This is our Deep Dive Into Local from July 9th, 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: Hey. Welcome to "Deep Dive into Local." Mike Blumenthal here with Carrie Hill and Colan Nielsen from Sterling Sky. So, Colan wrote a great article on achieving the next level of ROI and reporting. And we wanted to invite him on so he could speak to businesses and agencies as to how they do that, why they do it. So, Colan, why don't you introduce yourself real quickly, if you would?
Colan: Sure. My name's Colan. Been in the local SEO space since 2010. I work at Sterling Sky as the Head of Local Search there, alongside Joy Hopkins. We've got a small growing team there. And we do local search all day, every day, basically. So, Yes, that's me.
Mike: So, you're also a top contributor at Google, and I know I've seen you in a lot of local news, and you've been in local a long time. I know this article focused on using call tracking to, and then not just using call tracking to understand the source of calls, but to extract more valuable insights into business. Could you talk about how you came up with the process and broad level what it entails?
Colan: Sure. Yes, so the historical a-ha moment we had that made us start doing this process was, so there's a question we ask our clients on a quarterly basis, , Net Promoter Score would be one question that we're asking our clients constantly. Another one that's really important is we'll ask them, , "In the last few months, your sales, are they up, are they flat, or are they down?" And then, based on that question, there's things that us, as your marketing partner, have to do. So, we were having a conversation with, this was a personal injury attorney out of Chicago, and it indicated that their sales had been down for the last couple of months.
Mike: Although, I would contend that every personal injury attorney lies about that. They all claim their sales are down this month, . But, anyway. Sorry for the interruption.
Colan: So we, so on our side, we looked to see, okay, is call volume down? Are contact form fills and leads down and all that type of stuff? They weren't. They were going up in the same period that the calls, or their sales were going down. So, we said, "Okay. Let's listen to their phone calls and let's actually see if there's some other issue that's happening." I think it was Joy's idea. She originally came up with this. And we're listening to their phone calls and we realized that this personal injury attorney had hired a virtual assistant over the last few month to handle their inbound calls and there was a huge training gap. So, basically, simple questions like, "Do you guys cover or handle dog bite cases?" would be one where the person answering the phone for the law firm literally didn't know the answer to that and said, "I'll have to get back to you. I'll find out but I'll get back to you." So, that was happening over and over again. So, we're like, "Wow. That's a huge insight. If we can share that with the client," which he had no idea this was happening, there's huge value in terms of how work perceived as a partner with that business. We also noticed that a lot of the calls were going to voicemail. So, there was correlation between their sales going down and the fact that they were having training issues, for example.
Mike: Yes. So, I mean, it's interesting on multiple levels. One, as an agency, you're taking basic reporting and turning it into a higher level function so that accountability is there. what you're doing, they know what they're doing, and you can, hopefully, identify who in that process is the break. And also, it brings you in closer to the client on an ongoing basis, so you become a bigger part of their processes rather than just the guy who does or the company that does SEO.
Carrie: I think you'd be completely surprised. I run into this a lot when I implement call tracking for clients. They have no idea what the person who answers their telephone says or does as a job. Nine times out of 10, they have no clue. I had a client whose, every single lead that came in, and they were chemical manufacturer, so we're talking like $100,000, $200,000, $300,000 leads, are coming in to somebody who answers the phone and their standard answer is, "I don't know. You have to talk to Matt about that." One person in their entire company could answer questions. And so, everything got funneled into this poor Matt guy who was not returning phone calls. So, a lot of the repeat phone calls were, "Yes, Matt hasn't called me yet," The insight into overhauling your business process is really important there as well.
Mike: So, this process, obviously you've come up with a standardized process at Sterling Sky that allows you to systematize at least the steps of it. I assume the content is different every quarter. But what challenges, like, what are the parts of that process that you've formalized and what challenges did you find as you were trying to create repeatable system out of it?
Colan: Well, first and foremost, the biggest challenge and the most important factor is just getting the consent, first of all, from the client. So, the way we do, we use CallTrackingMetrics for the majority of our clients. CallRail is obviously the other really big one. , we don't set up the account. We give the client the information so that they can set up their CallTrackingMetrics account then come back to us, and they understand that this is their data, their information, their clients. So, getting that consent for us to actually go in there and start listening to phone calls is the first challenge and probably the most important part. And the reason why it can be challenging at first is you have to educate the client as to why the heck you would want to go in and start listening to their calls in the first place when they've hired you on as an SEO agency. But then, that's where the the beautiful stuff that's happening is from that conversation they have the a-ha moment and realize, "Okay, wait a sec. These guys are more than just an SEO company, and they're able to draw insights from these things I never would've thought of," and ultimately tie back to their SEO campaigns.
So, that would be the biggest challenge, is getting consent. Coming up with a taxonomy or a good labeling system is really important if you plan on doing this, say, on a quarterly basis with your clients. We learned quickly and the hard way that, for example, when you're creating labels within CallTrackingMetrics, it's very case sensitive. So, we labeled half of the calls that went to voice mail with a lower case V and the other half with an upper case V, and it splits them out into two different reports. So, that was a challenge that probably we wasted about three hours on that because it was our first time going through it.
Mike: So, do you pick the taxonomy or do you ask them or is it a collaborative effort?
Colan: Collaborative efforts depending on the clients. But it's pretty standardized other than, for example, we'll refer to a new patient, if it's a dentist, for example, but we'll call it a new customer if it's a different vertical. But other than that...
Mike: And if it's a lawyer, you'll call it a new mark?
Carrie: New mark.
Mike: Sorry. I'm full of lawyer jokes today. I can't help it.
Colan: I love it. Yes. Our standard, we’ve got new customer, existing customer, whether or not the person hung up, , maybe they didn't even go to voicemail, if it's not somebody they can help, maybe they had the wrong number, telemarketer is another one we'll label, whether or not you wrote a quote on the phone, so that would apply to something like the insurance world, and then voicemail. Those are our standard labels that we use.
Mike: So, who does the labeling? Do they have staff do it or do you folks do it?
Colan: So, initially we will do it. And then, what we have been trying to do lately is because this is a valuable process, but it's also something that with a little bit of training, we could show them how to do this, whether it's their receptionist or the front desk person or the person handling customer service. So, lately, we've absolutely started creating little walk-through videos where we'll actually take them through the exact process within CallTrackingMetrics to do this, and then we can hand it off to them. And then, the only part we play from that point moving forward is communicating with them when they go through this process to say, "Well, let's talk about the insights that you gained from listening to your phone calls," and then maybe it's stuff we can take action on.
Mike: So, this video, do you customize it per industry or per client or you just have one that you do for general?
Colan: Yes. This one, it's a brand new thing that we've just started doing. So, it's customer-focused. The video will start off with, "Hello, Mister Client. We just wanted to walk you and your team through how to do this process that we've been doing for you," and then, Yes, just hand the video over to them.
Mike: So, you mentioned in our notes that we asked you for that one of the things you didn't talk about in the article but that the system allows is allows you to analyze keywords that triggered calls, and then correlating those calls, those keywords, with call quality and whether or not you're actually closing. So you can actually measure the attribution from search, all the way through to the close and you can make an assessment as to the quality of both the keyword, as well as the interaction. So how, could you just elaborate on that?
Colan: Yes. It's simple. You explained it pretty much. That's what it is. Within CallTrackingMetrics and within CallRail, AdWords-triggered calls in particular will, you'll see the keywords that actually triggered the phone call. So, for example, you can identify certain keywords that tend to drive phone calls of a particular nature that maybe is not so valuable to the clients. One example would be we work with a project investigator and they do 99% of their business through polygraph testing and lie detector tests. The problem is that 50% or more, I think it's probably like 60%, 70%, of those phone calls just end up being tire kickers. Either they can't afford it or they're just shopping around and they don't turn into business. But we are able to do a little bit of correlation and see the particular search terms that somebody searched as that tends to be the person that doesn't turn into an actual client that's going to use your polygraph services. So, that stuff is really valuable.
Mike: I see. Do you have any questions about that, Carrie?
Carrie: No. I think it's really interesting. I love CallTrackingMetrics because you can get that enhanced caller ID information that the other ones don't give you. And I think one of the things that I use it for as an agency is to show the client, "These are the keywords that are driving your phone calls, and this is what's important to you," because they always have those vanity keywords that they think are important, but when you can give them "These are the calls that the keywords that are driving the phone calls, that are driving the leads into your business, and this is what you're selling," versus "This is what I think, I think, I think, I think." Changing that narrative to "This is" from "I think" is really an important piece of showing, , return to any client.
Colan: Just somewhere on that same note, and then tying in, like, the client education part, I just thought of something there was we actually have a couple of clients, one in particular who I'm proud of it and I'm happy that it's worked out this way, but it's... So, basically, we taught them how to go through this process, listen to your calls and label them and draw insights from them, and they'd become so religiously into this process that whenever we're doing any type of reporting to them, they'll contrast that reporting with everything that they've gone through, all their new, their phone calls in the last week or two. So, what it does, it creates this amazing opportunity to have this conversation where we're reporting on something and the client is going, " Well, hold on a sec. This is actually what I'm seeing or when I'm listening to all the phone calls," and then that creates this really amazing conversation that even though they're going, "Well, hey, Yes. I know you told me you sent 200 leads, but only five of them were actually quality calls." Okay, maybe that's not such a great thing. But the fact that they know how to do that now, that starts the conversation and they have that trust, it's really powerful in that way.
Mike: So, you have the standardized onboarding process, an approval process. Do you have a standardized reporting content and process?
Colan: I would say, in terms of the reporting, we just include it in our monthly reports, , maybe three, four times a year, is when we'll actually go through this whole process of listening to, like, a month's worth of phone calls. So, at that point, it'll just be included on the slide in our monthly reports, and any insights that we drew from that particular session, listening to the calls, we'll highlight those on the report. And in an ideal situation, what are the insights, but then, what are the action items, based on those insights?
Mike: How long does that take your agency to do typically or a range? I mean, we talking an hour to do the listening and the report, or two or four hours?
Colan: Yes. Depends on call volume. We can typically do between 100 and 200 phone calls and get insights from that in an hour to two hours, because you're obviously not listening to the entire phone call. Another really cool thing that we've started doing is just paying the extra fee and having the phone calls transcribed. And then, you can do keyword searches and just look for particular things in that transcription of the phone call.
Carrie: That's super valuable for content creation as well, when you don't have the content that people are looking for. There's definitely a lot of benefit to that.
Mike: So, how do you bill for the call trackings? I assume you do this just with every call tracking client, this level. How do you bill for it? I mean, what happens if they're doing it versus you're doing it or? So, how do you integrate this into your billing?
Colan: Yes. We bake it in, essentially. We, all of our clients are on a monthly retainer-type basis. So, if we just determine that on a particular month, that this is a valuable thing to do and to spend time on, we just use the time and we'll do it that way. And then, as far as...
Mike: Do you find that you do this more when you first bring a client on to validate their quality or do you just still do wait, do it every quarter?
Colan: Typically, once you bring someone on, get all the call tracking set up, it probably would be at the end of the first, like, three months working with the business. Yes.
Mike: So, you had this, you posited a question that I will let you answer, which is, why would an SEO agent want to spend time on something that's beyond the technical aspects and those mechanical routine aspects of SEO?
Colan: Yes. So, one of the big ones would be the keyword data. As you're going through listening to calls, you're also being able to correlate it to a higher level, just the things that people are searching. So, that's directly tied to SEO.
Mike: It allows you to improve your SEO and your AdWords campaign. Clear. Perfect. And?
Colan: And then, beyond that, it just goes back to the relationship with the client and the fact that no matter what, if you want to have that relationship beyond, say, a year, which I think is like a typical amount of time that a business will stay working with the same SEO agency, like, turnover is pretty high, you have to be able to be concerned about their sales and their quality and all that type of stuff. So, you're not going to be doing SEO for a long period of time past that one, two-year mark if you're not doing these types of things.
Mike: So, there's accountability on both ends. You can hold a client more accountable, they can hold you accountable. In that relationship, you can, thus, create a longer-term relationship, so you don't have to replace as many clients every year. Obviously, a huge benefit from a SEO point of view. Anything else Carrie?
Carrie: Actually, I was just going to ask Colan. Do you see this as a... As an agency, we all get those leads and those prospects that come in that are really gung-ho and they want to be involved, and then you start ticking off the boxes. "Okay, we need you to do this, we need you to do that." I see this as one of those things where if they're not willing or if they, no matter what you do, don't buy in, that's one of those flags that goes up that's like, "Okay, I don't know if we can do this." Because we always want those things to happen at the beginning and know, "Okay. Maybe this isn't going to work out," question and answer to know each other, period. Do you use this as that that gauge as well as, "Okay. If you're not going to give us the credit for this or take the time to understand this, is this really a relationship that can move forward?" Because I do think that an SEO agency or a local SEO agency, and a business, especially small business, we have to be partners in it. And I think, a lot of times you can use this as a way to say, "Okay. You're not going to be a good partner."
Colan: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. It's not something that, and I think that's a brilliant idea. It's something that could be more baked into your planned onboarding process or even before that part, which we definitely haven't really done. But by default, I think just doing this within the first three months of working with someone, it reveals the nature of the friendship, so to speak, or the nature of your relationship and how willing they are to let you do your thing as the expert and say like, "This is valuable. I'll show you why. It's not something you're used to." So, Yes. Very smart. I like that.
Carrie: Well, and I think it helps you answer the questions, businesses who want to grow are businesses that can take constructive criticism and growth from it. And I think call quality and the way calls are handled is one of those things where you can really tell that. I used to have a vacation rental client who every bad review they got was because the customer was terrible. But in all actuality, their front office gal was a nightmare. A nightmare. And they blamed the customer and would not change their processes. And that was one of those where I was like, "Okay. I can't help you. I can't do this." So, I think that you guys have a great process, and the way you bake it in to your monthly retainer, I think, for agencies is something that they really need to think about. I don't think call tracking can be an afterthought or this, "Hey, let's try this neat thing," like it used to be anymore.
Mike: So, to close here, Colan, why don't you just tell people where they can find this article. Tell us the URL. And any closing thoughts you might have on how long you've been doing this and how do you think it might change it in the future to make it better for both you and the client.
Colan: Yup. So, you can find us on the Sterling Sky blog. And I've been doing this for about probably eight or nine months now. And then...
Mike: Sterling Sky is sterlingsky.ca, by the way. I consistently type sterlingsky.com and don't find it. Sterlingsky.ca/blog. Is that where it is?
Colan: Yes. And Yes, I think this is just the critical, new, a critical way for SEOs to think moving forward. And again, like Mike, I mentioned in the blog, that this was inspired by, putting this blog together and sharing it with people was inspired by the Street Fight Mag article you did about going beyond SEO. And that is going to be so critical. It already is so critical is, "What can I do that's not just your standard templated things that are going to make me more than just an SEO and actually be a partner with the business I'm working with?"
Mike: That's a great way to close. Thank you very much for joining us.
Colan: Thank you for having me.
Mike: And we'll talk soon. Thank you again.
Carrie: Bye, guys.