Barnacle SEO: Use 3rd-Party Sites for Local Organic Search

Do a search for broad financial industry terms such as Financial Advisor, Financial Planner, or Wealth Management.

Unfortunately, the local organic search results for broad keyword terms are often dominated by 3rd-party local or industry review sites such as Yelp, national financial sites like  Smart Asset, Fee-Only Network, and Investopedia, or local and national media lists. Google has determined that this is what searchers are looking for, so it is what it delivers to them.

The phrase Barnacle SEO, first introduced by Will Scott on Search Influence in 2011, is as applicable in today’s local organic search environment as ever. It refers to the idea of attaching yourself to a site that is ranking for your search term, when ranking on your own doesn’t seem possible

Sample Search Results for “Financial Advisor, San Diego”

Search for “financial advisor, city name” in your local area and chances are that your search results will be similar to this one for “Financial Advisor, San Diego” – cluttered with results from account sites like Yelp and SmartAsset, or list articles from different publications. 

Barnacle SEO for Local Organic SEO

An individual advisor is going to have a difficult time out-ranking any of these sites. In this situation, the Barnacle SEO strategy suggests that if you can’t beat them, join them. Set up a Yelp account and join SmartAsset, then do what you can to optimize your business on their site.

3 Ways to take Advantage of Barnacle Optimization

1. Sign Up for an Account with the Directory (i.e. Yelp)

a. Claim (or set-up) your Listing: Depending on the site, your listing may already be there waiting for you to claim it, however, it is more likely you’ll have to register and set up a new account.

b. Complete Information Fields: Provide as much information as you can – complete all relevant fields. Longer descriptions often rank higher.

c. Include Keywords: Use services and location-related keywords in your titles and text fields.

d. Set Categories: Take the time to search for the best Category classifications for your business. Add as many relevant categories as are allowed.

e. Add Images/Media: Adding images and video may not only help you to rank higher, but can help improve your click-through rates once you are ranking. Update with new images regularly.

f. Get Reviews: Although this is still not an option for all Advisors, or even an option on all of these sites, however, where it is relevant and appropriate, reviews are definitely a ranking factor.

Try to incorporate asking for a review into your regular client follow-up routine. If you are trying to rank on multiple sites, you will have to decide whether to spread your reviews out or focus them all on one site.

g. Research Specific Site Requirements: The above tips will provide a solid foundation to get your barnacle optimization started, however, individual sites will have other factors that influence rankings – on-site activity (updating listings, etc.), adding your blog, answering community questions, etc.

Often you can find videos or webinars that outline specific strategies for a given site.

Another way to get an idea of what ranking factors a site weighs more heavily, or to judge how difficult it will be for you to rank, is to Reverse Engineer the rankings. To do this, search your category on the site (i.e. “financial advisor, city name”) and look at the profiles that appear at the top. What differentiates the top few from later listings? What separates the highest-ranking listing from the second, third, etc.?

2. Get Added to the List

If it’s a locally published list (i.e. The 7 Best San Diego Financial Advisors), find out who the author/publisher is, and what criteria was used for the list.

Connect and network with the author on social media (or in-person). This should be an authentic professional connection, not a one-sided ask – make yourself known to the author, be as helpful as you can – share his/her posts, link out to interesting articles, or be available for an interview or quote for future articles.

When appropriate, ask if he/she would consider adding your firm to their list, or approach it from the perspective of what does he/she see as the reason you are falling short of making the list.

3. Build the Ship (Create the List):

When possible, build the ship that others will barnacle attach themselves to.

If there are not already list articles for your local market, or if the existing articles are of lower quality or from smaller sites, write the “10 Best Financial Advisors in [your city]” article. You don’t have to include yourself in the list (and shouldn’t), but by being the “expert” that wrote the list, you are already placed in the company of (or above) the firms that are listed. Taylor Schulte of Define Financial does this very well in the above-mentioned article The 7 Best San Diego Financial Advisors.

Ranking well on these sites and lists can definitely drive traffic to your site, but Barnacle SEO should only be one part of your overall SEO (and marketing) strategy. Relying exclusively on a 3rd party site for traffic and leads leaves your business exposed to too much risk – the site may change its ranking system or business model, or Google may change its algorithm or penalize that particular site. 

Read The Ultimate Guide to SEO for Financial Advisors for more information, or subscribe below to have our new blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May of 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness

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