David Mihm is a talented web designer and SEO with a handsome roster of local search clients in the S.F. Bay Area. David’s big news for 2008 is that he is now working toward becoming the Local go-to guy in Portland, Oregon, and though I’m sorry to lose him from my own neck of the woods, I’m really excited watching David’s brilliant and impressive growth in the SEO sphere. From first time we spoke with him, David quickly became one of our favorite people in this industry.
Miriam: Call out the first 3 adjectives that come to your mind to describe local search.
David: “Burgeoning” — I don’t know of an SEO space that has experienced such explosive growth, and change along with that growth, in the last six months, than Local. Video might be close, but there are only a handful of players to worry about, and they’ve remained pretty constant for the last 18 months or so. The Digg algo shift a couple of weeks ago was a big deal for folks in the social media world, but the system is still more-or-less the same, just with a little more democracy thrown in. By comparison, look at all of the new content distribution deals, changes in the effect of reviews, and entire interface redesigns, not to mention the near-daily new entrants in Local.
“Under Construction” — I truly think that Google in particular, has put the cart ahead of the horse with Local. There are so many problems with G’s Local algorithm, and seemingly so few resources devoted to fixing them, that they run a tremendous risk of alienating a ton of the very customers that are going to be so critical to their business model in the next 3-5 years. (Take the recent brouhaha in the florist industry as just one example.) ReviewSpam is rampant. Not to mention showing poor results that encourage searchers to look to alternative engines.
“Opaque” — The ranking factors for traditional SEO are pretty well known, as well as the relative importance of each (title tags, anchor text, links from quality sources, etc.). The ranking factors for Local seem to be all over the map (# of reviews, quality of reviews, inbound links, etc.). There are some businesses that rank #1 in the Google Local algo in particular that don’t even have websites, let alone reviews! What’s more, the factors for ranking well seem to vary widely by product/service type and location.
Miriam: What’s special about taking on local search clients? Why are you devoting energies to this relatively new facet of SEO?
David: To answer your second question first, I love a challenge. It seems to me that Local is a space where everyone assumes that it is easy to rank well because so few small businesses “get” SEO. For the most part, this used to be true prior to Universal. You could do a lot with just Directory links, maximizing your site architecture, and being smart with your internal anchor text. Now, it’s so important to stay on top of the various algorithms, know who the key non-search-engine players are in your client’s target market, it’s just a lot of fun for me.
I love taking on Local clients because you can have such a dramatic and relatively immediate impact on their bottom line. When you’re helping make a quality small business successful, it seems so much more rewarding than helping a huge business make an extra 5 or 10% on their already massive margin. It’s a lot easier to root for the underdog. 🙂
Miriam: When clients come to you and you begin to explain to them why local SEO is going to be important to their business, what, in summary, do you tell them?
David: The Yellow Pages, where most Local businesses get the bulk of their customers, are dead. I say this throughout a lot of my own website. AT&T knows it which is why they are pushing YellowPages.com so hard on Radio and TV ads these days rather than the traditional Yellow Pages.
The problem for AT&T is that the search engines are ALWAYS going to have a leg up on YellowPages portals because they are people’s default home pages when they open their browsers. The ratio of people who start IE or Firefox at Google or Yahoo vs at YellowPages.com has to be in the 100,000:1 range. So if you’re a small business, Google and Yahoo have become your new YellowPages.
A PPC ad is a one-time spend, and spending can get out of control in a hurry. SEO, on the other hand, has a cumulative (I would even argue a compounding) effect, and the sooner you can get in on the ground floor, the better-positioned you will be for the future.
It’s a snowball effect: if you can rank #1 tomorrow, you get more visibility and traffic. You get more people on your site, writing reviews, giving you links from their blog. You get more local media paying attention to your business. Next week, even more people start seeing your business. They write you even more reviews, give you even more links, etc. SEO, and Local in particular, can be a self-perpetuating cycle if done well.
Miriam: Can you share a local search success with us that you are feeling proud of right now?
David: Sure. It happens to be one of my very first clients, AEGIS Commercial Real Estate, who hired me to redesign their website back in January of 2006. AEGIS ranks either #1 or #2 behind Craigslist in the traditional organic listings across the major engines for their most competitive searches like ‘oakland office space’ and ’emeryville office space.’ Things were rosy up until about October of last year when Google Universal came in. AEGIS is in a tough market to get reviews because they take on so few clients, most of whom are fairly large businesses. But we’re doing the best we can to figure out how to maximize their visibility in Maps as well.
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?
David: As a matter of fact, I just put this together as part of a presentation to a client yesterday. Caveats: These seem to vary by Category and Location, and I’d definitely defer to Mike on this one because he’s studied it far longer than most.
Proximity to centroid of city
# of reviews
# of positive reviews
# of positive reviews from power reviewers (people who have reviewed a lot of other businesses)
Local phone # and address throughout website that matches Local Business Center data
# of inbound links to website
Keywords in title of business
Miriam: What do you see as the important ramifications of the new Google 10-pack?
David: As I wrote on my blog awhile back, I think it’s going to push more and more people into PPC. I think it’s great that Google is trying to get more and more mom-and-pop businesses at the top of the local SERPs, because these used to be dominated by big corporations who knew how to funnel their PageRank. But I think they should get their act together with their Local algorithm FIRST before they monkey around with the display of the results! 🙂
Miriam: If you could express one wish directly to Google or Yahoo about their local entities, what would it be?
David: Speed up the submit / update process. There is no reason that it should take “4 – 6 weeks” (closer to 4 -6 months in most cases!) to get indexed or to change your information.
Miriam: Are there any local industries you’d be particularly, personally interested in working with?
David: Probably like you and Liam, I’m most interested in working with high-margin products or service providers these days, who understand the value of good design. I think that’s where I can most help clients distinguish themselves and provide the highest ROI. But I tend not to be industry-specific. I think that’s one of the myths about SEO, that if you haven’t worked with a particular industry, you’re somehow unqualified to take it on. Good SEO techniques apply across all industries, and a good SEO knows how to tailor them in most cases.
Miriam: What else should I have asked you about? Tell me!
David: As you noted in your last piece, I’m going to be relocating to Portland, Oregon, on February 29th. So I guess I would rather that your last question said “Are there any geographic industries you’d be particularly, personally interested in working with?” To which my answer would have been, “Yes, definitely, I’d love to start meeting business owners and entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest!” 🙂
Miriam: Well, I surely wish you luck with this move, David! The Pacific Northwest is about to get a very good man on their side of the Local Search game. Thank you so much for taking the time to share what you know with me today.
David: Thanks for inviting me to the interview, Miriam, it’s been fun to get some of my thoughts that have been bouncing around my brain for awhile down in print.
This is Part 2 in our series of 5 Interviews With Local SEOs. Check back soon for our next interview.