Hyper-Regional Lead Generation for SEO Companies

February 18, 2009

Okay so for this post instead of talking about using SEO for online lead generation, I’m going to talk about online lead generation for SEO services.

When I started my SEO firm back in 2003, I immediately identified Baltimore, MD as my primary geographic market.  At the time, I was living in the Towson area – which is a suburb about 15-20 minutes north of Baltimore.  In 2003, few people had heard of SEO so I was worried about getting enough demand in Baltimore, much less a smaller suburb.  I targeted keywords like “baltimore seo” rather than “towson seo“, as I thought the latter was simply too niche a keyword and didn’t have enough demand to support my lead generation needs…

But as times change, so to must we re-evaluate our positioning strategies.  Lately I’ve had more success selling our SEO services to clients who are 1,000+ miles away, and never meeting them in person.  The service itself has always been just as satisfactorily provided to a company 1 mile away as 1,000 miles away… but prospective clients still wanted to meet someone face-to-face.  That seems to be less important now, though certainly there is still a benefit and for some prospects its still a non-negotiable.  But for others, over the past 5-7 years they’ve become more familiar with virtual and/or long-distance working relationships.  My SEO agency has positioned itself as the premier firm in the Baltimore region – which helps us sell to clients in Baltimore.  That said, many of our clients are based in the DC area, and we don’t have nearly the same “we’re the best in town” claim there.  I know all of my competitors and pretty much all of the SEO people in Baltimore, but I can’t say the same thing for the DC market.

Anyhow, a few days ago I got a call from a friend of the family – an IT guy who is considering starting an SEO consulting firm.  Let’s call him John Smith.  He is based in the Central Pennsylvania area, near Altoona.  From what I understand of Central PA, the population density is not terribly high, and there are not a ton of larger companies, tech companies, etc.  As such, John Smith immediately began talking about targeting the Pittsburgh market, as well as potentially the Philadelphia market.  My reaction was one of “hold on there buddy, let’s walk before we run!”.  A few yeras ago ranking for something like “Pittsburgh SEO” would have been pretty easy, as there wasn’t much competition.  With the explosion of the industry though, its now not quite as easy – especially for a new company with a new website and not much experience actually doing SEO.  I’m not familiar with the Pittsburgh market so much, but I know there are a number of good SEO firms in Philadelphia – such as Seer Interactive.

If you are in a position similar to John Smith… why not cut your teeth on smaller, hyper-regional clients?  It will be easier and faster to produce results for them – thus building your experience base and portfolio.  It will also be easier to get your foot in the door with those clients, and likely easier to sell them.  You can make the “I’m the best SEO guy in town” argument, and be totally dead-on about it.  I recommended that John Smith do the following:

  1. Read SEOmoz’s “beginners” guide (misnamed, that’s better than a beginners guide)
  2. Read various other blogs, articles etc. to familiar himself with the industry
  3. Publish a website for his own firm ASAP, even though he’ll likely want to overhaul it in the very near future.  Get that thing indexed and get it started to accumulate age, links, trust, etc.
  4. Target the Central Pennsylavania market. Go for keywords like “central PA internet marketing” and “Altoona SEO“.  There won’t be a ton of demand, but you have to start somewhere.  It should be easy to rank for these keywords, and may bring him a few clients.  This should be his primary market.
  5. Target Pittsburgh as his secondary market, since its further away, has more competition, etc.
  6. Reach out to his existing network, and also hold a few informational seminars and such about basics of internet marketing and intro to Google AdWords and PPC marketing, stuff like that.  Make them free or less than $20.  Let local businesses know.  Give them a free lunch or dinner too.  This should help him get some additional initial leads, and will also help him learn a bit more about SEO and PPC.  There are few better ways to learn than to teach.  The preparation makes you organize your thoughts and think about the material from various perspectives.

On a similar thought, my firm just opened up a new office in the northern-most part of South Carolina.  Its about 15 minutes south of Charlotte, NC, and about 10 minutes north of Rock Hill, SC.  Having had a reasonably high profile in Baltimore, I felt compelled for some reason to consider positioning the firm in the local Charlotte SEO market.  I’m not sure why, as we’re currently swamped and “not really” taking on any new clients… but for some reason I am compelled.

There are already a number of great local SEO firms in the Charlotte area, and so I didn’t really want to target a keyword like “charlotte SEO”.  Plus, business-wise its not a valuable keyword to us since our headquarters and main operations are still in Baltimore, and I don’t want to re-position the company as a Charlotte firm.  We’re not.  We’re a Baltimore SEO Agency with an office in the Charlotte area.

Okay now logic aside, I did at least do a couple of things:

  1. Created a regional page for our Charlotte operations, as well as one for our Baltimore location now that we are multi-regional.  Need to give it some time.
  2. Made mention of Charlotte on the homepage, although avoided directly featuring it.  If we were going full-bore I would have “charlotte SEO” as the first words in my title tag, h1, etc.  Don’t want to do that for branding reasons.
  3. Put up a page on a new domain targeting Rock Hill SEO.

Its too early to comment on results, but for item #3 we’re ranked #1 and #2 for “rock hill SEO” in Google, and also have the #1 Google Local listing.  That’s sort of cool, being as it took us only like 15 minutes.  That said, this is one of those rigged phrases as the search volume here is very low, and to my knowledge there are only 1 or 2 other SEO companies in the Rock Hill area, so there isn’t much competition.

As a potential negative effect, we have recently fallen from #1 for “Baltimore SEO” to #2.  George is now rocking us for that keyword, for today anyhow.  This might be a temporary thing that will reverse itself, or it may be Google realizing that whereas we were once “all about Baltimore”, we’re now dividing things a bit between a few locations and regionally-focused keywords. Or it could be that the site outranking us has been doing a lot more in the way of publishing content and building links through social media lately than has our site.  Shoot, I’m posting all this content now to this blog, which is not on our main domain!

Wow.  Lots of stuff here.  Your thoughts?

  • Recommendations to the new guy starting an SEO firm in Altoona?
  • Targeting smaller regions versus larger regions versus ignoring regions alltogether?
  • Does a regional focus in your keyword targeting strategy help you generate leads?  Convert them?
  • Why do I care at all about rankings for regional SEO-related keywords when we aren’t even looking to add new clients?

6 Responses to “Hyper-Regional Lead Generation for SEO Companies”

  1. George Says:

    I’m here to stay baby! Bring it!

    JK, like anyone actually searches for “Baltimore SEO”

  2. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot too as I’ve spent some time recently moving around the globe, yet still enjoying the traffic for keywords like “maryland seo”.

    I think the best strategy for ranking a firm is to pick a location that has a good balance of traffic and ease of ranking. And any brand new firm is going to have to pound the pavement a bit. Business owners in Altoona might not yet realize that what they need is SEO so you have to educate them.

    And theoretically you don’t even have to live where your site is geo-located! If you moved to Topeka, Kansas tomorrow you would still be enjoying those leads from searches on “baltimore seo” and often the client doesn’t care where your actual physical location is as long as they get results.

  3. Jon Payne Says:

    FOLLOW UP – as of 02/20/09 the site I put up as hinted at in recommendation #4 to John Smith is now ranking #1 for “altoona seo”. This blog also ranks 2 pages in the top 10 as well. Competition is virtually non-existent.

  4. Tim Staines Says:

    You mean George with his hyphenated URL is out ranking us for “Baltimore SEO“? Maybe there’s a different way to be looking at this scenario since there’s no hyphen between “Baltimore” & “SEO”? Do I see a new blog post?

  5. […] I registered a bunch of domains related to SEO in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago when a family friend contacted me about some business advice.  Sure enough, I am the guy who registered it 2 weeks ago.  Props to […]

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