The following is a guest post from Chris Ratchford who is the founder of Prodentite, an online marketing firm specializing in dentist web design and local search marketing.
I spent last weekend in Baltimore at a Local U Advanced training session. For those of you who aren't familiar with Local U Advanced session, it's geared toward SEO agencies and professionals, as well as in-house professionals who want to go beyond the basics of local search.
This is actually the second time I've attended the Local U Advanced session, the first being last October at SMX East. I'm happy to say that there was little, if any, of the same content from the last workshop. Some of the concepts and overall strategies were the same, but local search is a lot like the saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait for five minutes."
If you've been in SEO for a few years, you've probably attended the big national SEO conferences that are held each year. Unlike the larger established SEO agencies, my business is pretty much just me. I don't have the time, resources, and $$$ to go the big conferences, so it's really important that I spend my money wisely when choosing what meetings to attend.
Local U Advanced: A Giant Resource
Since I'm in the dental space, local search is my bread and butter and I can't imagine not having Local U's events as a resource. What makes Local U Advanced better than the big shows? Well, here are a few reasons:
- Intimacy. No, not that kind. I'm talking about the number of attendees ... especially the ratio of attendees to presenters. If I recall, there were eight presenters and about 50 attendees. Where else will you get that ratio?
- Networking. I don't like this word, but I can't think of a better way to explain. The night before the meeting, attendees and the Local U staff got together for drinks, food, and most importantly, some good old fashioned networking. It was really low-key -- just people hanging out, getting to know each other and having a good time. (A good bit of the party migrated to the hotel bar and the fun times continued.)
- No Selling. Ever get that icky feeling at a conference that you're being sold something the whole time? It makes you wonder if what you're being told is meant just to close the deal. Not here. Yes, there are sponsors, but no sales pitches. Of course, if you are interested in a tool or online service, you can talk to them and they'll answer any questions you have. It's conversational -- two-way. Not a pitch.
- Learn from the best. I learned early in SEO that you can spin your wheels trying to find the best practices and get nowhere. There's so much BS out there, you don't know what's what. The content at Local U Advanced meetings is tried and true.
Both times I attended Local U Advanced, I've had the opportunity to speak with someone from Google. They actually come to the event and answer as many questions as possible. As frustrated as I get with Google+ Local, I have to give them credit for their participation in this event. No, they're not going to give you insider tips on Google's next update, but if you have legit problems, they will help.
Roundtable Discussions For The Win
The last thing I will mention about Local U's sessions is the roundtable discussions. The attendees have the opportunity to speak with the Local U faculty about various local topics: review strategies, mobile opportunities, Facebook for local, Google+ Local troubleshooting, citation/directory analysis, and optimizing the agency process. Attendees got to choose three tables. I chose mobile, Facebook, and the agency process. At all three tables, I was able to asked detailed questions that pertained to my business. This is something that I've rarely encountered at the big conferences.
I can't finish this review without acknowledging my fellow attendees. I gained some invaluable insight about the business side of SEO. It's just as important to know how to manage your business as it is your clients. It's also encouraging to know that you're not the only one dealing with frustrating clients and other common issues.
If local search is what's important to you and your clients and you're on a budget, Local U Advanced is a no-brainer. I'm already looking forward to the next event.