This is our Deep Dive Into Local from August 27, 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 in Local" with Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling. This week, we have Brandon Schmidt, the Director of Digital Strategy at YDOP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Recently, Brandon wrote an article about content strategies for local. I noted, as I read the article, the lead into the article was several situations where content strategy was misguided. Before we get there, though, perhaps you could just give people a little bit of background about yourself?
Brandon: Yes. So I'm the Director of Digital Strategy at YDOP. We help local small and medium-sized businesses reach their markets. Personally, I have been at YDOP for 3 years. Before that, I was an ordained pastor, and I was in ministry for 10 years. So I've written a lot before, and now I've turned that into marketing.
Mike: All right, Mary, so this is why you're not supposed to be dropping the F-bomb in this conversation.
Mary: That's right.
Mike: Because he was a pastor...
Mike: ...we're all gonna go to (bleep).
Brandon: That's right.
Mike: So tell us how types of content strategies...Obviously, everybody says, "Content, content, content," in the marketing world, and yet it often leads small businesses astray. Maybe you could summarize some of those wayward paths?
Brandon: Yes. Perfect. So we have a lot of clients of different sizes. And for a lot of the smaller clients, they have limited budgets, they have limited resources, and a lot of times the owner is the one that's also doing the marketing. And so he or she knows enough to be dangerous. And it's heard that content is king, and content is important. And so they say, "Well, let's write a blog post," or, "Let's, draft up something," or if they hire an agency, they tell them to write a blog post or write content. But what we see is, a lot of times, that's not really making a dent in increasing their rankings or increasing their search voice, and really just not driving sales or leads to their business. And so in our...
Mike: Yes. One of the points you made was, if it does drive sales, it's often national sales that don't convert locally.
Brandon: Yes. Yes. And that's a really good point. One of our clients in the past, they're a law firm in a certain state and so, really, they do a good job of writing content for their local audience. But there was one post that just got picked up nationally, and now they rank for featured snippets for a few different topics. But most of the people that are coming to the site are people from out of state that they don't really work with. So it's traffic, and that's almost like a vanity metric in that case that, it's increasing traffic and impressions. But it's not actually turning into sales, into leads that, actually are gonna help grow the business.
Mike: So what were some of the other misguided content strategies?
Brandon: Yes. So one of them is just, for smaller clients, they, know that they need to blog or they need to do content, but they were only willing to invest, a few hundred dollars. And so, either they were writing the content, or they were outsourcing it to someone else. But it was very generic, it didn't really connect with the audience, and so it's really just seeing, no traffic. They're not really...It's fluff on their website, essentially.
Brandon: Another one that we have seen, and this is, I think the third post on there, or the third example, is content that doesn't really connect with the intent of the audience. This is a client, they have been blogging for probably a decade. They've done a lot of good stuff, but they're either speaking to other industry professionals or they're speaking to the DIY community, and so they're really ranking high and getting a lot of traffic. But again, it's the wrong kind of traffic. They're getting a lot of people that are gonna go and do it themselves, and not necessarily hire this company to perform the task for them.
Mary: Yes. I'm afraid that I have to blame an awful lot of this worthless blogging on agencies who've been selling it, and I think because they don't know what else to sell local businesses. It seems like with Penguin, when they were all scared out of getting links, "content is king" was the next big battle cry. And everybody took off with it and didn't really qualify the fact that it needs to be quality content and not just worthless blog post after blog post.
Mike: Well, and as Brandon points out, quality content that, potentially, hopefully, targets an audience that you can convert. I mean, getting traffic to your website, like Brandon says, it's just even if you have a good article that ranks nationally, it may or may not and it's likely not to convert into any local business. So how does YDOP, how do you suggest small businesses and agencies approach content vis-a-vis local?
Brandon: Yes. And I would also say that, at YDOP, there's been times where we've kind of just said, "Well, let's just put a blog post together," because, we've tried other tactics and it hasn't worked or, they have a limited budget. And so, advertising might not be the best option for them. So I think what we try to pitch to our clients is, figuring out the right content for their audience. One of the things that I love to present to a lot of our service-based companies, the home improvement contractors and all, is case studies. focus in... obviously, there's some costs involved with that to get, good photos, high-quality photos. But featuring case studies, we can build out, a ton of pages about that, where we're highlighting, "Here's the project. Here's the city it was in. Here's the type of flooring that they installed. Here's, a quote or a testimonial." It's low-hanging fruit that I think all small businesses, especially service area businesses, can really invest in.
Mike: So you find these rank really well in localized organic results?
Brandon: It seems to help. Yes. especially, if we have a lot of clients that have, a service business that are reaching South Central Pennsylvania or the whole state of Pennsylvania, or even multiple states, but they only have a single office, it's a way to add content from all those outlying areas without the expense of adding more offices.
Mary: In my opinion, for those types of businesses, that's exactly the kind of thing people want to see. They want the details before they make a decision, and the more details the better.
Brandon: Mm-hmm. Definitely. Yes. Yes. And we see that with some of our heat-mapping software. the project galleries or, case studies, those tend to be one of the highly clicked areas in the main navigation.
Mike: Go ahead, Mar.
Mary: One thing that I see lacking quite often in case studies and project galleries is the people have failed to optimize their photos for human beings. I'm looking at this thing, and I'm just kind of having to guess what I'm looking at rather than getting a really good description of what I'm seeing and where it is.
Brandon: Mm-hmm. Yes. That's really important. And also, we try to find the right balance between, describing like, "Here's what the homeowners struggled with, and here's what they wanted, and here's what we achieved," and going too far into the weeds and saying, "This is a XL515 system." And, going into all the details that's probably more the industry floor talk that would probably only interest other people within that trade.
Mary: Right. But at the same time, you can say things like, "This flooring will stand up to dog traffic."
Brandon: Mm-hmm. Okay. Yes.
Mary: Which is the kind of thing that searchers want to know.
Brandon: That's good. That's a good point.
Mike: And in terms of the images, I think people don't realize that the web is essentially a low-res environment, that the image has to capture the content easily in a 300 by 300, or 500 by 500, or 800 by 800-pixel image, which are not very big images. And so the images...
Mike: ...have to be carefully crafted to, like Mary said, communicate the story and be visible at those relatively low resolutions. and I think a lot of businesses don't even understand how few pixels can actually be displayed in this context.
Brandon: Yes. That's actually a good point. And we have our creative director when we're building websites and when we're advising them on how to create, these case studies. If we're not taking the photos, most of the time, they're hiring a professional photographer or someone in-house. And we are helping them figure out, "Here's the angles we're looking for. Here's, what we're trying to achieve," because of that. it has to convey the right information on a mobile phone and on a 27-inch TV or screen.
Mary: And do you tend to put testimonials on those case studies as well?
Brandon: Whenever we can, Yes. Obviously, we have, like, if they've left a review, then we can incorporate that. For some of our clients, we actually try to see if we can interview their customer, so we can figure out, "What were their challenges? What made them choose our clients? How are they satisfied with it?" So we're not just hearing it filtered through our client. We can actually hear straight from them.
Mike: So besides case studies, what are some other content strategies you might try?
Brandon: So, obviously, case studies are stuff that we're trying to put on the website and trying to have that rank. but also helping our clients find avenues that may not be optimized for Google but is still optimizing for trend to generate more leads. So in email, that's still tried and true, it's a way to create a newsletter or create content that they would be interested in. And it helps build that brand affinity so that if there is, a slow time in your business or you're trying to ramp up for the next season, you can reach out and say to, your audience, "Hey, we're busy," or, "We need some more business. Contact us."
Mike: Yes. It seems so evident to me that if 35% or 40%, or 50% of your business comes from word of mouth, that you'd want to communicate with your existing customer base to, provide them with an understanding of how you've changed, what's new. Not just for their purposes, but for them to refer and to keep you front of mind. I find it fascinating that people get so wound up with search and search optimization, always finding the next new customer, that they forget that some fairly large percentage of their new customers are coming from direct referrals.
Brandon: Exactly. Yes.
Mike: Or from repeat business, both.
Mary: And I think a lot of agencies and a lot of businesses don't think of email as content, whereas it's very, very powerful content.
Mary: How about posts? Are you doing anything with posts at YDOP?
Brandon: With Google Posts?
Brandon: We love them. We love them. For, I would say, probably 75% of our clients, we are doing at least monthly posts, if not weekly posts. We do have a bunch of clients that, are in, monthly ads. they were doing a lot for Google AdWords, and so we tie that in. So whatever special they're highlighting on any ad platform, we'll include that as an offer.
Mike: And do you find that creates incremental conversions? Do check it at that level?
Brandon: We're still working on the best ways to track all that. a good amount of our clients are smaller. And so the statistics, we're still working on how to best prove all that and trying to figure out the best case studies within our own business as to what posts work best for what type of clients.
Mike: Mm-hmm. So we have case studies, we have emailed newsletters and sort of period emails, and Google Posts. What are some other content ideas that you've seen successful in local?
Brandon: Yes. Just hyper-local stuff. We have a few clients that are really, like, the main source of information and cultural information, if you will, for their cities, and so providing hyper-local stuff. It's starting to get into fair season here in Lancaster County, so having like a guide to the fair. Again, it's not 100%...This, again, is starting to buck the trend of creating content that will drive leads, but it's more of just highlighting their role within the community. So I guess, what I'm trying to say is that we're trying to get away from, "Here's five things when you're looking for an HVAC contractor," because every other HVAC contractor is putting that same thing out. Instead, we're trying to really highlight that, "This is the local contractor that you want to trust because they're part of the community. They're involved in all these community activities. And you should call them."
Mike: So traditional PR repurposed in a digital context, either on news sites or their site, that highlights their relationship to the community? But it's hyper-local, as opposed to it being national.
Mike: This is the kinda thing where, if you were a doctor, you could take, "Don't eat the elephant ears at the local fair because fried dough is no good for you,".
Brandon: Yes. Yes. That's a good point. Yes. Yes.
Mike: Although, you gotta eat elephant ears at least once a year, right?
Mary: Yes. "Healthiest thing at the fair," that would be good [sounds like].
Brandon: That's right. That's right.
Mike: deep-fried Oreos.
Brandon: I mean, whoopie pies, they're our favorites around here.
Mike: Oh, whoopie pies. Yes.
Brandon: So that's always a good choice too. Yes. And as an agency, we develop...
Mike: "Good choice," yes. We have to use air quotes around that.
Brandon: Yes. So, Yes. As an agency, we've also been developing some relationships with some other sites, very hyper-local sites within our area, so that we have a steady stream of guest posts going over to them. I would probably say 50% of the guest posts at one site, in particular, are coming from our clients. And so that's a way to just get in front of a new audience and to, send traffic, and really to make that connection to our local community.
Mike: So we're coming onto 15 minutes. And so maybe you could just give us a summary of how to develop a local content strategy?
Brandon: Yes. So I think it's important to really get to the basics of, what are you trying to do with your website? What are you trying to do with your digital marketing? for a lot of our clients, we're trying to help them increase leads, increase phone calls, increase form submissions, or increase foot traffic into their store. And so figuring out what avenues are gonna be the best platform for that, whether it is traditional, blogging, if it's more the PR hyper-local content, or if it's, just email marketing or just staying connected to your existing audience. Obviously, budget has to, play a role in that. For us, we work really well with, either the client writes the content and then we tweak it, we provide guidance on that or, an agency can write the content for you and interview, the industry expert on that. And then, honestly, it's just a matter of like trying, figuring out what responds with people, measuring it, seeing, what Google is saying about it, setting up ETM codes if it's off-site, and figuring out what's gonna work best in their context. And then, once you find that success, then you just replicate it.
Mike: Any other questions Mar?
Mary: No. But that's all great advice, Brandon. Thank you.
Mike: Yes. Thank you very much for joining us, Brandon. We'll link to your article at Local U and link to your profile at YDOP, so if people want to get in touch with you, they certainly can. Thanks for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Brandon: Appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Mike: And enjoy those elephant ears at the fair.
Brandon: We will.
Mary: Yes. Right. Fair season.