Want to know one of my secrets to staying ahead in local SEO? Don’t believe everything I say. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s important to use industry research, knowledge, case studies, and best practices when putting your local SEO strategy together. But you can’t just rely on other people’s research, even if they happen to be experts. The real way to get ahead of the curve is by doing your own testing and optimizing.

Let’s talk about that.

Now, I know that a LOT of people swear by the Local Search Ranking Factors survey (LSRF). Heck, I’m one of the experts that contributes to it. And a lot of people were swayed by the most recent study put together by Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson. Shotland and Leibson essentially tried to reverse-engineer Google’s search algorithm in hopes of finding out what areas of your website were weighted more heavily for optimization purposes.

Of course, the truth is that while these are great resources that you should be using to formulate your local SEO strategy, trusting them with blind faith won’t get you too far. Why? Because, at the end of the day, your website needs a strategy that’s been tested (over and over again) within your industry.

Fine-Tune Your Strategy

Getting the structure for your gameplan from local SEO experts is a good thing, but fine-tuning your strategy actually requires a little more attention from someone who knows your industry inside and out. And, hopefully, that’s you.

I’ve been leading sessions at a lot of conferences lately and listening in on even more. While everyone has been taking sides on the LSRF survey vs. Shotland & Leibson study, I was actually a little surprised that more people weren’t testing things out themselves! More people were aligning themselves with either side of the fence, and sometimes their reasoning was as simple as, “It’s what I’ve always done.”

I don’t have to be a local SEO expert to tell you that that kind of thinking isn’t helping your website gain visibility in the search engines. The way I see it, these two major studies were done by professionals who tried lots of different things, measured the results, compared the data, and drew conclusions. While it can get a little complicated, I’ll admit, I’ve always done my own testing and re-testing to find out what works best within my own industry – the automotive industry.

Auto dealers are different from financial service providers, which are different than retail businesses, and so on. One of the best examples of this is geo-optimizing. Interestingly enough, this is an area where the LSRF and the Shotland and Leibson studies greatly differed. In many areas, they were generally headed in the same direction, which was to be expected, but not when it came to geo-optimizing.

According to the LSRF, geo-optimization is highly important, but Shotland & Leibson actually found it to be a near-useless metric. So, which one is correct? Turns out, they both are.

Whether or not geo-optimizing is a big factor for your website depends on how much competition is in your vertical. If all your competition is optimizing for geo-terms and they’re doing a consistently good job, then it won’t make much of a difference. And if you’re a dealership in a small town full of bad websites, then geo-optimizing will set you apart in a big way. Remember last year, when I wrote about unique content not being that important anymore (because everyone has unique content)? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

The Internet and the power of search engines are constantly evolving, so your local SEO strategy needs to be laser-focused on what works for your industry. Yes, the experts are a great place to start  but if you really want to start getting ahead, go ahead and put on your white lab coat, grab your beakers, and start testing things like a mad scientist.