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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.