Mike Blumenthal – Local SEO Interview 1

Greetings from Inside the SEOigloo!

Today, I have the honor of chatting with Mike Blumenthal, whose blog, Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local is absolutely the most visited local search blog in my feedreader. Mike’s website development and hosting company, Blumenthal’s has been serving the public since 1994 out of their offices in Olean, NY.

Miriam: Call out the first 3 adjectives that come to your mind to describe local search.

Mike: Exhilarating, frustrating and frustrating

Miriam: At this point, it seems to me that there is a relatively small, enthusiastic group of SEOs who have branched off into local search studies. What is the appeal of local search to you?

Mike: In my previous life as a small business person covering a small fragmented market of 250,000 inhabitants, it took 7 yellowpage directories to achieve market coverage. Since the business our family ran had a very broad range of products and services it was very difficult and expensive to run ads in all of the books, in all of our product areas. In 2004, a number of years into my current life, I experienced Google Local (as it was called), threw away my 7 YP directories, installed a computer to analog phone dialer and have not looked back. It had a very practical and day to day appeal for me.

I started exploring the ins and outs of the logic and ranking and taking notes shortly there after. In fall of 2006 when I realized that nobody in the search marketing industry was taking the hands on approach to local search marketing that I was looking for, I started writing about what I thought I knew. The logic, illogic, politics and social context of local became compelling. With each level of understanding that I achieved there seemed to be another layer beneath that is more complicated and interesting. And there always seemed that I had one more burning question that I just had to answer.

My thanks go out to Greg Sterling, Bill Slawski, Dave Oremland and Matt McGee who provided encouragement and support from the beginning of this exploration.

Miriam: As we’ve all discovered, Google has got some work to do to make Maps as good as it could be. Which bug or problem is bugging you most? And, do you have a suggestion for fixing it?

Mike: The bugs and problems that I write about are part of being in a new industry. The suggestion that I would make would be to increase transparency, make the rules more obvious, make interacting easier. In a word communicate! I can tolerate imperfection and would gladly work to improve it. I find their obfuscation and prevarication aggravating and counter productive to Google’s long term success.

Miriam: If you could express one wish directly to Google or Yahoo about their local entities, what would it be?

Mike: Just one? Hah, no way!

1) Keep the business records clean and real as integrity of these results is critical for large scale adoption and to generate the trust of the public and business community.

2) In the transition from traditional Yellow Pages to the Internet Yellow Pages don’t exchange the costly, structured & fast approach for the free, time consuming, have to be a rocket scientist approach.

Miriam: I know we’re all still learning about this stuff, but would you be willing to make a guess at the major factors currently determining local business’ A-J rankings in Google Maps and the 10-Pack?

Mike: I think my article 10 Likely Ranking Factors of Google’s Local Search Algorithm that I wrote last year, is still basically a sound view of the issues. Hopefully, we can revise and refine this list over the next few months.

Miriam: In many ways, Google Maps is still in a beta kind of state. Matt McGee recently charted the fact that Maps is now receiving 1.56% of Google’s traffic. There is some concern that Google’s local efforts may simply not pan out and Maps will vanish into obscurity, as some of Google’s other properties have. What is your prediction on this? Is Maps here to stay?

Mike: Local is here to stay and its Google’s game to lose (sorry for the sports metaphor). There are really two battles in Local. One is the desktop in which Google’s ability
to gain market share is very much a function of their general search market share
(see Hitwise Data: Mapquest Giveth & Google Maps Taketh) and they are obviously intent on expanding Map’s market share. Google’s behaviors in this indicate to me that they are serious, hungry and will do whatever it will take to win. Thus Maps isn’t going anywhere. It may morph, it may not be recognizable but in one form or another it will be around.

On the local mobile front, Google’s long term presence is far from clear. But even there, where they are up against some incredibly well capitalized and aggressive firms (Nokia, AT&T & Verizon to name a few) they are taking their future into their own hands and playing a very smart game (the new cell spectrum auction for example, Android is another…neither necessarily direct moves but rather attempts to create a more favorable environment for their core products). Given this cagey behavior, they are here to stay on that front as well. Whether they will win is unclear but the game will be much longer term and incredibly fun to watch.

Miriam: Who is getting local search more right? Yahoo or Google? Please explain your answer.

Mike: Both, neither. In the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is market share. If every searcher is using service X, then service X is getting it more right. At the moment Service X is Google, not necessarily from an absolute market share perspective but from a mindshare one. I only hope, that if someone knocks Google out of the driver seat they are as much fun to pick on as Google. :)

Miriam: Are there any local industries you’d be particularly, personally interested in working with?

Mike: Yes, any that are willing to fund my early retirement.

Miriam (who has just cracked up): What else should I have asked you about? Tell me!

Mike: How wonderful my wife and kids are. What an incredible and interesting time we live in. How it can be the best of times and the worst of times. What tussy-mussy means.
Will humanity survive the next 75 years and if so in what condition. I could go on.
You will need to join me in the search for the answers.

Miriam: Great stuff, Mike. I’ve really enjoyed this. And, by the way, a tussy mussy is a little
silver vase designed to be carried in the hands or worn on the blouse with a few flowers in it. Thank you for chatting with me, Mike!

This is Part 1 in our series of 5 Interviews With Local SEOs. Check back soon for our next interview.

27 Responses to “Mike Blumenthal – Local SEO Interview 1”

  1. on 13 Feb 2008 at 4:51 pm Gab "SEO ROI" Goldenberg

    Fun interview Miriam, and it’s incredible to me that Mike found his way as late as 2006! Just shows you how much room there is to grow in local. That said, many businesses don’t really need local/it doesn’t apply (think global parts traders or web based businesses like eBay). Also, the rate of change (wow that term is a blast from my high school past!) from people using YP to local search doesn’t seem to warrant it sufficiently yet…

    Anyways, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!

  2. on 13 Feb 2008 at 4:56 pm Matt McGee

    Good stuff, gang. Looking forward to more. :-)

  3. […] Mike Blumenthal – Local SEO Interview Miriam – SEOigloo Blog […]

  4. on 13 Feb 2008 at 11:12 pm admin

    Hi Gab,
    I’m finding this series really fun. I’m glad you are, too.
    I agree, Local doesn’t apply to many businesses, although for any business that offers services both on a local and national/international level, it can’t hurt to be known in the community. But for many businesses, Local won’t count.

    The growth is slow, but the service has the potential to be so powerful. I don’t think I’ve opened a phone book in the past year, but I would estimate I visit Google Maps for non-work-related purposes at least three to five times a week. Once people know this is there and how easy it is to use, the appeal is strong.

    That being said, Google needs to get its house in order if it wants guests to have a good time.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Thanks also for the sphinn I noticed. I appreciate every single sphinn I get!


  5. on 13 Feb 2008 at 11:13 pm admin

    Thanks for stopping by, Matt. Stay tuned!


  6. on 13 Feb 2008 at 11:53 pm Michael D

    Excellent stuff! 2nd great topic of your I’ve bookmarked this week.

  7. on 13 Feb 2008 at 11:56 pm Stuart

    I can’t believe so many people are suggesting that “local doesn’t apply to many businesses”.

    Hey folks – wake up and go for a wander through your town and count how many small businesses you pass. Local applies to every one of them – now multiply those by every other town across the country and across the world and you’ll start to see just how many businesses local really does apply to … and it’s a hell of a lot more than you’re thinking of.

  8. on 14 Feb 2008 at 12:53 am admin

    Michael –
    What a delight to have you show up here! I thank you for that kind remark, and want to say, I have just started zoning in on the fact that you are sphinning great stuff. It’s really nice to see you here, and I hope we can get to know one another a bit better. The local faction at Sphinn is small, and I am taking notes on whomever I see participating in that category as this subject interests me so.

    Thanks again for coming by. It’s very nice to have the opportunity to say hello to you.

  9. on 14 Feb 2008 at 1:05 am admin

    Stuart –
    I thank you for taking the time to comment here, and I couldn’t agree with you more regarding just how many businesses do fall into the local category.

    I believe, however, that what Gab is saying above is that there are also a large number of businesses for whom local search is not going to be pertinent.

    For example, a manufacturer of appliances who does business only with resellers. It’s not really important for direct consumers to know where they exist if they simply supply front-end companies and have no one-on-one contact with their community.

    On the other hand, I’d be of a mind to discover whether having at least some local-oriented SEO done for their website might not have even a small degree of impact on their business.

    Again, as an example, if there is any chance that a distributor in California might be more keen on dealing with a manufacturer in California than one in New Jersey, then it might be important for the manufacturer to make their location known. But, ideas like this are only of value if they pertain to the specific business’ market and needs, of course.

    Gab’s point about eBay sellers is, I feel, a good one, too. The countless small business owners who use eBay as their sales vehicle may not be true candidates for Local SEO. After all, if they have no public, physical location and do not want people contacting them directly, then their address is immaterial to their business plan.

    But, I’ll play the devil’s advocate again on this. Ebay does list the location of its sellers and I have made a conscious choice to buy from a seller in my state instead of an out-of-state seller because I hoped an item would get to me faster. In that sense, location has affected my activities.

    And, if an eBay seller branches out and decides they want to start selling items on their own, through a traditional website, local search may well start to come into the picture at that point.

    Your points are well taken, Stuart, and Gab’s are very valid, too. I’ll say this…it’s lovely for this Local SEO to contemplate just how many businesses DO need local search engine optimization.

    Thanks, again, for sharing your take on this, Stuart.

  10. on 14 Feb 2008 at 6:14 am Mike Blumenthal

    I have often thought the “local is over rated”/”local is underated” debate misses the point to some extent.The debate is more nuanced than that. And the answer is: Yes,

    If you need Local, you need local.

    We are in a nascent market that has not yet fully developed. It requires indexed content from the producers of the information and searches from the consumers of it.

    So as more and more information comes on line, as Google (or whomever) provides more and more granularity, users and producers both will follow along as they realize that they will benefit.

    Each company (and folks like Gab) will come to local when it is in their benefit to do so. Five years ago, local wasn’t important unless you were in the hotel business, 4 years ago it wasn’t important unless you were in the hotel or florist industry, Three years ago you would have added cars and resturants to the list and so on.

    As your industry gains the benefit your business will need to be there.For now it local is a collection of niches.

    As the information granularity improves, say WalMart posts local inventory, it will also impact the usage and the companies that will need to be there. If Target sees that Walmart there then the process will have progressed on the data side as well.Local will become the ultimate aggregation of niches.

    As the information improves in any given industry segment and as the business feels the need to be in local, the searchers will be there & the SEM’s will follow. In the meantime the number of niches that benefit will continue to grow.

    Ultimately, as Mirima points out, even with Ebay sellers all busisness is local. (Look at the comparison of internet shopping to total shopping).

    The other change will be in how we access that information. The movement toward hand held computing ala the iPhone will change all of this is unforseeable ways but most all of them will have an impact on local.

    The game has just started so it would be foolish to place any bets on who does or doesn’t need the capability. Keep your options open and take advantage as you see the opportunity.

    Mike B

  11. […] as Miriam points out on SEOigloo, even with Ebay sellers all busisness is local. (Just look at the comparison of […]

  12. on 14 Feb 2008 at 7:59 am Mike Blumenthal

    Miriam- By the way tussymussy.org is available and I think that you should scoop it up. :)


  13. SearchCap: The Day In Search, February 14, 2008

    Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web….

  14. on 14 Feb 2008 at 1:25 pm San Diego SEO

    Great Interview!

  15. […] Mike Blumenthal – Local SEO Interview 1, SEO Igloo Blog […]

  16. on 14 Feb 2008 at 2:27 pm admin

    Mike –
    I have really got to start getting a handle on mobile. Those are deep new waters for us. I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll win that iPhone from the SEOmoz survey!

    What I love about your comment, above, is the documentation of the progression you’ve witnessed in regards to which industries local became important for over the past 4 years. Great stuff.

    Tussymussy.org, huh? Would you believe, I own a tussy mussy? But, I’m not sure there’s a real market there. I could be wrong, though :)


    San Diego SEO –
    Thanks for the kind words.


  17. on 14 Feb 2008 at 5:08 pm David Mihm

    Mike, fantastic interview; Miriam, terrific questions. I loved Mike’s follow-up comment about businesses needing/not needing local. We simply don’t KNOW who’s going to “need” local 6 mos., a year, two years down the line. The SERPs are changing fast and furious these days, and the number of industries for whom it’s important is only going to grow.

  18. on 15 Feb 2008 at 7:20 am Mike Blumenthal


    The tussymussy.org site would be a great blog name for a discussion of the English language past, present and future….

    I suppose you could try to sell them but I think you are right the market is somewhat limited :)


  19. on 15 Feb 2008 at 7:47 pm Barry Welford

    What a professional interview that was, Miriam. It opened up the subject well. Congratulations. I think the really strong lever on all this local stuff is the Mobile Web. That will grow explosively and when you’re mobile, you’re often wanting to search locally.

  20. on 15 Feb 2008 at 10:11 pm admin

    Thank you, David! Look for YOU next week:)

    My dear husband took me away for St. Valentine’s Day (fine man that he is!) but now I’m back and ready to roll out the next interview.

    And did my vacation get local search out of my mind? Not at all. I have to go write a bunch of new Google reviews this week of places we visited.

  21. on 15 Feb 2008 at 10:13 pm admin

    Barry – I think you are so right about mobile. My hope is that this year we can devote some time to studying designing for it. We simply haven’t had the time so far, but it seems like a very important thing to investigate.

    Thank you, so much, for the kind comments here and over at Sphinn where this post has slowly made it up to 16 sphinns by my last count.

  22. on 15 Feb 2008 at 10:14 pm admin

    Mike –
    You’re right. TussyMussy sounds like something that people would suddenly be talking about in droves! Frankly, I think it’s got a nicer ring to it than Twitter.


  23. on 16 Feb 2008 at 11:33 am Searchtroop

    Excellent article with very good points made.

  24. on 16 Feb 2008 at 2:01 pm admin

    Thank you, Searchtroop,
    Very nice to see you here and I hope you’ll come back in the new week for the next interviews. Some really great information coming up.

  25. on 18 Feb 2008 at 7:29 am Lori

    Great interview. Congrats on getting a link from the SEOmoz blog. Way to go!

  26. on 28 Feb 2008 at 9:04 pm Interviews with Local Search Marketers

    […] Mike Blumenthal – Local SEO Interview 1 […]

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