The Ultimate Guide To Barnacle Local SEO

May 2, 2023 | RankWatch

You have local clients that you do SEO for. You’ve done ‘em guest posts, you’ve built those links, you’ve done citations, but it appears like there’s nothing else to be done.

Nine out of ten Local SEOs I know focus predominantly on ranking their clients’ own website. Though there’s nothing wrong with this strategy, they’re missing out on the low hanging fruit that’s staring right at them!


While everyone’s working very hard trying to build links + citations and rank in the local 7/5/1 pack, there’s just a ton of directories and Yellowpages sites that are clogging up the rankings.

All that a Local SEO would need to do is, divert part of the efforts being spent on building links and citations to actually enhance directory listings on the top ten or fifteen directories (which includes industry-specific and region-specific biggies as well)

This strategy of optimizing specific local directories so that your profile on these sites actually ranks is called Barnacle SEO. If you’re interested in reading the blog article that introduced the concept to the world, you can do so here.

How to go about finding search engines and directories that you need optimized profiles on

The biggest generic directories that are a “must optimize” and a good starting point include:

  1. Yelp
  3. Yahoo Local
  4. Whitepages

But, for a well-rounded Barnacle SEO strategy, you’re better off looking for a list of sites that actually rank in your locality and industry.

I usually go about doing searches for my most important keywords to see what sites come up.

For instance, when I do a search for “locksmith los angeles”


As you can see, Yelp and Yellowpages seem to be the most powerful local directories which rank for that keyword. SWEET! You should try and get optimized listings on those two sites.

If you don’t see too many directories or search engines come up, you may either be very lucky that nobody has exploited this strategy, or may be competing in a very hard to rank for neighborhood.

If you’re lazy (like I am) it may be a good idea to just pick up a list of the best citation sources compiled by GetListed.

Though it’s a good strategy to build optimized profiles on directories that are already ranking on page #1 for a given keyword, I’d still suggest you go ahead and create completely optimized listings on all the sites mentioned above.

Now that you’re done selecting your target list.



Claim Your Profile

The most important step in optimizing your listings is to first claim them. Unless your listing on a particular site is claimed, you’re not going to be able to make the level of edits you’ll need to.

While some sites will allow you to verify by email, other sites including Yelp and Yellowpages will need a phone verification.

If you’re looking for a list of websites by verification methods, this article about citation verification methods might be useful.

Complete As Many Fields As Possible

If you have ten fields to fill out on a site, fill all ten. A very large weight in most of these sites is given to how “complete” your profile is. A list of the typical fields that you’ll need to fill in most sites are:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Phone
  4. Category
  5. Website
  6. Business Logo / Avatar
  7. Additional Photos
  8. Business Description
  9. Coupons
  10. House Of Operation
  11. Payment Methods
  12. Menu

It might be a good idea to keep this information handy before you start optimizing different profiles. If you’re short on time, using a tool like GetListed, Yext or Synup might help you scan to see how complete each of your profiles is and keep your information together.

Ensure You’re In The Right Category

Unless your business is listed in the right category, it’s never going to have a shot at ranking for site specific search terms that you want to get ranked for. Similarly, it’s also important that you’re listing yourself in categories that are actually showing up in Google searches.

Optimizing Titles May Be So 1999; But, They’re Still Important

If there’s one pattern that I’ve regularly observed with actual profiles (vs category pages) that rank in Google searches, they all seem to have title tags with at least part of the keywords I searched for in them.

In this case, the title tag that comes up in local directories like Yelp is the actual business name. Conventional wisdom says that one should have the same business name in all citations, so unless you have a business name that has your primary keyword in it, you may be out of luck.

For some of you that don’t actually mind experimenting, it may be worth giving up the exact match citation bonus on one source (preferably Yelp) in pursuit of getting the listing to rank in the first page of search results.

If you’re looking for an “optimized” business name, I’d generally go about appending the keyword without making it too awkward. For example, if you’re running Action Plumbing and want to rank for “drain cleaning atlanta”, it might make sense to experiment by changing your name to “Action Plumbing & Drain Cleaning”.

Longer Description = Better

Not to say that this is a competition for the longest description, but small descriptions that are just near the minimum word limit suck!

Try writing a decent sized business description and it may also be a good idea to include your keyword within the description at least a few times (without being too spammy, of course)

Add More Media

Add as many photos, videos and media as you possibly can on each site. They not only help you rank better within the local directory or search engine in question, but also help you convert visitors into buyers.

After all, who would want to go see a barebones Yelp profile with simply a company logo?

Get More Reviews

Reviews have become a critical component to Local SEO success. If you have ten sites to focus on, try to get as many reviews as possible in these sites.

When it comes to reviews, it may also be a good idea to adopt a “low hanging fruit approach”. Do you have a Yellowpages category page ranking in the first page? Sweet! Yellowpages reviews are easy to get.

Yelp is the only toughie when it comes to getting reviews. All of the others are pretty straight-forward and easy.

Phil Rozek’s review handout generator is a pretty good tool to have in your kit when you’re going about collecting reviews from clients.

Add Barnacles To Your Link Building Mix

Still doing a lot of link building? Great! Add some of your barnacles to your link building mix. Not only do your profiles on Yelp, Yellowpages etc., give you a very nice option for a second anchor link on a link page, but they also make your link pages less spammy.

I usually mix my clients’ top ten local profiles to any links I build for them. You’d be surprised at the kind of wonders you can achieve with a few dozen links pointed to a well optimized Yelp profile.

PRO TIP – Is There A Long Tail You’ve Been Wanting To Rank For?

Yelp profiles are really good at ranking for long tails, and since local is all about long-tails. Creating a Yelp profile is free and this could be an easy way of getting a page with your business information ranking in the first page for terms that you’d otherwise not rank for.

If you’re too tired to do it the hard way, and have a lot of money to spend, you can still identify local sites that rank in Google and actually pay them to put you on the sponsored #1 spot – then again, that’s not how the Local SEO pros roll 😉

BONUS TIP – Constantly measure the performance of your barnacles

It’s important to consistently measure the performance of your barnacles to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction. You could use a tool like Rankwatch to do this by monitoring different keywords and URLs, which I personally find extremely useful if you are running campaigns in different cities altogether. RankWatch just came up with location-based tracking and if you have clients in various cities, you can manage it all on one platform and see what your customer sees on their end. All you gotta’ do is choose the search engine along with the specific city on which you want to monitor your keyword rankings as shown in the screenshot below.


About the author:

Ashwin is the Co-Founder of Synup, a company that specializes in local marketing automation software. He also built Local SEO Checklist to help those that needed an easier way to manage their efforts. You can follow him on Twitter.

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