In Chapter 5, we went through how to create a strategy for publishing authoritative content. Now we’re ready to build more proof of authority, which search engines like Google look for and use to rank results. To do so, it’s time to create a solid strategy for building links, unstructured citations, and citations.
Unstructured citations, links, and linktations
In Chapter 3, you learned about structured citations: local business listings on platforms specifically designed to publish directories of local business information. Structured citations are table stakes for a business entering the local web space.
Now, let’s define three more opportunities that have the potential to take a business to the next level of building authority:
Links — Links are simply clickable elements that take an Internet user from one element to another. Links can appear within text (like a link to a business in an online article) or within images (like an advertising banner on a third party website pointing to a page on the site).
Unstructured citations — These are any mentions of a business’s information on any non-directory-type platform. Unstructured citation sources can include a local online newspaper, a local blogger, an industry publication, or virtually any other type of website mentioning a company’s complete or partial business information.
Linktations — These are any of the above-mentioned unstructured citations when they also include a link to a company’s website. These linked unstructured citations (aka “linktations”) are the most powerful online references a local business can win.
Here’s a sample paragraph of text, illustrating the three components:
The first example is just a regular link, perhaps leading to photos of a street fair or other content.
The second is a linktation, linking to a business (Big Trees Sporting Goods) and including its partial or complete address.
The third is an unstructured citation without a link, mentioning another business called Alpine Joe’s that vends hot chocolate. Because this mention exists on the local community hub website, it still has value in helping search engines to associate the business with the geography and a product being offered, but it would be better if Alpine Joe’s marketer reached out to ILoveCalaveras.com and asked if that mention could be edited to include a link.
The more links, linktations, and mentions search engines discover pointing from authoritative sites to a business’s website, the better the chances of an entity like Google surfacing the business as a popular, trusted resource in their results.
Moz measures this by two terms: page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA). Simply put, your PA measures the number and quality of links a single page on your website has earned, and DA measures the same thing, but for the overall website.
Here’s one way to visualize how this works:
What to avoid in local link building
You have a tremendous variety of options for earning links, but avoid:
Seeking links from websites that have no sensible relationship to the business you’re marketing
All tactics cited as negative in Moz’s link building tutorial
How to find unstructured citation and link building opportunities
Any work you accomplish via your publishing and community strategies can earn some links with no additional work on your part. When content and happenings are noteworthy, they can accrue links and mentions on their own. But in competitive markets, you’ll typically need to move from a passive to an active link building strategy on the basis of a local business’s relationships, events or groups it’s sponsoring, company news, and other notable features.
The simplest strategy to find possible link sources and unstructured citations is to search Google for the pages ranking highest for terms you want to rank for in a focus market, and see if there is any opportunity for these pages to link to your business — or at least to mention it in an unstructured citation.
For example, if a page from the website of a local soccer league is ranking highly for “buying kids soccer gear” in your focus city, a sporting goods store might sponsor a team in that league and get listed as a donor on the ranking page. At minimum, look at the SERPs and document the opportunities:
Local SEO Business Reviews | Industry Report
Doing this type of research manually requires a lot of elbow grease when you need to rank a business for many, many terms. Even just managing a spreadsheet of opportunities, wins, and losses can become too time consuming. Where resources permit, it’s time to automate.
Get a free trial of Moz Pro and check out the Link Intersect tool to help you discover linktation opportunities via competitive research. Simply enter the URL of one or more top local competitors, as shown in this example of a lodging business researching two large nearby resorts:
n in this example of a lodging business researching two large nearby resorts:
Links for consumer discovery
Click the “Find opportunities” button and Link Intersect surfaces the links that one or both competitors have earned:
Link intersect shows you the DA, Spam Score, top referring page, and whether one or more competitors have earned a link from the domain in question. From these findings, you can create a strategy for emulating the success of top competitors by building out a similar link profile.
There is no magic number of links, unstructured citations, and linktations you need to build for a client. The resources you need to invest will be based on the unique competitive level of each business location in each market.
Link building is widely considered to be one of the top competitive ranking factors for local businesses in tough markets, with organic authority underpinning local and localized organic rankings. For continuing education, read this excellent, in-depth tutorial on link building.
Building authority in challenging industries
Some brands build authority more easily than others. Industries like hospitality and retail tend to naturally have exciting content people enjoy sharing and linking to. But if the business is in the insurance industry, or a home services vertical like plumbing, it’s a much more challenging scenario.
In these cases, a strategy that can be extremely powerful is for the so-called “boring” business to reinvision itself as a promoter of the community it serves, a sponsor of others, and a provider of hyperlocal information within a particular town or city. The brand’s commercial aim is still to sell insurance or fix leaking faucets, but its strategy for building authority is to become a household name in a community by way of fostering and publicizing local relationships.
Local SEO, Aaron Weiche, recently shared an exceptional example of this methodology in action. Take note of how Mark Benzer, an insurance agent in Buffalo, Minnesota, launched the Buffalo Community Podcast. Benzer’s praiseworthy efforts have included interviewing people from all walks of life, from local business owners, to teachers, to politicians.
Instead of promoting himself or the insurance policies he sells, Benzer promotes what others are doing, sponsoring players on local sports teams, and even opening a bar tab for educators and first responders at a local brewery. Benzer’s approach is an object lesson in building positive reputation, local authority, and good civics, all rolled into one.
If a business is having trouble making a name for itself in a focus city, consider whether there’s an opportunity to take a down-home, yet highly advanced, approach like this one to grow local authority over time.
Verticalized local SEO
While the majority of verticals have mainly the same Google Business Profile features and similar opportunities for building online authority, each industry walks a slightly different path. The hospitality industry, for example, stands out as existing in one of the most unique, nuanced corners of Google’s local business environment. Auto dealerships are another category where special tactics must be used for developing maximum prominence and relevance.
As you’re developing a marketing strategy for building the authority of a particular business, make use of the following resources for specialized local SEO tips for specific verticals:
Car dealerships have one of the sweetest Google deals going. Not only can these businesses create a listing for each location, but they can also add additional listings for each qualifying department, plus listings for the car makes they sell. Special local search marketing tips for the automotive industry can be found here and here.
Selling to other businesses is a discipline of its own, and where the model is right, local SEO can be a tremendous boon to building B2B relationships. Learn to make the right local search marketing moves for B2B in this Moz Blog post.
Whether you’re marketing a bank, community credit union, or an accountancy firm, there may be opportunities for creating multiple Google Business Profile listings for practitioners at the business or ATM machines. Read these tips for advice on local search marketing for financial institutions.
Organization and communications rule the day in marketing franchises with many different players in the mix. For detailed advice, read this guide dedicated to local search marketing for franchises.
From hospital campuses, to independent medical providers, to dentists, chiropractors, and dozens of other specialties, local SEO for the healthcare industry must typically tackle the complexities of multi-practitioner and multi-department Google Business Profile listings. Read a good intro to local SEO for healthcare companies here, and check out the resource hub at healthcare marketing software provider, PatientPop.
Tom Waddington’s blog will be your best resource for understanding how Google’s Local Services Ads are increasingly dominating the home services market. But while brands in this vertical will increasingly have to pay to play in Google’s local results, don’t overlook what organic SEO can do for these businesses.
Google treats lodging businesses like completely different animals than the rest of the local ecosystem. This vertical is heavily monetized by Google, and has different Google Business Profile features and odd restrictions. If you’re marketing a hotel, motel, inn, B&B, or other hospitality brand, this guide for hotels will help and check out Acorn Internet Services’s blog for veteran advice.
Local SEO for lawyers and attorneys wades into some of the most competitive territory on the Internet. Spam fighting skills are essential here, as is a clear understanding of handling multi-practitioner Google Business Profile listings. The Juris Digital blog is an unusually excellent learning resource dedicated to local SEO for lawyers.
Educational institutions need to master multi-department Google Business Profile listings management. Other entities, like non-profit organizations, typically spend their time trying to achieve maximum visibility on a budget. Get up to speed with the seven most important focus areas and find a great list of free local SEO tools on the Moz Blog.
Real estate services
The complexities of local SEO for realtors lie in adhering to Google’s guidelines for representing your business to avoid eligibility violations, and managing multi-practitioner listings for all the partners in a firm. Here’s an extensive set of tips specific to real estate local SEO.
Learning to use Google as a source of leads and bookings for restaurants is specialty work. You’ll need to manage online reservations, menu publication, and large volumes of reviews. Read Miriam Ellis’s article on restaurant local SEO to prep yourself for marketing in this diverse and interesting vertical. There’s also this article weighing in-house vs. third-party delivery options, which can have a massive impact on restaurant reputation.
Retail marketing is diverse, challenging, and full of creative opportunities. Learn how to create stats-based strategy. If you’re marketing a business in the DIY category, like a craft shop, read this helpful article. Also consider whether emerging product kiosks could boost business, and if you’re marketing independent retailers, use every trick in a book to win back their customers from Amazon.
The less competitive the market, the less marketing that needs to be done to make a local business prominent on the web. Learn to create small, effective local SEO campaigns for rural clients in least-competitive markets using this guide.
Earning featured snippets
If you build enough authority surrounding a topic, Google may choose your content to populate one of its many different featured snippet displays. With strong enough content, a local business can win featured snippets for broad organic queries, but there are localized featured snippets, too.
Here’s an example of a query about county-level bike helmet laws that’s being served a featured snippet pulled from the website of a local cycling non-profit organization:
According to Moz research in 2019:
23% of SERPs contained a featured snippet.
Paragraphs and lists make up the majority of featured snippet types, though there at least half a dozen types overall.
Providing succinct answers on a highly-ranked website is a winning strategy.
If your top keyword phrases are returning featured snippets, read our in-depth tutorial on How to Write Content for Featured Snippets and get all of your FAQs on this topic answered via this excellent Featured Snippet Cheat Sheet.
Local businesses already need to manage a tremendous variety of possible SERP displays, including all of the different local and mapped results, plus localized organic rankings. Brands in need of a competitive edge may want to add this extra SERP component into the mix to see if the special visibility a featured snippet provides positively impacts engagement.