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MozCon 2019: Darren Shaw – From Zero To Local Ranking Hero


Continuing on with our MozCon series where we discuss some of the most influential and informative presentations that we attended at the MozCon 2019 Digital Marketing conference in Seattle, Washington. In this week’s blog post we will be discussing Darren Shaw’s presentation on ‘From Zero to Local Ranking Hero.’

WHO IS Darren Shaw

Before jumping into her presentation, we would first like to introduce Darren Shaw. Darren Darren founded Whitespark in 2005 as a web design and development company. With 19 years of experience in the field, Darren has a strong passion local SEO. He is a regular contributor to search marketing publications, and speaks at conferences around the globe.


Darren expressed the importance of local search for all businesses and mentioned that a lot of businesses out there will have already established some degree of local presences online. He further explained that our SEO efforts will typically bring businesses rankings up, however it is difficult to identify what specific activities contribute to improvements in rankings.

In this presentation, Darren walk through the audience through an 8-months long journey to grow a local business with zero online presence. The business in this presentation was FC Development (FC), a boutique custom home builder that specialises in the design and development of high-end, single-family infill homes in some of Edmonton’s most desirable mature neighbourhood in Canada.

This presentation will identify Darren’s strategic approach to optimising FC and the results he yielded from this process. In addition, he shared 8 key insights that can help you improve your current local SEO efforts.

STARTING THE PRESENTATION – Darren’s Journey to find the right business to

The presentation started with Darren’s journey in search for the right candidate for this case study. He’s objective was to identify a business with zero local presence online or as he described it with a ‘clean slate’. As previously mentioned, he explained that this was difficult criteria as most businesses would already have some degree of presence online.

He began his search via Twitter where he requested applicants submit a form to clarify their business and its current online status. Darren received 113 applications from businesses of all sorts. Eventually, Darren had recalled a friend who has a small custom home development business.

He reached out and gathered essential information. This is how his journey began.

The online Setup

The following steps were taken to build FC’s online local presence:

Keyword research

As SEO specialist and professionals a like should know, keyword research is one of the most fundamental steps when optimising your business online. The search volume for specific related search terms in your given geographic location will provide direction for your SEO campaign.

For this case study, Darren combined keywords with modifiers such as city or suburb to further enhance his local SEO for FC.


Set up Google My Business (GMB) listing

GMB is a robust directory that Google that presents results on the branded search of your business. By having a GMB listing, your business information can appear in Google Knowledge Graph, Google Local Pack and in Google Maps. This digital real estate can increase business’s visibility on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and in an integral component for local SEO.

Darren mentioned that by adding a key search term related your business in your business’s name will further increase your visibility. However, this may also get your GMB listing suspended. To ensure he avoided such a detrimental penalty, he convinced FC to change their business name to ‘FC Development Custom Home Builder’

Optimise GMB listing

While having a GMB listing may improve your business’s search visibility, it shouldn’t stop there. Optimising your GMB listing can impact your rankings in the SERPs.


Darren explained that other than optimising your business title in your GMB listing, we can only truly optimise your GMB categories to enhance our search visibility. He further indicated that optimising your business description and services does not significantly contribute to your rankings in the SERPs, but does contribute to conversions. Furthermore, Darren had the opportunity to test optimised service areas with postal codes all around the city as well as pumping our Google posts daily and found that these GMB sections did not contribute to any significant movements in FC.


Add a website in GMB

Google released a single-page website builder designed for small businesses in efforts to help small businesses easily and affordably create websites. This feature can be access on the left-hand menu tab as seen in the image below:


Darren had created a single-page website for FC, where he was able to share vital content for to users about the business. He claims that the content on this GMB website can feed content directly into the Google’s Knowledge Graph. He explained that by providing information into GMB’s website you may potentially be feeding information direction into Google’s database. However, he states that this is a speculation and has not been officially confirmed by Google themselves. Darren suggested that in addition to having a website, having a GMB website may contribute to relevancy signals.

Rank Tracking

Search rankings is a crucial KPI because it directly correlates with your SEO success. This is no different when it comes to local SEO. Being in a higher ranked position in the SERPs can increase traffic, leads and conversions for your business.

In local search, Darren stressed the importance of proximity when performing a search. He suggested to get a better sense of your rankings, track your them from different locations around the city. In this case study, he tracked the keywords in different postal codes and set them up in Whitesparks to see the different positions FC appear in based these different locations.


Citation Building


A local citation is any mention of your business on the web; it is any combination of your company name, phone number, address, zip or postal code, and website address. Citations in SEO are a key factor in improving your local search results. The website link you get from a citation offers you additional value, because it provides an extra data point that helps the search engines connect the citation to your business, so some people like to include it in the acronym.

Darren had his team at Whitespark to generate 100 local citations and suggested placing a different number for these listings as they tend to invite unwanted leads. He had used CallRail – an intuitive and powerful call tracking solution to measure call conversion, and discovered from 1st of January 2019 to 12th July 2019, all calls were sales representatives.


More Content

Other than having a descriptive and keyword optimised metadata, content plays an imperative role in improving your rankings. Google’s algorithms are constantly evolving in an effort to deliver useful and relevant results to users’ searches. These pieces of content are ranked by their order of usefulness and relevancy to the user performing the search. This needs to be beneficial to searchers. These pieces of content are ranked by their order of usefulness and relevancy to the user performing the search. This means, in order for your content to have any SEO value at all, it needs to be beneficial to searchers.


Darren explained that although FC had some content – a paragraph on their GMB website, he created more content on their website to observe the impact it had on the business’s rankings. The results can be seen in the image below:


Citation Indexation


Search engine indexing is the process of a search engine collecting, parses and stores data for use by the search engine. To ensure local citations are providing value to your local SEO, it is highly beneficial to ensure Google have these citations indexed in their databased.

Darren added all FC’s citations URL to their GMB listing and used Green Lane’s indexation tester – although now it no longer active, it was at the time to allow Darren to identify which links Google has indexed. Darren was not able to explain the fluctuations in the indexation process. However, he did identify that a few of these citation links had low domain authority. He then proceeded to link these citations on Whitespark – his own website with a domain authority of 75 in ahref.com, and submitted it into Google Search Console (GSC). The resulted in a spike of in FC’s rankings as seen in the image below:

Optimised Reviews


As previously mentioned optimised GMB service areas and posts did not contribute largely to a business ranking. However, reviews can be a strong signal to search engines that communicates trustworthiness and authority.

This was evident in Darren’s approach when reaching out to a number of FC’s past clients. He had provided them a review guideline for them to adhere to and post their reviews on FC’s GMB listings. The result of these reviews has increased FC’s rankings in the SERPs.




Link building is important because it is a major factor in how Google ranks web pages. In short, link building is the process of establishing relevant links to your website from external websites. Search engines use links to crawl the web; they will crawl the links between the individual pages on your website, and they will crawl the links between entire websites. Generally speaking, the more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results.

Darren made references to a tweet from Grind Stone SEO on Twitter. He explained that Grind Stone found that High Authority Domain Rating (HADR) links contributes to a website’s rankings in the SERPs. And never messed around with keyword anchors. He took this philosophy and contacted OutreachPete, and provided him with a variety of links from numerous related websites. FC’s rankings doubled. He continued to get more links and the rankings did not improved. Darren implied that FC had reach a parity level where more links will not help and decided to diversify and moved in different areas.


New and Optimised Website


The key with SEO is to make your website relevant to the things that people are searching for, and therefore an optimising your website will lead to more traffic. Beyond the visibility, the objective of optimising your website with SEO is to convert that traffic into customers and leads.

Darren created a new website for FC and indexed in via GSC and this further improved the rankings in the SERPs.

Key Takeaway

It’s not the result of any specific activities that contribute to the improvement FC’s local search ranking, but more so the aggregation of all these activities that transformed FC from a zero online local presence to a local ranking hero in the SERPs.

Darren suggested focusing on each key step identified in his 8-month long journey to accurately measure the impact of each activity. Ultimately by performing all these local SEO tactics, you will find your local search rankings improve in the SERPs that can provide you with the search visibility in your local area.


Local SEO helps potential customers discover your business. A lot of local searches originate from non-locals who are searching for a business like yours, and with local SEO done right, your business can capture that audience. Darren’s presentation walked through his journey to identify which SEO tactics contributed significantly to website rankings, in doing so he demonstrated the impact of these activities on a company – FC Development Custom Home Builders, with zero online local presence.


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