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John: Hey if you’re not getting found in your town when people turn to search you might not even exist. We’re going to talk with Mike Blumenthal. Really the undisputed king of local SEO.
This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Thriveleads. This is a tool that we use on the Duct Tape Marketing website thoroughly for content upgrades, for slide-in boxes, actually, we even used the visual editor for all the pages and landing pages we designed. So go check it out at ducttapemarketing.com, we’ll have a special link in the show notes for today and check it out.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast, this is John [00:00:57] and my guest today is Mike Blumenthal. He is the undisputed king of all things local search, in fact, he started a blog back eons ago called understanding Google maps and local search. He was one of the founders of a conference called Local You and now is a co-founder of getfivestarts.com a review service that helps local businesses. So Mike, thanks for joining me.
Mike: Sure. I think of myself as more of a professor [00:01:25] at this point.
John: Well I could have gone on and on but… I just high-spotted it. So let’s start with [Google my business 1:33] what has Google got going there? What’s the intention there?
Mike: Well Google dominates the — [00:01:43] of the funnel. Always has and their plan I think is to continue their dominance. They’ve never been good at — because of their geeky culture and the technical way it took for businesses to you know, achieve success there they’ve never been good at communicating that dominance right. When I go in an analyse local business I see somewhere in the order of between 70 to 90% of their key performance indicators coming out of Google whether they know it or not. And I think Google gets that, and I think what you’ll see in the next three to four months is Google leveraging that in a constructive, [00:02:23] way. I think the tests we’re seeing with this post-product and the call to action attached to the knowledge panel, my sense in conversations with Google is that we’ll likely role out in a May timeframe and I think that will put a face on Google [00:02:41] so that people — so that business understand where they can go to ad information.
John: Yeah and they’ve got so much clean up to do because of what we had, places and then they tried to shove it into Google+ and so I think — there’s still a tremendous amount of confusion out there with all things to do with you know, how do I get my local listings.
Mike: Right and Google’s always had branding issues right? I mean look at the [00:03:09] they had with SMS and text and chat at the moment right? Who knows, hangouts this, hangouts that, I can’t keep it straight [00:03:18] but yeah they’ve had huge both branding issues in local as well as technical issues, certainly the first margin to [00:03:25] starting in 2011 set them back tremendously and then the force separation from where local made the decision to go its own route starting in 2014 and now pretty much complete. I mean now when you create a local business listing you no longer auto-create a plus page, so I think that separation is going to be pretty complete. You know there’s one minor dangling issue and local is its own thing, although as you said it doesn’t really have a strong branding presence yet. And I think that from a technical feature point of view this Google post will become the face of Google local. When you can post information as a small business directly to the front page of Google for a branded search result, that’s where I think they’ve always needed to be and where they will be in six months.
John: Can we say that there are the most important local ranking factors today for a local business? To me, the real estate has gotten so cluttered on page one that for that local business that if they’re not ranking there, they have very little chance of survival I think, or at least it’s going to be very expensive for them to survive.
Mike: Right. You know what I did an interest case study last fall that I’m just writing up now in a small retail business but third floor office with no store level present right so they only attract new business from advertising and SEO, I mean that’s it. And what they saw was that they got about 58% of their new business came from Google, or came from digital and the bulk of it, 90% of that 58% came from Google. But Google you know, part of the problem I think people have with Google is they look at you know, how do I rank for this keyword, and Google has gotten so much more sophisticated than that. You know a keyword ranking analysis is like a slice of bread and ranking is like a loaf. And as a person moves to the geography, the ranking changes until Google delivers a fair bit of leads to many businesses. So while it may seem cut throat on the real head terms, I think in the medium and long tail terms and as more people have moved over to mobile 60% of searches are now mobile, and as they move through their environment if you’re located in a good spot, you’re going to get your share of Google leads. And it’s very difficult to measure that and prove that pre-sale but you can prove it post-sale with good key performance indicators in place that you’re measuring that you can prove it. That being said you asked initially about ranking and can we identify ranking factors you know Google never through a ranking factor away right and early on in 2008/2009 identified three major attributes to their ranking algorithm. Proximity, prominence, and relevance. And as — and over time you can see these attributes in a broad way becoming more important or less important. So with the advent of mobile, proximity became infinitely more important as they [unclear] in the radius of the search around the searcher, or they’ve improved on the desktop, they’re understanding where my desktop is located, they’ve done the same thing right. So on a typical mobile search, you might see a search radius in a crowded industry of a quarter of a mile, that’s it. And so certainly prominence has come to the floor in the global world. But we’re also — I personally you know did a bunch of research about relevance and prominence. And it’s clear to me that I use to think that the website for business was what was ranking for local. But the website is just one authority signal amongst many. And the other types of authority signals could be for example a strong Google+ presence, or a strong Yelp presence, or a strong [health grade 7:30] presence. Those are authority signals that transfer the local entity much like website strength transfers to a local entity. And so — and much like a newspaper article in the New York Times about a business transfers to the local entity. I’m seeing evidence that Google is indexing every word and every newspaper and when they can associate it with an entity they do. And that confers relevance and some amount of authority to that entity. So Google is looking far and wide for ranking signals and it’s gone beyond is a link more important than a review, is it more important than proximity. The algorithm is, does this business have the relevance to the search query and do they have the prominence based on authority at these sites that Google trusts and so it’s difficult to deconstruct that into one or two searching algorithms which is my objection to many of these tests that we see.
John: Yeah will you just — I believe gave a huge boost to the idea of local PR then didn’t you?
Mike: Yes I did. I mean if you — here’s an interesting test, if you go into Google Maps and you pull up a portal and type in the United States, you view the United States and you type in the words “lion killer” up comes that [00:08:51] business location of the fella who killed Caesar the lion in 2015, now that has nothing to do with links right? That has everything to do with the fact that every newspaper in the world wrote about this Dennis from [00:09:09] who shot the lion and Google has associated all that and you can see that, and it’s a fascinating test and you can see it in other areas too, some are a little grimmer. Like if you go in and type in again United States, you type in “school shooting” up come a list of 10 or so schools and when you do the research you find that those are the schools that suffered from some sort of you know, attack. And that doesn’t come from links this comes from newspaper articles.
John: So let’s go back in and of course you were trying to get me off of this topic but I’m going to go back to it. Let’s say saint Louis is a community that has a really interesting local ranking issue. The city of saint Louis itself is not actually very big and it’s not actually where all the business is in a lot of ways, it’s out in all the suburbs. So if you are a business in Saint Louis and you are outside the city of Saint Louis you still want to rank for Saint Louis plumbers, Saint Louis tree service. So what — so obviously proximity in some ways comes off the table. So how does a business go about trying to rank for what is essentially a local search but not really their local?
Mike: Well… obviously there’s three opportunities — four opportunities on the front page of Google these days for business. One is the local pack, one is organic results, one is video results and one is ad words. So I mean you have to work in the realm of what’s possible and if Google isn’t going to deliver you a local pack result no way no how and you have to explore one of the other three, you know that’s one side of the story. The other side of the story though is that — so in the studies I was doing I was looking at the issue of relevance. How does Google ascertain a category for example right? So you know you can give Google a category and Google would sometimes — and Google categories don’t go deep enough or don’t go long tail enough, but what I’ve determined is that Google is scraping categories from the other major local sites right so if you, for example let’s take the example of [00:11:29] which I’m intimately familiar with not from a habit point of view but from a research point of view I assure you. If you [00:11:37] not a category in Google right? Yet it is a category in Yelp. So if you can do well at Yelp on the category [00:11:43] Google will pick that up and rank you. So one way to do it if you want to focus on the pack is to go for longer-tail categories that are less dense, so there’s fewer businesses competing in those categories. That Google then serves up a bigger area and you can by achieving prominence at another site, can do well in those categories. And what we’ve seen with category information or category relevance is accumulative at Google. Take an experiment with sports bars. There was a local bar in our town that was getting a knowledge panel — you typed in sports bar, you’d see just a single bar, well that’d always annoy me because ever bar is either a [00:12:28] bar or sports bar, there should have been 10 showing. And so I did an experiment for the second ranking of the bar that was showing in maps but they weren’t showing in search. So I went and I asked three friends to write a review for them mentioning that they were good sports bar, and they zoomed into the pack, right just from those three [00:12:46] used. And then somebody in town actually bothered to verify the listing as a sports bar, my guy who is listed at Yelp is a sports bar and so [00:12:57] sports bar, then dropped out of the pack right away, once that happened I then went and added the category to the test site through map maker, and he once again popped back into the category on top of the guy who had knocked him out of the pack. So it’s clear to me that Google ads categories up, in other words, they’re accumulative, they’re not binary. It’s not like this business is or it isn’t. Their relevance is how Google ultimately determines whether you’re in the search [00:13:25] if your name isn’t an exact match they might give you a [00:13:28] pack. If it’s a partial match they might give you a one [00:13:30]. But if you have a lot of these relevant categories, a lot of relevant reviews they may give you a [one pack two 13:25] or it may by increasing your relevance, particles — categories at third party sites, reviews, a good business name. You can break into a pack even if you’re further outside the physical limits that it may appear that Google isn’t posing. So increasing your relevance is one way, ranking into the pack. And you know prominence which is this idea of kind of like page rank but it’s location prominence it gets assigned to the entity in the database, not to your website. Prominence in the database comes from prominence having a prominent website, a site that’s linked to and popular, having prominence at a place like Google+ even, or a place like Yelp you know, the sites that Google looks at. So once you have the relevance through categories, third-party categories that Google reviews the third party reviews, good content on your website, good articles in the newspaper then you have to work on prominence. And if you do all that stuff really well again it’s kind of geeky for most businesses to be working with, but if you can achieve prominence at these sites plus the relevance and particularly in longer tail categories that might not be [00:14:53] categories, you’re going to get your fair share.
John: So I want to go back to one thing you said and make sure I want to clarify this, because I was going to ask you about reviews and I think what you’re suggesting is yes, having lots of great five star reviews is great but you’re saying that actual words in the reviews are going to help dictate relevance?
Mike: Yes. I am going to say that. I’m not going to say it in the way that people should go out and try and do that. I think it’s dumb it’s like trying to build links I think it’s stupid. I think getting a lot of reviews and being a great business and getting reviews in the areas you’re great in will get you those words. But I do believe that Google, like they looked at every word about the lion killer, look at every review at trusted sites and associate the content of those reviews with your business, and it confers relevance.
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Alright, let’s go back to the three pack, dependent on what street corner you’re standing on it seems that three pack looks different.
John: So are there — if you were to put your crystal ball on what’s that thing going to look like for most of us in six months or a year from now?
Mike: 16 ads.
John: 16 ads.
Mike: That was a joke. I mean half true right? Clearly, Google is monetising local and maps aggressively right now. You know you see this in their tests in Los Angeles with locksmiths and elsewhere where they’re selling one of the pack results, they’re selling these home service ad positioning to replace pack results. They’re looking to local as a way for revenue enhancement and they may talk all day long about taking care of the user, but they have a master and that master is the stock market. And that master has to be satisfied with profits and one of the ways they’re going to do that is by continuing to increase ad penetration in local.
John: Yeah one of the interesting things of course that they’ve been doing now for some time but it’s actually hard to get off of the page, off of Google now.
Mike: Yes. That’s what I call the Alice in Wonderland effect, you’re down the Google rabbit hole right? Where they build out various features. They want to complete the transaction [00:17:51] right? They — in fact they’ve been successful in that in local. When I looked at the research I did last fall I mentioned I went back and analysed where I identified four key performance indicators, [00:18:06] drive and direction, it could occur at Google, at Yelp, on the website being any place, a click to call, clicks on the computer call and that could occur at those places too, I’ll fill out the form and a direct message or a Facebook comment that indicated intent, those were the four key performance indicators. And what we found was that 70% of those took place directly on Google. 70% of the key performance indicators, so Google has been successful at short stopping the user at their site and getting them to call somebody, whether it’s you or somebody else, that’s the problem, how do you look better than the next person, the next business and that’s reviews having a huge role to play, as do photos and your own website have a huge role to play in that what I call conversion optimisation, it has to take place at that last second before the user clicks one of those things.
John: Yeah and I think to a large degree the [00:19:08] is certainly playing a role.
Mike: Exactly. The knowledge graph I think of it as your new homepage, in the sense that if that’s getting 70% of your key performance indicator conversions, you know it’s the single most important page in the world right. And it gets more conversions than you get on your homepage and if that’s the case you have to start treating it differently and you have to look at not just the knowledge graph but when you do a brand search like [00:19:38] jewelry, does your website look good in that? Do the third party sites look good in that? Is there a consistent story between the photos that show up on the knowledge panel and your goal, is there a consistent story across all of the sites that show reviewers? In other words, does Yelp show us a similar quality of reviews to Google and to your website? You know one of the things that happened last fall with reducing the web, Google bumped all of the [00:20:07] that were actively collecting reviews, bumped them up in the search results in brand searches, so now when you do a brand search you might see three or four sites that should have stars on them about your business. This reinforces my idea that Google gets this is your new homepage, they’re doing everything they can to make it look good. Now what you’ve got to do as a business is work with that to make it look good, you have to get reviews not just at Google, not just at Yelp, not just even at Facebook but even places that Google’s started to elevate since last fall, like [00:20:40] and foursquare and some of these vertical sites, and your own site. Right one of the things I’ve always believed is your own site should be a review site for you, that’s what get five stars is the key functions to get five stars.
John: So does it also make a case then for some of the paid directories, the home advisors, the home [00:20:59] I mean obviously in your industry they seem to be ranking those you know top 10 remodeling contractors in Kansas city type of things and guess what? The top 10 are all paying [00:21:14] to go on that page.
Mike: I mean I don’t know yet I haven’t tested that right. Does Google confer paid authority from those sites that are looking you know to jump into the process and get between you and the customer. Google’s certainly trying to do it and those sites are trying to do it and obviously those sites are [00:21:36] I don’t know if ranking high in those sites confers the same authority as ranking high on a place like Wikipedia or Yelp or health grades which don’t base their authority on payment. My guess is that Google — you know I don’t know I don’t think that those sites are conferring that authority and the reason is I think their site architecture is such that they want to do SEO so the user lands on their category page not on a given business page.
John: Yeah. Right.
Mike: Unlike Yelp. Yelp doesn’t care if you land on the business page or the category page. In fact, they use the category pages to throw prominence to the successful business right and so yelp in the case of Yelp, your business page — your Yelp business page will rank and when that happens [00:22:27] that’s incredibly powerful impact on rank at Google. In fact, it can drive local results at Google. I’ve seen search results at Google that weren’t returning pack results and by getting reviews at Yelp and getting Yelp pages to become prominent in those results starting returning pack results at Google because of that.
John: So we mentioned the term knowledge graph but I wonder if we can end up today — take 30 seconds or so and explain knowledge graph now, take as long as you want. For that small business owner who’s heard the term now I mean — first off what does it mean and what does it mean to them and how do they figure out how to take advantage of it?
Mike: Right so let’s get some terminology down. One is Google local database, two is knowledge graph, three is a knowledge panel. So the knowledge panel is what displays on a brand search, if you type in [00:23:23] jewelry you will see on the right-hand side of Google a panel where Google has assembled information from around the web and from their local database that comprised the content in the knowledge panel. Some of the information comes from Google my business, some comes from third parties, some comes from around the web, some of its dynamic, some of its static. So that knowledge panel on the right which is sometimes called local one box, used to be called that it’s now called the knowledge panel. That data is assembled from Google’s local database which is part of their knowledge graph right. So the knowledge graph is Google’s huge database of things, people, places and things, business and artists and music and venues and the relationships between them. So Google is building up the world’s biggest database of things and attributes of those things and ranking those things based on prominence signals we talked about and understanding the relationship between entity A and entity B. That’s the knowledge graph, the links between the people, places and things. The local database is just the places database within that in sort of an arbitrary name we give to the local information that Google has. And the knowledge panel is the visual representation of that knowledge, and the goal is to have a good looking knowledge panel on the right and a good organic results on the left, in fact I’m just now writing up a page — an article on how to think about Google as your new homepage right, and there’s basically multiple segments of the page but there’s the part that’s your website, there’s the part that’s the knowledge panel, there’s the part that’s a third party. And you need to be working all three of those angles to make sure that page looks great.
John: Yeah and I would say throw ad words in there probably too.
Mike: Yeah probably I mean again in a branded search you want to obviously defend your brand and you don’t want the competitor down the street getting an ad on your brand but for sure that’s a concern that you don’t want to look great and have your competitor having an ad there.
John: Of course you don’t want to have people just using that as the way to find your phone number and clicking on your ad either right?
Mike: Well true.
John: Because that happens as well. So Mike, tell people where’s the best place for them to find more of this amazing information, obviously, we have scratched the surface today.
Mike: So I just recently did a share of my presentation at [00:26:06] which is [00:26:09] which is the understanding Google maps, Google local and Google search, I don’t know what the name is this week but I also write [00:26:19] two weekly shows there Monday and Wednesday, Monday is a weekend review where I look at the important developments [00:26:27] last week’s thing — last week’s developments and then Wednesday we do what’s called a deep dive and just as a note we’d love to invite you to come join us one week and talk in our deep dive about something near and dear to your heart so [00:26:43] I do that and I get five stars, I write about reviews and so my blog I write about Google ranking, Google stuff, local search in general and then how to get five stars I write about reviews, the importance of reviews, reputation and that sort of stuff and then [00:27:03] I talk about local search more from sort of a systemic point of view. Three spots.
John: Well thanks so much for taking the time to share with us today. It’s pretty crazy that you can have a bi-weekly show about the changes in this stuff. Imagine the business owner who wakes up once every six months and takes a hard look at this stuff feels.
Mike: Well to that business owner I’d say you know leave it to the geeks like me and spend time making a great business that continually exceeds your customer’s expectations, and two make sure that everybody including the press and your customers know about it via good PR and reviews. If you do those three things you know you don’t have to worry. Google’s trying to emulate the real world, and if you’re taking great care of your customers and they’re hanging around spending money with you, Google’s going to know that and if they’re sharing that via reviews they’re going to know that and if you’re in the news they’re going to know that, so if you just do your business right, build a decent website and do those three things I think you’re going to succeed at this game long haul and it’s not about building links and stuffing reviews or changing your business.
John: Thanks so much Mike, hopefully, we’ll run into you out there on the road soon.
Mike: Sounds good. Thanks.
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