A lot of you have been wanting to see more SEO related content, and specifically case studies, so here we go.
This is a case study on how an HVAC contractor was able to go from not even displaying in maps, to getting the coveted top 3 slot in local search.
Now, this isn’t about some rinky dink town where you can just slap an EMD and rank without doing anything else. The competition was very high, and everybody ranking, even those not displayed in the top 3 had SEO companies working on their sites. This was in one of the most populated cities in the US, and he averages over 100 calls a week coming from SEO.
In this post you will learn:
- What On Page Optimization Tactics Should Be Used
- How to best use internal linking for maximum effect
- What 3rd party properties are the most important
- Specific title and heading tag templates you can use for your own sites
- Which citations matter most
- And much more
To put it simply… if you follow the guidelines in this post, you will be able to rank 95% of the sites you work on.
A Little About The Client
This client didn’t come from an email, cold call, or even direct mail. It didn’t come from SEO, PPC or any other typical client acquisition method. It came from a referral.
A referral from one of the top orthodontists in the United States, and also only one of 15 in the world that does a specific procedure, and runs an organization consisting of orthodontists in different countries around the world.
I thought it was an odd referral, because usually lawyers, orthodontists, dentists, doctors, etc. refer people in their line of work or at least in a certain vertical. Turns out the HVAC contractor was his brother in law and my long time client spoke well of me when they were discussing business.
The HVAC guy struggled to pick up business from search. He had a pretty large business and wasn’t a one man show. He handled commercial refrigeration, and other commercial services as well as a robust residential service.
He spent $60,000 a year in phone book advertising.
$10,000/mo in radio advertising and even dropped 50 grand on TV ads.
The ROI wasn’t great, but it did bring in money. Problem was, he was hiring SEO agencies left and right to work on his site. Sometimes they demanded he start a new site on a new domain because that would solve all his problems, but in the end, it never did. He had a strong PPC budget, but considering some of the keywords would range from $50-90/click, it wasn’t a priority.
3 years of “SEO work” and nothing to show for it.
Some of the issues, were created by the client, when hiring different companies left and right, and they all had different strategies but he gave up on them before fully implemented. Maybe they eventually would have had him ranking.
I knew that I didn’t have much time, considering his history of impatience. Luckily, I’m not one that believes you need a minimum of 3-6 months to get the intended results.
The first step is always preparation and research. I needed to know what damage other SEOs have done, what impact other efforts have had, and analyze the existing site, listing, citations and competitor citations and sites.
This is something that you will get better at with time but a few things you want to look for are:
- Problems with the address, how many businesses have used that address before?
- What has been done with citations? NAP consistency? How many issues?
- How is the site currently optimized with titles, and headings? How much content? How many pages?
- Internal linking structure, menus, sub menus, content links, etc.
- Links, citations and on page optimization of competitors… how many are using bogus addresses? Is there enough evidence to convince Google they are using a spammy address, even if they aren’t.
- How many listings have EMD’s or Partial Match domains?
- How many listings are using a city modifier in the business name for GMB?
These are just a few things I always look for.
3 businesses in the top 15-20 were using UPS stores / Virtual offices. I was able to get those removed with no trouble, and they remain removed today.
3 additional businesses had city modifiers in the GMB business name which was causing inflated strength in their listings. I was able to correct those in map maker and all my edits went through without a problem.
Through research, I was able to eliminate 6 competitors without touching the site.
On Page Optimization Strategy
After laying the ground work with research and a bit of reporting, it was time to get moving on the actual optimization related stuff.
There’s no need to go overboard with it. Some people have preached about stuffing images with EXIF data which is a bunch of malarkey. ALT tags can be useful but have very little impact in search.
There are 3 major areas of focus.
- Title tags
Understanding Title Tags for Local Search
Surely you’ve heard about the character limit for title tags. According to Moz, you should optimize your title tags with a 50-60 character limit.
Hogwash I tell you…
What Moz is referring to, is the snippet of the title tag that Google will use, or can use, when a page gets displayed in organic search.
Example: Here’s the titles displayed for the keyword Long Tail Pro vs. Market Samurai (yes, I’m ranking above the main authority site, even with practically 0 backlinks)
I think the total characters I’ve used for the title is 68 or so. Google will automatically use what it sees as the most relevant part of the title.
For local search, your primary focus is to rank in the 3 pack. What gets displayed is not the title tag, but the business name that is used in the Google My Business listing.
I typically optimize title tags to be between 65-80 characters. I don’t care about the 50-60 character rule. I care about adding as much relevance as possible without triggering any kind of spam filter.
Why limit myself between 65-80 characters, why not add more keywords and location relevance?
Because at some point, it comes across as spam. 65-80 characters is not spammy as long as you’re not repeating keywords. Remember, our focus is the 3 pack, not organic, but even if it were organic, Google would still apply the most relevant part of the title.
I have to reiterate once again… the 50-60 character limit is design related for Google, it is not the limit of what Google looks for to judge the relevance of a website or page.
Title Tag Templates
I’m going to make this very easy for you. If you’re optimizing for HVAC clients, you can simply use the same structure outlined in here.
Home Page title tag – [Business Name] HVAC Contractor in City, State Abbreviation
Example: Joe’s AC repair and HVAC Contractor in Tulsa, OK
The example would prove to be a great title tag because you have the business name that has AC repair, along with the main GMB category keyword being HVAC Contractor, you also have Tulsa, OK as the city.
About Us title tag – Business Name is the #1 HVAC Contractor in [City Name]
Services title tag – [Business Name] heating and cooling services in [City Name], [State Abbreviation]
Sub menu – Air Conditioning Repair – title tag – [Business Name] A/C Repair Experts in [City], [State Abbr.]
Sub menu – Furnace Repair – title tag – [Business Name] Furnace Repair and Heating Contractor in [City]
Sub menu – Air Conditioning Installation – title tag – [Business Name] AC Installation and Replacement in [City], [State Abbr.]
Sub Menu – Ductless Air Conditioning – title tag – [Business Name] Ductless AC Installation in [City], [State Abbr.]
Note: A services page is not enough, you should have an overview of each service on the service page, but also have a drop down menu or links to sub pages where you can optimize for each service.
Contact Page – Contact an HVAC Contractor Today – [Business Name]
Why do I setup tags this way?
There’s a complicated topic in SEO that I like to use, that works better than traditional PBNs in my opinion, and that is using Co-Occurrence and Co-Citations. While what you do on your own site isn’t exactly co-occurrence building, it does help you optimize a specific footprint you want created…
That footprint, is association between the business name, category keyword and related keywords, and the location.
When you have the business name in the title along with keywords, it shows strong association. When you have the location in there, it identifies the business name with the location. Setting up your title tags properly, allows your off page optimization to go much more smoothly and with less effort than the majority of your competitors.
The more association you can create between a business name, keyword(s), location and even the owner’s name, the better! Just as you would build citations to show relevance to a location that’s tied between a name, address and phone number, you would do the same with your content, titles, and other properties.
Let’s Talk URL Structure
For this particular client, I ended up rewriting all the URLs.
For those of you handling this on your own, or doing SEO for clients, there are a few things you have to consider before rewriting the URLs.
1.) Is the business ranking in GMB or organically for any of these pages or keywords?
2.) How far behind is the business if they aren’t ranking in the top 3?
3.) Were the page title tags fairly well optimized before you started any work?
4.) Do they have any local backlinks to the pages?
These are just a couple questions you should ask yourself.
If the business is ranking in GMB or getting considerable traffic from organic search, you’d probably be wise to leave the URLs alone. Instead of re-optimizing the URLs, you can pick up the slack later on when optimizing headings.
If the business is on the cusp of top 3 rankings, keep the URLs the same. Ranking 4-7, it is probably safe to keep things the way they are and pick up the slack in other areas. In extremely competitive cities and industries, you may have to change the URLs if you’ve done everything possible to cut the edge the businesses ranked above you have. 98% of the time, you would keep the URLs the same.
Working with clients, you’ll occasionally come across a few that have either hired a decent SEO company in the past, or have done their own SEO, and a pretty good job optimizing. When the title tags are already optimized, and heading tags along with content look pretty good, you’ll want to consider changing the URL structure if they aren’t ranking already.
I don’t care much about backlinks from different web 2.0 properties or other sources when considering whether to change the URLs to better optimize for search. However, what I look for, is local related backlinks. Backlinks from sites in the same city, or local news outlets that may have linked to one of the internal pages at some point. If they have these links, or even press release links to internal pages, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, keep those URLs the same, and never change them.
For everything else, always add 301 redirects from old URLs to the new URLs, or at the very least, 301 redirect to the home page.
URL Template / Examples
What you do in your URL, really depends on what you do with the page title. A couple of years ago, you could add the keyword and location in a URL with no problems, and greatly increase the visibility that site has not just in local listings but in organic search as well. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complicated.
You can’t stuff keywords in along with the location on every single page, you have to be aware of everything you do and optimize strategically.
For example lets say this is a services page:
(no idea if this is a real site or not, it’s just for the purpose of an example)
Non-optimized – joesACrepair.com/services
Outdated – joesACrepair.com/hvac-contractor-atlanta-ga
Proper format – joesACrepair.com/joes-hvac-services
Acceptable – joesACrepair.com/our-atlanta-services
If you look further above in the title section, the title for the services page was:[Business Name] heating and cooling services in [City Name], [State Abbreviation]
Using the URL structure: joes-hvac-services, includes part of the business name, along with hvac as the keyword. Over optimizing would be to include the city and state in the URL, which you would not want to do when it is already included in the title tag. The only exception to this rule, is when creating city specific landing pages.
You could also choose to not include “hvac” in the URL, and instead go for the city. Some may sense a weak location association, which at that point, it is location that should have priority instead of the keywords.
Since the title included heating and cooling services, I would prefer to have hvac in the URL since that is the main GMB category keyword, and it is associated with both heating and cooling. Having similar, but different words in the URL, compliments the title tag and also shows strong signals of relevance to Google.
Another example for a furnace repair page:
Not really optimized – joesACrepair.com/furnace-repair
Possibly over optimized – joesACrepair.com/furnace-repair-atlanta-ga
Proper – joesACrepair.com/heating-contractor-atl
Acceptable – joesACrepair.com/furnace-repair-company
Acceptable – joesACrepair.com/heating-atlanta
title tag – [Business Name] Furnace Repair and Heating Contractor in [City]
This one is a bit different, just to show you a bit of variance and how things can change depending on the page, other pages, and title tags.
None of these URL structures, are exactly bad. Even the furnace-repair example wasn’t a bad URL, you could just do more with it.
The over optimized example, is not over optimized if you’re only doing a couple pages like that. Personally, I like to add city and state to a URL on 1 page for every 4 or 5 other pages without it in the URL.
The first proper/acceptable example shows a keyword with a popular city abbreviation for Atlanta. Since the title tag would have the city fully spelled out, it’s unnecessary to include it in the URL, however, the city abbreviation allows for a stronger location association without being seen as spammy.
The next example, furnace-repair-company takes a partial keyword from the title, while adding company instead of contractor, and with no location association. This is perfectly fine to do, but for HVAC companies, I prefer to not have location association in URLs with the exception of the more competitive, AC repair and furnace repair terms/pages.
Heating-Atlanta is an example that would be acceptable if once again, you’re worried more about location association than keyword association. Also, it would be ideal for those competing in GMB opposed to a lead gen site competing in organic. It’s not loaded with keywords, but it keeps the URL short, while including an important word (heating) along with the location identifier.
Proper Heading Tags
There’s certainly more to on page optimization than the big 3, however, getting these 3 things down and working together gives you a huge advantage over the competition.
Heading tags are the final piece of the 3 piece puzzle for on page optimization!
Common Issues with Heading Tags
One of the biggest problems most of you will suffer from, is bad coding from the web designer you used or template you decided to buy and customize.
Using the SEO Quake tool bar, you can easily see different on page issues. One of the most common, is related to the headings people use, or the heading tags.
When I say heading tags, I mean, <h1>, <h2>, etc. Or if you’re using wordpress, they’re just called Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on in the WYSIWYG editor.
The problem with many templates, is the fact that they use heading tags for certain design elements. These are pretty easy issues to fix, and outsourcing is incredibly cheap. A freelancer on upwork for $5/hr can knock out these changes usually in an hour or less.
For example, some themes will have the title of a blog post display as an h2 when it should be an h1. Also, sidebar modules occasionally get displayed as an h2, when it shouldn’t be a heading tag at all.
Optimizing Your Heading Tags
How you optimize your heading tags, truly depends on how you’ve optimized your title tags, and URLs.
The common practice that I’ve seen being preached for the last 4 years or so, is that your h1 tag should be the exact same as your title tag. Of course, I’m not a believer.
We don’t want h1 tags to be the exact same as the title because search has evolved. We no longer target single keywords with exact phrasing. Instead, we cover a range of keywords under the same topic or within the same industry.
If you understand LSI, then it would be foolish to repeat the same exact thing when you can essentially say the same thing with different words. Words, that support the main idea / keyword(s) you’re going for.
Remember… we’re not wanting to just repeat keywords. We want to show the strongest relevance possible to the industry, location, and the range of keywords you’re going for.
An HVAC contractor that has a page about air conditioning repair, would probably have the h1 as “Business Name A/C Repair Service”, or “City Name’s Best A/C Repair Expert”.
The h1 is usually easy, but it’s the h2 tags and possibly h3 tags that make an even bigger difference with relevance.
You don’t want to have content that just outlines what you do, instead, you want to go further in depth.
For an Air Conditioning Repair page, you would want an overview of what you do under the h1 tag. Two paragraphs are perfectly fine.
Following those two paragraphs, you would ideally go further in depth about the different repair issues. Each issue, should be a heading tag. One about air handler motors, compressors, condensate drains with a paragraph about each is a great way to increase the relevance of the page and your site as a whole.
Heading Tag Examples and Templates
Like I said above, how you optimize your heading tags, depends a lot on your title and URL.
Here are a few examples.
Let’s use an Air Conditioning Repair page as one of the examples, and the same fictitious JoesACrepair domain.
The title tag is – [Business Name] A/C Repair Experts in [City], [State Abbr.]
URL – JoesACrepair.com/air-conditioning-contractor
The H1 tag I would use is “Joe’s Air Conditioning Repair Serving Atlanta”
Since the URL doesn’t have the city identifier, I feel like it is okay to include the city in the h1 tag. If you have the city in the URL, you would leave the city out of the h1 tag, and instead mention it an additional time in an h2/h3 tag.
If you follow my advice in the above section, you would have a paragraph or two, then go further in depth with different common issues or repairs that are made.
The H2 tag I would use: Common Repairs our HVAC Contractors Make
I would follow it with a sentence or two of filler, along with a link to get a free estimate or to fill out a contact form.
Next, I would use other h2 tags, or you can also use h3 tags to describe 3 common repair issues.
h2/h3 – Air Handler Motor Replacement
h2/h3 – Refrigerant leak detection and repair
h2/h3 – Condensate pump replacement
h2/h3 – Other Repairs Our Atlanta Based HVAC Experts Make (followed by a bulleted list)
Deciding Whether to Use H2 or H3 Tags
Some people have theories on what to use and when, but I don’t really have an opinion on that. My opinion is that it doesn’t make any measurable difference.
Deciding whether to use h2 or h3 for your sub headings, is entirely up to you and most likely comes down to format preference, not SEO benefit.
Internal Linking Strategy
For most clients I’ve always focused primarily on the top 3 on page things I’ve discussed. One thing I think it important enough to mention is how you should link internally on your own website.
Some people will link the keywords with exact match anchor text, and that’s fine as long as you do it sparingly.
Typically, I like to have at least 2 internal, contextual links per page.
I will only link to a specific page with exact match anchor text for your targeted keyword, once. That doesn’t mean I only link to that specific page once. For service related sub menu items, I like to link to with exact match keywords on the service page, and using heading tags as a link.
For all other times I link to a certain page, it is using the surrounding context as the anchor. Google is smart enough to know what is relevant and what isn’t.
A couple rules to remember:
- When internal linking, only load the anchor text with keywords for a certain page, once.
- Use relevant surrounding context to link to other internal pages
- When an h2 or h3 tag is linked with anchor text, it seems to carry more weight / importance
- A minimum of 2 internal links per page, but keep them natural looking.
Related Reading: 7 Local Link Building Tips to Dominate Local Search
Basic Off Page SEO Strategy
I want to outline a few things I did for this client, along with what I do for almost every client I’ve worked with. Now… I’m not going to outline everything, because this post has already turned into quite the novel, and we can go on and on about off page tactics.
Instead of going into an exhaustive list of things, I’m going to lay out highly actionable tactics you can and should use for yourself and clients, and not even mention anything about PBNs because they are rarely necessary for local search.
Creating a Social Fortress
I’m not positive but I think the phrase social fortress was coined by Matt Diggity who wrote a guest post a while back here on transitioning from client SEO to affiliate SEO.
We have different reasons for creating it, his is to act as a buffer between PBN links and your site. My reason is because for a legitimate business, it makes sense! It also gives you an opportunity to create a stronger location and industry relevance with association to your business.
Here’s a few that I believe are necessary to create:
- LinkedIn (company page)
Top secret tips: Some will say this is bad advice, but what I like to do is keyword stuff when optimizing these properties. Joe’s AC Repair would be the typical choice by most when creating these profiles or optimizing certain aspects (like video titles and descriptions, or even urls). What I like to do, is add keywords and location to the properties so you have a chance for them to act as a parasite.
Joe’s AC repair, may be a bad example since he has a keyword in his business name already. So instead, we would just add the location. For example, Joe’s AC Repair in Atlanta would be the twitter handle I would create and optimize for. Same with LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, etc.
In some cases, like with Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t even bother using the business name as the URL, instead I would use the main GMB category keyword with location, and tie it together by adding some NAP data and a link to the website.
These properties can also act as a citation, or partial citation by including your website link, and phone number. Address is optional but helpful if you can find a place to add it, usually in a description box.
If you build these properties out, you would want to follow or interact with others in your industry.
I don’t care about social engagement. If it happens, great, but that’s not the purpose of these properties.
The purpose of this is to create a strong footprint that shows the business name is strongly associated with the industry it is in, as well as the location.
In Google+, while the property is next to dead it still gives a bit of value. Make sure your brand page joins communities that are relevant to your field, and try to also join location specific groups for the added boost in relevance.
Let’s Talk Citations
On this blog, I’ve already discussed citations in depth. If you need a refresher here’s a few good posts to go through:
6 Best Kept Secrets to Dominate Local Search (lots on citations here)
Some of the citation sources I’m going to give you were already mentioned above, like Facebook and LinkedIn. I know everyone preaches “NAP Consistency” but for FB and LI, follow my advice instead. Google (and even the citation tracker services) pick up the citations based on certain consistencies, the most important being phone number, not business name.
Here’s some of the top citation sources to grab:
- Better Business Bureau
- Yellow Pages
- Super Pages
- bing Local
Alternative Citation Sources
You and your competitors are always going for those main citation sources. Everyone ranking well in competitive areas, usually has those as a citation source. So how do you build on that?
Pretty much any web 2.0 property will be able to double as a citation source. Forget about just using web 2.0 links, you should be using web 2.0 properties to display your NAP data, or at the very least, the phone number.
Videos, are another citation source that are extremely strong and probably favored more by Google than even the monster directories like yelp (unless you’re in the bay area). I’ve discussed it before, but basic animoto style videos work perfectly fine.
For the particular client I’ve talked about in this post, I did videos for each service offered, optimizing the title of the video (even the file name) to include the keyword, location and phone number. In the description, giving an overview of the service, followed with a call to action and NAP information.
You can boost that strategy further, by implementing video syndication. Using the same video on all the different video upload sites like vimeo, daily motion and others.
Creating Your Own Local Backlinks
For most doing local SEO, implementing a local backlinking strategy is a pretty difficult task.
Most common ways of getting backlinks, are essentially by paying for them. In some cases, it is the local BNI dues that gets you listed in their local chapter directory, or a membership to the chamber of commerce in your city. Other ways are paying for sponsorship of 5k races, city events or other events that need sponsors.
It takes money, and a lot of time investment to do that.
Personally, I like to have as much profit as possible, the best results as possible, while investing as little time as possible. That’s why I prefer to be in control of my own local properties, without having to rely on a PBN. Actually you can think of it as a PBN but much easier to manage, and almost completely safe.
Step 1 – Set up some web 2.0 blogging properties
These are properties that you DO NOT use your business name when optimizing, or even when signing up.
3 properties I like to have, are:
You don’t optimize for your business because you’re wanting to artificially create a local relevant property.
If you’re from Cleveland, Ohio, you would optimize these properties as being a “news” property for Cleveland OH.
Step 2 – Borrow Content from Local News Sites
Go ahead and find a local newspaper, site, or local news outlet that publishes content online. Find some articles, and copy and paste them.
I like to find business related news, like business openings, that include the address of the business that is opening. Having different addresses within the city, helps add location relevance.
What you’re doing here, is just acting as a syndication outlet.
5-10 articles from local news site, per property you have for the purpose, is usually good enough. For ultra competitive cities and industries you may want to do more or set up an IFTTT recipe to automate this on a regular basis.
Step 3 – Create 2 Original Articles on Each Property
If possible, these are the articles you want to “pin” or “sticky” so they remain on the first page, preferably at the top. Normally, I don’t even need to worry about it, because these are the final 2 articles I create for each property without having to add any additional content.
The first article:
I like to do a city specific guide / directory on different types of businesses to use. Think of it as a home service guide with different businesses getting listed. Only one business per industry… for example:
1 HVAC Contractor
1 Roofing Company
1 Lawn Care
1 Carpet Cleaning
Make sure to include these businesses with full NAP information. Of course, you, or your client should also be in that list, with a link to the website.
The 2nd article:
Blatant, self promotion.
I like to approach the 2nd and final custom article with a format similar to being a press release.
The 1st step is to search for the industry + scam. Look at the details, and write a press release style article about it, from the point of view of yourself or the client.
For example: Headline – Local HVAC Contractor Warns [City] Residents of Common Scams
In the article, talk about the scam. Give generic tips on how to choose an HVAC Contractor, and at the end, write a paragraph or two about the company with a link back to the website, along with NAP data.
This is the last article you should need to write for each property. For best results, spin it a bit for other properties if you’re feeling lazy and not wanting to write completely unique content for each property you have.
Step 4 – (Optional) Semi Gray Hat Optimization
Most properties will have a description field or widget/module you can add in the sidebar. What I like to do is create a short paragraph about the site/property. Not YOUR site… but the property you created.
This is not white hat. It is not honest. The popular Local SEO “Experts” will never recommend it… but it works.
I like to create a footprint that makes it appear that the property you created is owned by the local news site or source you took content from. Using the newpaper/new site name, along with THEIR NAP data, gives it an extra push and much stronger location relevance.
There’s a common problem that impacts business owners, AND SEO companies alike. Business owners are waiting for results, for far too long. SEO companies, many of them, outsource all the tasks to freelancers or off shore SEO companies that don’t know what they’re doing.
Many are using outdated tactics, or tactics that just aren’t as effective as they used to be.
This becomes apparent when visiting any marketing forum and you look at the SEO related questions people have, and the answers they receive.
Hopefully, this exact template that was able to get results in under a month, will help those of you doing SEO for your own business, and those of you handling SEO for clients.
As always, comments, questions, and additions are welcome in the comments below!