It's Time for another LocalU Interview! With our LocalU Advanced event coming up in Williamsburg on March 5th, we thought it would be fun to interview a few of the speakers. First on the list is the man, the myth, and the legend, Andrew Shotland at LocalSEOGuide.com.
What in the world possessed you to start your own company?
It happened by accident. I had been working at a start-up, InsiderPages, and had spent a large part of my time there trying to figure out SEO. It was a real trial by fire because we would figure out stuff and get millions of people to the site in few days and then we’d redesign the homepage and lose them all within an hour because I knew enough to be dangerous but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. When CitySearch acquired the company in 2006 I had this idea to create a technology to automate the analysis of SEO for big sites. I started working on that with a partner. When I would mention that I was working on a SEO project people would start asking if they could hire me. I started taking on clients to fund the development of the technology. My first client was LATimes.com. Not a bad first client. I had a falling out with my partner right around the time Google Webmaster Tools came out, and I realized I didn’t need any stinking SEO analysis technology. I had 10-20 clients at the time and decided that I was in fact a SEO consultant.
Why did you decide to go local?
I had a lot of experience with Local marketing from InsiderPages and even well before that when I was at NBC dealing with local TV stations. When I started SEO consulting most of my relationships were in the Local Search and Online Media world. I didn’t know of anyone who was focusing on Local SEO at the time, at least as a brand, so I went for it. I figured I would have all of the Yellow Pages companies, newspapers and TV stations to myself. And at the time I kind of did.
What were the biggest lessons you learned from NBC, Insider Pages, and Showtime?
I think this story sums it up. I was in the Business Development group at NBC’s first Internet division. I wasn’t allowed to do anything with the Hollywood shows so I got stuck with all of the stuff no one cared about at the time like the weather. This was in the late 90s and Amazon was just starting to become a thing. I pitched my boss that we should develop a book club on the Today Show and partner with Amazon in exchange for getting some pre-IPO stock. The pitch went nowhere and I kind of forgot about it. A few months later, he invites me the Rainbow Room for lunch with the book editor of The Today Show. I was blown away. The guy had never even offered me so much as a potato chip before. So we’re sitting there and he has me pitch the book editor of the Today Show the Amazon idea. She listened politely but had no idea what I was talking about. So we have a nice chat about the future of books or something, but it’s pretty clear Amazon is not getting it’s own spot on the Today Show any time soon. So we’re about to get up from the table, when the boss says something like, “Oh yeah I forgot…” and he pulls out a book telling the book editor that his friend Bob had just written it and wouldn’t it be great if she could check it out and maybe mention it on the Today Show? That’s when it hit me – the only reason I was at that lunch was to give the guy an excuse to pitch his friend’s book! I learned a lot about strategy, negotiation and relationships there. #Hollywood
Where do most of your clients come from?
Mostly word of mouth, referrals from old clients, etc.
What has been your biggest business failure and what did you learn from it?
I think my biggest business failure was not taking enough risks early on in my career. Until I started working at start-ups I don’t think I ever really thought of myself as a huge risk-taker. I still don’t in many ways. But once I started working for myself, I realized that the biggest risk is the one you don’t take – did Seth Godin say that? Sounds like something he would say right?
What does your office look like right now? (Pictures to prove it)
I am building an office in my backyard so right now it looks like a bunch of dirt. I send a shot tomorrow.
Who do you look up to most for business guidance?
I think these guys are all pretty inspiring, not necessarily for business guidance but by showing the way by example:
Andrew Sullivan – I loved how Sullivan took his passion and built it into something millions could share in and learn from. I can’t tell you how sad I am that he is not around for this election season.
John Gruber – The tech version of Sullivan. I happen to be interested in Apple stuff but Gruber has to be one of the best writers on the Web, hands down. The guy can get a complex idea across in two perfect sentences and he’s pretty damn funny. His talk at the XO Festival about how he started and runs his business should be required listening by anyone with a desire to work for themselves.
Ben Thompson – Thompson has to be one of the best strategic thinkers in the tech world at the moment. His podcast ExponentFM is a fun way to get schooled on the intersection of the tech business and society. I find his point of view very helpful in thinking about my own business.
What are your favorite books/blogs that have helped you along the way in running a business?
See above. I keep trying to get myself to read a book lately but I think I have gone totally digital ADD. If it’s not a blog post or a podcast, you’ve lost me.
What business questions are you currently trying to solve for your company?
So many. Here’s a big one at the moment:
- How do you grow without growth becoming the defining factor of the business? We are growing “organically” at the moment but every time you bring more people onto the team there’s a tendency to want to bring in more business to feed the beast which often leads to having to bring on more people to meet demand. It ends up becoming an endless cycle. We don’t want to chase growth for growth’s sake. We want to grow because it helps us provide the best outcomes for ourselves and our clients. We have consulted for some “scale” SEO companies and we have seen how scale requires rigid, cookie-cutter processes that often are bad for clients. We want to be able to provide custom-tailored services to our clients even as we grow.
- We are a virtual company so our team is dispersed. A big question we are focused on for 2016 is how we can keep the team feeling connected when we are all in different spaces. There’s a huge advantage to being virtual but company culture is a hard thing to pass on via Hangouts.
What do you think it takes to be successful in this industry?
I think the thing that has served me well in SEO is curiosity – we’re basically just solving strange puzzles all day right? If you are interested in how this whole search engine thing works and why, you’ve got the foundation to be a great SEO. If you’re not interested in that, it’s not the right gig for you.
And if you want to really succeed you absolutely have to spend half your day on Twitter saying ridiculous things.
Why the name LocalSEOGuide?
The URL was available. I thought it could rank well for “local SEO”.
What do you think most big brands miss when it comes to local?
I think they have so many competing priorities that they often miss getting the basics done right. We have taken over Local SEO for some large multi-location brands that were using a platform SEO vendor or a consulting division of the guys who built their CMS and it always amazes us how there is no strategy and many of the basics were not being done. I am guessing that management of this stuff is so complex that the brands don’t even understand who they need to hire to do what to get the job done right.
If someone had a gun to your head and said, you can do one thing and it has to move rankings up in a local pack, what would you do?
I’d start breathing hard then maybe cry a little. I’d tell them I can’t tell them. That the secret is so good that I’d be willing to die to keep it to myself. We’d go through a bit of back and forth where they threaten to kill my family or something so I finally give it up to them and reveal that if you create a private blog network and use exact match anchor text on all of the links to your money page then host them all on the same ip address and go on Fiverr and publically ask if anyone can sell you some links then write a blog post about their techniques and tweet it out and share it on Inbound.org and the like. Cause if you are going to hold a gun to my head for local SEO secrets, what do you expect me to say? Use schema? Actually, how about that. Use schema. It works.
In your consulting what do people tend to always have wrong?
They always call Google Search Console “Google Webmaster Tools”. So annoying.
What is the most messed up local problem you have solved?
One of our clients is a large chain of auto dealers. One day the client calls up because one of their dealers main GMB photos had been replaced by Google with a cat picture. It wasn’t really moving the Mercedes. That one wasn’t so hard to figure out how to fix but it was really hard to figure out how Google had messed it up so badly.
Where do you see local search in 5 years?
I don’t see it. I think it. And it just happens.
What scares you about local in the future?
Did you read what I just said?
Can you tell us about your family?
My wife Jill is amazing. Not only does she put up with me but she’s the reason why our two girls are going to grow into amazing people. If I put 10% of the effort into our business as she has into raising our children, LSG will be the next “unicorn”. She also has taken on the roll of Chief Happiness Officer for the company meaning she is the one constantly looking for ways to keep the team excited about our work. As for our two girls, I prefer to keep them off the grid but the older one made an awesome soccer save this weekend and the younger one does a wicked Adele impression.
Where do you live and why do you live there?
Pleasanton, CA. We ended up here kind of by accident when InsiderPages relocated from LA to the Bay Area. We stayed because it actually is Pleasant.
What does a typical day outside of work look like?
These days it’s pretty much kid’s soccer tournaments. We are going to crush Manteca this weekend.
What are some hobbies that people would be surprised you are involved in?
I sing in a Barber Shop Quartet. I don’t actually but I think that people would be surprised about that.
Are there any organizations in your local community that catch your interest?
Every Thanksgiving we get together with a bunch of families called The Basket Brigade and put together laundry baskets full of Thanksgiving meal ingredients. Then we deliver them to families who could use a little help. It’s a great tradition and the kids have a lot of fun putting the baskets together and doing the delivery.
Can you tell us about 3 things in your house that you are super proud of?
We have this awesome Alma Allen walnut dining table. Our whole house is basically built around it.
The office/guest house we are building in the backyard is awesome, at least in my mind. But come this spring it will be awesome in reality.
We have a very cool bar built into our kitchen where the kids have breakfast every morning. It feels like you’re at a diner. I love that our house doesn’t always feel like a house.