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Local SEO is Dead for High Competition Professions – Here's Why

Local SEO simply isn't worth it for fields with high competition. Ads, cards, and directors flood up the SERP page way before you can see the first organic result. Unfortunately, ads seem to be the smartest way to market on Google as a local professional.
Updated April 18, 2023
3D render of a lawyer figurine in an aquarium on a dark blue background, digital art
3D render of a lawyer figurine in an aquarium on a dark blue background, digital art

I do a ton of marketing work for lawyers and have slowly and slowly been getting fed up with the ad-infested waters of the search engine results pages. SERP pages have become bombarded with too many advertisements, and it's as simple as that.

Local SEO has long been a crucial aspect of online marketing for businesses, allowing them to target their services and products to customers in their immediate vicinity. By optimizing their websites and online presence for local search, businesses could improve their visibility and attract more clients, right?

However, the last few years of changes in the digital landscape have begun to diminish the effectiveness of local SEO for high competition professions like lawyers, doctors, contractors, and accountants.

But why?

It's pretty apparent Google cares about profits more than search results at this point. I mean, it makes up for 56% of the companies revenue. Just for search ads... that's crazy! 162.5 billion dollars just from placing certain text in positions above others.

So why am I claiming local SEO for professional industries are dead? Let's breakdown what the SERPS look like:

Google Local Service Ads

Google Local Service Ads are a relatively new advertising product designed to help businesses connect with potential customers searching for local services. These ads appear at the top of the search results page, offering a convenient way for users to find and contact local service providers. While this feature can be beneficial for businesses that invest in it, it has also had a significant impact on local SEO for high competition professions. It's a wonderful service, promises conversions for businesses that use it, and you can target users in specific zip codes.

The presence of Google Local Service Ads at the top of search results means that organic search results are pushed further down the page, making it more difficult for businesses relying on local SEO to get noticed. Furthermore, these ads have increased the competition for ad placements, driving up the cost of advertising and creating challenges for small businesses with limited budgets. Professions such as tutors, patient care, and home contractors are among the most affected by this development.

Alright, let's take a the first point away from SEO

Google Page Ads

Google Page Ads, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) ads, have long been a staple of online advertising. We all know and love these, regardless of if we've ever used them (sarcasm).

These ads appear in the search results and are targeted based on the keywords users search for. While they can be a valuable marketing tool, they also have significant implications for local SEO in competitive professions.

As more businesses invest in Google Page Ads, organic search results are pushed even further down the page, making it even harder for businesses relying on local SEO to achieve visibility!

This shift encourages businesses to invest more in paid advertising, often at the expense of their organic search strategies. High competition professions, such as real estate agents and medical practitioners, are particularly impacted by this trend. Let's keep going down the SERP:

A Google AdWord placement showing 4 lines of space taken up reducing local SEO company visibility

This guy takes up 4 lines of text! I'm sure he's a great plumber, but those are 4 spots that local SEO just died in. Take away another point.

Google Business Cards

Google Business Cards, or Google My Business listings, are an essential feature for businesses looking to improve their online presence. These cards provide a snapshot of essential business information, such as location, hours, and contact details, directly in the search results. While undoubtedly helpful for users, their dominance in search results has had significant consequences for local SEO in competitive fields.

For high competition professions, Google Business Cards often take up a substantial portion of the search results page, leaving even smaller amounts of room for organic search results.

As a result, businesses that have traditionally relied on local SEO to drive traffic and leads may find it increasingly difficult to compete. Professions such as restaurants, hotels, and spas are among those most influenced by the prominence of Google Business Cards.

I mean the more reviews you have the higher relevance Google believes your company will be (raising it more and more), but this still pushes down site pages. I can't get upset with this one, but factually it does take up a decent amount of space. That's another point.

Online Directories and Aggregator Services

Professional directory services like FindLaw and Justia have become increasingly popular for users searching for professional services, such as lawyers. These platforms compile and organize information about various service providers, making it easier for users to find and compare options in their area. However, their rise has also had a notable impact on local SEO for these professions.

Individual business websites can struggle to compete with the online presence of established aggregator services, which often outrank them in search results. These companies have even created their own economy within their platforms, making you pay more and more just to be above the next company.

Sadly, that's another point.

SERP page showing online directories before showing an actual company that provides a service

What's The Solution?

Investing in paid advertising campaigns, such as Google Local Service Ads and Page Ads, can definitely help businesses regain some of the visibility they have lost in organic search results. Focusing on content marketing and maintaining a strong social media presence can additionally help businesses build authority and trust with potential clients.

Finally, cultivating a robust online reputation and collecting positive reviews can further enhance a business's credibility and influence in the eyes of prospective customers (like on those business cards.)

Listen, I understand that Google needs to make money. I'm not here dictating what a business should or shouldn't do! But what this does make me realize is the importance of SEO for local companies. Is it worth it anymore?

The last law firm I worked with I totally ditched the position of local SEO. It was 10 links down the page that you found the top lawyer in the area ranking naturally, let alone one I'd like to help rise to the top.

I simply just don't think it's worth it anymore. It's like that old quote: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

And no, I'm not accepting defeat or trying to be pessimistic! I genuinely believe the marginal benefit of pouring thousands of hours into creating blogs for a very specific local niche (that offers services) are probably better spent somewhere else.

I'm HUGE on content, I think you should publish no matter what. But, in this very specific scenario, if you're something like an orthodontist in a bigger city, just pay for the ads.

Continue to publish content about the services you provide in the areas you provide them, but analyze how much time, effort, and money you'd be spending on writing 2 blogs a week compared to one or two a month. Reallocate that money to the ads. It's just not an effective marketing strategy for certain types of businesses anymore.

Am I sad? Yes.

But it's just part of the evolutionary digital marketing game – If you don't adapt, you'll eventually be left behind.

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Written by Justin Gluska
Justin is the founder of Gold Penguin, a business technology blog that helps people start, grow, and scale their business using AI. The world is changing and he believes it's best to make use of the new technology that is starting to change the world. If it can help you make more money or save you time, he'll write about it!
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