Local SEO Made My Australian Business A Success Story
The difference that a top 3 Google Ranking can make to a local business is unrivalled.
But I got to thinking, exactly how much is it worth?
You know, in dollar terms?
To get started, there is one business I know a heck of a lot about and that is my very own local business MD Commercial Cleaning.
Located on the Gold Coast, in March 2013, the business could have been found on Page 46 of the Google Rankings if anyone cared to look.
Based on the phone’s singular determination not to ring, I can tell you, nobody ever got to page 46 on Google.
Well except me. After all, I needed to laugh at something and those suckers on page 47 were in my sights.
At the time, the business was known as Master Duster and most of my customers were in the holiday accommodation business. It was very demanding work and poorly paid.
Something had to give.
I decided to re-name the business and focus on commercial cleaning, so I changed the name to MD Commercial Cleaning and I built a new website to show the world what I could offer.
That was in April 2013.
My turnover at the time was about $145K annually and my customer count was 12. It wouldn’t take too much to imagine a cosy dinner with all of my customers sitting around my dining room table.
Fast forward to October 2016 and my turnover has jumped to $893K recurring and I have over 80 customers.
And here is why.
As of this writing, the website has #1 rankings for terms such as Commercial Cleaning Gold Coast (the most prize worthy of all of the search terms I targeted) and Office Cleaner Gold Coast – this search term alone one has brought in about half of my customers.
With a population of 600,000 people, the Gold Coast is not as competitive as cities such as Sydney or Melbourne but the market size is significant enough allow me to dream of an annual turnover of more than a million dollars.
Valuing that Google Top 3 Rank
I’ll be honest and admit that there is no formula that I know of that generates an exact value for me but here are some stats that will help you understand, what is available to play for.
I don’t do ANY marketing outside of Google but in less than 3 years I have:
- Increased my customer base x 6.8
- Increased Gross Profit from $45,000 to $300,000+
- Sold part of my business and recovered my initial business investment
- Increased my business valuation from $68,000 to $400,000+
- Qualified for a big fat loan from my bank
- Been approached to sell the business 3 times in the last 18 months
- I have worked with my partner to turn the business into a lifestyle business. We are trialling working one month on, one month off.
So the value of a great rank in Google for a local business comes in many forms.
Income rose from $45K to a Gross Profit of $300K in less than 3 years
If I put the business on the market in 2013, I think I would have been lucky to sell it for $60K. After all, it would have been difficult to find a buyer willing to work 7 days per week, 365 days per year for a $45K income.
By 2016 my partner and I were approached to sell the business in February for $450K – the sale stalled at the last minute for reasons not associated with the business.
Since the sale fell through around July, we have added over $250K in recurring annual sales to the business.
Total Financial Benefits Of Having a Local Business With Top Google Rankings
Return On Investment
If I factored in my time @ just $25 per hour and my website took 250 hours to research and build (it did), my cost would be $6250.00. My total return on investment so far is in excess of $600,000 so I have a ROI of slightly under 100 times my investment.
I can’t think of a single other investment a local business can make that will give them even close to the ROI investing in a great website will.
As Google delivers me fresh sales leads my return on investment will grow over time.
All because I got the Google Love.
Google Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving
When I turned off the Adwords Account because I was growing too quickly, my customer acquisition run rate was at about 1.5 per week.
My real problem is that the numbers were lumpy – I had to on-board up to four new customers on some weeks while on other weeks all I had was my pipeline of completed quotes awaiting decisions.
With a very time intensive way of welcoming my new customers, burnout always seemed just around the corner. It was not the sort of life Dwayne and I imagined when he bought into the business so we made the conscious decision to turn down our enquiry rate and knock back work that we once took.
Where we will be this time next year is anyone’s guess and it is becoming more and more a question of lifestyle over income. That means we will not be as big as we could be but… we will be bigger than we are now!
The most obvious savings we made have been to the cost of advertising for which we have an on-going cost of zero dollars annually.
Versus the Yellow Pages Advertiser cited below who faithfully pays $6K per year, that is an annual saving of $6K.
Over 5 years I will realise a $30K saving. Hello Euro vacation!
Accounting for advertising I did until the site got the Google love it deserved, I paid $3.2K in the first year through Adwords and therefore saved around $2.8K over the Yellow Pages.
Adwords Return On Investment
This part of my account will be slightly general in nature because I made a few mistakes along the way and do not have the exact metrics to share. But the numbers will be close.
Reduced Adwords Costs
Because my website was full of relevant content and the Ads I ran were relevant to what local people were searching for, Google gave me a high Quality Score. The effect of that it is easier to be competitive for the top ads and you don’t have to bid as much for the top position.
You can see from the image above that my ads achieved an average position of 1.3. In a nutshell, it meant that my ads normally ran in position 1 or 2.
Like the organic local results in Google, people that click the ads, normally click the first, second or third ad.
Google Is My Sales Person
The direct cost of hiring, a sales person in Australia is probably somewhere in the order of $55K+ annually. At that price, the calibre that a local business could expect is not in the top order.
The indirect costs of training and managing that person as well as considering turnover of that position puts the overall costs a lot higher.
On the other hand, Google is at a point where it works for my business 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is by far the easiest to manage staff member I have ever had!
I am going to go ahead and say that Google saves me $65k annually in expenses in not having to hire a sales person.
There would be merit in taking the opposing end of that argument in that if I did have a salesperson and Google working for me, sales would be even better.
That could be true but in my case, I have been challenged most by managing growth in a way that honours the commitments I have to existing customers and promises made to new prospects.
No Other Marketing Costs
As an online-only play my local business has never spent another dollar in any form of direct or indirect marketing. There have been no flyers printed and distributed, no call centres chasing leads, no online or offline affiliates, no sales people appointed and no cold calls performed at all.
In fact online, the business does not have a Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Linkedin profile or any other account at all.
Let me explain.
When a company needs a new cleaning service, they don’t go and join a Facebook Group and ask for a recommendation. They head straight over to Google and start on the first page. And mostly, that is where they stop.
Time spent researching local service based businesses is most often counted in minutes on two hands at most.
Because Google is the Go-To place to research in the absence of a trusted referral, they are unlikely to be involved in a community or tribe where cleaning services are discussed. This is the case for most local businesses and is one of the factors that sets digital marketing strategies for local businesses apart from other businesses marketing themselves on the internet.
Google Is Embedded In Our Brains. Really!
One aspect of getting on the Google Love Bus that has surprised me is that trust in the top positions on Google is so embedded in the human psyche that I have been the only business contacted to quote for new business so many times. This is always the best type of business to win because it is totally automated.
Google has not only increased the volume of my business but it has improved the standing of my business
The pillars on my website therefore is to be highly visible and highly accessible – I have a telephone number and contact form on every page and I aim to pick up on ring or answer the first email within 5 minutes of it landing in my email box.
After all, this is just Business 101.
A no social media approach may not be the right formula for all local businesses, especially those pointed at the consumer market where different channels of information do well. But for most B2B service related businesses, I always strongly suspected that the main game was to try to achieve a high Google Ranking and the rest was noise.
And the results for my business attest to that.
The benefits of being ranked #1 -3 on Google extend far beyond just the financial.
Having a diversified customer base means than any customer or even a number of customers can leave the fold at any time and I know that the business will still hum along nicely. When I have this kind of security, the world somehow turns and I sleep well at night.
My old html site was buried in the depths of the Google databases so prospective customers, who were ready to buy my services always chose my competitors.
Every. Single. Time
In fact 91.5% of searchers never get beyond Page 1 of Google
In order to bring in new business, you have to be found. Online, that means at least being on the first page.
The Top 3 positions on Google collectively account for over 75% of all clicks.
The numbers do not lie and unless you do something about it for your business, you will be on the wrong side of the numbers like I was from 2009 through 2013.
The effects of a good rank in Google are stark – it really is an all or nothing game. If you aren’t on the first page you almost don’t exist.
See the table below to see what I mean.
From memory, when I first published the new site, I think it landed on page 29 of the Google results.
My takeout from that experience is that for most new sites, a source of new business leads besides organic Google leads is necessary. And moving from Page 29 to Page 1 does take time.
It took 9 months for MD Commercial Cleaning to get to page one for the key words I was targeting. I can remember the day I first the site on the first page. I was so happy – #fistpumpmoment
I posted this thread on Flying Solo.
The time it takes will vary from location to location, industry to industry and from the key words that local businesses target.
Talking to a lot of industry people, 3-9 months lead time is normally a framework that will give new site owners reasonable expectations.
In the life of a successful business, even 9 months is not a lot of time at all. When I think about my favourite brands some of them have existed longer than I have. Good businesses grow year by year, developing both their brand and their balance sheets year after year. Ideally, my business will be a lot stronger a year from now and better still in two years.
I recommend Adwords very strongly for businesses just starting out or for businesses that are in extremely competitive markets. The platform’s capacity to deliver paying customers affordably is why it is a product I can get behind.
In future posts, I will go into how I set up my Adwords Campaigns to deliver new customers without wasting money.
But I noticed a very big difference between the type of customer that clicked the ad versus those that clicked the organic result on Google.
Since creating the new website every single one of my top 10 biggest customers has come from organic results.
And my biggest customer has cleaning needs in excess of $200K per year. Guess where the lead came from? If your answer begins with the letter G, you are probably on the right track.
$200k+ Customer. Boom. The power of local SEO.
The level of trust that Google bestows on top ranking sites is almost unfathomable. If you are ranked #1, #2 or #3, people will automatically trust you. It is just the way it is.
Due to the increase in visibility, I have been approached by some great organisations and we are now working for some of them and we love it because they are an ideal fit for our business and great company’s.
Amongst the enquiries we have received are: a state government department, The Gold Coast’s largest listed company, China’s richest billionaire, the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, the Gold Coast’s only Busline, The Gold Coasts largest resort operator etc, etc.
In the 5 years prior to ranking 1st on Google, that simply did not happen.
It is so much more fun to have customers that you know will pay you for your work, that value and rely on your expertise and that don’t demand that the extras you provide are done for free and then are still not happy! Yep, you know the ones!
I used to work in a building with an Accounting firm housed in the top floor. They closed their doors at 5pm on the dot and rarely worked on weekends. Every year, one of the partners would go to Europe on a ski vacation for three months.
I thought to myself, I’d love to run a business that way one day.
So after committing as many hours as it took for 2 and a half years, my partner and I have decided to work in the business for six months each from now on. Dwayne will take a month off and then I will take a month off. It might not be a 4 hour work week but it is pretty damn sweet.
The business is at a point now where we can choose to operate it in many different ways including a partial management system, or we could hire a full time manager to have it fully managed or we could keep on managing it ourselves.
If you are on page 5 of Google, you won’t be afforded these luxuries. Some business owners I know don’t even have the option of taking holidays and their commitment shows in the lines on their face like a road map to servitude.
When I took on a business partner, he was attracted to the proposition of buying into the business mostly because of the growth leverage that the website rankings offered.
Looking at the customer acquisition numbers, he could see his future and he liked what he saw!
As our near sale unfolded, our Google rankings also played a pivotal part in why we were selected as an acquisition target. And because of the the growth opportunities our Google ranking provide a new owner, it is not hard to see why.
Overall, our Google ranking in local results will make it easier for us to sell the business should we ever decide to do so. When you take into account that businesses can take 12 months or sometimes more to sell and selling is a very stressful process, this benefit is not lost on me.
I recently looked at a business profile for a local company that has had a prominent position in the Yellow Pages for Years. There is no doubt that the ad has done it’s job over the years because the business customer list is impressive. But over the last 10 years, the business has paid $60K for advertising. And Yellow Pages is not the Go To place to find local businesses these days – Google is.
In contrast, I used to have an Adwords Campaign while we were waiting to my Google rankings to improve. My total spend for the year was $3.5K and Google has better reach than the Yellow Pages. So while I ran the Adwords campaign, I saved $2.5K per year and achieved higher visibility.
In 2016, our advertising costs have been $0. In fact, the decision to turn off the ad campaign came about because the number of enquiries we were receiving made it hard to keep up with our growth and retain our customer service and quality standards.
So we have reached the point where we need no advertising at all to support the growth of our business and we did so about 18 months ago.
That means that every new lead we receive is free!
And to me, this is the wondrous thing about Google. When I try to process what is happening, I can’t fathom the value of all of the new customer leads Google gives away every day in every industry across the world. The value of all of that collective new business must be staggering.
And some of it could be yours!
We have considered a number of strategies to grow our business beyond the Gold Coast and are in a very strong position to do so as a result of the love that Google offers us. We could very easily service Brisbane which offers a market at least 3 times the size of the Gold Coast.
Running an Adwords Campaign along the lines of:
“Commercial Cleaner Brisbane
Over 80 Happy Customers
Expert and Affordable”
Would be a no brainier strategy for a growth at all costs business as we would easily be able to leverage off our track record and infrastructure we have built up on the Gold Coast. It would also open doors to service more companies that have a presence in both locations and many of them fit our ideal customer profile.
Others have said to us that we have a successful model so we should create a franchise.
Another way we could leverage our growth is to sell packages of contracts we have and support new owners to operate to the high levels that our customers have come to expect. In this way, we could “cash out” some of the leverage that jumping on the Google Love Bus has offered us which is another attractive option.
We have considered all of the above options and more and one day we may just pull the trigger but we are happy and satisfied with our current circumstances and have the luxury of time….
All because we have a solid local SEO strategy and the know how to make it work for our prospective customers once the get in touch.
Targeted Website Visitors Mean More Sales And Less Interruptions
As a growing business, I could not afford the luxury of wasting time. Having a targeted approach to information means that my days are not filled with tyre kickers and time wasters. My industry is essentially divided into commercial and domestic cleaning and there are a number of specialities on both sides.
I am happy to report that at least 90% of the enquiries I receive are spot on or very close to the type of job I am trying to win. Occasionally, I have the odd domestic request.
With a name like MD Commercial Cleaning, go figure.
But the distractions are minimal.
The best way that I can describe how I ended up in this position is that I became very clear around what my business stood for. I was going for a single descriptor but ended up with two because I could not help myself.
Expert and Affordable.
I recall the day, decided one that tag. All of a sudden, my messaging because easy because Expert and Affordable became the filter I used to determine if the words I composed was on message. The key questions I had to answer became an exercise in working out what the needs of a client that wanted expert and affordable services would be.
And the enquiries I received told me what I needed to know.
“Will the same person be cleaning for me every week?”, Do you have references? “What insurance cover do you have?, “When can you Start?
Some of the questions made it into the Google descriptions and some made it on to the home page of the website.
For example, “When can you Start?” became a catch-cry “Call Today, Clean Tomorrow”
“Will the same person be cleaning for me every week?” became Same Cleaner Every Service – We know you want the same great clean every time so we send you the same great cleaner.
Where To Put Your Money In Online Marketing.
If you have been reading this post because you have a local business yourself and you are trying to get some more business coming your way, these are the absolute must haves from my experience.
- Your website must be visible – as the table above shows, you really need to be ranking at #1,2 or 3 for key search terms to get maximum leads coming your way.
- Starting off or if you are targeting maximum growth, an Adwords campaign that complements your website can show a huge Return on Investment.
- Your Website needs to be optimised in a way that Google loves
- Your brand needs to speak to the customers you are targeting
To achieve all of the above, I recommend a budget around $6 to $10K and on-goings of around $500-2k per month.
Of course the upside is a massive return on your investment.
In upcoming posts, I will be writing in more depth about some of the concepts discussed in this post so that you can be informed around what strategies and tactics have worked for me.
In the meantime, I’d love for you to comment around what has been your biggest roadblock in achieving success for your business online.
I will reply to every comment.