Interview with Local Marketing Experts Jake Puhl & Adam Zilko

Feb 27th
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Local SEO Interview.

This is Eric here at SEO Book and today we're going to be talking all things local search with a couple of local search experts from Firegang.com.

Jacob Puhl and Adam Zilko are joining us today, thanks for the time guys and we are thrilled to have you here.

Adam: Thank you.

Jacob: Thank you.

For our readers (and listeners), this is quite a deep, informational interview so we've added a couple things to make the information perhaps a bit easier to digest.

Below is an mp3 file which you can download or listen to at your leisure, and I've included links below to make it easier for you to jump back and forth between specific questions/answers. Also, there is a resource section at the end which contains links to any tool or resource mentioned in the post.

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Play File (mp3 link)

Eric: All right, so we've got a lot of questions to get through, here, so I'm going to jump right in. They're actually members here in the SEO Book Forums, and anybody who's listening to this who is a member has probably been amazed at some of the information that they give out. They're definitely experts at this, so we're happy to have them on and get some answers to some of the questions that you folks have been asking.

Interview Sections

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Local Keyword Research

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So I think we'll start with probably a broader question that a lot of people have questions about typically. Running a local SEO campaign, the first part obviously, is how do you go about conducting your initial keyword research for a new site or an existing site? As we know, volume and information tends to be sparse. Do you have specific tools that you use? Do you look at competing sites? How do you do that?

Adam: I can take that, sure. So what we do, if we don't have the data already, of course, is we try to assess competitive sites. We base keywords around services. So if you're, let's say, an attorney practicing in personal injury, then you have certain things you would focus on: car accidents, worker's compensation, to a degree, or wrongful death or things to that effect. So what we do is we build keywords around those service areas. The same thing with dentists: emergency dentistry, orthodontics, root canals, the list goes on basically.

And then what we also have is an in depth intake form that all of our clients are required to fill out when we bring them on. So essentially what they do is they go through and they give us all of the services that they offer and then they tell us how they would search for them. That gives us a base for us to then start doing some research with. Then basically, from the services they mentioned, we can assess variations and if we need to, we can look at large markets and try to assess background profiles, basically based on their anchor text profiling and so on. And then we also try to look at their sites to see how they laid them out. If they've done it right, we can see what key phrases they've built their page copy around and their URL structure around and so on.

Jacob: And carrying on with that, we also look at... Usually clients have Google Analytics already installed, so if they give us access to that, we can pull the past year and see what kind of long-tail traffic that they've just happened to pick up, so that gives us a good indication there.

And then regarding keyword volume, that's an interesting one. Obviously, the best way and the most accurate way is to run a Pay-Per-Click campaign. We've run so many Pay-Per-Click campaigns in different cities that we have an idea based on population and based on business sector how much volume there is out there.

So, for example, we'll take Cincinnati. There's about 1.7 million people here, and we know that a roofer, the roofing industry, there's about 30,000 searches there. I know that, just from past experience, for example, dry cleaners, there's about 5,000 searches. So you can use that to gauge, and then extrapolate on that, based on population size. And you're making assumptions here, but let's say that in a town that's smaller than that, half that size, then you can assume that there is half that volume.

The other thing is looking at Impressions for Google Places. So we'll take a look at different clients in different industries. For example, Population 2 million. We may have about 1,000 to 1,500 Impressions on a fairly high ranking dentist, for example. So those are ways to really gauge different markets and then take population to create ratios and extrapolate that.

Using PPC for Local SEO Campaigns

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Eric: Interesting. So you did mention PPC in there a little bit. I wanted to piggy back on that. Do you find that PPC is crucial for keyword research? Or is it more important on a new site versus an old site? Or does your model of sort of having this data about core industries based on your experience outweigh that a little bit? Or do you find that clients aren't willing to spend that money up front for PPC or how does that usually work?

Adam: I'll take that. So, PPC isn't terribly important to do this whole process. We have a lot of experience knowing or having a good idea as to what services that clients will typically try to focus on for your main headings; your dentists, your attorneys, and so on. So we have a good feel as to what people typically search for when it comes to those. But again, we just try to focus everything back around those main services that those clients offer, and what those... You know, if you were to just section those out, PPC really isn't going to tell you anything more than what you should already have a good idea of.

So when we have our core keywords, let's say for instance it was cosmetic dentistry in a given geographical market; what we can do is we can write out a page copy and whatnot and try to build a backlink profile with diversity in those keywords. But we don't need a Pay-Per-Click to tell us that people look for cosmetic dentistry if that's something that the client does, because there's only going to be so many variations to a decent degree of that: teeth whitening maybe, Zoom, Ambizonline, things to that effect, if they offer those services. If they don't, then obviously you're not going to go after that.

So that just directly ties into your anchor text and we try to basically internally link our backlink profiles and our anchor texts to those pages that are actually built around those specific keywords, if that makes sense. Tell me if it doesn't.

Leveraging Market Knowledge for Keyword Research

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Eric: No, it does. So you've got, say, for instance, you know, the core keywords sort of don't change from market to market, it's just obviously the geographical targeting, so it's not so much the volume. I mean, the volume is going to be what it's going to be. You're more interested in finding out what's actually relevant to the business and going from there, because you can't change the volume, but you can make sure at least the campaign is as targeted as possible.

Adam: Right, and we'll still take their main services and run them through Google's Keyword tools or other tools that we have and we'll check other... I mean, depending on which market, some markets might type in dentists + city and other markets might more heavily type in the city + dentist. So we take that into effect. It typically is not the variation isn't so much that we don't have a good base to start with, if that makes sense.

Eric: Right, yeah.

Jacob: I would add to that too; sometimes we can comb through some of the long-tail in Pay-Per-Click and basically just see some insights that we didn't see before. For example, with a dentist, we've found that people are actually searching by insurance type, so we found those to be really fruitful keywords for us. A lot of times, just brand names, let's say you have Interior Designer or Interior Decorator, we find through Pay-Per-Click that they would search brand names. Each industry does have some long-tail out there that is easily discoverable through Pay-Per-Click, however, the business owner 9 times out of 10 can tell you those right off the bat.

Eric: Right. So it's more of interviewing a little bit too, rather than going right to the keyword tool.

Jacob: Right.

Organic Strategy vs Places

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Eric: So after you get into the keyword research and you look at the different things, obviously a big thing that you must deal with or that you have to deal with now is localization, specifically with maps. We get a lot of questions on ranking in maps, how that differs from ranking in the traditional search, if in some cases you can even tell the difference anymore. So what would you say the key differences are between the two when you're looking at your organic campaign versus your maps campaign?

Adam: Right, and I'd like to preface this; we do have national clients, we have several of them, and we do have some real life examples as to the differences between the two. But with the maps, there's far more variations that you have to deal with. Organically, you can link build and assuming that you did it right, you can see a steady increase in results. But with the maps, you've got to worry road citations, dealing with Google's terms of service when optimizing your proximity results.

So recently Google was showing maybe just a downtown of a city versus entire cities, so let's say you have an attorney that was just outside the downtown radius, they wouldn't show up anymore, so how do you deal with that? And again, there's no manual. Google doesn't say that, "Hey, we've just come out and changed these." You'll just wake up one day and the maps listings will be completely different.

And so the main difference really is the ongoing management of your citations, and you've just got to try to watch it and watch it and watch it and when something changes, hope that you really already understand it. If not, then you've really got to network or just do a ton of research, get on the Google Places forums and really try to figure out what's going on and see if you can make some sort of effect.

If Google goes to, let's say, a blended pack versus a seven pack, everything really changes and so then you attack that differently. Again, it's just a little bit more difficult to manage because of all the different variations you're now dealing with. There's not as much data out there as to how to handle these variations, so if Google were to change things, at any minute... We just saw them change a bunch of things in the last two weeks, and nobody saw it coming. It's just trying to kind of be a little reactive to it and try to make heads and tails of it so you can effectively get your clients to rank within those.

Jacob: I want to add too, one thing we've found is if there is confusion with your name, address, phone number, any confusion whatsoever, really, it's going to act as a complete weight on your listing and traffic, long-tail and maps traffic. So the number one thing is to get all of your data exactly the same across the board, otherwise, you're going to be completely held down.

Call Tracking Recommendations (Or Not?)

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Eric: Yeah, we do see that a lot, especially with people who are trying to do campaigns with different phone number tracking, where they put different phone numbers in yellow and all these different places. Do you have anything? Do you use a specific type of call tracking application?

Adam: No, we completely recommend against it, absolutely 100% against it. Any time you have any variations with your map, your name, your phone number, like Jake said, you're going to weigh down your citations, weigh down your listing, weigh down your trust with Google and that's been a big thing. We've seen, even without any other sort of off page efforts, just by cleaning up your citations across the web, we've seen a significant increase in rankings, many, many times because of that.

Every now and again, you come across, say, a seven pack with dentists, you see one that maybe doesn't have a website, in a very competitive market. Typically, it's because his citations are so dialed in, he's been in one place for 30 years and the only data out there is exactly the same, so there's a lot of trust with the map. The same kind of rules apply. We completely recommend that you never use a tracking number, and if you have to use one on your site, you put it in the form of an image file, and we'll even go as far as to make the all tag on it their actual phone number. There's just no room for any confusion at all.

Eric: Right, yeah, you must run into that if you do PPC campaigns and stuff; on landing pages with different numbers and such

Adam: Right.

Jacob: Yeah, the service we've used is Ifbyphone, and it seems to work really well.

Eric: Yep.

Jacob: But truth be told, it was such a headache that it was not worth it.

Eric: Yeah, the traffic segments sometimes don't make a lot of sense to even start segmenting it out by phone number. You're just looking to try to get as many leads as you can and the campaigns aren't that much different. You should be able to tell where stuff is coming from in your Analytics, different goals, and things like that.

Jacob: Also, I would mention too that if you don't use a tracking number, it incentivizes you as an agency and as their partner to really keep good communication up with them. We're constantly calling our customers and asking them how their phone calls are doing, but it's kind of a forced way to keep communication.

Rank Checking Recommendations

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Eric: Yeah, clients do like that, that's for sure. Speaking of, you were talking about keeping up on maps and changes and things like that, what type of rank tracking applications do you use to check your organic rankings in conjunction with map inserts and things like that?

Jacob: Yeah, so that's a really good question and there hasn't been a ton of really good tools up to date, so we've tried almost everything. However, we haven't tried this one yet, but apparently Linda at Catalyst Marketing has come up with a tool called Places Scout, which we're hearing really good things about.

But we actually track everything at this point manually, so we have an employee go in and change your location to whatever location the city is in and literally manually check it. It actually works really, really well for us because we're able to get a good idea of what the map looks like and make changes. Nothing replaces the human eye, so we do about four to five keywords per client and keep track that way. On the other hand, we keep track of very long-tail keywords through Advanced Web Ranking.

Eric: Okay, yeah, that's a really popular app here at SEO Book. I know that sometimes too I've noticed between using Advanced Web Ranking, but more so I use Raven Tools, but when they have the blended results, those actually show up. I don't know if they can change the coding of the serves, or how they're doing it, but when it goes blended, it actually shows as an organic ranking in a rank tracker, rather than if it's a map insert.

So you're right, you're almost better off having someone hand check it, because you don't know what you're looking at. Is this number two ranking a blended map insert or is it an organic ranking or am I ranking number two but there's a ten pack right above me and I don't know it?

Jacob: Right.

Adam: Exactly.

Eric: All right, we'll link to that tool in the summary here. I'll have to check that out. I hadn't heard of that one yet.

Adam: The Places Scout actually, I have played personally with it and it seems to work pretty well. We do have some of our team testing it at this point, to make sure that it works to what we need it to, but it definitely does allow us to track blended versus seven pack versus other variations to a good degree. So we're not 100% with it yet, but we're working towards it. If it can pan out, then we'll certainly bring it on board.

Taking Over a Local Campaign, What Usually is Missing

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Eric: Great, that's a great tip. When you take on a client, what are the two or three processes that you see which are often most neglected inside of a local SEO campaign?

Jacob: Yeah, so taking on a client and onboarding them is actually interesting. I would say first off, not many small businesses out there right now are hiring folks to do a traditional campaign or to actually handle it day to day, so in that case you just have the business owner or somebody in marketing that's trying to handle it, kind of a do-it-yourself. In those situations, almost everything is neglected, which is good for a company like us, because we can come in and clean things up pretty quickly. So that's the first thing, is you don't really see those situations where there is a lot running.

The biggest thing is definitely incorrect citations and incorrect data, for sure. So that would be a matter of going to the data sources, Axiom, Localeze, InfoUSA and getting that data correct. And then I would say, in my opinion, one of the biggest pieces that is neglected is the actual website being set up to convert. That means a big phone number, a big call to action, a big contact form everywhere on the site. We don't really see a ton of clients paying attention to that and we've found by just implementing that change they'll see a media increase in leads coming in.

Eric: Awesome, yeah you're right. When I do searches, it's hard enough to find a local business that even has a website sometimes, right? And then you run into that issue too, where you get on the site and you don't really know what to do; it's hard to find contact information, etc. Those are good points.

Jacob: I would also add too, Eric, a lot of the technical stuff is improperly managed. A lot of times there's no webmaster tools, there's no KML site maps, there's no site map at all, rich snippets, geomodifiers in the title tags, all of that from A to Z is usually neglected.

And then one last thing; a lot of times people will try to take a shortcut, whether that be a bulk submission to UBL.org or something like that, and that may work sometimes, but oftentimes it just takes a very manual contacting of every one of these directories, which we see business owners just don't have time to take care of.

Eric: All right, you're right. A lot of people do just do those mass submissions and then just sort of let it go and they don't really follow up on it, like you said, there's a lot of value in having correct data all over the place and you can't really substitute quality, hand-crafted work with the bulk stuff.

Adam: Right.

Duplicate Content Concerns, Same Services in Different Locations

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Eric: And you're right, they certainly don't have time to do that. Another question that we get pretty often is how you deal with potential duplicate content issues, when you're dealing with say, a dentist who serves four or five different towns. Do you get into multiple sites type thing, multiple pages, how do you handle that?

Adam: Well, typically most small businesses don't have the budget for multiple websites to be placed for areas that are... Say you're in a metropolitan area that has several sub-areas that you operate in; it really kind of comes down to if you actually have a business address in these other locations or not, if you operate in or around those areas. So that's really going to determine how we go after that.

And what I mean is if you service people in a large geographical area, you can't necessarily get a Google Places listing in that area unless you have an address. So in that case, all we can do is to try to get your site to rank organically, but we typically can't get you to show up in the Google map because again, you don't have an address there.

So what we'll try to do is if the areas are very close in proximity, we'll merge those into one page of content on your site, depending on what it is. If it's a sub-section, let's say, if you're a dentist, and you offer IV sedation, then we might put up a URL that says IV sedation in Town A and Town Z or whatever it is.

However, if it's really a little bit further spaced out or if you really need to differentiate it because of competition or whatever, we may actually build out Town X dentistry and Town Y dentistry, so they're two separate pages on the site and then we attack that. And typically, in that case, that dentist only still has that one address so we'll keep that consistent across the board. But when we build, we'll try to incorporate those key words to the appropriate sub-pages so we can get those to rank appropriately. Typically, that doesn't have any effect on your map listing for the outside area, the other city that they don't exist in.

Then when you get to the copy, we try to mention all the cities that they serve, and work all of your keywords to make sure that all your geomodifiers are consistent for all the areas that you service, as long as it makes sense. If they're serving national areas, then obviously, that wouldn't work. You'd have to create a bunch of sub-sites, microsites, and approach that differently.

Marketing Local SEO Services & Client Acquisition Tips

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Eric: All right, great. I think that covers a lot of the questions that we have on campaign stuff. A lot of the second part here is that we do get a lot of questions on the business side of things. People want to start building a local SEO business and then sort of grow it out from there to where people usually have most of their personal contacts and it's a great way to get started. Certainly, Google is pushing local all over the place, so it's definitely not a bad place to be.

I think the first question that we would like to ask on that is how do you go about marketing your services and picking up new customers?

Jacob: So yeah, this is the question we get all the time. It's like the Holy Grail question, right?

Eric: Yep.

Jacob: So the small business, or the SMB market, the way I see it is it's notoriously hard to penetrate. If you have a busy attorney, they're not typically on their phone calling out, asking for help for these things, right? So there's two ways to get to them.

One is kind of the traditional way, which is to cold call them, and that's very, very difficult. However, there have been many companies that are successful doing that, who reach the locals and the yodels of the world are scaling out pretty wide, doing that type of sales. You can maybe pull up the old Yellowpages and see who's got the biggest ads; those folks are typically spending the most money, so they'd be a good place to start.

However, we don't do that, because that's kind of the shotgun approach. For a smaller agency, we find more success with the rifle approach, which would be personal relationships, networking, establishing yourself in the different communities as an authority.

One way to do that is to identify these connectors in this industry. Who are in these businesses' offices every day? So if you want to target attorneys, who are in their offices every day? If you want to target restaurants, who are talking to these guys? A lot of times that will be a secret, golden source are actually Yellowpage reps or old Yellowpage reps, because those guys and gals have relationships with so many business owners, I mean very, very personal relationships.

The same thing with radio reps, radio ad reps, TV reps, even to the point, let's say, dental insurance, or a lot of these dentists will have people coming in selling them software. Those individuals have contacts with all the dentists in the entire city, so if you can get your hands on those folks, the connectors in the small business world, they will no doubt have people you can talk to.

Eric: Right, and you can also do things like speaking, being active in the business community. Most Small Business communities have a Chamber of Commerce and things like that. If you do speaking engagements there locally, presentations, stuff like that.

Jacob: Absolutely, stuff like that is probably the second biggest way. So personal contacts, and then speaking at a Chamber. Business owners are thirsting for this information, so most Chambers... And another good one, better than Chambers, are actual industry specific organizations, because you can go and speak to all the storage facility owners in your city, if you can get a hold of the organization that you're in.

Eric: All right. So now, we've got all these customers with all those great tips.

Jacob: The phone's ringing off the hook.

Starting a New Local Business & Key Mistakes to Avoid

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Eric: Yeah, the phone's off the hook, papers are flying everywhere... What do you see for new folks getting into this, as they're building up a client base, what do you see as the biggest struggle for them?

Adam: Okay, so the first thing is not cutting corners. It's so easy to take the path of least resistance, but when you do then your results falter, if you will. So the big thing is that you've got to stay diligent, doing what works and doing it 100% of the time and just being really consistent with it, all across the board. And then building scalable systems; it's difficult, but it can be done and it's something that you certainly want to focus on is how can you put practices into place to keep yourself organized, but also be able to replicate those systems across 10, 20, 50, 100 clients so that everything gets done the right way every time and nothing falls through the cracks.

And then the last big thing that is huge is finding a way to justify yourself when compared to 50 other people who claim to do what you do. These business owners have people beating on their door all the time, so what is it that makes you any better than the rest of them. Coming up with that is something that can be a little difficult, but once you find it, now you have a reason to talk to them that really sets you apart.

Jacob: To add on that, communication with these guys is really, really big. These business owners are so used to...they've been ripped off a lot in their past by companies calling them from all over the country, promising them the next best thing. But if you can position yourself as their partner and keep constant communication going with them, and somehow scale your business out at the same time, which is the whole conundrum, that will do wonders for client retention and the business owner will hire you.

For us, for example, we have contracts, but our contracts end, and at that point, it's the business owner's decision to keep on going with us. So we want to create a really high touch environment, where we're contacting them all the time and that leads to a very, very high retention rate.

Adam: Another item that I would add is crucial for someone getting into this is really try to understand how local works, not just local SEO, but the local market. We don't know it all; we just try to pay really close attention. If we read and test, we're always trying to learn what's going on and we spend a lot of time, for instance, in the Google Places forums, helping and learning, constantly providing insights anywhere we can, and getting feedback from it.

There's no industry guide put out by Google, so you have to either find someone who can help show you the way (which really doesn't exist in this area; very few people do it and are willing to share it) or you have to make your own path and figure it out as you go. The latter takes time, but it can work as long as you're diligent.

Like Jake said, these business owners get beat on by hundreds of calls all the time; they're just inundated with it, with emails and other solicitations, so you can't be one of those guys that let's say uses tools that email blast them or just constantly are banging on their door with the same things that everybody else is saying. There really are no shortcuts and these guys just start to turn it off because now we're just looked at as another solicitation phone call, if you will.

Taking that on to the next step, not all businesses are right for local and internet marketing, so you have to be able to prove your worth and justify your value and that's very difficult to do with businesses that don't focus on services where clients call them or email them. So for an example, it's extremely different to show a direct investment with a restaurant; how are you going to effectively track results? If they say, "Well, what did you do for me?" what can you prove to them other than, "Hey, we increased the traffic to your website"? How can you show that they actually got any business from it, because nobody's answering their phone, they just get foot traffic. Some restaurants, of course, may take reservations or get some calls, but again, it's very difficult to track.

The next thing would be to find your niche and stick to it. Many companies try to do too much and spread themselves thin, so if you do one thing and you do it well, people will pay for it, and if you do many things mediocre, your term rate will increase and your results won't provide a good return on investment.

The next thing I would say is to charge what you're worth. Don't think that businesses can't afford what you're doing. If you provide value and if your return on investment is very good, then you're going to be worth quite a bit of money. You look at industries' stats, an average client worth for a dentist could be anywhere from a $1,000 to $1,500. One dentist of ours, his average client worth is $1,434, I believe that is what he just told us. Every client we send him is worth that amount. You can take that into consideration when you're charging what you do; as long as it's fair, then people will pay it.

Budget Myths

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Jacob: I was going to say, interesting story there, about not really believing the business owners when they tell you they don't have money, because they will, if it brings them business; any smart person would.

We had a client that was a prospect at the time, and never spent more than $300 for advertising a month, which was small for the guy. He was spending $40 a month on his website and thought that was too much, but come to find out, his website was a complete duplicate of thousands of other websites, so he was completely de-indexed and had never gotten one lead from the internet. So we went in and quoted him a couple thousand a month, because that was what it was going to take. We showed him exactly how he was going to get a positive ROI on that. Again, he's never spent more than $300 or $400 a month and sure as heck, he went with it, and he's very, very happy, still a client. So, again, don't be afraid to charge what you're worth.

Eric: Yeah, I think a great point you made (though there were obviously a lot in that), but I think one of the biggest ones is the niche approach. You find certain people, like I know an agency that does work specifically with lawyers, and they do a great job, because they're used to dealing with... If you're somebody who deals with, say, insurance agents all day, and then all of a sudden you take on a lawyer client who's a bulldog, you're going to be like..oh no

Jacob: Right.

SEO & Non-SEO Tools the Help with Scaling

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Eric: It's completely different. And I see that a lot. Some people work just with real estate agents or insurance agents or dentists or things like that, so that's a great point. I think that when we talk about scaling, obviously, and things like that, tools come into play. Everybody likes to talk about tools, right? Everybody wants to know what tools everybody uses. Funny thing is, the best ones are usually ones that are developed in house, and no one ever talks about them.

Jacob: Right.

Eric: So what type of tools do you guys use to help scale your business and keep communication flowing and all that?

Jacob: Yeah, I mean one of the tools we'll use is... The number one tool that we use is Basecamp; I can't say enough about Basecamp. We also use Raven Tools for reporting, which works really, really well. Then internally, we use Google Apps, Google Docs for internal communications and then we also, actually, another one...

We get every client to sign up for Dropbox. We have them transport files and pictures to use through Dropbox because their website has to have pictures of the proprietary, of their buildings, of their office, their products; so we use Dropbox for that. And we also train our clients to use Jing, a screenshot program, so we communicate with them through that.

A couple other ones we just started using... A software we just started using is called ProofHQ, for proofing, so that allows our designer to show us proofs and us to comment on it really easily. We use FreshBooks for billing, and it's very, very easy. We use SalesForce.com for all CRM; we use that to manage our email list.

And then finally, for sales calls, it's important to kind of go out there with information, so if you're going out to see a vet, for example, you want to run his website through maybe Website Grader. We'll use SpyFu, we'll use SEO Screaming Spider to run the website and find any 404 errors and kind of show them, "Hey, look, you have these errors holding you down. Customers are going to these pages and there's nothing on them." Then we'll use Google's keyword tool and Open Site Explorer, to show them why they're not ranking, why their competitors are ranking number one. So those are the tools that we use from day to day.

Eric: Awesome. So will you join me in the call for Basecamp to integrate Google Docs at some point in the next 10 years?

Jacob: Yeah. I just read an article that they're coming out with a complete revamped version very soon that hopefully will include that.

Eric: Yeah, it's funny. I know a lot of people who end up doing their own internal project management app, there's usually a very large group that does that, but Basecamp is, I think of all the pre-built solutions, the best of the bunch. There's just little things, like the Google Docs integration, and the fact that if I was your employee, you go to the Dashboard and you can't see all my to-do's the way that you can see yours.

Jacob: Yes.

Eric: So it's just these little things that I hope they change with Basecamp next, because if they do, they've got like 90%.

Jacob: Seriously. It's great; this ProofHQ, the reason we chose that is because it does actually integrate in with Basecamp very well.

What are Business Owners Looking For in a Company or Campaign?

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Eric: Awesome. I should check that out. I think I was using Notable for a while, which is similar. So a couple more questions here on the business development side of things and then we'll let you get back to developing your business, as it were. When you meet with your local clients, what are they typically after? What do they ask, what are they expecting? How do you manage all that?

Adam: I would say that business owners really care about a few things in marketing. The biggest thing, and most notably, is getting their phone to ring. Really, that will just lead to traffic through their door as long as they're answering their phone, and they've got a decent system in place to get those clients engaged, and whatnot, which will then lead to a positive return on investment. At the end of the day, it's all about the return on investment to them, so it all starts with the phone call or email lead to their business. Without that, nothing else really matters. So that's really got to be your focus, because that's their focus.

I'd say that they kind of want you to be genuine and not just trying to push another product that again, everybody else has. One of the best ways to convey this is show them some live examples of real clients, if you have them in your existing area that they can relate to. Show them some positive testimonials of real, live, local businesses that are happy with your services.

The burn and churn type companies out there, the ones that are notorious for people disliking their high churn rates, you're not going to have a lot of this, and they're certainly not going to have a good amount of clients, in most cases, that someone out there can just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, what were your experiences with this company and should I do business with them?"

So, those are all really important, but the most important is getting their phone to ring, because that's really what they care about at the end of the day. If you do that, then a lot of other things just go away. They don't really care as much about the other nitty-gritty things as long as the phone's ringing.

Pricing, Pricing, Pricing

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Eric: Right. So a couple of the big, big questions that we always get... Pricing; we'll talk about this in a bit, but people talk about the scaling of a local service firm and things like that. Some people think that it's not possible; I disagree a little bit on that one; I'm sure you guys do too. But when you get into pricing, how do you price things? Do you do flat fees, per leads, a combination, or do you have a set structure for pretty much everything you do?

Adam: That's actually a great question. So we actually model our billing and our fees kind of off the Yellowpages. As businesses are pulling out of the Yellowpages, we want to be there to scoop up that money, because there's literally on a national scale, billions of dollars every year that is just leaving small business pocketbooks to go elsewhere.

The way the Yellowpages work is that they deal in monthly contracts, and that's exactly what we do. We'll schedule out typically anywhere from 9-12 month contracts; the Yellowpages has notoriously been a 12 month contract, and sometimes even more if they're integrating in digital products, depending on the cycle of when the book hits the streets to the end of the publication cycle.

So there are a couple reasons we want to contract. Initially, we didn't want to contract, but we've found that it's good because it gives us time; it forces the client to have to wait for an SEO to take place. We all know that there's no overnight, you know you start doing some off-page SEO work and next week you hit number one and your phone is just blowing up. So we need clients and we try to set the correct expectation and we also try to get a good contract term and then we know that we're somewhat safe with them and whatnot.

If they can make it through the time needed to let the SEO work take its place, and there's sufficient time, then that's not only going to allow them to see the return on investment, but if they start to be comfortable spending that money and then once the return hits, then the money's not even an issue and so it really works well.

Monthly contracts are absolutely where it's at. If you go on out and try to beat the streets every time you want to make a new sale, it just doesn't make sense and I'll tell you, most of our clients, they've started with a contract, and many, a high percentage of them, are now out of contract and they keep us on a month to month, without issues. I mean, there's not even a question of it anymore.

Jacob: So I would say, the paper lead for us hasn't been a good way to go, because they're only going to attribute a certain amount of leads that you brought them. But you're going to bring so much more business, whether it be word of mouth, whether it be just an article that you may have put out; all these other things that really you did, they're not going to attribute that to you, so we haven't found that very good.

The key is, find out what their marketing budget is per month and try to come in somewhere in there. Also, no big upfront fees. Most of these business owners, for us at least, we don't try to hit them. Their budgeting is not structured in a way that they can take a big hit. So let's say you were going to charge them $10,000 for a website or whatever, it's tough for them to swallow that. However, if you can get them into a 12 month contract or a 9 month agreement, they're more apt to sign that.

Eric: Right, so sort of rolling, if you're doing a website, things like that, roll that into your monthly costs over that 12 month period, rather than saying, "Oh, it's going to be $8,000 for this or $5,000 for this website, plus another 2, 3 grand, whatever it is a month for everything else on top of that."

Adam: I would say that that's absolutely correct. But if you can get away from doing the website separately and then just allocating funds to a monthly SEO, that's great. The one thing I wanted to point out is there's no one-size-fits-all. You can't cookie-cutter internet marketing, and so we see many companies who say, "We're going to charge this amount for this product and it's just going to work for everyone." It's not that case with anybody.

You walk in, you sit down with a client, and they're all after something different, they've all got different needs and wants, they all have different timelines, they all have a different budget amount that they're willing to spend. There are just so many things; you can look at somebody's citation profile and see that it's really clean, versus someone who's hired three or four knockoff SEO companies that just haven't, just have really made a mess of things. So that's all going to change as far as what you need to charge.

That goes back to our initial statement on charging what you're worth and just holding to your guns. Hopefully you can help the client make heads or tails of it so that it makes sense and so that it works. But there's never one-size-fits-all, so usually, most of the time we're customizing our proposals to some degree.

Eric: Well right, yeah, exactly. Quite frankly, sometimes you might want to... You may sit down with a client who gives you a much better feeling than another one, where you may be a little more apt to say, "Yeah, we can maybe roll that in," or whatever, versus a client who you think may take up a little more of your time and you want to be able to price for that accordingly.

Jacob: Right, and also think about ROI; so, for example, the example I gave earlier, where that client had not spent more than $300 a month, and we came in at $2,000 a month, well that's because we knew how much traffic we could get, we knew roughly how many leads we could get for him, and we knew that he was going to get an astronomical return on investment with that. So it didn't matter to us how much he's used to spending; what mattered to us was how much money he was going to make.

Eric: Right, exactly, and it goes back earlier, as you were talking about the fact that sometimes local marketing isn't for everybody and that's why I think it's important, like you said, not to take a cookie cutter approach. You could specialize in local SEO, but there's nothing to say that you can't just do a web design for a local coffee shop or help them with their social media. They may not need a full on SEO campaign.

So like you said, it's good to be open because it opens up other areas and then who knows who they know. They may know other businesses that might value... You're right, so the networking approach, the custom proposal approach and having different services to offer I think is... You know, without going too wide, is certainly...

Adam: And that really kind of goes back to try to keep your niche service industries intact. You know, we do get queried every now and again for the one offs, and we try to refer those out, if it's not in our main scope. The last thing we want to do is take someone on that's either going to pull our resources and tie them to somebody else that really needs it, or you know we're not going to be able to provide sufficient results for their money, which would then kind of put a bad taste in someone's mouth. That never works out for anybody.

Favorite Local SEO Resources

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Eric: Right. In terms of keeping up with the local SEO stuff, like you said, things change all the time, what are some of your key sources for keeping up with local SEO stuff?

Adam: Sure, well, one of the main things is we try to stay really active in Google forums. We're constantly trying to be part of what's going on there, but I would say the other areas we're really involved with are Mike Blumenthal's blog; I communicate with Mike every now and again for various different things that I have questions on. Linda Buquet, she's got a great site. She deals specifically with dentists and she usually has good insights on things that are coming up. David Mihm, of course, just kind of your industry standard. And then SEO Book kind of gives us a top down approach to a lot of things that are kind of going on as far as more of a large scale, what's going on in the industry, algorithm changes, what people are seeing.

At the end of the day, tracking our own results. We try different things out; we try to document it, see what happens, see what works. Sometimes we'll just make changes to see what will happen and what the income will be. We've learned a lot, as far as how to manipulate Google Places to our advantage. Those are some things that have been really neat that we've come across.

The thing is that there is very little out there on local SEO from those who are actually doing it, so the ones that really share the information are really important to us. But most don't share their secrets. Even those guys probably don't share a lot of their secrets. So it's one of those things, so you've got to pave your own path, but the coming months we hope to put out some information, including a book that we'll use to try to share some secrets that we have and maybe give back to the community that's helped us out so much.

Eric: Awesome.

Jacob: I've got my RSS feed open and I'm just reading through what we check every day. Blumenthal, Greg Sterling, Small Business SEM by Matt McGee, David Mihm, OptiLocal is really good, Catalyst Marketing, NGS Marketing, Andrew Shotland, BIA/Kelsey Local is really, really good. They started in the Yellowpages industry and they do a lot of reporting on the small business world. The Google Places help forum, and then finally, a blog called GrowMap does some really great stuff.

Debunking the "Local Marketing" is Unscalable Argument

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Eric: Great. We'll also link to all that stuff in the post here. Just one final question; there's talk sometimes of the fact that (we talked about it a little, some of the key components), that there was a post recently out there that sort of shot down the whole local client type setup where people want $50,000 a month services, but they're only paying $1,000 a month. I find that this is the case for some clients, but I think if you guys maybe can just briefly talk about the evolution of your business...

It seems like you would start as you get into business and maybe you take on a couple clients at a lower rate than you would like; then you sort of prove yourself and from there you grow into other services that you can provide. From that point you just keep expanding within your niche, to find other businesses, both locally and across the country. But I think it's not so much that it's an unscalable business model; I think it's just people try to go into it thinking that every client you sit down with is just going to hand you over a pile of cash without any qualifications.

Adam: Right, which wouldn't be ideal, right?

Eric: Yeah, which is probably what some people might be used to, as least back when nobody knew what SEO was. "Yeah, I'll point 20 spamming links at your site and you'll be number one and whatever." Yeah, give me... You know, I think it's, especially with the local businesses, in this economy, they're the ones that are really hit harder. We have a number of local businesses here that have been hit by the movement in of larger retail stores; a local hardware store, a local insurance agent who now is competing against the local State Farm and local Geico office, stuff like that.

But if you guys could just maybe debunk that theory a little bit, in terms of it being an unscalable business model.

Adam: I would say initially that as long as you can prove your value, you can really charge what you're worth. When we started out, we just tried to show our clients what we knew, what we were capable of, and found some that we actually knew and just went from there. Once we had a foundation of some proven results...

There's two elements. You've got to prove to the client that you can do it, but you've also go to prove to yourself too. Once we did that, we knew that we were on the right track, and it was a lot easier to go after other clients, to say, "Hey, here's a real life example of what we've done with one person or another person and here's our plan as to what we could do with your company. Here's what sets us apart. Here's a testimonial from a customer in your industry and so on." So there's just a bunch to that.

Jacob: I would add to that, there are companies out there trying to scale this out, right, to reach local and yodel and those type of things, and we both had vast experience working closely with these type of companies. I would say it's a spectrum, right? You can have high scalability and high automation, but you're also going to have a very low retention rate. And then you can have very low automation, very manual, and then have a higher retention rate.

So I would say, it's scalable, but it's scalable in the way that an agency is scalable. We look at it as pods. So a pod of employees, say a project manager, a couple citation builders, maybe a designer, can handle x amount of clients in x amount of revenue. Once you get that pod, you just duplicate that pod and scale out, very, very similar to what an agency would be. Then, the best thing about that is you're keeping your retention rate very, very high.

Eric: Right, it goes back to talking about the systems that you were talking about earlier, having a system in place. You don't necessarily have to have the upfront cookie cutter approach in terms of pricing, but on the back end, you really ought to have a scalable system that works as flawlessly as it can with human involvement.

Jacob: Right.

Eric: All right, great. Well, I think we covered a lot of stuff here. I just want to wrap it up here. Again, these guys are from firegang.com, like I said, very active and respected members of the SEO Book community, as you can tell by a lot of the information here, definitely on the expert level of the local SEO stuff. I know on your site now you have a downloadable guide on how to increase map rankings, and that's free. And then you also mentioned that you're coming out with a book in a couple months that covers pretty much the whole local SEO spectrum?

Jacob: Exactly.

Eric: All right, great. Well, let us know when that comes out. We'll certainly highlight that on the blog so everyone here can get a copy of that. I just want to take a brief moment and thank you guys for hopping on here. It's been an hour long call, so I hope everybody has their iPods ready, or whatever they use to listen to this.

Jacob: Two time speed, right?

Eric: Right. All right, guys. Thank you very much for your time.

Adam: Appreciate it.

Jacob: Thanks. Bye.

List of Resources

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Informational Resources:
Published: February 27, 2012

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Comments

February 27, 2012 - 7:29pm

Wow Jake and Adam. Super great interview filled with so many good tips and resources.

Thanks for mentioning me as a resource so many times. Honored to be listed among so many other top pros.

FYI I don't own Places Scout - people think I do because I've blogged about it so much. I have been instrumental as a BETA tester and have recommended and consulted on many of the coolest features. I blog about the program as the new features I recommend are released. (Like the new Places ranking comparison reports and reputation management module)

Anyway, I'm off to finish reading this interview then will feature it on my Google Places News Scoop.it channel.

Thanks again,
Linda Buquet

February 28, 2012 - 6:36pm

Great interview guys, that was seriously jam packed with value.

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