search like this.
In fact, I just did that exact search, and every result on the page was about Tampa area dry cleaners.
But you could also search for “dry cleaners near me” or “dry cleaners 33606” or “dry cleaners Carrollwood” or “Tampa dry cleaners.” Two of those last three at least would also work if you were in Chicago, about to fly to Tampa, and going to stay in Carrollwood. But maybe there’s a Carrollwood in Chicago.
This is the easiest search situation but that doesn’t make it easy. A very large number of companies are in competitive industries where there may be hundreds of businesses selling the same products or services in your area.
This brings up the key question: Why you? Why should Google reward you with a top search engine position?
There are many factors that go into this. One key factor applies to state, regional, and often national SEO: Proximity. How far is your business from the searcher’s location?
Google knows, often with great accuracy, both locations.
All other things being equal, why shouldn’t Google show your searcher nearby businesses? The fact is, this is exactly what Google does. If someone is looking for a dry cleaner, they want one close by. Perhaps they are searching from home and want one close to where they work, but they can put their work location into the search. People regularly modify their searches when they aren’t getting what they are looking for.
That may be less of an issue for a dentist or a landscaping company, but it is still huge.
So you may show very well in rankings within two miles and not at all 10 miles away. That is something you can work on. The better your SEO, the farther away you will show up and on a broader range of searches. You see the result of this in more visitors to your site.
STATE AND REGIONAL
We’re lumping state and region together as they are very similar situations. Many companies find it very desirable to show up in searches throughout their state, or in neighboring states. But the same questions apply as with local search.
Why should Google show your Tampa based construction company in a search in Orlando? Or Atlanta?
It is MUCH easier if you have multiple offices around the state or region. It can still be challenging. This is often the toughest problem in SEO. Don’t expect fast results.
Win your local battle first. It’s how you set yourself up for the state and regional battle. If you are doing this well, you’ll start getting calls from outside your immediate area.
In the case of our company, working on our local SEO over time, we started getting calls from Orlando, Ocala, and West Palm Beach. Even now they aren’t a big percentage for us.
National SEO is all about the strategy. Have a workable plan or go home.
If you have an online store, you need your website properly structured for Google and you need a volume of products large enough to attract Google’s attention. If you do everything right in these areas, search engine rankings tend to follow automatically. But if it takes 10,000 products to rank well in your industry, and you only have 1000 – everything else you do will be of little use.
A similar strategy applies to other virtual businesses with national ambitions. A website like WebMD may have literally millions of pages.
If your business has physical locations, a winning national SEO strategy is to open offices or franchise locations around the country. You’ll tend to rank well where you have an office, but when you have enough locations, you’ll tend to rank well everywhere.
FIGHT THE BATTLES YOU CAN WIN
None of this is an all-or-nothing proposition. Start with a goal you can realistically accomplish and work at that until you get there. You’ll gradually do better and better and you’ll see it in traffic to your website and increased new business.
Winning the local battle isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Get great rankings in your immediate vicinity, then start working on the wider area. You could end up dominating searches over your entire state. It might take a long time, but with every step forward, you’ll be getting more business. So just keep at it. It’s a long game, so plan your resources – time and money – with the idea you’ll be doing this for years, not months – winning all along the way.