Wednesday 20 Feb 2008
Will Scott of Search Influence publishes the Website Promotion is Not Voodoo Blog, which immediately caught my eye for its Local-oriented content. I’m really pleased to have the chance to chat with Will today.
Will: Miriam, first let me say how flattered I am to be included. Our real strength is in locally focused SEO, but we’re feeling our way into the local results and I’m hopeful we’re providing value. For me the real joy is in seeing our guys at the top wherever that may be: local, organic, and when all else fails PPC.
Miriam: Call out the first 3 adjectives that come to your mind to describe local search.
Will: Frustrating, disruptive, half-baked.
As you know Miriam, there are tons of instances of Google and the others overlaying these poorly calculated results in a truly disruptive way. I understand Local SEO, I understand Local PPC. We’re starting to get a handle on “Local Results”, but that doesn’t mean we’re as efficient there as we want to be… yet!
I think Google’s perpetual beta allows them a certain level of irresponsibility. The local business results exemplify this.
Miriam: What is it about local search that is so appealing to you that it’s become a client service you’re offering?
Will: I grew up in phone books (OK, it was really my early 30’s but, as my wife will tell you, that was basically childhood). We developed infrastructure for Internet Yellow Pages and then had to figure out how to promote it.
The challenge to that traditional yellow pages advertiser is the decline in usage (with contrary increases in cost).
The foundation of our business is the question: How do we help those (mostly local) service based businesses get found in the new yellow pages (Google)?
We’ve only got a few nationally focused clients. The rest of them are local, local, local. And, most of them, 10 years ago, would have been yellow pages advertisers.
Miriam: Who is getting local search more right? Yahoo or Google? Please explain your answer.
Will: I’m a little myopic. I can’t speak intelligently about Yahoo! local yet. I think Google local is poor, but I can’t say Yahoo! Local is any better. Though you can buy your way into Yahoo! Local and I appreciate that
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?
Will: At this point it still appears to be driven by traditional listing databases (those who draw from Axciom, InfoUSA and the others). While there is some location bias it’s definitely not the top selector and reviews have yet to have a significant impact.
In the new 10-pack I’m seeing anecdotally what appears to be a Google local business center bias.
Note that in the above, the first review is well down the list. While there appears to be some location bias (in previous views with a sole listing as the authoritative 1 box the spammer at the top was solo) though this clearly isn’t a big factor since the # 3 result is in a northern Baltimore suburb on a DC search.
** Why do I call them spammers? Because, it’s unlikely they would have offices at the Google map centroid in so many major cities. Different URLs, same company, map centroid, Chicago office. Hmmm, hmmm?
There also appears, in the search above and in others of which I’m aware, to be some precedence given to age within Google LBC. In other words, first in the Google database still ranks well in the face of more relevant opposition. This would track with other Google predilections toward age before beauty.
So, in lesser searches it may be sufficient to be the sole Google LBC entry. In more competitive searches it appears longevity helps.
And I’m sad to say that today’s algorithm seems to be weighting reviews much less than previous iterations.
Miriam: It’s my belief that reviews are impacting Google Maps’ A-J and 10-pack rankings to some extent. Have you been able to give any good advice to clients about encouraging user reviews for their local business?
Will: I’m not convinced of the impact of reviews right this minute. As you know we’re doing a study right now to see if there’s any benefit in the authoritativeness of the reviewer. It still seems to be skewed toward traditional listings databases and Google local.
We are recommending that where practicable our clients should incentivize reviews. We have one client who’s trading gift-cards for Yelps. And no, I won’t say who, where or in what industry. I’ll update once we see how effective it is.
Note above I say “right this minute”. I believe the 10-pack ain’t even alpha, let alone beta.
Miriam: Will, apart from the major search engines’ local entities, which local business information directories are you currently finding it most useful to have clients be registered with at present.
Will: I know you say “apart from the major search engines'” but I can’t help myself. In the case of Yahoo! Directory and Yahoo! Local they’re still the most effective.
At the end of the day I lean toward traditional SEO and therefore will focus initial directory placements on those directories with SEO impact where budget allows. Our top two are Yahoo! and BOTW.
On the purely local side are Yahoo! Local, Superpages and InsiderPages. Even at 9.95 / month Yahoo! Local is still a bargain for the impact both on Yahoo! and off. I highly recommend this Andrew Shotland Article on Updating Your IYP listings for free for the full picture.
Miriam: What does a local search success story look like? Any recent local search projects you’re feeling particularly proud of?
Will: Unfortunately, the above is a local search success story. The bad news is it’s a success story for the Baltimore practice (a client) and not our DC practice (down the page in organic). This is their truly local listing.
Top billing is our guy, #2 is the spammer from DC which lends some weight to my earlier assertion that age within Google LBC matters.
We have others like that, but for me the real value is in top organic ranking. It offers more information on first glance, has a proven track record in ROI and
And, one which just pulled up from # 4 to # 1 as of this reporting is one of our entry-level clients. It felt like it took forever, but it just gives me a real sense of pride to see this guy at the top of the organic listings for his money phrase. I’d like to get him in local, but it doesn’t help that he’s a virtual business and a one-man show. And, we’re not quitting!
And we have a lot more like that. For us they’re all success stories. Most of our clients were nowhere, now they’re somewhere and they’re seeing a positive return on investment.
Miriam: Are there any local industries you’d be particularly, personally interested in working with?
Will: We LOVE mom & pop businesses. We’ve found that a little bit goes a long way outside of the most competitive industries.
We love our high-dollar, high ROI verticals too, but when they’re all accounted for, someone is there to help the plastic surgeons and real estate agents. There’s not always someone there to help the local sign broker or optical lab.
We are an equal opportunity SEO, we’ve had some verticalization due to successful implementations and the referrals they bring but mostly we’re happy to help whoever we can. So, feel free to refer them all.
Miriam: Will, just for fun, you’ve got a rotating banner in the masthead of your blog. The first time I came there, I was rather taken aback to be greeted by lobsters! Where are you getting your images from? What’s the idea behind this? It always makes me smile.
Will: LOL, that’s a residual effect of having too many ideas, too many clients and too little time. I always liked that WordPress theme (one of Chris Pearson’s) but needed to make it my own.
And, they’re not lobsters, they’re crawfish — we are in south Louisiana don’t you know
After I ran out of good (free) upbeat New Orleans images I went for other places I love and have spent time (San Francisco, San Diego, La Jolla).
Speaking of my blog, I wish I was a better blogger, but I find that when the kids and clients are put to bed there’s precious little time for socializing, online or off – and as long-term investments go I’d rather nuzzle my wife than run my mouth.
Miriam: I’m all for family time! Thanks for speaking to me, Will. You’ve shared a lot with me today!
Will: Miriam, thank you. I’ll tell you again how happy I am to have been introduced to you – I can’t wait to meet you and Liam in person.