Analyzing Content & Creating a Publishing Strategy


The moment any local business steps online, it becomes a publisher. Websites are publications, just like books and magazines. Local business listings, review responses, and social media posts are all publications. The scale at which an individual brand needs to publish will be determined by the competitiveness of its market.

Small businesses in roomy markets may need little more than the basic website pages you identified in your technical audit from Chapter 3, but larger brands in crowded fields may need to develop an extensive publishing strategy.

In auditing local business content, you need to assess the existing publishing strategy and then make any necessary recommendations for its improvement.

Auditing local business website content

Evaluate each key page of the website, including top blog content, to see how many of these points each one checks off:

  • Does this content support a known customer need or aspiration?

  • Do the words being used match your key search terms?

  • Has content been created to cover all of the key search terms your research surfaced, or are there opportunities to publish additional content to rank for more terms?

  • Are geo-terms (city, ZIP, neighborhood, etc.) abundant or absent?

  • Does the copy read in a natural, human manner, or sound like a robot?

  • Is the copy free of spelling and grammatical errors, meeting the professional standards you would expect of a quality print magazine?

  • Has the topic been covered thoroughly?

  • Is the copy organized so that customers in a hurry can get the gist of it at a glance, but also detailed enough for readers who want a deep understanding?

  • Is this content unique enough so that it’s not just a duplicate of something elsewhere on the website, or on a third party site? (Duplicate content may be filtered out of search engine results and lower the quality of a publication. Use free duplicate content/plagiarism checker tools to help with this.)

  • Are there strong calls to action (CTAs) on every page to prompt the reader to a next step, like visiting a store location, purchasing something, filling out a form, or phoning the business?

Evaluating for E-A-T

The above checklist is a great start to a content audit for most local businesses, but you can take it to the next level by reviewing the publication in terms of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). Here are some simple definitions:

Expertise: The person/entity publishing this content has advanced or specialized knowledge.

Authoritativeness: The Internet recognizes (cites/links to) this person/entity as an expert.

Trustworthiness: The publication itself is transparent, with accessible pages and policies that protect the public and, possibly, with sentiment about the business on third party sites and review platforms indicating a trustworthy business.

In the larger SEO world, you’ll find lots of interesting information about the concept of E-A-T, and how Google may use it in reference to a document called the Quality Raters’ Guidelines, which they provide to their 16,000 or so quality raters. You’ll find the industry debating whether E-A-T factors directly or indirectly impact ranking, and if this can even be measured.

In auditing local business content, here are three benchmarks to look for:

  1. A business should aim to possess the ultimate level of expertise. Whether this is via owners/staff having formal accreditation (degrees, business associations, etc.) or via deep analysis of an industry, assess the level of expertise of the people writing the content for the website or blog and determine if it could/should be elevated. Practically speaking, a medical doctor with a longstanding podiatry practice is an obvious expert in all matters relating to foot heath, and a plumber with 20 years of experience and multiple industry accreditations can also be an expert.

  2. Do others vouch for the publisher’s authority by publicly and digitally recognizing the writers as experts? The more the Internet public links to and cites a publication, the more reasons Google has to surface it as an authoritative result for searchers. Gauge whether links to each piece of content indicate that an appropriate level of marketing is being used to help the publisher become known and liked.

  3. Finally, assess whether the website has abundant consumer protections in the form of full contact information, guarantees, disclaimers, and where appropriate, cites scientific/factual sources for any claims being made that could impact peoples’ lives, health, or safety. At the same time, be sure the brand is carefully following all of the recommendations in the Chapter 4 on reputation management, so that Google is encountering positive sentiment about the business instead of reports of scams or scandals.

Any piece of content that can check off all these points is well on its way to being a genuine asset for the business.

A final step in the audit process is to determine whether the format of the content is ideal for meeting the brand’s goals.

Evaluating content formats

The most effective content solves customer problems and, ideally, aligns with their aspirations.

Any customer looking for an answer to a question, or for a product or service that meets their needs, is experiencing a problem. When a business is there with what’s needed, that’s the solution.

Each local business is unique. A plumber may not need a blog. An insurance agent may not need tons of photos. A restaurant may not need lots of expert articles. Based on model and market, what each enterprise needs is the content that best guides its customers through the phases of awareness (discovering), affinity (liking), consideration (research), and decision (transaction).

A sophisticated local business content audit should seek to identify whether different phases of the customer journey are supported by short or long text, images, videos, social media posts, driving directions, on-site reviews, or other media.

Take inspiration from these real world examples:

  • Patagonia may be selling outdoor gear, but check out their section called “Stories” that promotes the lifestyle their customers aspire to. This is magazine-worthy content from which any business looking to become an authority can take cues.

  • Look at REI’s Bellevue, Washington location landing page, delivering all the basic contact info, a map, interesting remarks about the store, and links to next actions the customer could take. Remembering how you always want to invite in-person complaint resolution, check out the call-to-action at the bottom actively soliciting consumer feedback.

  • Tactical Gear’s 35 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail infographic is a feast for the eyes, and a good marketing tactic as it’s been shared with credit and links across the Internet.

  • This gorgeous tourism video from Hurtigruten offers tantalizing audio-visual content inviting people to come learn about the Indigenous Sami culture of Scandinavia. Interested viewers will easily be able to imagine what such a trip will be like from this short video, helping them decide to book a tour.

  • This single tweet from a donut shop was so real and effective, it went viral, making national news and selling out the inventory of a struggling store. Fourteen words, four photos, and a business saved.

Social media and communications channels

As you’ve learned throughout this guide, most of what you do to market a local business is really a form of customer service. The publishing medium of social media certainly falls into this category.

Modern customers expect to be able to talk about and to brands on platforms they enjoy using. Each local business will have a unique, ideal communication strategy, but we’ll take a look at some of most common choices here:

Social media

REI pinterest

In evaluating a local business’s social media efforts, check first for these basic criteria:

  1. Is the brand publishing text, image, or video content customers are engaging with, and is the brand then engaging in return?

  2. Is the brand actively monitoring social platforms for mentions?

Remember that the great law of social media marketing is to share more than you sell, and to generously solve problems and complaints wherever you encounter them. Meanwhile, the great risk of social media is making mistakes that are judged by the public to indicate that a business is neglectful or out of step with the times. Empathy, allyship, and great listening skills are some of the best assets you can bring to the social media environment.

Some of the most generally popular social media platforms for local businesses today include:

  • YouTube

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Instagram

  • Nextdoor

  • Pinterest

However, there may be a social site not listed above that is particularly popular in your target industry or geography. Social sites can also include forums and Q&A platforms. In evaluating a local brand’s social publishing opportunities, check out where its competitors are hanging out online, what types of content they’re publishing, and how much response their effort is generating in the form of likes/upvotes and comments. Also, consider using one of the many free or paid tools that monitor and analyze social brand mentions, sentiment and traffic. Hootsuite and SproutSocial are two popular options.

Take inspiration from this handful of local businesses that are generating interest with their social media publications:

  • Scotia Pharmacy: An independent pharmacy in Nova Scotia with a lively Twitter presence and a small but engaged following.

  • Pigment: The visual style of this 3-location clothing and gift shop in California has won them over 140,000 Instagram followers.

  • Kelly Law Firm: This Arizona personal injury lawyer has earned over 1,600 YouTube channel subscribers by publishing videos answering legal FAQs, which have garnered thousands of cumulative views.

  • Animal House Shelter: Stories and videos of the pets in their care have brought this no-kill Indiana animal shelter over 38,000 Facebook followers.

  • REI: This famed, member-owned outdoor co-op makes the most of Pinterest with high quality photos that lead viewers back to the company website for further details on gear, outdoor cooking recipes, and more.

  • PEI Potatoes: Even potatoes can earn a social media following, if you do it like this Canadian agricultural collective with over 8,000 Twitter followers enjoying images and stories of island life and delicious food.

Not every local business needs to allocate massive resources to social media. In fact, many businesses over-resource this area of brand publication strategy when they’d really be better served by focusing on other forms of SEO and marketing. That being said, the more competitive a market, the more of a tool social posting can be for the brand to distance itself from less active competitors.


While it’s true that the widespread emergence of third party social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has, in some ways, stolen the thunder from blogs, this form of publishing is still quite viable for some local businesses. One source estimates that there are 600,000,000 blogs on the Internet, and that 85% of B2C marketers utilize blogging.

That being said, not every local business needs a blog. To evaluate whether a particular brand should consider blogging, get answers to these three questions:

  1. Does the brand have the in-house talent to write regularly-scheduled articles that will be interesting enough to readers to achieve a return on the investment?

  2. What is the return the brand wants to see: Social shares? Sales? Traffic? Organic rankings for a wider variety of search phrases? An increased public perception of authority on covered topics?

  3. Is any market competitor blogging? If so, is it possible to compete with them in terms of rate of publication and content quality/format?

A half-hearted effort at blogging can do more harm than good, making a business look neglected instead of lively. If a blog already exists on a site, or if a business is trying to decide whether to build a blog, evaluate whether the potential exists to bring the publication up to the level of these real-world examples:

  • Patagonia’s comment-disabled blog, simply labeled “Stories”, has best-in-class content about outdoor living and environmental activism. Columnists address the highest aspirational aims of readers through storytelling, illustrated with professional-quality photos and videos.

  • Allstate’s auto blog casts an ever-widening net of automotive blog topics to catch searchers’ eyes, bringing leads to local insurance agents. Blogs like these can be a great place to offer deep dives into FAQs like, “When’s the best time of year to buy a car?” or “What are the most commonly stolen cars in the US?”. Content formatted this way can sometimes be picked up as a featured snippet by Google.

  • The Laurel Mercantile Journal features content about the Mississippi country store, home renovation company, and home town scene made famous by Ben and Erin Napier’s HGTV show. It’s a local lifestyle blog that hinges on the celebrity the authors have earned. As a spokesperson for a business and community, could a blogger at the business you’re marketing become a celebrity, at least at a local level?

  • Cari McGee Real Estate Team uses their stylish blog to showcase home listings and information about moving to the Tri-Cities area of Washington state. The posts are simple, with strong CTAs to contact the agency if readers are interested in a property.

  • Shefford Tai Chi’s blog teaches de-stressing techniques and invites students to local classes while also highlighting tai chi events across the UK. The tone of the blog is very personal, journaling the voice of the instructor. It’s a good example of a very small, very specialized blog.

A comment-enabled blog can be a source of customer service communications, leads, quality control, popularity, and interest. On the flip side, it can also tie the business to continual monitoring and deletion of comment spam. Evaluate this choice carefully.

If you determine a blog isn’t the right fit for a business, don’t overlook the opportunities contributing even one or two interviews or articles to a hyperlocal community blog might create. Check out the West Seattle blog as a good example, and see if a focus city has a publication like this which might feature the brand’s expertise.

One-on-one socialization

In addition to social media channels and blogs, there are four points of contact that need to be managed for maximum one-on-one communication with potential customers:

1) SMS, messaging, and live chat

Text hotlines, direct messaging, and live chat functions are conversation starters that can turn leads into transactions when handled properly. They are also a form of publication, albeit a more private one.

A good place to start is to set up a text hotline, distinct from the business phone number, that staff monitors for incoming questions. Drift, Olark, and Hubspot are three popular live chat applications. Note that when it comes to direct messaging, Google is ramping up support for Google Messaging, right within your Google Business Profile.

The speed and helpfulness of response to all three forms of contact will be the standards by which customers evaluate the experience a brand is providing.

2) Email

Email as a communications channel is low tech and well-understood by almost any audience, enabling potential customers to have one-on-one communication with a business when a written conversation makes the most sense. It’s also one of the most overlooked marketing mediums with the highest ROI.

At the very least, any local business should publish an email address that is regularly monitored so that customers receive speedy responses to their queries. The next level up is to actively embrace email marketing.

One study shows that $1 spent on email marketing can generate $38 in ROI. Despite this, Moz found that 39% of companies marketing for local businesses are still ignoring this form of back-and-forth socialization and advertising. No company can afford to leave money on the table, and email marketing only requires a few components to get started:

  1. Collect the email addresses of the brand’s customers. This can be done at the time of service. Put email signup links on the website. Publicize a signup link on all social media channels. Many businesses publish special offers to encourage email signups, such as access to the company newsletter, a one-time discount on a purchase, free access to gated/premium content, or a similar benefit.

  2. Unless a brand has so little budget that it needs to start very small by emailing customers manually in small batches, it’s time to choose software. Constant Contact, LocaliQ, MailChimp, and Hubspot are some popular email marketing software providers. Using their products, you will be able to compose more professional-looking emails and track the public’s response to them.

  3. Experiment on an ongoing basis with the types, format, and content of the emails being sent. The analysis offered by your chosen email marketing program will teach you what performs best in your market. Brands should also consider signing up for the email marketing of their market competitors to get a sense of their outreach, as well.

  4. Don’t annoy your database of email recipients. You want to send out marketing emails at an acceptable rate that doesn’t drive readers to unsubscribe because you’re inundating their inboxes. At the same time, do make it easy for readers to unsubscribe to demonstrate care for their convenience. Email is a social medium and the brand needs to build a good relationship with customers over time.


Finally, one type of email communication you’ll want to give special attention to is website forms. If forms are being sent out to generate leads, a good rule of thumb is to keep them as short and convenient as possible. Unless you’re looking to narrow down the consumer base that fills out these forms, refine them to gather the minimum amount of information needed to get in touch with the customer. Do a health check on forms from time to time, to be sure they’re easy to use and functioning properly.

3) Phone

Whether the business is large or small, getting phone communication right is crucial to being viewed as responsive in each market. At the very least, local businesses should:

  • Publicize an accurate phone number across the web.

  • Consider properly implementing a call tracking number so that you can analyze how consumers are using the phone number.

  • Train anyone who will be answering it to respond helpfully to inquiries. This means that employees should be well-versed in products, services, and policies so that they can turn phone leads into transactions.

  • Reduce hold times and notice what customers have to listen to while they’re on hold. Marketers and business owners should phone all relevant locations and evaluate their own experience. Convenience is paramount if you want to avoid hangups.

  • Where the scenario permits, train phone staff to keep a record of the questions they receive via phone. This data will enable you to identify FAQs you can use in all of your publishing efforts.

The larger a business becomes, the more value you’ll get out of call tracking and analysis efforts. Competitive local businesses will want to consider using a call tracking number, set up by a good provider like CallRail, as the primary number on their Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) listing their real-world business number as a secondary number.

In the past, this tactic raised questions about whether having multiple phone numbers associated with a location of a local business would confuse Google, perhaps negatively impacting rankings due to a lack of data consistency. However, there is no evidence that Google disfavors properly implemented call tracking numbers, and the insights they can provide are valuable. A good call tracking program will help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, enabling you to experiment and fine tune your approach over time.

Evaluate content reach

A local business can publish the best content in its market, but if no one sees it, it hasn’t fulfilled its promise. As Backlinko founder Brian Dean highlighted in his MozCon 2020 presentation:

  • 70 million blog posts per month are published on the WordPress blogging platform alone.

  • The number of WordPress blog posts published increased by 47% between 2016 and 2020.

  • 94% of blog posts win zero links. In other words, most content gets ignored.

The good news for local businesses is that their markets are typically much more finite than the ones that virtual companies are trying to reach. The goal is to have the local publication discovered and linked to within a limited geography surrounding each of its physical locations. Brian Dean recommends spending 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time promoting it.

If the business is earning few links and mentions despite good publication efforts, these tactics can be game-changers:

Write for linkers

Create content for customers, but also for the people in your niche who already link out to third parties all the time. This would include local bloggers or anyone in a market or industry who owns a website. Most customers don’t have websites, but bloggers, journalists, and other publishers do, and they have the power to link to local business publications. Look at what this segment is linking to and emulate the types of content you see them promoting.

Email publishers

National/global journalists typically prefer to receive outreach via email, and email is worth trying at the local level, too. Avoid being generic. Be completely personal and neighborly in writing to other local publishers with the goal of getting to know people and building relationships with them.

Phone local colleagues

Even more personably, reach out to fellow business owners and local publishers via phone to start a relationship with them, which can lead to them being interested in what you’re publishing and how it could serve their audience.

Provide a heads-up in advance

One interesting tactic suggested by Brian Dean is to reach out to fellow publishers before you publish the content in question. Don’t ask for a link or a share. Just ask if they’d like a heads-up when the piece goes live, and then follow up when it does.

Engage within social platforms

When posting to social media, remember that these platforms want users to stay inside their site as much as possible, and may even treat content that takes people off site differently than they do content within the platform. Because of this, don’t just blandly link out from social posts to your own site. Excerpt an exciting element of the content being linked to so that social media users are engaged on the third party platform first, and then hopefully head to the local business website second.

For inspiration, let’s imagine you’re marketing an outdoor outfitter business with a branch in Mendocino, California, and you want to increase the location’s authority surrounding the hobby of birdwatching.

Birdwatching content example.

You want this to be the store people come to for birdwatching binoculars, spotting scopes, wildlife lenses, and related gear. You’ve determined that publishing a guide to the 20 most beautiful birds to spot on the Mendocino coast could increase engagement and SERP visibility.

Before you publish, create a spreadsheet strategizing outreach to:

  • The local Audubon branch

  • A local hiking blog

  • The local visitors center

  • A local conservation organization

  • Local state parks

  • A local homeschooling organization

  • Local public schools

  • Local hotels

  • Local journalists

Plan to reach out via phone or email to let them know you have this piece coming out, and that you feel it will be engaging for their members/readers/visitors/students/guests because of the beautiful photos the business has taken and helpful tips provided for finding these birds. Ask if they’d like to know when the piece goes live.

Note down in your spreadsheet who responded with interest. Publish the piece and send out the emails letting them know it’s ready to see, and asking if they’d be willing to link to it from their site or share it with their followers. Your hope is that some of them will, but don’t be discouraged if your first effort doesn’t yield ideal results. You can keep trying with different content, and can get on the phone to get to know people better so that new relationships are founded on shared interests and a shared audience.

A truly robust content audit should yield publication and promotional plans like this one whenever business goals require it.

Center community at the core of the publishing strategy

At this point in your content audit, you’ve likely already begun to form a plan to take a publication to the next level. However, even the most adept local business marketer can find themselves struggling to fully conceptualize a winning content strategy. This is when it’s time to put full focus on the community surrounding the local business.

The more deeply a brand can weave itself into local life, the closer it moves to becoming a household name in a locale.

From a philanthropic standpoint, local brands can find motivation in the idea of enriching and improving life where owners and staff live and work. From a commercial standpoint, the aim is to have as many good things as possible published about the company online.

The technical term for online mentions of local business information on third-party platforms like blogs, online news, local community hubs, and industry publications is “unstructured citations”.

In contrast to the “structured citations” you directly build as local business listings in local business directories, unstructured citations aren’t something you directly build yourself. Rather, they’re an asset that depends on third parties citing something noteworthy about a company. Here’s an example of unstructured citations for a campground called Samuel P. Taylor State Park, ranking highly in Google’s organic results:

Camping SERP results.

The best unstructured citations also link to a local business’s website (these are sometimes called “linktations”), but whether or not third parties link out when mentioning a local brand, each online reference earned offers two important benefits:

  1. Unstructured citations make up the reputation impression Internet users first receive when searching for a business by name. If the first few pages of Google are filled with praise of a brand, it can help customers decide to choose it. Local SEO expert Mike Blumenthal has popularized the phrase “Google is your new homepage” to explain how deeply embedded Google has become as the layer via which consumers discover and interact with local brands. Filling Google’s organic results with positive unstructured citations make this concept of the “new homepage” a winner!

  2. The more Google finds written about a business, the more reason they have to be convinced that it’s a legitimate, authoritative local source for whatever is being offered. When unstructured citations contain links to a business from authoritative websites, this improves domain authority, which commonly correlates with improvement in the website’s organic and local rankings. But even if a mention of a brand doesn’t include a link, you can think of it as giving the local business credit for being a real business in the eyes of Google — one that Google can feel confident about returning to users as a result.

Helping a local business create a community strategy that yields unstructured citations is typically a two-part effort. First, the company needs to determine how it wants to become a beneficial, newsworthy force in each city it serves. Second, it needs to engage in PR to let relevant parties know something good is happening. Here is a brainstorm list of methods and resources that could generate excellent unstructured citations for most local business with the right approach:

  • Local B2B alliances

  • Trade associations

  • Exceptional content

  • Sponsorships

  • Donations

  • Civic participation

  • Contests

  • Breaking local news

  • Guest interviews

  • Guest articles

  • Scholarships

  • Help-a-reporter-out (HARO)

  • Press releases

  • Hosting events

  • Social media campaigns

How does this look in action? Imagine you’re marketing a local outdoor outfitter and its staff has decided they want to clean up a polluted local river. The business could build PR and earn tons of online mentions by:

  • Getting other local businesses to partner with it for clean-up day.

  • Publishing content about the effort on the company website that’s good enough for others to reference.

  • Hosting a pre-event talk about the need to clean the river.

  • Donating equipment volunteers need to help with cleanup.

  • Getting interviewed by an environmental publication about why the staff is cleaning the river.

  • Inviting a local scientist to publish an article/be interviewed on the company’s site about the benefits of a cleaner river for the community.

  • Holding an art contest for the campaign, with a prize from the store.

  • Discovering if HARO professionals need insights the business could share.

  • Letting local media know, via direct outreach and press releases, about the campaign.

To solidify your publication strategy, dig as deeply as you can into the local community for inspiration. Step by step, each aspect of a smart campaign could result in excellent new unstructured citations for the business that convince the public and Google it’s a true leader in the community, worthy of transactions, high rankings, and long-term loyalty.

Summing up this chapter, your task is to analyze the existing publishing scenario in a market, and then create a strategy to stand out across every form of publication and communication opportunity. Don’t be afraid to suggest or try something new. Where a long-form article may be failing to win clicks and transactions, an infographic or lively video content might do the job. Turning a subject traditionally considered “dull” into something lighter, more humorous, or visually engaging could help you break new ground where competitors are plodding along in a boring manner.

Virality isn’t a necessity for most local businesses, because few small brands actually need millions of views in a single day. Consistent, meaningful communication that keeps customers engaged month after month, year after year will yield the sustained local transactions you most desire.