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Though you might generally associate local SEO strategies with the attempt to appear in the first several pack of local or map results (i.e. the first three hits on Google after sponsored results), organic rankings still matter for local businesses.

To that end, many local enterprises will find that some local SEO tactics overlap with broader SEO best practices. Content marketing has accordingly become an increasingly valuable component to virtually any kind of strategy predicated upon increasing organic search traffic.

The question here is how smaller and medium-sized local businesses can pursue content marketing in a web world seemingly dominated by larger organizations with virtually limitless resources. Moreover, how can you assure that your content successfully reaches its intended target audience of current or potential local clientele?

Content marketing generally entails establishing some kind of blog that topically consistent with your line of products or services. Put simply, you should be writing about the things that best represent your brand.

If the idea is to create leads—rather than website traffic alone—your business should be providing valuable information that attracts users and ideally turns them into repeat readers.

That’s the underlying principle of content marketing at any level, local or otherwise.

But creating and deploying that content effectively requires some planning and execution. You may even want to seriously consider outsourcing your blog composition to a company that specializes in content marketing.

In the event you’re working with a smaller budget or simply prefer a do-it-yourself approach, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the approaches that work best. Simply hiring some freelance writers and telling them to get to work may not be good enough.

A Quick Content Marketing Primer

So what’s the difference between run-of-the-mill content and content marketing?

The biggest difference has to do with the function of the content. That is to say, why are you ultimately composing and publishing it?

As the authoritative Content Marketing Institute explains, “Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.”

More often than not, your end game probably entails the consumer buying whatever product or service you’re offering. More broadly, however, you may simply be interested in building relationships with a certain kind of audience. If you’re a local law firm, for example, you may be less concerned with immediately securing someone’s business and more interested in increasing brand awareness and establishing your credentials and expertise. In the event some of your readers ever do require legal services, perhaps they’ll turn to you.

Whereas most forms of traditional content generate revenue through advertising sales or subscriptions, content aimed at marketing is of course free. You want it exposed to as many consumers as possible.

While content marketing is distinct from other forms of content, it shares many of the same intermediate of objectives. In other words, you should still attempt to entertain, educate and/or engage your audience.

Indeed, one of the strategy’s defining traits is that it doesn’t seem like a traditional marketing campaign.

“Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling,” the Content Marketing Institute adds. “It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Note that while your basic website copy technically qualifies as content, you’ll likely want a blog-like arrangement in order to consistently publish content that attracts Google’s attention.

As Moz’s Miriam Ellis wrote earlier this year, “Build an on-site blog to continue to develop your library of content once your basic, static web pages have been built. Freshness can help you rank for an ever-growing number of terms that relate to your business.”

Of course, engaging readers is more easily said than done. Whether the scope of your content marketing campaign is local or not, certain guidelines apply.

General Content Marketing Tips

It goes without saying that not all content marketing campaigns are equal. Your mileage will almost certainly vary depending on the extent of your planning, investment and utilization of high-quality resources (human and otherwise).

The first rule of thumb is ensuring that you are delivering meaty content on a regular basis. Shorter posts of less than 600 words are unlikely to gain much traction in Google’s algorithmic rankings. And failure to post frequently will hurt you both in terms of rankings and maintaining a loyal base of readers. Yes, this kind of campaign requires some effort and oversight. It can’t be an afterthought.

Second, your content should be diversified both in terms of what it’s about and the form it takes. Though it should be focused on topics that are relevant to your business, you should try to appeal to as wide an audience as reasonably possible. And in terms of form, be sure to mix things up, including things like video, images, infographics, news, opinion, events, data, reviews, and so on.

Featuring customer reviews and testimonials is a particularly good way to provide unique content (outside of a blog) while also strengthening your brand image. And offering local specials or deals can help keep content fresh while giving potential clientele incentive to do business with you. Any new product or services should receive plenty of attention, too.

So no, it’s not just about having a blog. Your website should be a living, breathing and evolving content-based organism.

Visually stimulating content is also especially useful.

“Content doesn’t just refer to the written word; instead, content is everything that’s written, posted, or displayed on or about a business website or business,” Jonha Revesencio explained for the Huffington Post last year. “As such, images and video are two of the most important types of content, but the two that most businesses forget about or tend to prioritize last. However, both images and video are known to attract a large audience, and when title tags and alt tags are optimized with great keywords and a local focus, both can improve search engine rankings.”

Finally, remember that content marketing is ultimately about your target audience and its interests. This isn’t just an opportunity to expound on whatever might intrigue your writing team at any given moment. There should be deliberate planning associated with what your potential readers care about and the terms for which they’re most likely to search.

Planning and Determining Local Search Terms

Once your company has wrapped its head around the basics of content marketing, it’s time to start thinking about how those fundamental practices should apply to a more local approach.

In short, you should do some game-planning.

Decide how your content should engage consumers, express your brand and ultimately turn your audience into loyal customers. After doing due diligence and researching best practices, figure out how you should incorporate those tactics with your own company mission and marketing philosophy.

Then you can start thinking more granularly.

One of your first serious questions will be, “What are people searching the web for locally?” More specifically, what kind of searches might lead local consumers to your business and its content?

Many of the searches that attract users to your site may be “branded” in nature, meaning the name of your business was already included in the query’s term. These are the kind of consumers who are already somewhat likely to do business with you. But many searches include terms and phrases that simply express interest in a certain kind of product or service—or even a problem or issue for which your business may be a solution.

This is the kind of traffic on which you really want to focus. It has the capacity to significantly grow your customer base in time.

How do you identify the search terms associated with that traffic?

Razorlight Media’s John Crenshaw recently offered a six-pronged process for doing so, writing, “1. Run an AdWords campaign. AdWords is the best keyword research tool there is. This article explains how to use AdWords to determine search intent. 2. Survey your existing customers. If they found you online, ask them how. 3. Use a mass market survey tool like Google Consumer Surveys to survey a large sample pool. Ask questions like, “Have you ever searched for X online?” “If so, what did you type into the search box to find X?” 4. Common sense can go a long way too. Think about what you might search if you were looking for the products or services you sell. 5. Remember, the more generic a search term is, the more broad the intent will be behind it.”

It’s also worth remembering that the value of independent keywords isn’t what it used to be. Google’s algorithm’s are now more interested in determining a query’s intent based on entire phrases (often framed as lengthy questions) and context. While you should generally attempt to match your content to certain keywords, you also want to be responsive to the kind of topics in which your target audience is interested.

Those keywords and topics should become the basis for deciding what your content is actually about.

Localize Your Content

Though it’s most imperative to mention your business name, address and phone number (sometimes described as NAP) throughout your website and other online listings, its also a good idea to highlight your neighborhood, community, city and/or state whenever possible in your updated content.

Remember that web users often search for products and services in a specific location, whether it be a nearby cuisine or local auto parts vendor. They may be looking for advice pertaining to state-specific laws or regulations. They may be interested in an area guide or recommendations for fun things to do in your region.

If your content aims to address these kinds of queries, you should be sure to prominently mention your location, being as specific as it makes sense to be. Though a couple of mentions along these lines are certainly useful, avoid spamming your content with an overtly unnecessary amount of location information. That’s likely to be counterproductive and incur penalties to your search rankings.

Though not always essential, it’s also beneficial to mention location information in headlines and/or subheadings whenever doing so is appropriate. Doing can yield benefits both in terms of SEO and the probability of consumers clicking on links to your content.

This all might sound like a fairly basic premise, but it’s easy for writers to forget the value of localizing blog posts or other website copy. Put simply, you want people to know you’re in their state, city, community and/or neighborhood.

Community and Local Events

Merely mentioning your business location isn’t the only way to increase your local traffic and leads. Wherever possible, you should also tie your business into any local events for which consumers are likely to search.

There are a number of ways to do so—from sponsoring such events to simply reviewing them. It likely wouldn’t be feasible to have a staff member attend a different function every weekend, but this is still a valuable means of diversifying your content while also covering topics that can drive up additional traffic.

To that end, events that are fairly large and well-publicized make more sense. And you should also try to link yourself to events that actually have something to do with your business. Rather than simply generate some random traffic, the idea is always to attract eyes that might have an interest in doing business with you. So it obviously makes more sense for a law firm to cover a local mock trial competition than review a cuisine-based convention.

One advantage to participating in conferences or other local events is that it can translate into links to your website—another factor that benefits your SEO bottom line.

Beyond traffic and leads, association with local events reaffirms the extent to which your brand is considered part of the community. People like that. If you really want to be perceived as a company that cares about its neighbors, why not walk the walk?

Experts and Organizations From the Community

While sponsoring, reviewing or reporting on nearby events is one way to attract some additional local attention, it certainly isn’t the only option. Another solution is to build relationships with other local leaders in your industry. That could entail a long-term relationship in which you and another company or organization cross-post content to each other’s websites. Or, it could simply involve interviewing a local expert in your field.

Most businesses should view such a relationship as mutually beneficial. If you’re both confident in what you do, competition shouldn’t get in the way of enhancing your respective brands. And you can certainly pursue relevant relationships with those who aren’t direct competitors, instead—for example—opting to work with a business in your supply chain.

This is another great way to enhance SEO thanks to the probability of generating more outside links to your website and/or its content.

It’s also a great way to demonstrate thought leadership and expertise. That speaks to content’s broader value. Though it’s certainly a key means of improving your search rankings, it also makes your brand more appealing to consumers. The more they see that you’re a prominent and capable member of your industry, the more likely they are to do business with you on a sustained basis.

Don’t Forget Social Media

Hopefully the expansive value of social media hasn’t been lost on your marketing department. Unsurprisingly, it’s a critical component of content marketing, too.

“Promoting blog content via social channels is a basic content marketing tactic that is often inexplicably overlooked,” writes Content Marketing Institute’s Paul Sanders. “Promoting blog posts on Facebook and Twitter gives your local content the opportunity to be exposed to the extended network of your clients and customers. Plus, it reinforces your business and brand’s authority and relevance. After investing the resources to write a quality blog post, sharing it (via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn, for example) ensures that your content gets maximum reach without resorting to paid tactics.”

Indeed, social media mentions and links to your content will improve your search rankings. And it serves to directly improve your visibility at little or no cost. Social media promotion can offer such impressive return on investment that it’s almost certainly worth assigning responsibilities to at least one person within your company.

Just like the content it’s promoting, your social media presence should involve consistent updates, and frequency should be determined by the platform in question. Multiple or repeated posting is less likely to annoy your audience on Twitter than it would on Facebook.

Beyond the aforementioned advantages, remember that social media can also encourage engagement with your content. In addition to whatever “comment section” you may wish to include with your blog, social media posts encourage your audience to respond to your content. That’s a two-way opportunity insofar as you can learn more about your audience (and your content’s effectiveness therewith) while also building relationships with that audience through direct conversation.

In short, social media allows you to make the most of your content and all that you’ve invested into it.

Quality Breeds Loyalty (and Leads)

Now that you’ve considered a few tricks of the trade, it’s worth emphasizing that there’s no shortcut around sheer quality. More than any other factor, this determines whether people share your content, continue reading or viewing it, link to it from other sites and—most importantly—take the next step and become an actual customer.

You can do everything else right, but you’re unlikely to develop a consistent and robust audience if you’re taking half-measures with the creation of the content itself.

This implies a few actionable takeaways.

First, you should provide your content creators (including editors) with detailed, upfront expectations. People are generally eager to please when they fully understand their roles and the bottom line. Vaguely outlined duties, an underdeveloped mission or miscommunication can set your content marketing back significantly from the outset. Assuming you’ve done your planning, establishing clear guidelines from the outset shouldn’t be too difficult.

Second, consider outsourcing your content creation to an established provider. Just be sure to do some research. What do their other blogs look like? Do their writers match the kind of tone for which you’re looking? And remember that you may get what you pay for. If the pricing sounds too good to be true, it may well be.

Third, should you opt to hire writers or work with freelancers, be sure to examine their portfolios. Expertise in your industry may well be less important than their basic writing skills. And while you may be require to conduct some basic training or provide research materials, it’s far more difficult to teach someone how to write.

Finally, you’ll also want to have some kind of editing infrastructure in place. Perhaps someone from within your organization is qualified to review content and make needed adjustments. Otherwise, you’ll want to make appropriate arrangements, which may be as simple as hiring a part-time editor.

Yes, doing this right will cost some money. Just remember that the direct and indirect benefits can far outpace traditional marketing and advertising campaigns.

Other SEO Basics Still Apply

A thorough grasp of universal SEO concepts (local and otherwise) will require some additional research and/or consultation. Consider this a reminder that they haven’t disappeared just because you’re focusing on driving up local traffic and leads via content marketing.

From encouraging inbound links to increasing social media mentions, a number of those techniques have already been referenced. Don’t stop there, though.

To fully maximize the value of content marketing, you should—for example—be sure that your website is technically optimized. Is it responsive to mobile devices? Do pages load with sufficient speed? Are you adding the appropriate keywords and tags to content?

These kinds of things still matter, so don’t skip the basics. And if any of those basics cause confusion, don’t hesitate to consult with an expert or a company that specializes in SEO and digital marketing.

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