SMX West 2011: Local Search Tactics Session

Good morning, Vietnam SMX! We’re bringing out the big guns aka my 10 nimble fingers to bring you (near) real-time coverage from the trenches of SMX West, here in the heart of Silicon Valley.

SMX West logo

Before we begin, on a side note, last night’s Meet & Greet kickoff to SMX was great! It’s good to see so many familiar faces in person. Good people, good conversation.

In this session, we have a group of panelists (including our very own Bruce Clay) who are talking important factors in local search – things that any business concerned with interacting with local customers should focus on.

Moderator: Greg Sterling, Founding Principal, Sterling Market Intelligence

Q&A Moderator: Max Thomas, President & Founder, Thunder SEO


Benu Aggarwal, President, Milestone Internet Marketing
Mary Bowling, Director of Search Engine Marketing, seOverflow
Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc.
Andrew Shotland, Proprietor, Local SEO

Greg starts the conversation, and introduces first panelist — beginning with Bruce! Bruce ask if people remember he gets quoted a lot for ranking is dead and started to say he’s going to start 10 years earlier by saying local is dead. Everyone laughs.

He is going to talk case studies. One of the best ways to find out what’s going on in search is case studies. He is talking about “Brick and Web Media.” Wasn’t ranking prior. He says you can submit your site by hand into 22 sites. Those 22 sites feed to more than 300 sites. One of those sites is Google. Once it was submitted, it began to rank.

The credibility of your site depends on who thinks you’re credible – those 22 sites. You need to get in – but even that’s not enough. Side note: Bruce is talking about the local map and how the map isn’t always moving as you scroll because the click-through rate for PPC went down.

Bruce is talking about how the first results in local search are not necessarily the “organic results” anymore. [They are served up organically, but it is local-focused]. Bruce says Google makes more money with local with PPC.

When people throw in videos and images, the more likely it is there is some biased for local on that page. Who you are, where you are, what device you’re using, your intent, your behavior all bias the way the SERP is going to look. You will get different things.

Bruce says he’s not a sushi fan. But, he did do a search for “sushi” in Arizona. Then the same search for the location Montana. Both return Yelp results. But, when you change the query to “sushi restaurant,” you get the 7-pack. But no sushi restaurants – shows pizza places and such.

His point is that Google Instant is showing different types of results, before you even finish typing, either 7-pack, 10-pack, Yelp reviews, a mix of organic results mixed with local, etc. Setting the location matters.

Bruce says the difference between organic and local is the ads. You can’t put ads on organic; you can put ads on local. People don’t know that the 7-pack isn’t organic (the average searcher). This is going to change the way we do SEO. The top three is everything now.

When you optimize for search, many sites can show up in a couple weeks to months (can be a slow process). Review sites are the most critical. Must get in those sites.

Next up is Benu Aggarwal.

She is talking about on-page and off-page factors and how to optimize your site using these. Many people in the room raise their hands for being location-based businesses. The fundamentals for local are the same for organic, she says.

She says you have to fix your website even if you claim your local listing. Make your tags local in your Head section. If you have a physical address, put the address in the footer. This gives validity to your location. Put local numbers, not 800 numbers. Search engines want to know you’re a local business. Rich snippet is Google’s way of indexing the most critical information in your site.

You want to saturate map search, images as well as organic. You can create a map and upload it on Google Docs. It gives you a code you can put on your site. When people go on Google Maps, they are looking for things to do. If you embed the code, every time your site shows up, your map is getting used. You’re associating yourself with all the local businesses in that area.

Mobile searches very much have location intent. Thirty to 40 percent of traffic coming from mobile devices. Make sure you have content specific to the queries. Images: huge traffic for this. Create a Sitemap for images and name them for the location with keyword phrases. It’s very easy to rank in images and mobile because the competition is low.

Hyperlocal such as Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.– same way validating in these as in Google Places. Everything must be consistent across mediums. She is talking about reviews and its significance on local search. You can create reviews on your site. Use the format that the SEs are asking you to create reviews. This is the best medium, your own site. OK to have negative reviews, it might impact conversion but still good to have.

She is talking about Google Hotpot now. What’s the problem Google is trying to solve? Google knows how important reviews are. Don’t neglect it; it could be a very strong layer soon. Claim your listing first; ask people to leave reviews on Hotpot. She said the Hotpot app for mobile is incredibly user-friendly.

She is concluding – leverage all the factors you can with local search – it’s like old-fashioned organic optimization. If you only do two things: make sure data is consistent across the board and the Places page is optimized.

Next is Mary Bowling.

Do the basics first, she says. Claim, verify and build out local listings at Google Places, Yahoo! Local. Optimize your site for local terms. Your website can positively influence your local rankings. The Web and “Everything” search and Places search is aligning. The Maps results is not coming along with it.

Categories are often overlooked but they are very critical to local search. You need to be in the big overarching categories. Places allows you to pick five categories, use all five. You have to pick a pre-existing category by Google first. Don’t put up crummy custom categories. Does the query bring up local search results? Test it.

Try to avoid using categories that are polar opposites if you provide multiple services, snow blowing in the winter versus landscaping in the summer. Set them up as their own businesses with own contact information instead.

The number of reviews have lost some of its influence in ranking factor [perhaps from the DecorMyEyes incident?]. Anonymous reviews aren’t going to have much weight in a couple years, in her opinion. Look at the search results to see where Google is finding reviews about businesses similar to your and promote reviews there.

Even if review were not a ranking factor at all, you still need a strategy for those. Respond to bad reviews, get good reviews. Use them to improve your business. This will help attract new customers to your business.

Citations or mentions of your business name with your phone number and address is equivalent to links. The more the citations are consistent on trusted websites, the better. Look at your competitors Places pages to find out where they are being cited. Also look at your own citations, go to those places and see if you can make your citations better.

Link building for local: Sites where you can get a link or citation and where customers can leave reviews is a great site [like Yelp]. Local authority sites good, industry authority sites. Get links from sites that have your location in the Title tag, your business name, etc.

Get links to the local pages on your site. Your contact page, about page, maps pages, testimonial pages. Build links to those pages. You can use the PageRank on those pages to build up some other pages.

Finally, we have Andrew Shotland. [Charles from Microsoft did not make it today, FYI.]

He’s going to talk about other things aside from Google Places. Basically, if you’re not a local business and don’t have a location, you’re screwed. How can you get traffic? Google is not the only game in town. There are ways to get around it. Local SEO strategies tend to get into a grind. Let’s get more creative.

There are plenty of searches that don’t show Google Place SERPs. For example, “synagogues in Utah” – everyone chuckles. Get trendy with your Places page. There was a bomb incident in Chicago, and a Place page ranked for a product that had the word “bomb” in it.

If you sell stuff, you can show up in Google Shopping. There’s markup language you can use. Google Shopping is a local query. Another interesting find: He searched for an electrician in Seattle and got a news result (pre-algo update for content farms).

Video is awesome for SEO. It drives click-throughs. Video SEO is straightforward and easy. Upload to YouTube and your own site, optimize with keywords. Comment on more popular videos and then the spiders will crawl your profiles and find your videos.

“Like” yourself. If you like everything on your website, those URLs will start showing up in the Facebook search. You can quickly rank for things in Bing from activity in Facebook. Just by creating a Facebook page and having lots of fans and other things, you can rank in the top for months. It helps to be an authoritative user of the site.

Join the Twitter chamber of commerce. There are a lot of businesses in Twitter. Local businesses can be lonely in Twitter. If you follow them and talk with them, you’ll start getting followers from them and their people in the network. Good for building a community around your business, product and service.

Cheap tactic he still can’t believe works: Rank for local brand queries, for example, “New York Facebook,” “plumbers on Twitter,” etc.

Second and third-tier sites still get a lot of traffic, upwards of 30 million queries a month for some, like Avantar (Yellow Pages app on mobile). Look into those. If you can rank for black wedding dress in images, that’s a local SERP, too.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

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2 Replies to “SMX West 2011: Local Search Tactics Session”

Wow…great transcript Jessica…THIS would have been my own #1 session pick to attend if I could’a been there…does anyone know if there’s a video of this online somewhere too?



Thank you, Jim! So happy we could provide that for you! I don’t think any cameras were rolling, but I could probably track down some slide decks. Have a great day!


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