Can Hamilton’s newest businesses afford proper digital marketing in the time of Google?

Lion Eater was recently featured alongside Pier 8 Group, Factor[e] and The Generator on People of Hamilton’s roundup for local digital marketing specialists and we had the opportunity to talk about some challenges facing SEO in Hamilton.

A quick recap of the interview:

What are the challenges facing search engine optimization in Hamilton, especially as a field many people still don’t know much about?

SEO requires calculated risks: each business has a unique set of problems and approach to solve them to beat their competitors in search rankings. The percentage of people searching for products, brands and company reviews using a mobile device is already outnumbering desktop searches. You can’t get by without having a technical understanding as well as a sense of human interaction. Semantic search, machine learning AI and the sophistication of Google has complicated the role of SEOs, and psychology (learning, perception, cognition) plays an integral role to understanding user intent and supporting the customer journey.

The industry is changing so fast. It’s a lot like building a maze and making sure Google (and real people) know how to navigate it. The best SEOs are a balance of technical skill sets and creative forces, so really good maze builders.

So where do we think search engine optimization is going to move forward for Hamiltonians in the next year? As an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, we’re hoping that more people become educated rather than just aware of the process. Right now it seems that businesses in Hamilton are hyper local focused, but not too many are taking advantage of local SEO. The worst advice I’ve heard at a networking event: “SEO is dead. There is no way to improve your search results, Google now.

Let’s take a look a few businesses that are shining at local search.

Local SEO for Hamilton search

Here are some examples where SEO techniques are being used to improve the visibility of Hamilton businesses for local search.

O’s Clothes, 150 James Street North.

O’s Clothes has certainly taken advantage of the local search citations necessary to get featured for branded search. This is critical when establishing your brand or local business.

From the top of the page with a clean title and meta description, the root domain for O’s ranks #1 on Google for local search. On the right the Knowledge Graph appears, showcasing social media accounts, directions to the business location as well as operating hours. Depending on the type of business being provided, Google will also display times of the day that are busiest for business so customers can plan ahead before they visit.

 

 

A great example of schema markup being used to showcase social media accounts. This indicates trust from Google.
A great example of schema markup being used to showcase social media accounts. This indicates trust from Google.

 

Arcade Bar, Hess Village

Arcade is one of the coolest bars in Hess, and arguably one of the most laid back places to meet up with friends and have a beer. But their lack of SEO presence makes it hard to brag about their services, especially when they don’t show up for local branded keywords. With a small SEO investment, they could benefit from the passive traffic that grows with organic search.

 

 

Arcade Bar invests in social media and traditional marketing tactics, but could benefit from some SEO consulting.
Arcade Bar invests in social media and traditional marketing tactics, but could benefit from some SEO consulting.

Hamilton’s local coffee scene

Wouldn’t it be great to have your local coffee business featured in the Knowledge Graph panel? No doubt running a coffee shop means a tight budget, but the loss in potential customers might make up for the initial investment of SEO. How many cups of coffee would it take to rank for this keyword? Based on the average price of an artisan brew in Hamilton (around $3.50) a company in Hamilton could afford monthly SEO service. Considering how quickly you could sell 100 coffees when you show up for local keywords, it would be an easy bargain.

screenshot-www.google.com 2016-09-01 13-31-17

Local Clothing in Hamilton

Despite having a strong presence for branded searches, even O’s Clothing doesn’t appear for fashion keywords directed at Hamilton. By taking advantage of local search, designers can easily out rank Hamilton The Musical when their customers are searching for somewhere to shop local.

Being fashionably late to the search party isn't profitable for designers looking to grow their brands.
Being fashionably late to the search party isn’t profitable for designers looking to grow their brands.

Marketing in Hamilton

Digital Agencies in Hamilton are not dominating the marketing keywords as much as you would expect a city this size. For example, the same search performed for Toronto has several ads and a full map pack. The keyword “marketing in Hamilton” is dominated by job postings, as well as what we like to call Exact Match Domain. This means that the domain being served by Google matches the keyword exactly, such as bestshoelaces.com when a user types in “best shoe laces” and is most evident when competition is pretty low. Some people still manage to use these for traffic, but from our experience it’s not worth changing a brand name for short lived organic placements.

This keyword could serve as an interesting project for a future case study in SEO.

screenshot-www.google.com 2016-09-01 13-36-10

Hamilton Digital Marketing Predictions for 2017

We predict that with the growing interest in digital marketing, as well as the quality agencies popping up in Hamilton there will be a surge in digital marketing services available for local businesses. Our bet is that most business downtown still cannot afford the full spectrum of SEO that larger companies are leveraging to grow their sales. Setting a reasonable SEO marketing budget of at least $600 monthly for SEO projects will yield a higher reward in the long run than waiting to be able to sign a contract with a larger agency. Social media marketing seems to be popular in Hamilton, but what value does it add? At the end of the day the human fuel required on social media to continue getting customers talking about a business requires much more work than optimizing for the web. If a customer cannot find your business for branded terms in 2016, you might as well not exist online at all. In 2017, if you are still not mobile friendly, 50% of potential traffic will be practically impossible to reach on organic search.

With small businesses on the rise, we think that data based results will out power trendy marketing tactics that are difficult to measure. Distracting metrics that do not necessarily translate into customer acquisition, such as social shares, likes, and other meaningless dribble that can comfort businesses into believing a campaign is a success. These metrics stray from the greater goal of digital marketing, which is to ultimately make more money!