Google rankings are dynamic and ever-changing, especially when searches are made by different people in different locations.
For example, a search for “car insurance” yields 5 out of 10 localized results for local directories like Yelp, local car insurance agents, and then national companies.
SEO is no longer about one type of rating. Google now serves different results based on query themes, the location of the user, personalization, devices used, and types of content available.
Has Google leveled the playing field, or is it making it harder to compete?
In this episode of Search & Deploy I invited my long time friend Kris Jones, who is a seasoned VC and sold his first company twice … first to GSI Commerce, which was then acquired by eBay.
Kris has launched or invested in two local marketing companies, ReferLocal and LSEO.com (a local SEO provider).
In this 55-minute episode, Kris Jones of KBJ Capital and I discuss:
- SEO and the small business
- Google’s Localization of SERPS (not to be confused with Local Search)
- Content marketing at the local level for smaller companies and international brands (such as AirBNB)
- Promoting content to local influencers and getting links
- How agencies can better work with local companies
- Opportunities for the little guy and vice versa (for the larger Enterprise in local)
- Tips on obtaining reviews and ratings at the local level
- Key takeaways for competing in SEO
The Business of Local (and Localized) Search
Loren Baker: Greetings, and welcome to the second edition of Search and Deploy. This is your host, Loren Baker. On Search and Deploy, we like to talk about things that are happening in the search world and how to implement those news items and happenings into your overall SEO and search marketing strategy. I’ll be bringing on our first guest of the day, Kris Jones, a little bit later. Before we bring on Kris, I want to talk a little bit about what I’ve been doing and reading about in the past week and different thoughts with search rankings.
There’s been a tendency in the search world to say, “Hey, rankings aren’t important anymore, or the way you show up in Google isn’t as important as your traffic.” I understand the point to a lot of that, but there’s a couple of different caveats that I really wanted to bring to the equation. I put together a post on Search Engine Journal, basically going over my thoughts on rankings, the importance of knowing the searches themselves, and who you’re competing against.
One of the biggest points that I really wanted to focus on is that rankings are different, wherever you are. Google is basically a dynamic search engine that serves rankings based on the device that the person is using — the location, where the person is, and the search history. To an extent, basic search rankings have become irrelevant in cases of searching one data center, which typically is referred to as “Google USA.”
However, the ability to look at your rankings across the US — whether it’s state by state, city by city, town by town, or zip code by zip code — basically brings the ability for any company to understand its true competitive landscape and how companies can make different changes to their overall search strategies to better compete in some areas, where according to Google USA, they may be ranking number 2.
In a city like Dallas, you could be on the second page of results. In a city like Orlando, you might be ranked number 1. In a city like New York, you could be totally below the fold. It’s really understanding how people are finding your company, when they’re doing those queries, and who you’re competing against in each market, whether you are a digital entity, a brick and mortar, or a franchise — or possibly just a local store or a local business that’s trying to compete against all of the above in that atmosphere.
I decided to bring on someone I consider an expert in many fields, whether it be local search, the affiliate world, startups, or apps. I called my friend Kris Jones and asked him to be on this show. Welcome to Search and Deploy, Kris.
Kris Jones: Thanks, Loren, happy to be here.
How Kris Got to Where He is Today
Loren Baker: Great! Like I said, you’re a jack of all trades in many ways and are involved in a lot of things. Could you tell the audience a little bit about what you’re doing as a whole? Then about what you’re doing on the search side right now?
Kris Jones: This is my 17th year as a digital marketing professional. I started out learning the net back in the late 90s. I was an early adopter of search marketing, both SEO as well as pay per click. I was doing pay per click back in the day on the original platform, the pioneer in the pay per click space called GoTo.com.
Loren Baker: Oh yeah.
Kris Jones: Do you remember that, Loren?
Loren Baker: I remember bid jamming on GoTo.com before it became part of Overture and everything else.
Kris Jones: Bid jams.
Loren Baker: Yeah, bid jams.
Kris Jones: Bid surfing and stuff, yeah, wow! That’s awesome. We could probably spend just the next 20 minutes on that, but we’re not going to do that.
We’re going to focus on local. Really, I was an early adopter, and I learned how to generate web traffic and then eventually how to monetize that traffic. Again, pay per click, SEO, I was an early adopter in the affiliate marketing space. I took that experience and launched a digital marketing company called Pepperjam.
I had built it from what was a super affiliate in the late ‘90s and the early 2000s to one of the more notable, large digital agency brands in the mid-2000s. I sold that company in 2009 after we had diversified from just marketing services to also technology. We launched an affiliate network called Pepperjam Network.
I sold it in 2009 to a company called GSI Commerce, which was a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ at that time, who was also quite well-known in the e-commerce space. Shortly thereafter, we were acquired by eBay. For those folks that are listening, that are familiar with eBay Enterprise’s Affiliate Network, that’s actually the company that I founded. It’s the top 3 affiliate network in the US.
After that, I founded an investment fund called KBJ Capital, which I think is why you’re referring to me as the jack of all trades. I have 15 different portfolio companies, one of which we’ll talk more about because it’s in the local search space. I’ve invested in a whole range of early-stage tech companies, including a consumer app called French Girls app where you take a selfie and anybody in the world could draw you.
Loren Baker: Which is one of my favorites, by the way.
Kris Jones: Sweet! It’s only available on iOs, French Girls app. I’m really proud of the team that’s building that company.
I got involved in a startup out of San Francisco called VigLink. I was one of their first advisors. What VigLink does is they focus on outbound link monetization, trying to just give publishers and website owners an additional opportunity to monetize their traffic. That just gives you a feel. I do a lot of writing.
The first book I wrote was a book on search engine optimization in 2008. I’ve put out three prints of that, most recently in 2013. I do a lot of contributing to publications like Fast Company and Inc. Magazine, Forbes, I’ve done several articles for.
So let’s talk about search. One of my core startups is a company called LSEO.com, and we focus on local search. I read your article. I feel that we could dive into it, but I felt like it really did capture one of the biggest evolutions in Google over the last 5 years, which is this — I pitch it as Google wanting you to live and spend more time in their ecosystem. I think that personalization and local are examples. You allude to the idea of Google Plus Local or whatever they’re calling it now, Google My Business.
Loren Baker: Google My Business Plus pages.
SEO and the Small Business
Kris Jones: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m happy to dive into that if you have any questions. The one other startup that I’ll mention, that gives me a little bit of credibility speaking to this topic, is I founded a company called ReferLocal. It is a local, e-commerce company that was taken over last year by NimbleCommerce, but I’m still an Advisor to NimbleCommerce. I built that company up over the last 4 years. I’m really proud of what I’ve learned about the struggles and the challenges that small businesses face.
Really, I guess I’m on a mission of sorts to try to help small businesses gain access to professional digital marketing services, like those that you and I offer. I’m trying to do that in a way that’s affordable, is possible, and non-dilutive.
What I’ve seen happen over the last number of years, really with ReferLocal, and even going back to my Pepperjam days, is most of the successful digital marketing agencies really tailor to medium and enterprise business because, really, that’s where the money’s at. They also don’t want to turn business down, so they end up taking on this smaller client, who’s faced with some of these very challenging opportunities I guess. What happens is that it’s a lose-lose.
I’ve really been thinking through how to help small businesses succeed. I think your article’s an example of one way of doing it, by just pushing out content and trying to help them think through where Google’s at and how to best benefit from the search — X amount of things I’ve done, but go ahead.
Loren Baker: You have a really interesting point, especially something that I’ve always struggled with, with the consultancies and agency work that I’ve done. Sometimes you really want to, from the business side, from the agency side, bring on smaller clients, whether it’s a local client or just someone that you maybe know through a personal connection. You want to be able to help them, but the profit margin and the time that you can spend … If you’re a larger agency and you’re billing out a specific rate, sometimes you can only offer 2 hours of work or 3 hours of work to that smaller client for that same hourly rate.
I see this happening a lot actually with SEO consultants as they grow. A lot of consultants will start bringing on, not just anyone, but they’ll bring on smaller clients at a specific rate to help them establish a business. Then as they grow, sometimes those initial clients become a little bit less profitable for them as a company, and they struggle in what to do — whether they should carry on with that client to the next step or … I read this on Twitter every day — people talking about firing their clients. I really hate that term. I’ve always hated that term because I see client work as being more of a mutual relationship.
I read your article that you wrote on this, that you are identifying a need, both on the agency side — I struggle with saying no. I always have. I really want to help people out – and on the small business side. When someone feels like they’re working with a company, consultancy, or agency that’s larger than they are, sometimes they don’t feel like they’re getting the attention that they deserve.
Kris Jones: Yeah. The reality is that a lot of agencies across the United States will take on this business that falls below their thresholds. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that they don’t get an equivalent amount of services. They tend to get put on, God forbid, autopilot.
Loren Baker: Right.
Kris Jones: That’s why I use the word “dilutive.” My anger really, over the last 5, 6, 7 years, has been meeting small business owners who are under the illusion that they’re getting SEO services or digital marketing services. The product or the service is so diluted because the agency or the purveyor had to come down in their pricing from what they’re comfortable with and where they make their money. It just becomes a lose-lose.
Google, AoS Localization of SERPs (Not to Be Confused with Local Search)
Kris Jones: What does that mean? I think that, honestly, my message to small business owners and entrepreneurs that are starting businesses out there is, if you want to position yourself as a dominant player in your space, you really do need to self-educate.
There are tools out there, but a lot of the tools are complex. Even look at Google AdWords. Google AdWords, there is so much going on there. It is a highly advanced product. I couldn’t recommend to a small business owner that they just go in and open a Google AdWords account without me first saying, “Do you know that there’s a Google AdWords certification? If you got certified, you learn how to actually use all the breadth of the tool set that Google offers you for their pay per click product?” You would be in pole position.
That’s what I did back in the day. I just self-educated, and that’s unequivocally my recommendation. I think you and I are examples. There’s a lot of folks out there putting great content together on issues facing the local space, the small business space. It starts with self-education and then finding tools and the resources to help you execute.
Loren Baker: It was really interesting too, when I did put together a webinar and an article on this. The basic focus was, how to track your rankings across different cities and zip codes or what not. There’s really not that many tools that offer that capability, although Google basically ruled us out, 4 years ago. The tools that I listed in the post are all great companies in their own right.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: Of course, they’re all paid. I really noticed where the comments and the questions and the feedback were coming from … People were like, “Hey, is there a free version of the tool that can do this? I have 3 stores in 3 cities. I only need to be able to pull those, and I can’t really justify paying for a service like this.” There does seem to be that payment threshold.
Yet at the same time, I’m happy you brought up AdWords because almost every small business that I know — that has worked with either myself or with any colleagues that do paid search — sometimes they’re throwing away a lot of money that they could reinvest into their core, whether it be their website or their blog, by mismanagement, so to speak, by just not really knowing how to properly manage an AdWords campaign. It used to be things like not selecting broadmatch targeting. It’s just gotten more and more difficult.
Talking about bid jamming, it doesn’t exist anymore. It used to be really easy to knock out people that had smaller budgets. There is a threshold of what someone can obtain by running a campaign right out of the box, versus taking the time or just working with a PPC consultant, to make sure it’s a better spend on their side.
Kris Jones: Yeah. I think that when it comes to local, one of the driving factors of my desire to be involved in it is that as SEOs, we spend a lot of time trying to predict the future. In that respect, as consultants, we’ll always have a job.
When it comes to smaller budgets, less time, less resources, we need to be much more concise as SEO professionals. We need to get right … We need to demystify. We need to unravel the algorithm and help small businesses focus on those 6 or 10 or 15 ranking factors that are most important. David Mihm puts out this study every year. David Mihm, I think he’s the head of local app Moz. He used to run his own site called GetListed, right?
Loren Baker: Yeah.
Kris Jones: Anyway, he puts out a study that’s public that will help a small business owner get a better handle on what really matters a lot of times … Here’s the problem with that philosophical, predict the future approach. You do that, and nobody knows how to take the next step. Where’s the first step, let alone the third step?
I think that if we help small businesses deconstruct what they need to do, those steps, at least it would be my hope that — it’s not like they’re going to come up with more resources — they’re going to rank better in local search results. Their phone is going to ring more often. Depending on their business, they’re going to generate more transactions.
I don’t know if that’s going to double or triple the size of their business and allow them to hire a big-priced firm. What it’ll do is give them the tools that they need in order to take those next steps. I think it’s important to have that conversation. What are the ranking factors? What should small businesses be focusing on in order to make those telephones ring?
Content Marketing at the Local Level for Smaller Companies and International Brands (Such as AirBNB)
Loren Baker: Do you know Marcus Sheridan by any chance? He goes by the handle Sales Lion, that’s the name of his course and his site.
Kris Jones: I don’t.
Loren Baker: I was at an event last year. It was Content Marketing World a year and half ago. He did a really great presentation on a pool lining company, which is one of the oddest companies that you would think of, that comes in and relines pools.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: Really, his presentation was all about how he was identifying a lot of the more popular terms that had higher search volumes for that company in that area. It was putting together basic blog posts and informational posts about that with a simple call to action on each post.
I was telling a story last week at a conference about how, when I first got into this gig, I was working with a company called Long Fence and Home out in Maryland. They had started doing siding and windows and gutters and things like that. They rolled out an offering called Gutter Helmet because they weren’t allowed to use the words Gutter Guard. It was copyrighted.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: Anyway, I was on the phone with one of my contacts there, a sales person. He led all marketing sales internally within the company. I was really trying to convince the guy to start blogging, right? I’m like, “Hey man, it’s great that we have these product pages up. Let’s start turning your site into more of a hub, so you can start to get inbound links from, not only direct users or high-profile authority sites, but also local sites, local businesses you can then connect to. Also, really hit a lot of those long tail search terms.”
His response to me when I pitched him on the idea was basically, “I don’t have time to blog, and who’s going to blog for me? Nor do I really have the budget right now to pay someone to go and blog because there’s no direct ROI on that.” It is more so looking at it and saying it’s not going to bring calls in and leads in right now. It’s not going to bring people links to show them right now.
However, I did notice that the same guy would call me just about every morning around 9:00 as soon as I got into the office. He would just talk my ear off. We would do a campaign update every morning for about 5 minutes, right? “Here’s what you’re paying per click. Here are the leads. Here’s the cost for a lead yada yada yada.” Then he would just talk my ear off about all the other marketing things they’re doing and how they’re giving away free leaf blowers to people that will let them check out their gutters so that they can get a gutter lead, then sell their products.
Or they’re identifying neighborhoods that have a high amount of pools because pools typically get leaves in them, and people have to go clean out their leaves. Those leaves are at top of mind, so there’s a higher chance that they would be interested in cleaning the leaves out of their gutters.
The next example was the amount of injuries that were happening every year right before Christmas because of hanging up Christmas lights. Then also, in the spring because people would take down their lights and then notice that there’s a gutter backup, and the rain would back it up and everything else. He’d literally talk my ear off for about 15 to 20 minutes out of that 30-minute call about all these problems and scenarios.
What I did one day was I took a bunch of notes, basically everything he said, and then I had a writer put it together in a blog post. Then when I came in, “Here’s that blog post that you don’t feel that you have the time to put together.
It’s basically just a transcription of what you spend 20 minutes telling me.” There are a lot of businesses — whether they’re large business owners or small business owners — that do struggle with putting together storytelling and content marketing, strategy, or campaigns. Yet that story is told in so many different formats. I really think it’s a question of capturing and publishing, right? To be able to build that hub, so to speak.
Kris Jones: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, and I believe that … I was speaking at a conference recently as well, in Germany. Honestly, the whole theme, SEOs were using the word “content marketing” as we’re slowly rebranding and redefining what SEO is.
Loren Baker: It’s like social media 5 years ago.
Kris Jones: Exactly. Anyway the point is I think that your story there, the focus on helping small businesses capture and then publish content around their products or services, is the home run. Honestly, the clients that I consult with, and the ones that I actually tend to get involved with personally on a consulting level, are people that I know because I really want to see them succeed.
The thing I really enjoy about it is that it’s giving me a front row seat to truly get into their mind. I challenge any of the listeners to make a commitment to become the resource in your community for your product or service. As it relates to the web, you need to do that by publishing content.
Loren Baker: Yeah.
Promoting Content to Local Influencers and Getting Links
Kris Jones: It’s a dynamic process. It’s not static. You don’t put up 3 or 5 pieces of content or publish a website, and feel that you’re done. It’s dynamic meaning that it’s an ever-changing and evolving process. The goal is really to, not only become a resource center, but to add as much value to your prospective customers as is possible, that they keep coming back to you whether or not they’re buying your product. You’re getting the reference when one of their friends says, “Hey you know, I’m looking for a local landscaper.”
Loren Baker: Yeah.
Kris Jones: To be able to say, “Hey, there’s McLaughlin’s Landscaping Service. Check out their website.” You go to the website, and it’s talking about how to approach your landscaping from all the different seasons of the year, depending on what part of the country you’re from. It talks about how to get rid of fleas and ticks from your yard if you have animals. It talks about the basics of managing a small pond in your backyard, how to keep that water clean, and what happens when it turns green.
By the way, I don’t know anything about landscaping. I’m just demonstration that, no matter what the business is, you could add a tremendous amount of value to a prospective customer by just focusing on, “Okay, I’m the expert here. I know more about this than most people. How could I transcribe that? How do I capture it, and then publish that online?” You could do it through video. You could do it through audio. You could do it by writing it. It is absolutely in the same way that you put a little bit of money away every so often to invest in your retirement. In order to be competitive on the web, you have to be doing this.
Loren Baker: It’s an extension of the natural approach of the small town businessman as well, right? Going to the Chamber of Commerce, involvement in local government, involvement in different banks or business partners — basically taking that same fervor of energy and applying it to your online presence.
No longer are folks opening up the Yellow pages and seeing that large picture of you, a face that they’re used to seeing, standing in front of your business with a phone number. They’re looking online, and they may not be looking directly for you. Having that personality translate to the internet helps close out sales, helps get that lead in the same way it does when someone’s walking around shaking hands or whatever at a local event or sponsoring a local event.
The interesting thing too is that there are some larger, global brands that are doing a very good job of this. One of the ones that I pointed out was Airbnb. With the Airbnb Neighborhood Initiative, they basically empowered the local photographers, writers, and content producers to not put together a section of their site that’s transactional — “Here’s how to rent a place on Airbnb” — but more so putting together guides about those neighborhoods.
The one example that I was looking at was Airbnb for a neighborhood for Echo Park in LA. When I put that URL into SEMrush and pulled the terms that it was ranking for, highly in Google, they were all terms like “Echo Park, Echo Park bars, things to do in Echo Park, things to see in Echo Park,” things like that. None of it was, “Rent a house in Echo Park.” None of it was, “Rent an apartment in Echo Park.” It was all very true to form.
I think by them identifying that informational need that people have and going almost boots on the ground in terms of recruiting local photographers and everything else, they really set an example for other larger companies to grab a hold of in terms of those local queries — whether it’s from someone that’s checking out information about an area where they wish to go or whether it’s someone searching for information in that area.
Another field or industry that I’ve been involved in, and has done something similar, is in the online dating world. It’s basically very similar. They’re marketplaces at the end of the day: online dating, realty, Airbnb. They’re marketplace sites, and marketplace sites traditionally list a bunch of profiles or listings without much information. The online dating space is a space that’s been very localized by Google. It’s one of the first spaces to be localized, which is interesting.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
How Agencies Can Better Work With Local Companies
Loren Baker: In some cities, you’ll see just a listing of profiles on their page. In some cities you’ll see a site like Match.com that’s put together guides on meeting singles in the Fort Worth area type thing. The opportunity’s there, it seems, on both sides of the fence.
I think that a lot of the larger brands are learning from what smaller businesses have done, and vice versa. When it comes to the basic fundamentals of local search, you’re talking local citations, links from local influencers, local content. That’s really something that can be taken advantage of by both the smaller business and by the larger brand. Do a lot of the smaller businesses that you’re working with work on their linking profiles? Is that something that they are interested in from an SEO perspective or something that they typically turn to you guys for?
Kris Jones: My thoughts on that is that it plays into the whole conversation we were just having about content creation. The content, not only does it serve as a permanent resource on your website, but it also becomes a tool for social media marketing. It becomes native or original content that you’re now able to share on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus instead of sharing someone else’s content. I think that is sending signals to the search engines. I also believe that it becomes a destination for building links, both organically, meaning that, “Hey, it’s a great resource. Someone’s going to find it and link to it.”
Loren Baker: Right.
Kris Jones: But also for link to link outreach. When it comes to that, it tends to be done by us. I’m focused mostly on … I wouldn’t say mostly, but we built a solution which is a do-it-yourself solution: LSEO, the software version of it.
Loren Baker: Right.
Kris Jones: I think that what happens is that they understand the content. You’re right, they’re intimidated by where they’re going to find the time or I don’t know how to write. Often, we’ll supplement the do it yourself with, “Hey, we’ll do that for you, we’ll create the content.” Then we’ll teach them, “Here’s how to market the content through social media.” Often, they’ll be able to do that. That’s not hard. Then, when it comes to link building, we’ll teach them how to do that, but some of them will and some of them won’t. It really depends.
I do want to say one other important thing about what I’ve discovered with local search — organic local search that is the whole founding Google algorithm — the whole pagerank idea was around the quantity and the quality of the links that are coming back into your website. Then over time, that evolved to really focus on quality over quantity 2 or 3 years ago when Google started to use local intent.
Loren Baker: Yeah.
Kris Jones: And that is what you articulate in your article, use other things, what actually happened, or what is happening because it’s dynamic. Google’s always changing. When it comes to your link profile, not only does quality obviously matter. Quantity certainly plays a role, but localization is so key. It is so key. The point is, the takeaway from that is, if you’re a dog walking company in Chicago, you are going to be much better served in jumping into the 7 pack or the 4 pack, or whatever the local intent dog walk in Chicago is, by getting links from your geographical region.
To be fair, I’m not going to say that getting links from outside will hurt you, but it can serve potentially as a negative ranking factor if, in fact, it’s a highly competitive industry where there are tons and tons of dog walking companies. My guess would be that the dog walking company with the link profile most shaped to their geography, meaning that the majority of the links are coming in from that area, is more likely to rank above those with a much broader link profile.
Opportunities for the Little Guy and Vice Versa (for the Larger Enterprise in Local)
Kris Jones: Now there’s a lot of things that go into that, but I’ve done that. By the way, it’s not only for local business. The same is true for a national business that wants to rank in a particular geography. If you want to rank, and you’re from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, like I am, and you want to rank … I was going to use Seattle, Washington, but let me use Orlando, Florida. You want to rank in Orlando, Florida, like we did for ReferLocal. Unequivocally, the easiest way — and it’s really not that hard — but the most effective way to rank in Orlando is to actually start driving links into your local page, your Orlando page, from physical places located in Orlando.
The cream of the crop, and I’ve written posts on this — getting a link from a local publisher is huge because they tend to be the most authoritative in any region, also non-profits — very, very low hanging fruit. Donating to a local non-profit in the region that you want to rank in, they often will publish a list of donors. They will infrequently actually link to those donors. If you reach out to them and ask them to actually link, they almost always will. When I’m trying to coach and trying to educate small businesses on local link building, I tend to tell them that third factor, the geography of where the link is coming from, is really critical to link building in the local space.
Loren Baker: Yeah. We’ve done some things like — you know how it goes — “Top 10 restaurants in Baltimore to grab a crab cake.”
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: “Top 17 rib joints in Memphis that will leave you licking the sauce off your fingers or dry rub or whatever.” Typically, you have to really make sure — there’s a struggle also at the national level — to have people on the ground that are domain experts, so to speak, right?
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: There’s some writer services that help with that. You’re not suggesting that someone in Baltimore use a spice other than J.O or Old Bay for their crab cakes type thing. People really call you out for mistakes like that.
Kris Jones: Good point, yeah.
Loren Baker: Or using sauce in Memphis, which I just used as an example, and I was wrong. There, I think it’s dry rub. Point being is that I found that localized Ego bait, so to speak, is a great way to get restaurants and other places to not only link to you, but also share your content via their own social channels as well.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: It may or it may not be a signal from a Google perspective, but it’s definitely a signal from a quality and authority and trustworthiness perspective. We’ve all known that search is going in that direction as a whole. I wholeheartedly agree with you there.
Last thing is, besides linking and content and becoming a customer of LSEO I guess, what are the top 2 other ways that you feel that local businesses or even chains or franchises … what opportunities can they take advantage of to better improve their local presence, even on the social side, with Google Plus or Foursquare or different apps like that?
Kris Jones: On the local side, I’d recommend that the 2 things are one, making sure that you have a Google Plus page or a Google My Business Page that functions similar to a resource to your website. As it relates to ranking your business online, you don’t need a website to rank on Google Plus. I think it’s important to just think that through because the reason that’s the case is because Google does want its traffic to live within its ecosystem.
Loren Baker: Right.
Kris Jones: A lot of changes they’ve made over the last couple of years are completely consistent with that statement. You have to treat your Google Plus page, if you’re a local business, not as an extension of your website — I’m telling you right now — as your website. A lot of phone calls that will come to you, will be coming, originating from that page, not from your website.
Loren Baker: I’m glad you brought that up too because making sure that you have the correct phone number, the correct website link, the correct address as part of that profile is ideal. I’ve noticed this again on the client’s side, where I got a phone call that there was a drop in traffic even though rankings are up. I do a search on Google desktop, and I don’t see any difference. Then I search on my phone, and I see that the local Google knowledge graph panel, or whatever you’d like to call it, is at the top of the mobile results.
When you do a branded the search for the company, with the map, and the call to action button, the first button is call, right? That’s pay per call, 100% testing for pay per call, then directions leading the user to Google Maps under the Google property. Then the last selection is website. It’s just amazing that, that’s rolled out so quickly for so many branded and company names, that there is an overall loss of branded traffic.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: What I found is that there’s also a lot of SEOs out there, that their success is based upon all organic traffic. Branded traffic is typically a very large percentage so that drop can be fantastic for Google. The business is still getting business if their phone number is set up correctly or their directions, but not necessarily for the website part of things. I’m really glad that you brought that up.
Tips on Obtaining Reviews and Ratings at the Local Level
Kris Jones: Yeah. I mean, the listeners should take away that Google ranks businesses through Google Plus. You need to have a Google Plus page that needs to be optimized. Second thing is, I quoted a piece of research at Pubcon last year … I think this is so provocative and so interesting and so important. The focus of search is always on generating traffic. It doesn’t talk much about winning the customer. When you start to think about winning the customer, you start to care a lot about what people are saying about you online. In particular, as a case in point, are the reviews that are being published about your business.
As SEOs, we tend to get hired as damage control consultants, where we come in to manage reputation after something bad has been published about them. Here’s what I’ll say about reviews. This is my second tip for the local business owner. Reviews are critical. You need to develop strategies to integrate getting reviews into your normal business practices.
If you’re a restaurant owner, when a customer says, “Wow, did I have an amazing night tonight!” — have a process in place to either follow-up with that customer or take the opportunity right then to give them a one page thank you letter. At the bottom of it is a 10% off. Let’s just say, it’s a 10% off note card. You say, “Hey, I want you to come back here.” On the bottom of that it says, “By the way, having customers like you makes what I do incredible. I’d really appreciate if you would write a review for me on Yelp or write a review for me on Google Plus.”
At LSEO, we’ve written a bunch of these documents for our do-it-yourself customers, to give them … so that they could start incorporating this into their normal business practices. Anyway, winning the customer. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I would sound very smart if I was able to cite them accurately.
Loren Baker: No problem. You sound smart, regardless.
Kris Jones: There’s a couple of things that I do recall, though. If you don’t, as a small business owner, have at least 10 reviews and one of your competitors does, they’re going to win the customer 75% of the time. To take that a little bit deeper, the most recent 10 reviews should have positive sentiment. If you’ve got only 10 reviews and 3 of them are negative sentiment and 7 of them are positive sentiment, you really have to be working to get the sentiment more positive.
Loren Baker: To figure out why the negative sentiment is happening in the first place, right? Sometimes, you just can’t help it, but Kris Jones:Loren Baker:you may have a person on your wait staff. There may be a Manager at a certain location. There could be a carpet installment person that continuously drops tables when they’re moving them.
Kris Jones: Yeah.
Loren Baker: There’s all those issues that can be addressed. Not just fighting against the negative reviews, but finding out why it’s happening and solving that problem, right? Yeah, I’m very happy you brought that up as well.
Kris Jones: The feedback online, through reviews, it tends to be the vocal minority. Anybody out there who’s had a bad review written would agree with this because it’s true. The vocal minority, they like to go to Yelp, and Yelp plugs the published negative reviews. They have their sounding board to complain. Then it makes it look like your business or your product sucks. Here’s my response to that. There will always be a vocal minority, and that is life. The way you win the customer is by taking a proactive approach to making certain that you integrate new media — this idea of digital media — into your old school, traditional business practices.
The way it works is that, in the old school, you would have someone say to you, “Hey, great job,” and you’d leave it there. If you want to be competitive online and if you want to send the signals that you need to for Google to rank you higher in local search results, you need to be more proactive. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable. You just need a process.
If someone says something nice and you’re the business owner, you might not want to be that guy or that gal that starts to solicit for a business review. There are some creative, simple strategies you could use, like the example I gave. You just give them a nice 10% off coupon. On the bottom of it, you celebrate them, and then you ask them for something. You incorporate that into your direct marketing. You incorporate that into your emails. A lot of this is just about saying thank you to your customers. Also, thank you to the ones that are vocal minorities, saying, “Thank you for the feedback because I’m dedicated to improving it.”
Key Takeaways for Competing in SEO
Kris Jones: The last thing I’ll say because I know this is ending, during my presentation last week, I said something … My presentation was on social media marketing. This ties into local as much as anything, but it ties into all businesses as relates to the web.
You need to have, as a business owner, a real time, social media strategy online — meaning that you need to diffuse a negative review before it’s written. You need to diffuse and to be proactive and say thank you to the naysayers as well as the positive people. Be omnipresent online because these conversations are taking place. If you sit on the bench and then you call a high-priced SEO consultant after the fact, you’ll be losing. You won’t be winning the customer. You’ll be losing the customer.
Case in point, last month, I was going to Austin, Texas, via US Airways. I had privileges with US Airways. I was booked first class on my outbound and my inbound flight. We had some bad weather. I had a really bad experience on the ground with US Air. I felt like the woman that was dealing with me didn’t want to be there, and it just put me in a bad mood. And I ended up sitting in the airport. I take to Twitter. I say, “I’m having a really bad experience.” I actually said more than this. I’m editing for those people who don’t like curse words.
I basically said, “I’m having a real bad experience on US Airways.” US Airways turned me around pretty darn quick. Their team responded to me, basically said, “Mr. Jones, could you follow us so that we could direct message you.” They called my cell phone — they looked my account up — once they had my name and all this. I got a phone call. Even though they weren’t perfect, I’m not lying, this story is not that US Airways is perfect in terms of their social media. They were present. They diffused the situation before I got even more angry.
It played out on my Twitter feed where I have a ton of followers. They have a ton of followers. They quelled or they minimized it from becoming much worse. US Airways is a huge brand. For all the listeners out there, you really do have to have a strategy that is new age, that evolves from the old school ways of doing business to the new ways.
Getting business reviews and building content, becoming a resource center, is really what you need to do if you want to dominate, if you even really want to be competitive long term. This isn’t even an option. This is what you need to be doing, and you’re getting the free advice by listening to this podcast. There’s a ton of really great content on SearchEngineJounrnal.com. Some of the stuff you wrote, some of the stuff I wrote, and some of the stuff written by some of the other great writers on there — they need to take action and own it and self-educate. The resources are out there to help them.
Loren Baker: Great! Thanks again, Kris, for joining Search and Deploy here on Rainmaker.fm. Really appreciate the knowledge and a lot of what you’ve brought to the table today. I’m sure it will be very actionable information for a number of our listeners. Again, that was Kris Jones of KBJ Capital. Kris is highly involved in multiple companies, startups including, of course, LSEO.com, French Girls, again, one of my favorite apps, VigLink, and still advising Referlocal.com. Is there anything that I missed on that list, Kris?
Kris Jones: Yeah. People could go to KBJ Capital. I’m really a business coach when it comes down to it, and I tend to put my money where my mouth is in a number of these companies. My goal is to add as much value as possible.
Loren Baker: Fantastic! Thanks again, and thank you for listening.
Kris Jones: Bye-bye.