This is our Deep Dive Into Local from April 24th, 2018. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Hi. Welcome to Deep Dive in Local Search with Mike and Mary. And this week we have special guest star, Carrie Hill, who recently joined us for a speaking engagement at LocalU Austin. Carrie, would you just introduce yourself for people that don't know you.
Carrie: So, my name is Carrie Hill, and I have been in the SEO, SEM industry since 2006. I worked with Mary at an agency. When I first started out, she was my mentor, and still is, shi taught me a lot of what I know, taught me how to think.
Mike: Oh, she didn't teach how to be grumpy, didn't she?
Carrie: Well, a little. And she's already taught me how to think in marketing terms. And so, when it came time for us to leave the agency life or being employed by other agency life, we decided to go into partnership together. And so, we founded Ignitor Digital, and we concentrate mostly on local search for small, medium-sized businesses.
Mike: Cool. So, recently you presented at LocalU Austin for the SMBs, and I know you had an epiphany in terms of understanding their point of view. Perhaps, you could describe that for us.
Carrie: Yes. So while we were there and listening to the people ask questions, and to try and get information during takeaways, and then afterwards, in reading the feedback, I noticed a bit of a theme. And I want to, put a caveat on this, not everybody felt this way. But I felt like there was a theme of people saying, "We don't want to hear about e-mail marketing. We don't want to hear about paid advertising. We just want to know how to make Google work." And I thought, back in the day when I very first started, there were a lot of weird little search engines around, and Yahoo was still a going concern, and Bing was still a going concern. Some would argue they still are or are not. And so, we would say, "Okay. You need to diversify. You can't put all your eggs in one basket." Because at that point in time Google was making these sweeping algorithmic changes that people would just disappear overnight, and they don't do that so much anymore. But I still think that there's dangers out there that putting everything in Google's basket makes small businesses vulnerable, too.
Mike: Right. So, I think for a period businesses were turning to Facebook for organic reach and exposure, and then Facebook pulled that away. So, I think we're seeing in the marketplace a reflection of the fact that Facebook really is now pay-to-play if you want reach and that Google has ultimately dominated through effectively a monopoly the presale local search digital environment to other are still some opportunities in search outside of Google and Discovery. They're rare. So, I think some of this behavior is I would contend probably a reflection. But I would agree with you that, just because 90% of the digital KPIs are coming from Google, the question, though, is how do you allocate your marketing spend? How do you make a decision what to move forward? How do you avoid being too dependent on a single source for leads? All good questions.
Carrie: Yes. And I started thinking about what can a small business do to diversify those channels, where can they reach out to, where can they look for other opportunities. And, of course, the first thing that came to my mind was Yelp although that's a... It's tricky, because if you get too far down the rabbit hole with Yelp, you end up with the, the hard sale. Their sales guys are always calling you and...
Mike: Very low ROI and their ad product.
Carrie: Yeah, Yes. And I don't recommend buying ads on Yelp to any of my clients. Some of them have done it and done okay with it. So they say, "I don't think they did as well as they think did." But I just... So then I thought, "Okay. So beyond Yelp, what is there?" And I thought, a lot of...
Mike: Just as a note, I mean, the play at Yelp from where I sit is to get reviews. But we prevent you from soliciting reviews. So there's this whole constant struggle between asking clients for reviews or not. And also then Yelp, hides new reviews. So, I did write an article once about getting reviews at Yelp and how that fails. It's about a very laser-focused targeting by small businesses to get reviews at Yelp, and that is about the only strategy that I see at Yelp that makes any sense, is circumventing their filters, circumventing their rules, and surreptitiously targeting high Yelper users to ask for reviews. And I'm sorry.
Carrie: Definitely. And that's really the only thing you can do if you get...like, if you ask your wider client base for review at Yelp.
Mike: Waste of time.
Carrie: Eighty percent of them, it's gonna be their first review, and Yelp will filter it.
Mike: Right. Exactly.
Carrie: It will be gone. So, definitely it's a waste of energy.
Mary: And meanwhile, Yelp is one of the best barnacle sites for many, many local niches, and when they have those nice little stars next to their results on your brand page. So you can't ignore Yelp either. That one really is a tough one.
Mike: Right. And because of the way they do SEO, if your location is identified as one of the top 10 and can service in keyword searches, your location page, that can have a strong influence on pack results as well. So, it has secondary benefits. So, I would agree with you, though. Big pain in the neck, very difficult, and a little too sophisticated for most small businesses to engage in this precision strike that's necessary to be successful there.
Carrie: Right. For sure. And so, then I started thinking about Bing, because back in the day, Bing had a bigger market share. And we did more in Bing than we do now. We hardly ever mention them anymore. And the local...
Mike: Right. So, here's my thought on Bing in local search.
Carrie: Yes. And local search is tough.
Mike: So for those of you who are listening and not seeing, that was their head just got lopped off. It lost that battle end of story.
Carrie: Yes. I think they have... In a lot of cases, I think that there are small demographics that still use Bing, and I would say that was like………
Mike: Seventy-four and up. Yes.
Carrie: Yeah, Yes. They're older.
Mike: They're dying off, though.
Carrie: It's not the target . Go for it.
Mike: And they’ve got Internet Explorer and they're still using Windows 7. That's your clientele.
Carrie: Like a phone number in one button, because if it's anymore complicated than that, my mom is gonna call me and say, "Carrie, I can't figure out how to find their address."
Mike: Okay. So, for businesses that are focusing on some demographic other than seniors, what was your thought?
Carrie: Well, then I went to e-mail marketing and loyalty, because I think that, we go back always in marketing, too. It's way easier to keep a client than it is to find a new one. And so, remarketing to them via your e-mail marketing list or some loyalty program. And loyalty for me, it could be as simple as a punch card, and get as sophisticated as a phone app. It depends upon the size of your business and what you want to do with that. But I really like the idea of rewarding your customer with a discount after they've already committed to you. And that's something Mary and I talk about a lot in business. People come to us and say, "We're gonna bring a lot of business your way. Can you cut us a deal?" And the rule is not on the first one, on the fifth one maybe. But, that feeds into that loyalty program. And so, using some kind of a reward for your customer, I think that's a really good way to market to them. And, using e-mail marketing or tying that into e-mail marketing can absolutely benefit you outside of Google, no search needed, just, making sure you're collecting those e-mails in some way, shape, or form either as they shop or as they buy, as they visit your website, something like that. I think that the ROI on e-mail marketing makes it a no-brainer in almost every niche that I can think of.
Mary: The thing that we...
Mike: Go ahead.
Mary: The thing that we ran into, though, at our SMB event in Austin was where people were asking us, I mean, they think that e-mail marketing is just them sending e-mails out to their list on Outlook. And they have no idea how sophisticated it's become and how it's really its own way of marketing, you can optimize it as well. And I think that they're really missing out, because they don't even understand that it's not just sending somebody an e-mail. It's another viable form of marketing, remarketing I should say.
Mike: And it's a critical part of a marketing technology stack that's successful with every small business. If you can get the e-mail address, say, for example, you're already doing QuickBooks online, you can then use Zapier to flow it into get five stars. You can then generate first-party review content, which then can automatically flow out your website. You can then use those e-mail addresses that you moved over to...you can move them automatically using Zapier over to MailChimp and then use something like Tidings from David Mihm to auto-generate a newsletter that then also pushes out to your website, so that starting with this e-mail address at the top, you can bifurcate into a number of automated, easy-to-automate solutions for more reviews. And the review content go into your website for newsletter and the newsletter content go into your website so they can deal with both loyalty content and reputation with just by starting the act of getting the e-mail address. So, there's a lot of marketing automation that can occur around that very limited piece of data. Get it one way or another.
Carrie: For sure. And I think that there's a lot of companies Mary and I included that are happy to take on those little projects of just setting something like that up for them, because maybe that's not in their wheel house. But they've been burned by bigger companies that are like, "Oh, we can't take you on unless you commit to 6 months at $1,000 a month and sign this contract."
Mike: Do I hear a Yelp here?
Carrie: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely.
Mike: Amongst others. Right.
Carrie: Amongst others, and, agencies the same size as Mary and I will do things like that to their customers. And I think that small businesses have been burned. And so they're afraid to reach out and say, "Hey, I just need this thing and then teach me how to use it." And that's one thing that I do a lot of. I do... I set up, like, a lot of Google Analytics dashboards and show people how to read them. And then just let them go, because I like à la carte work. It keeps it interesting. I'm not doing the same thing all the time, but I think that a lot of small businesses are afraid to ask for that help.
Mike: Right. One thing about that flow, that marketing flow I mentioned, there's several outcomes of it that maybe are not obvious. One is by getting those reviews, you actually look better at Google by getting you visible at your own site, you get rich snippets, you get reviews of third-parties, you start looking better in Google searches. So, even if you're not ranking better, you'll get higher conversions. That engagement then will help, and also then the fact that you're using e-mail marketing to stay in touch with your critical client base, it's not just about keeping your existing clients. It's also about the word of mouth that they then will generate about you that you are staying in touch with them, that you are providing useful information. And then finally pushing all that content onto your site helps your content stay fresh. So, just by implementing that marketing stack, I believe that in the end through the engagement, the content, the rich snippets, you actually will rank better without doing anything else. I have clients that aren't doing link building, they're doing those things, and they're ranking better.
Carrie: Yes. Mary and I have really rethought what link building means for small business, and it's not just going out and getting links or marketing a blog post or something, marketing content. I think it's a lot about brand building and helping small businesses realize that their brand is a commodity that they need to promote, like the old-fashioned go into the rotary club networking things and stuff like that. That still works, you just do it differently now. And so, I think, there's loyalty... That neighborhood marketing leads into my next item, which was Facebook groups, which local Facebook groups can be extremely lucrative for the right business if you're a plumber, if you're a painter, a carpenter, a handyman, if you do home repair, carpet cleaning. Any of those niches, if you belong to your local Facebook group, there are people that go in there every day and say, “I’m in search of carpet cleaning. Who do you recommend?" The byproduct of that is people that are active on Facebook find your business on Facebook, review you on Facebook. That Facebook review could possibly feed into your knowledge panel in Google. So, again, that off-Google channel can potentially help you on Google as well, but I think, aside from that being involved in that group, having your brand ambassadors mention you when they see somebody else looking for someone. So, when you say to a happy customer, "Hey, we'd love it, love your word of mouth advertising. If you recommend us to your friends or if you see somebody in your Facebook groups that's looking for a carpet cleaner, mention us," that kind of thing. And then some groups allow advertising and some don't. But if they don't allow advertising, you can at least go in and say, "Hey, give me a call and leave your phone number." Most groups would allow that. I haven't found one that does not allow that. "I do this thing you're looking for. Give me a call." If your brand ambassadors do that, it's absolutely no problem either that I've seen. And I think it's Joy Hawkin's sister, her husband has a carpentry business or something like that. I'm not sure the six degrees of separation to him.
Mary: He's a handyman.
Carrie: He's a handyman, and he's completely filled up his time mostly by Facebook groups, just people looking for small job help. And so, I think there's a lot of opportunity there. Outside of Facebook PPC advertising, which is another one of my options of a non-Google channel, I think that it might be a little bit more sophisticated than a small business owner wants to get involved in, because to really do the right thing for you, it has to be really targeted really well and measured really closely. And that might be just a little bit too much for a SMB to handle. But I think it could be lucrative if you can maybe get some help setting it up and making sure it's set up correctly.
Mike: Barbara has done a good job of...even in spite of Facebook's reduction of organic reach of maintaining engagement on her Facebook page and then using boost to push the reach out further. So, just by periodically boosting for small amounts, she's been able to maintain an active post-sale environment where she communicates regularly with her clients to some effect. I think many clients it doesn't work because they don't have the engagement on Facebook, and so it doesn't work for everybody. I think one of the issues here is you have to find a technique that works for that business.
Mike: And like we said, Yelp is too complicated. Maybe Facebook advertising is too complicated. I think being social on Facebook, it's not so complicated. It just doesn't work for some businesses. It doesn't work for me, for example.
Carrie: Yes. I had a client that's a real estate company, and they're pretty active on Facebook. And they don't advertise, they do not spend money there. But they are very interactive, and they have some pretty good brand ambassadors that will comment or like on a majority of their posts. And that seems to get them a wider reach. The more they interact, and reply, and respond to people who comment, it seems like they have not seen the major dips in Facebook traffic after the change that Facebook made to remove those brand pages or not show as much of the brand page. I think that helps a lot of your... But you have to have a person that can do that. And if you're a one-man band or a two-person show, it's really hard to have somebody who can do work and be on Facebook all day. I mean, there's definitely, finding that person or that time, and if it's not in your wheel house, it's not in your wheel house. Find something else. And that's where we go back to maybe your local marketing stack where you're putting some things together that are automated. So, once a week you dump in your customers' e-mail addresses, and it all trickles down into that program for you where it's a lot easier for somebody who has a limited amount of time.
I think I have, like, two more things that I mentioned in my article. One of them was forums, and the reason...forums with a star, with an asterisk next to it, I think the forum has to be very closely related to where you are or what you do and preferably both. So, if you are a hotel operator or...okay, maybe hotel is not a good example. You're a tour operator in Tampa, Florida, and you do tours of rivers or, like, river tours or something. You being involved in the Tampa boards on TripAdvisor forums is a very good place for you to be involved, because there's a whole things to do section in that forum for that specific location where you could be helpful and maybe gain some business, but from that as well. And there's a lot of people that go into that forum and say, "Hey, have you used so-and-so? What did you think?" And if you're so-and-so, hey, say, "Hey, we'd be happy to help you out. Give us a call." And I think that that's pretty legal according to their forum rules. If you're a hot water heater installer, Whirlpool has forums where you can answer questions. The problem there is a lot of the questions might not be in your local area, and so that becomes, "Am I gonna get business from this? Maybe, maybe not." But, finding that intersection of niche and location in a forum if you have them in your area can be really lucrative. Bigger cities like New York, they have all kinds of websites with forums about boroughs and neighborhoods that you could probably get some business from if you operated in those areas as a small business. And the last one…….
Carrie: The last one I just had was app-based business. A lot of the barnacle SEO partners that Mary talks about that do well in Google also have apps that people use. And I'm thinking of things like Angie's List or those Handyman apps where you can go and say, "Oh, I got Angie's List up. I'm doing a remodel. I need a painter, I need a plumber, I need an electrician," and they're looking in the app. Make sure you're in those places. They're not going through Google necessarily, because they're going through that app, and you not being there is giving that business away to your competitor. Now, weighing the return versus the cost investment, because it's usually pay-to-play in those kinds of directories, you have to measure that and see if it's worth it for you. But I think that if you're in a big enough metro area, you could get enough business from something like that to make it worth your while.
Mike: So, here's my view of this whole thing that business needs to understand where their current business is coming from, because as much as we...as businesses like to think it's all coming from Google, a vast percentage is still coming from word of mouth. And so, I think it's critical that a business understand the ratio of offline and online acquisition. And then they probably should be allocating some percentage of their budget to reflect that reality. So let's say 50% is offline to word of mouth and 50% is online, then they may consider that being the split. And then the other side of it is if Google is generating, say, 90% of their local online business, then you might not...even though they are the prominent source, you might not devote 90% of your digital budget for that. You might devote 75% and leave the other 25% to experiment, and pick and choose from some of these ideas that you offered, try one that seems to fit. If it works, great, rinse and repeat until you've developed a couple of techniques that do fit your business and have good ROI. Because not everything has good ROI for every business. And then, finally, I would say back to the beginning that...and that includes Yelp. Is Yelp worth the aggravation as opposed to Angie's List or forums? Each of those have their own aggravations but in specific cases make a lot of sense. And then, finally, it would seem to me that there isn't a business in the world that wouldn't be served by e-mail, that if you're not doing e-mail, it is the lowest-hanging fruit that one could ever have. If you're a handyman and, like, your husband is getting or the painter, Joy's brother-in-law, getting all this work maybe runs into a slow period, well, he knows it's coming. He does an e-mail blast and says, "Yes. I got a free week next week," to the existing customers to fill in. So, even that business if he's taking the time to collect that data could leverage it and then leverage it for loyalty as well.
Mike: So, it would seem to me that e-mail is a no-brainer for everybody, and then you need to understand where your business is coming from, allocate your resources appropriately, leaving enough to experiment with so that you can work through some of these other channels one at a time to find one that works for you. And then keep rinsing and repeating.
Carrie: And I think, a key piece of what you're talking about, and I agree absolutely 100% with everything you said, is do this when you're not, "Oh, my God, I have nothing for my people to do next week." Test all these things and find these things for you when you don't actually need the business so that you're not, "Oh, this is not working. I'm exasperated. I don't know what to do with my people." It just compounds the problem and makes it that much more frustrating. You need to take a measured approach to it and understand that, "Hey, I'm gonna try this thing. We'll see how it turns out." Go at it with a positive attitude, see if it's gonna work out for you, great. If it doesn't work out, put it on the list of no and move on to the next thing. But it definitely...
Mike: Oh, that includes even diversifying Google. I think home service ads are a great example of that knowledge. It's a fixed-price ad. It's $12 to $25. If it works, it's a credible lead source. But you could turn it off and on with a button, so you could test it, get it working. And then if you don't need it, you're busy, you turn it off. But then you see it slowly coming, you turn it on so that you can, again, minimize...you're not getting more leads than you can handle, you're minimizing your expense. It literally is that simple. So, puts us back at Google, but in a slightly different way, right?
Mike: Through home service ads.
Carrie: Well, and really, I'm thinking of diversifying away. When I say diversity, I mean, away from Google organic or Google local organic. Anybody can pay, turn an ad on tomorrow if you really need an ad going. But if you need an ad going tomorrow because you don't have work for tomorrow, it's too late. You waited too long. And so taking a proactive approach to these things, I think, can make a great big difference for some companies, especially ones that live and die by, "Okay. I'm busy for the next two weeks, and I'm not busy the week after that. I need to fill the funnel a little bit. How do I do that?" Google organic is probably not gonna do that for you. Maybe if your Google post is going gangbusters, you might be able to throw a special on there, people see it, they might fill your funnel. But I'd argue you'd have a better opportunity with an e-mail going out saying, "Hey, I have space in two weeks. Anybody need new projects done?" If I get an e-mail like that, that list, that honeydew list in the back of my mind that my husband...or hanging on my fridge that my husband doesn't get done, I'm like, "Yes, please come. Hang the door, change these light bulbs in the garage that are 6 1/2 feet over my head that I can't reach." These things that I need done that he doesn't have time to do and we haven't had done, and you reminded me with an e-mail. I'm gonna call you and hire you, because I need it done.
Mike: All right. Well, I think with that we've covered the topic. Anything else to add?
Carrie: No. Just, think about it, people.
Mike: All right. Well, thank you for joining us for the Deep Dive in Local this week. We will talk to you next week. Bye, bye.
Carrie: Thanks, guys. Bye.