Trying to “force” your ranking by following the crowd of SEO “tactics” is a good way to get in trouble with Google. Their goal is to become more human like in their recommendations and to recommend places that are relevant and popular in the real world.
As the popular SEO techniques take off Google monitors them and sooner or later puts in places restrictions on their use.
So your recognition of the belly-belly approach as the way to go is good. But they are hard to get which is why concentrating their impact on one site becomes so important. If you get 3 links to a microsite they are essentially limited in their value to that site. If you cross link to your main site then you get only 1 link to your main site and you run the risk of violating Google’s guidelines… 3 links to your main site would, based on your internal linking structure, would benefit all of the other location and service pages.
Traditional marketing techniques revisited for online also work very well..
Here is the order that usually pursue things
Site architecture, content and title tags
Basic citation building at primary list suppliers, top 20 IYPs and directories and vertical directories
On going citation and link building with local, relevant and industry related sites.
Email collection and client follow up plan
Once those are in place I develop a social marketing plan that focuses on the needs of the local market.
Hey Nate – I would have to agree with the rest, your original plan is a bit shortsighted, and will probably be more trouble than it will be worth in the end. No doubt, as you’ve noticed, it is common. I hear and see it on a daily basis, without fail. From what I have heard so far, if I were you, I would lean towards local landing pages. Lots of great content available on how to properly put these together. If done right, there is absolutely no need to setup fake listings all over the place.