Advice from SEO professional Nick Ponte on how starters can pursue a career in local SEO

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In 2022, LinkedIn published its Emerging Jobs report. SEO Specialist was ranked among the top 10 emerging jobs, with a reported 860,000+ openings worldwide.


Local searchvisibility is increasingly important for every type of business, including traditional brick and mortar companies such as coffee shops, gift stores and bakeries. This means the value they place on SEO skills will only rise over the coming years. Here, Hawaii-based local SEO expert Nick Ponte answers some questions about how he built his business delivering local SEO in Hawaii and gives some useful tips for new starters interested in how they might provide local SEO services professionally.


Perhaps you could start by introducing yourself and your business


Nick: Sure, I’m Nick Ponte and in 2016, I launched a digital agency called Nick Ponte Marketing. We are based in Hawaii on the west coast of Maui in a town called Kihei. My team and I provide a range of digital marketing services,  web design and ecommerce consulting to local clients here in Hawaii, and local SEO aspect is a big part of that. 


Can you explain a little about what local SEO means?


Nick: In short, local SEO is a component of a broader SEO strategy that is dedicated to making sure your business is visible in local search results on Google. Someone who wants to build a career in local SEO in Hawaii needs to know about the client’s business concept, who are their customers, what keywords they are likely to use, what their competitors are doing and so on. All this is just as important as technical details about how they will rank the site and getting it optimized so it is easy to contact the business or make a purchase.


In a relatively self-contained community like Hawaii, local SEO must be important.


Nick: Well yes, local SEO is very important to my clients here in Hawaii, it’s about boosting their own business and supporting other local businesses so there’s no downside. For example, surfing is very big here and I work with one of Hawaii’s most respected suppliers of surfboards and equipment. By focusing on their local SEO, we helped drive more traffic to their website from people typing phrases like “custom surfboards in Hawaii” into Google. That drives more conversions and leads to better revenue. Local search is a very valuable part of SEO that can make a big contribution, but it does not always get the same attention as things like content marketing or link building. So someone just starting out might want to approach local companies in their area like a local cafe or bakery and explain how local SEO could benefit their business.


So for those who are interested in a career in local SEO, it sounds like customer relationship management is an important skill to get that message across to clients.


Nick: To a degree, but I’d say it goes beyond that. You need to get along with people and have good communication skills. People think of SEO as a tech career, and of course that’s what it is, but it’s not like coding or something where you are sitting in a room looking at a screen all day. In digital marketing, the operative word is “marketing.” It’sessentially about promoting a local business, and that’s not something that any tech can do in isolation. To be an SEO professional you need to be able to form a partnership with the client and combine your own SEO expertise with the client’s personal knowledge of that specific business and its local customers.


So a blend of hard and soft skills, like most careers. What technical skills would someone need for a career in local SEO?


Nick: The technical skills, or hard skills if you like, are things like keyword research, on-page optimization, content optimization and link building. They would also need to know about site architecture and how to do a technical audit of a website. But I’ve got to stress, these are all things that can be learned. More important is the right mindset and attitude.


What sort of mindset and attitude does a good SEO professional have?


Nick: Qualities like creativity, problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, and being client-focused are vital. You also need to be flexible and have a passion for learning. The SEO field is incredibly dynamic, and things change all the time. That applies equally to local SEO and broader aspects of search. The Google algorithm, for example, is something that keeps us on our toes constantly. Every time there is an update to it, some sites gain rankings and others lose. That has been happening a lot recently, so staying up to date and keeping your expertise current is important. If you choose a career in SEO, you will never stop learning.


And how about academic qualifications for a career in local SEO?


Nick: Universities are now running degrees in digital marketing, so that would be a good choice for someone who wants to work in local SEO. And I think it will be a more common qualification in the coming years. But right now, it’sa relatively new academic discipline. Most people who work in local SEO come from the tech background and also have some business qualifications or knowledge, but it can be the other way round. Personally, what matters to me is that people show they have applied themselves to getting qualifications, whether these are in tech or business, and they have those personal qualities we talked about.


What’s your personal story? How did you get into local SEO and digital marketing?


Nick: I guess I’m living proof that anyone who wants to live in Hawaii and work in local SEO can make a success of it. If they have the right attitude, of course. I didn’t finish education with a hat full of straight As or anything, and when I first entered the world of work it was as a mechanic. I was one of those guys repairing cars for people in my backyard. I was planning to make a career of it, but it all changed when someone casually mentioned they needed a website built. I said I would do it. I mean, I had no web design experience, but I thought it couldn’t be that difficult, so I literally did a Google search and worked it out a I went along. My initial web design business started from there, and I went on to co-found several large-scale websites, including Offline Sharks and Gift My Ride. They have generated massive traffic over time. But in short, the seed that grew into the digital agency I have today was that first web design job.


To cut to the chase, are there local SEO opportunities in Hawaii for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?


Nick: Absolutely. Hawaii has a tech sector that generates well over $3 billion per year. Soit’s a significant contributor to the local economy and it’s growing at about seven percent per year. Local SEO is a vital part of that, it touches on every other area of tech and it affects every Hawaiian business.


What about your business? Are you recruiting?


Nick: I’m always interested in hiring additional experts to our team, not just in local SEO but in other areas, such as broader aspects of digital marketing, web design and ecommerce. But don’t imagine mine is the only digital marketing agency in Hawaii.As I’ve already said, this is a very lively sector and it is only going to get busier.


What else would you recommend for any youngsters who think they’ve got what it takes for a career in local SEO?


Nick: Get to know the local SEO industry and get involved in local events. That’s really important and it’s also really easy. As I mentioned there is a lot happening in the tech space. To give one example, DigiMarCon is Hawaii’s biggest digital marketing event of the year and that’s happening on July 18-19 at the Hyatt Regency on Waikiki Beach. Anyone here who is interested in local SEO should definitely get a ticket. I’ll be there and I can’t wait, they have some great speakers lined up. But that’s just one example. There are other conferences like WTS Fest in Philadelphia in September and the US edition of Brighton SEO in Seattle in September. And of course there are international events like the International Search Summit in Barcelona later this year and Ahrefs Evolve in Singapore. I’dadvise budding SEO pros to get along to as many of these types of events as they can. It doesn’t have to mean a long journey, there are hundreds of smaller SEO events too, those are just as worthwhile and sometimes even more so for that local SEO focus.


There we are with that word “local” again. Let’s finish where we started, with local SEO. It’s clearly more than just a job to you, can you explain why it means so much?


Nick: This might surprise you, but I get asked that a lot. I guess I must come across as a little evangelical about local SEO, but that’s fine. Partially, it is of course a business thing. Delivering local SEO services to our local clients in Hawaii, is good for my clients’ bottom lines, and so it’s good for my agency’s bottom line, too. But yes, it goes beyond that. Local SEO brings digital marketing into the real world. Hawaii is a great place to live and work, I never lose sight of that. And with local SEO, we are all doing our part and helping other local enterprises. That benefits everyone who lives here, not just me or my clients, but dozens of other fabulous local businesses, our neighbors, our friends and the next generation, too. So yeah, I guess I can be forgiven for being enthusiastic about it and that’s why I wholeheartedly recommend it as a great career path.

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