The Barnacle SEO Strategy for Local Organic Search

Barnacle SEO, a term first introduced by Will Scott on Search Influence in 2011, is as applicable in today’s local search environment as ever.

Unfortunately, the local organic search results for broad keyword terms are often dominated by local or industry review sites such as Yelp, SmartAsset, or local media lists – Google has determined that this is what searchers are looking for, so it is what it delivers.

Instead of wasting resources trying to replace these behemoths in the search results, or giving up on ranking organically for that search term, the Barnacle strategy calls for taking advantage of their existing search position by “attaching oneself” to them like a barnacle to a ship, then just riding their ranking success.

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.


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.

f. Get Reviews: Not usually an option for Advisors (but depending on your State, you may be able to request customer reviews) or an enjoyable task, however, reviews definitely make a difference on these sites.

Try to incorporate it 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 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 other’s will barnacle 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.

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.

Related: 5 Reasons to Get Serious About Your Financial Blogging Editorial Calendar