I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to undergrad at Carnegie Mellon. Pittsburgh is an amazing city. It's evolved dramatically from the city in which I grew up. I lived through the deindustrialization and the devastation that wrought on the Pittsburgh area. To see the city now, and how its transformed, is a testament to the hardworking drive, pride, grid, and determination of its people.
The information technology revolution, like the industrial revolution before it, has not benefited everyone equally. There have been some major winners and losers in this transformation. While the urban core, Allegheny county has seen a tremendous renaissance, the old industrial surrounding counties of Washington, Westmoreland, and others have continued to decline. This has left the region deeply divided. It's akin to gentrification on regional vs. neighborhood level.
One of the challenges small businesses face in the politically divided time is which target customer to serve. Much of this will be based on geography, but there is a strategic choice to be made whether to support the new or stick with the traditional. At this time, serving them both will likely be challenging.
Great web design is important no matter where you are located. However, Pittsburgh hasn't been the steel city for ages. That era has passed. The city is now a hot spot for technology and medicine. These customers, I would argue, have come to expect superior design as the price of entry. Therefore, you do not want to be at a disadvantage.
For building a digital marketing strategy for your local business, it may differ greatly from what you’ve been used to in the past. Local digital marketing works best when it helps local customers find what, when, and how to get what they need quickly.
Google trends is an invaluable tool when looking at changes in real-time and over time. This graph is an example of how consumer behavior has changed. As you can see, the interest in location, ‘near me’ has jumped 4 fold in google searches over the past 5 years.
However, “near me” alone is not enough.
There has been a 3-fold increase in the desire to find solutions that are not only ‘near me’ but also, ‘near me, now’. Your target audience is looking for solutions that are readily available. Potential customers do not want to wait.
This trend makes it not only important to have your name, address, phone number, and products/services listed, but also your hours of operation. If you just solved for ‘near me’, with the common advice of consistent name, address, and phone, you would have missed those that were looking to see if you were open now.
Maybe a consumer would dig deeper to find your hours, but more likely, he or she would just go to the next listing.
Having multiple contact methods is another way to make it simple for the local searcher to reach you. Having a listing with multiple options makes it easy for the consumer to choose how they wish to interact. Email and phone are reliable standbys, but newer methods like chatbots and texting are also a way to extend your service differentiation before the sale.
This is a somewhat dated study from Google (2017), but the data are still relevant even if the numbers may have changed.
In their study, they found that 7 out of 10 mobile searchers purchased something in store after researching it on their phone. For example, if you are a restaurant owner, these data suggest that 70% of your customers probably read your menu, reviews, etc. before they even stepped foot in your place.
This same study showed that over 90% of those who searched for a solution on their phone followed through with a purchase. This is a powerful signal of purchase intent. Therefore, you want your small business to show up when that decision is being made.
According to Search Engine Journal, there is a positive correlation between images and views on Google My Business Pages. They state that “Having more images in a Google My Business listing correlates positively with receiving more views.”
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that the benefits of local digital marketing are worth your attention.
According to Best Designs, original graphics are the most successful.
“Original graphics make up 40% of all successful visual content that accomplishes marketing goals, but 43% of marketers struggle with the consistent production of captivating visuals.”
Since we are communicating one message, the artwork that supports it must work very hard to support the message. This is where local market know-how can really help. Original photos and images of your business in Kipps Bay interacting with your neighborhood can add value.
It also helps with when your calls to action focus on local events in and around Pittsburgh or at your business location.
Every email, no matter how trivial, should have a call to action. This is where all the hard work above pays off. If we omit one, we just wasted resources that could have been spent more cost effectively.
We cover email list building in great detail in our post on small business email marketing. Again, we will just hit the highlights here as it pertains to Pittsburgh. Every neighborhood has summer fairs. While these were severely impacted by COVID, in our post COVID world they should roar back with a vengeance. It would be smart to see if you could piggy-back off one or more of them.
Incentives, deals, free trials, and samples are all great options when developing your calls to action. See if you can partner with your neighbors to create a shared promotion. This way one shopper in Pittsburgh has two or more places to visit while out in the neighborhood.
Like the gentrifying neighborhoods I deal with in NYC, Pittsburgh small businesses have a choice to make. Which is your best target? There will be those unique businesses that can appeal to both new and existing economies and mindsets, but that will not be the norm. Depending on your business, it may force you to choose. Once you make that choice, Local digital marketing can help you reach that target more effectively.
When using digital marketing, it is always good to start with the low cost items first. This way you can start to build your business organically before you have to spend a significant amount of money.
SEO can sometimes feel like rolling a boulder up a hill. It is a very time consuming and effort-intensive activity. However, there are a few methods, when applied consistently and well, can yield results.
Bots are programs that crawl the web and evaluate content. It’s important to know that they care about three things.
While the steps are simple, the algorithm is complex and constantly changing. Rather than trying to outsmart the bot, it is better to give them what they want.
For more details on search theory and how to feed bots, you can read my guest post on Business2Community.
When building a Local SEO strategy, the first step is to develop a keyword strategy. This is a more complicated process, but I will briefly cover the main steps.
It is important to consider how your customer might search for you. If you have Google Analytics or Google Search Console enabled, you can see which queries are driving people already.
If not, start by building a list of logical questions your customers might ask, then go to Google Keyword Planner and see how they rank. We use a paid tool, but your results should look similar to this.
Next, you will want to add the term ‘near me’ or ‘in _____ ‘ to the highest ranking terms, and see how they do.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to select those words where the volume is highest and keyword difficulty is lowest.
For most local businesses, it will be difficult to rank well for keywords with monthly search volumes about 1,000. Therefore, we recommend focusing on those between 100-1,000 when you are starting out.
Here is more information If you wish to delve keyword planning in greater detail.
Many businesses make the mistake of not investing the time and effort in linking a given keyword to a given page. The primary reason to do this is to send a clear signal to the bot on where you would like this page to be indexed.
The second reason is to avoid having two of your own pages competing against each other for the same keyword. This is called keyword cannibalization, which tends to dilute your effectiveness.
It’s important to remember that both you and Google share the same goal, a satisfied searcher. If a visitor to your site doesn’t find the content useful, they will leave. That’s not a good experience for you or for Google.
GMB is a free platform that all businesses can access. You will also want to capture your free listing on Bing Places and Apple Maps.
The reason that I call out GMB is that nearly 8 out of every ten searches in the US are on Google. Therefore, the majority of your search traffic is likely to come from Google.
As you can see from this example of a search of “restaurants near me”, there are a set of three businesses that are given special prominence.
This is typically called the Google 3 pack. These businesses were the topic 3 restaurants ranking locally at the time of my search. These will vary on time of day, my personal search history, etc. If you click on one of these businesses, you will be taken to their GMB page.
The key takeaway from this discussion is that if you do your local SEO well, claim or create your SMB page, you can go far with the only cost being your time.
GMB is a free resource that is easily accessible to any business owner. The process is simple. If you would like more information, you can read the GMB FAQ page for a more step by step guide.
Each area has its own set of local pages, typically local news sites, that can help you with your local SEO.
One of the key signals for Google is a consistent name, address, and phone number (NAP). A consistent NAP is a clear signal to Google that your business is legitimate. The more signals that you have, the better you will perform in local search.
Local listings used to be nearly always free. However, in the past several years, this has shifted. I call this the great monetization. While you can still gain a number of listings for free, it is becoming increasingly difficult. For some of the best listings, you may have to bite the bullet and pay their listing fee.
You can successfully leverage digital marketing in [location], quite successfully at a reasonable cost if you remember these three things.
Aside from all the general tips above, here are some specific actions you can take based on the three key elements of local search algorithms:
All of this assumes that you have completed your keyword research and developed your keyword list. If you have not, this section will be more effective once you do. Please see our previous post on digital marketing in Pittsburgh and then come back.
Go through your keywords list and select those which are good descriptors of your business. If it were me, I would use something like “digital marketing agency”, “seo services”, for example. Then make a list of the neighborhoods you service, for example “seo services oakland”, "pittsburgh seo experts", or “pittsburgh seo company”.
Now comes the harder part, that is frankly a bit tedious. For each combination, see if you can create a somewhat unique post that’s 500-1000 words for that keyword. For us, it is a post like this. I try to write a post that helps my potential clients learn something or do something they didn’t know they could.
Now, this is the good part. If you do write quality posts for these keywords, you will be raising your prominence. Google knows that all these neighborhoods are in the Pittsburgh region. So, for each good post you write, you help raise your prominence on a given topic in a given location. It is also important to make sure that your web design includes location pages for each area you serve.
Prominence is also helped by the basic techniques I mentioned earlier, such as being a part of local business groups. Please see the Pittsburgh Business Times or Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce for listings that might pertain to you. Any local listing helps. The more you establish that you are located in Pittsburgh, PA, the better your local rankings will be.
This is why I like the blog technique because it hits all three key areas. If your keyword is a descriptor of what you do and the neighborhood is one you serve, it is highly likely that you will score points on relevance.
Finding the right SEO for your small business in a neighborhood like Pittsburgh can be a crucial way to get your company noticed online.
There is one last point to make on SEO and social media. Social media is not a ranking factor. However, if promoting your business through social channels leads to more links, it helps with both prominence and relevance.
If you are interested in what more we do, check out Small Business Marketing in Pittsburgh