The combination of hectic lifestyles along with the dog population growth means that an increasing number of dog owners are now seeking help to walk their dogs and turning to privately owned dog walking businesses.
According to Google Trends, the number of people searching for “dog walker near me” has increased exponentially over the past 18 months.
Walking dogs for a living has become a viable business venture and can yield juicy profits—if you do it right.
Since a large majority of pet owners use search engines to seek local help, it’s crucial for anyone wanting to run a dog walking business to be found online.
I have spent a great deal of time putting this free guide together so that any wannabe dog walking entrepreneur can dominate the dog walking market in their local area using the internet. If you’re one of them, grab a cup of your favourite hot drink, sit back and enjoy.
Chapter 1: Claim your Google My Business Listing
Start with claiming your Google My Business Listing. Why? Because Google My Business will help your dog walking business to be found across all of Google’s properties such as Google Maps, Google searches and Google Plus.
It will also allow you to showcase your business using images as well as providing your potential customers with key information such as your contact number, your opening hours and the area where your business operates.
Here is a typical example of a dog walker listing found in Google.
Creating, or claiming your Google My Business listing, is very straightforward. You simply need to fill in your business details using an online form.
Do not cut corners; fill in all possible fields as accurately as possible, using images that are representative of your business.
When creating your listing there are two crucial points you must be careful with:
Choosing your business category
If you are running a dog walking business the most obvious category to pick will be “Dog Walker”. Do not be tempted to add multiple categories such as “Dog sitter”, or “Dog Park “(unless you offer those services) in the hope that your business will show up for these in Google. The more specific you are, the more likely your business will show up for the relevant dog walking queries people are searching for in Google.
Your service area A dog walking business is usually not a typical brick and mortar type of business. You’re likely to operate within an area, as opposed to a specific address. Choose “Yes” to the option “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location”
and specify the radius within which you are providing your dog walking services.
That’s it. A week or so later you will receive a postcard from Google including a pin number to verify your business online.
For more info on how to create the best possible Google My Business listing you can watch a tutorial video I have put together called How to Add Your Business to Google Maps
Cool Bonus:Download a free pdf versionof this guide which you can print and read at your leisure. Also includes one awesome content tip to attract tons of local links.
Chapter 2: Understand Your Audience
This is very often overlooked, even by big companies, but should be one of the pillars of your overall business strategy.
Defining your target customers will help you immensely to shape your website’s content.
The best approach to identifying your customers is to create user personas.
A user persona is similar to an id card. It will help you create an accurate representation of your target customers. You should refer to it regularly to ensure your customers remain at the forefront of your mind.
A good user persona should help you to:
Understand the expectations of your clients
Become familiar with their habits, pain points, places they visit online
Visualise your customers.
Write targeted content for your website
Discover content you may not have considered initially
Convert targeted visitors into customers
Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:
User persona number 1
User persona number 2
These personas will help you to visualise the type of clients you may be dealing with.
John and Linda are very different people and should be treated as such. From these cards I can see it will be easier to reach out to someone like Linda on social media. A responsive website will be very important too since Linda only uses her mobile phone.
Linda is unable to walk her dog due to a lack of time as opposed to John who is unable to walk his dog because of his health.
Maybe John could do with some extra help with his shopping too which is another service you may want to consider.
Defining your typical clients will take a bit of time and requires some in-depth research but I believe it is an absolute must.
To create your own personas my advice would be to get in touch with existing dog walking business owners (make sure they don’t operate in the same area as you) and ask them about their typical clients.
PRO TIP:If you are not sure where to start here is a quick shortcut. Go to google and type the following in the search box: dog +forum .This will bring up all the dog related forums available in google where you will be able to find dog walking business owners who will be more than happy to help you with your research.
A rule of thumb is to create a maximum of four user personas which should cover the vast majority of your target audience.
Chapter 3: Target the Right Keywords
Every internet search starts with a keyword, or a string of keywords, and most of the time it happens on Google. Understanding what people are searching for and how often they are searching for it is essential if you want to be successful online.
As mentioned in the introduction of this guide, the number of people searching for “dog walker” related queries has grown exponentially over the past 18 months making it an obvious keyword to target for your dog walking business. But is that the best keyword? Are there any other keywords you should you be targeting? What keywords are your competitors using?
In this chapter I will show you how to unearth some awesome keywords using one of my favourite tools, SEMrush, which should help your dog walking website to be found in Google searches.
Although I am using a paid membership for the sake of the demo, you do not have to purchase a subscription. SEMrush offers free data which should suffice for your needs. *I have no affiliation with SEMrush on any level, it is one of the best tools for online marketing which I use for all my clients
So let’s begin:
Once you’ve logged in, enter the main keyword you are targeting in the search box and select the country you want the results for, then click search.
The results are presented in multiple charts and graphs (don’t be intimidated, it’s easy to understand) based on your initial “dog walker” search, including a section called Phrase match keywords
Click on view full report to see all keywords that include a variation of the dog walker query
The full report returns 140 keywords matching our query. Beside “dog walker” and “dog walkers” which are terms you will definitely need to target as they total 3500 monthly searches, I can see other queries which will be worth considering such as “how much do dog walkers charge”. This is a direct question asked in google 260 times every month and is worth considering as it is clearly important to people who need help with their dogs.
Start building a keyword master list in Excel, it will become a pillar of your content strategy. This is easily done using the export command illustrated below
The data will retain all the information that you need such as search volume and competition. Based on these, start weeding out the unwanted keywords. This will leave you only with the keywords you want to target.
PRO TIP:If you’re only starting out a dog walking business, try to target keywords with a lower keyword difficulty index.
It is highly likely you will have competitors in your area who are already well established and are ranking in google for the same terms as the ones you want to be visible for.
Expand your search further. The phrase match report is only the tip of the iceberg and should only leave you with a handful of keywords to target once you’ve finished weeding your initial list out.
Let’s now go back to the report overview for “dog walker”
This will unveil two more very important reports. Let’s start with the first one called “Related keywords”
This report pulls out all the keywords that are related to “dog walker”. In this example there are 225 new words worth considering, including “dog walking service” and “professional dog walker”, which are both clearly relevant to anyone running a dog walking business.
Export this list to your Excel keyword master list too using a new tab. Repeat this process for all the keywords you are targeting and once again weed out all unwanted keywords.
The second report you should look at in the overview is the “organic search results”. This report will list all the websites ranking for the search term “dog walker”
The number one site for the query “dog walker” is the-dogwalker.co.uk. Clicking on any of the links in the list will give you access to invaluable data about each of these sites including keywords that drive traffic to them.
In this example we can see there are 101 organic keywords driving traffic to the-dogwalker.co.uk. Add these to your keyword list. Repeat these for the top 10 sites listed for each query you are targeting. By now you should have a very comprehensive list. Remember to weed out what isn’t relevant and eliminate all duplicated keywords you may come across between the various lists you have collected so far.
Final stage. Hyper-localise some of your keywords.
Dog owners will search for a dog walking business local to them. That’s why it is important to multiply your chances of being found when people use geographic modifiers as part of their searches. There are many different ways that people conduct a location-specific search.
Let’s say your business is in Richmond, London. People may specify a town in their search, “dog walker Richmond”, an area, dog walker south west London, or a postcode Dog walker TW 10 etc…Add a couple of neighbouring areas and suddenly the number of combinations for one word “dog walker + geographic modifier” can grow exponentially.
You can either do this manually, which would take some time or alternatively you can use a keyword mixer tool to do the work for you. Head over to http://www.keywordmixer.com/
Cool Bonus:Download a free pdf versionof this guide which you can print and read at your leisure. Also includes one awesome content tip to attract tons of local links.
Put your keywords in column one and your geographic modifiers in column two. Click on the combine button and the tool will generate something like the list below in a split second.
Add this selection to your master keyword list (create yet another tab called location this time). The location keyword list will be very useful if you decide to do paid advertising as it will be impossible to target all these keywords on your website.
By the time you finish this keyword research exercise you should be left with a very rich keyword list. This list will become essential and should be the basis of the content creation for your site.
If you’re only starting out a dog walking business don’t go overboard; choose a handful of keywords you want to target through your site. If you’re a seasoned dog walking veteran and you already have a website up and running use this list to create additional content and extend your reach.
Chapter 4: Putting Your Content Together
In Chapter 2 you identified your audience, in Chapter 3 you discovered the keywords you need to target in order to drive some decent traffic to your site. It’s time to put it all together and start writing some good content to maximise your chances of being found online.
A common mistake small business owners make is to think that launching a website is just a matter of writing a few pages describing their basic services, add prices, mention some relevant keywords in the copy, add multiple locations they are trying to target as part of the mix and hope that people will find them without ever updating anything.
Below is a typical dog walking business illustrating this point
I really love the name of this business and I am pretty certain Dogsquad is a very decent dog walking company but unfortunately the content of their website really lets them down. Their home page is flat, uninspiring and unengaging.
Worse, a link from their home page invites readers to check their dog photo gallery. The second picture of the gallery is what seems like a bunch of cramped dogs locked up in a cage at the back of a car.
Remember our user personas? Do you think Linda would feel comfortable handing over her precious little dog to dog squad based on this? I am not sure she would.
In order to capture most of the traffic for local searches you must aim for your business to be listed in what is called the Google “snack pack”.
This is where Google lists what it deems to be the top three most relevant businesses for any given local search and sits right at the top of the search results. (see image on left hand side)
Competition is fierce and there are always only three spots.
Sadly for Dogsquad they haven’t made it into the snack pack despite Richmond being one of their target areas (they are actually number three in the organic results for dog walking in Richmond) and that’s partly because of the way they have written the content for their site and the structure of their website.
Although Dogsquad seems to be targeting 16 different areas for the word “dog walking services” (as listed on their home page), they do not appear in the local snack pack for any of them (I have checked all of them), which means they are missing out on a ton of business leads.
So what’s the best approach?
If you want to be found online you must follow some key principals when you are building a website.
Although I am writing this guide for dog walking business owners you can apply these principles to any local business.
Principle #1 Get a relevant dog walking business name
This one is for those of you who have yet to start out. Choosing the right name will help you a great deal being found in search engines.
If possible, try to include one of your chosen keywords as part of your business name so when you register a domain name (A website address) it will give Google a hint what your business is about.
Most importantly, anyone linking to your site is likely to use your main web address which will make your business relevant for the keyword you have chosen and give you a greater chance of climbing to the top of search results.
Here are a couple of very good examples I have seen on the web: http://www.the-dogwalker.co.uk/ http://www.walkmydog.co.uk/ http://www.theurbandogwalker.co.uk/
Some businesses use their location as part of their domain name such as www.richmonddogwalker.co.uk . I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for a couple of reasons.
what will happen if you decide to relocate your business in a different location?
what about if you extend the area you are working in to other locations?
If you’re stuck with choosing a name go to http://www.leandomainsearch.com/ . This should help you figure out a good domain name which hasn’t been registered yet.
Using a popular domain registration service I have verified a few of the suggested examples myself which I thought would be very relevant and cheap.
Principle #1 Get the structure and content of your site right
This one applies to both wannabe dog walkers and existing ones. You must get the foundation of your site right, which means that the structure of your site must be sound.
The most common structure I have come across for dog walking businesses looks like this:
Since the vast majority of dog walking businesses target multiple areas and offer more than one type of service, the structure above is very restrictive. While it may work for a single location it is highly unlikely to work for multiple ones.
With such a structure it is also very difficult to target multiple keyword combinations. When it comes to creating web content a rule of thumb is to target one keyword per page.
In this instance the only pages that are “usable” to target keywords would be the home page and the services and prices page and that’s about it.
It would be very difficult to achieve any online visibility using the about us page and the gallery page as the information contained on these is naturally generic.
Building the right structure will enable you to maximise your business visibility and target multiple keywords across multiple locations:
Do you remember the keywords you selected as part of your keyword research?
Now you are going to use them.
To demonstrate the approach, I will be using a small sample of keywords with a few geographic modifiers based on search volume that I have identified as part of my research. My chosen domain name will be dogwalkerhut.co.uk
Cool Bonus:Download a free pdf versionof this guide which you can print and read at your leisure. Also includes one awesome content tip to attract tons of local links.
Keywords and locations table
Dog walking services
South west London
How much do dog walkers charge?
Professional dog walker
Based on the keywords and location table, I have set up a structure which allows me not only to target a lot of relevant keywords but also to maximise my chances of being found for multiple locations.
As it is difficult to display a winning structure in this guide, I have created a visual PDF which you can download here (FOR FREE) along with recommended content for each page (ALSO FREE)
This is a scalable solution which can be adapted for any dog walking business size.
Principle #3 Use an efficient URL system
Just a quick recap for those of you who don’t know what URL stands for.
URL stands for uniform resource locator. Don’t be alarmed, it doesn’t sting.
In layman’s terms a URL is simply a web address.
B of course! It will be a lot easier for search engines to recognise that B) is the most relevant page as it includes the exact keyword we are targeting in the address. The address is also short and user friendly which helps too.
But including your keywords in your page addresses is not enough. The depth of a page within the structure of your site will also play a big part.
Since most websites are based on a pyramid type of model, the further from the top of the structure a page is located, the deeper it is and the less relevant it becomes.
While this is the most logical way of building the structure of a site, it is not always the most efficient. In the table above you can see that our dedicated area page for Richmond sits at level 4 of the structure. This is way too deep.
If you have downloaded my recommended structure for my pretend dog walking business, you may have noticed that I have included a “service area” page.
Logically, the service area page should be the parent page to the children “location pages” resulting in this type of address: http://www.dogwalkerhut.co.uk/service-areas/richmond , similar to the pyramid model.
Although this is perfectly acceptable, it is not optimum. As a local business you must maximise your chances of being found in local search results.
Moving the dedicated locations pages one level up as seen in the screenshot below will help you do that.
The web address for each page will change to something like this: http://www.dogwalkerhut.co.uk/richmond giving you a much greater chance to rank for your targeted keyword in the desired location.
Although pages will technically appear at the top of your structure in the eyes of search engines, they should still follow the same pyramid logic for your users so their experience remains intact. It’s just a matter of displaying your content accordingly.
To the naked eye the drop down menu on the left indicates that Richmond, Twickenham and Kew gardens are subpages of the service area section, but using my proposed structure the following links
http://www.dogwalkerhut/kew-garden will tell search engines they sit right at the top of the structure, just below the home page, making them more relevant.
Principle #4 Write quality content
You should by now have everything you need to start writing your content:
A defined audience
A selection of keywords
A domain name
A site map
A URL structure
All that remains to be done is to write content for each page you have defined in your site map.
Make sure your content is as rich as possible using multiple media.
Here are a few examples of typical content type you can use for a dog walking site.
Dog walk maps (one for each area)
Images of dogs being walked by you or your team
Videos, if possible
You will obviously need some copy too which should include some of the keywords from your selected list.
Your website must come across as professional as possible. First impressions count enormously in your viewer’s decision making process, so the quality of your assets is paramount.
It is worth considering a professional photographer to take high quality pictures of you and/or your team in action.
You can include testimonial videos from some of your clients. These can be done cheaply and they are very effective.
If you’re not very good at writing copy get professional help. You can find some decent copywriters who will write a 400 word article for just five pounds on sites like Fiverr.com
If you write the copy yourself pay particular attention to your grammar and spelling.
Once you’ve done all of the above you are ready to build your site.
Chapter 5: Build a Winning Website
I will not spend a great deal of time on this chapter as it could be the topic of an entire guide in itself.
While building a winning website will rely greatly on its foundation, which we covered in Chapter 4, there is a crucial element you cannot avoid.
YOUR WEBSITE MUST BE RESPONSIVE
This simply means that your website must be able to be viewed on multiple devices such as desktops, tablets, and phones.
Your site must look good, and must be easy to navigate, regardless of the device that is being used to view it.
Although there are many approaches you need to take into consideration when it comes to building a site, such as your ability to create a site yourself as opposed to hiring a professional to build it and maintain it, it is highly likely that your choice will be driven by costs.
Like most small business owners your budget is limited but a seemingly low cost solution may cost you a lot in the long run.
It’s time to get the phone ringing and take some bookings!
It is important for your business to be found in Google searches since the search engine giant owns 95% of search engine market shares.
Your ultimate goal is for your dog walking business to appear in the coveted snack pack which Google uses to display organic (or free) local search results.
The snack pack sits right at the top of Google’s first results page which is where most people will be clicking due to its prominence.
For your business to have a chance of being displayed on the podium, or near it, you need to send the right signals to Google.
Luckily, a company called Moz.com (one of the most reputable SEO agencies) has worked out the signals that Google will consider and their importance in relation to each other as illustrated in the pie chart below. Image source https://moz.com/blog/local-search-ranking-factors-2014
If you have followed this guide rigorously you will have noticed that you already have covered a fair amount of these signals:
• Google my business signals (total signal value =14.7%)
Refer to Chapter 1
• On page signals (total signal value =20.3%)
Most of this is covered in Chapter 4. This is the strongest signal of them all and completely under your control which makes it easy to achieve.
Let’s now look at
• External signals (total signal value =13.6%)
This signal refers to the number of times your business is mentioned across the web.
The more mentions, also known as citations, you get, the more likely you are to climb rankings. Getting citations is fairly easy and the method is very simple. You just need to submit your business details to the top online directories. That’s it.
But there’s a small caveat:
YOU MUST MAKE SURE THE BUSINESS DETAILS YOU SUBMIT ARE ALWAYS THE SAME.
Your business Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) must be consistent across all directories.
Example, dogwalker&son is not consistent with dogwalkerandson.
If you think that’s easy, think again. Fifty percent of businesses get it wrong.
I have created a list of the most important business directories, you can download it right here and track your progress.
In addition to the general directories you must also submit your business details to dedicated dog walking directories. These are even better since they are completely in line with your industry and Google will see that. And just so you don’t have to do it, I have unearthed some of the most important ones you should submit your business to:
Being listed in these will also give you additional opportunities to get visits from people who are searching for dog walkers.
When submitting your business to a directory, very often you will be given the opportunity to add your website address.
This is great since links to your website are essential if you really want to dominate your market.
It is therefore no surprise that links are the second strongest signal on our list:
• Link signals (total signal value =20.0%)
This is probably by far the most difficult aspect of online marketing. Getting external links pointing to your site is difficult and time consuming, but without them you will never hit the sweet spot.
As already mentioned in external factor signals, you will get links from directory submissions but so will all your competitors. All links are not equal and the ones you will get from these directories are generally weak.
As a local business, to really make a difference, you need to go after local links, ones that are related to your business if possible. Here is a list of potential local businesses from which you could get relevant links from:
• Veterinary clinic
• Dog obedience training
• Pet photographer
• Pet shops
Once you’ve exhausted this avenue, target other local businesses as they will also be extremely valuable.
All of this effort should start yielding traffic to your site, but a business is only as good as its reputation.
Search engines pay a lot of attention to that too and will give you more visibility because of it. How? Through customer reviews.
• Reviews signals (total signal value =8.4%)
Gathering reviews from your customers will not only influence your visibility in search engines but also reassure prospective clients that you’re the right choice for them.
Ninety percent of people read reviews before choosing a business.
Your aim is, obviously, to get as many positive reviews as possible and more reviews than your competitors if you want to outdo them.
If dog walking business A had the same signal strength as dog walking business B apart from reviews, dog walking business B would need 1.5 more reviews to rank above dog walking business A in Google.
That’s how important reviews are. If you already have an established client base and no reviews, start asking for them. For more information on how to get reviews I recommend you watch this short video: How to Get Online Reviews in Four Easy Steps.
There are three more signals to discuss but I’ll run through them quickly as they are not as important, however you shouldn’t neglect them.
• Behavioral/mob signals (total signal value =9.5%)
The number of people clicking from search engines through to your website, otherwise known as your click through rate, has now become one of the signals that Google takes into account. This is purely related to behaviour so the best way of going about it is to write good copy, good description and good titles for your pages.
• Social signals (total signal value =5.0%)
Contrary to popular belief social signals only play a small part in online visibility so don’t spend a huge amount of time on them. Create a business profile where you think you can get value.
For a dog walking business I would recommend Facebook and Pinterest (people love images of dogs and cats).
Use these to push your brand and get some links in the process. Don’t forget to use some of your dog walking keywords in your profile.
• Personalisation (total signal value =8.5%)
This is a difficult one to influence for organic traffic so we’ll leave it out at this stage.
Now you have it. Focus on all of the above in order of importance and you should start seeing some great results without having to spend a penny.
Organic traffic is the best way to drum up some business but can take some time to achieve. So when you’re only starting out you might want to consider to pay to kick start traffic to your site .
Cool Bonus:Download a free pdf version of this guide which you can print and read at your leisure. Also includes one awesome content tip to attract tons of local links.
Chapter 7: Pay to Play
So you’ve done all this work but the phone is not ringing…yet. Don’t panic, there is a way out of this but it’s going to cost.
Time to get your keyword list out again (I told you it would be very useful) and start using it to advertise your services. Where? In Google of course, through their AdWords program.
Most business owners are aware of the Google AdWord program so I will not expand too much on it.
This paid service provides a number of benefits especially if you are just starting out a dog walking business.
• You will be able to get traffic to your site within 24 hrs.
• There is currently limited competition in google AdWords for dog walking terms, which means you will:
• Have a better chance of being listed as the only dog walking business in your area.
• Spend less money since Google Adwords is based on an auction system.
• Understand the keywords that perform best as Google will give you precise data. You will then be able to adapt your online strategy accordingly and capture additional organic traffic.
The question is, how much will it cost?
This is a literally impossible to answer but I can give you some idea. Using SEMrush I have taken a quick peek at a large dog walking and dog sitting company called Dogbuddy to see how much they are currently paying for some of the paid listing they are running in Google .
Based on the table above for October 2016 it seems that Dogbuddy paid £1.10 (CPC column) for each visitor Google sent them when people searched for “dog walkers sheffield ”
“Dog walkers sheffield” was searched 90 times during that period.
On average, around 7% of people searching for a specific term will click on an advert in position 1, so Dogbuddy received around 6 visits in October 2016 at a cost £6.60 for just one word.
Although this may sound a bit expensive, it is important to look at the bigger picture.
A dog walking business is what I call a repeat type of business, it is very rare for a new customer to book a one-off walk for his dog. A lot of the customers you acquire through this method will therefore keep on coming back, generating a lot more revenue than your initial investment.
The other platform you might want to consider for paid advertising is Facebook
Now in its 12th year, Facebook has collected so much information about people and their behaviour that it has built an extraordinary database which you can use to zoom in on your perspective clients. You can literally target your audience down to dog owners.
Chapter 8: Track, Change, Repeat
“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” – Peter Drucker – Business visionary
Measurement is the holy grail of online success. Sadly, it is safe to say that 8 out of 10 small business owners are unable to answer even the most basic question such as “how many visitors does your web site get every month?”
I find this astonishing considering the array of technology available nowadays, most of which is free or very cheap.
Running a dog walking business rarely involves having a brick and mortar store, which means that you can’t rely on passing trade. The most efficient way to get new customers is online.
It is therefore very important to understand what works and what doesn’t so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
Here is a list of tools you must have in your arsenal and consult on a regular basis if you want to dominate your online space
Google analytics is simply awesome! Find out the number of visitors your site receives, where they are coming from, what they look at etc.
There is so much data it can be overwhelming. If you don’t know where to start just click the overview link under each main section as shown in the image above which will reveal the most important information. I recommend looking at it on a daily basis.
Another brilliant tool from the Google family, also free. In this one you can check the health of your site, the kind of keywords that are driving traffic to each page, the links pointing to your site and many other things.
You can also integrate it directly into Google Analytics which is very handy. For more info go to www.google.com/webmasters
I have mentioned this tool many times through this guide. The reason is because it is packed with great features, one of which is keyword tracking.
It is an absolute must for you as a business owner to understand how visible you are in search engines. Stick your keyword list into SEMrush and it will check your site position in search engines for each word automatically so you can monitor your progress.
There are many other features available such as competitor analysis and social monitoring but it would take too long to go through all of them.
You have to pay to use SEMrush but it is a sound investment. For more info, go to https://www.semrush.com
There are many more tools available online but I feel these three are more than enough for you to make a difference to your bottom line.
Now it’s up to you…
Follow the steps described in this guide and I can guarantee your dog walking business will be found online in no time.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has any questions or needs help with their business, as I would be more than happy to help.