Local SEO Looks Ahead to 2021 with Colan Nielsen

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Colan Nielsen is the VP of Local Search at Sterling Sky, making him an excellent expert source for all things local search. If you want to build a local search presence for any industry or any business, he knows what to do.

He joins us today on the Agency Ahead podcast with plenty of insights into what’s ahead, as well as some insights on how a local SEO might structure their workload and time. There are also some pretty incredible insights on how a person might “10x” themselves as a local SEO expert. Don’t miss this.

The highlights:

  • [1:31] A day in the life of a local SEO.
  • [6:10] Choosing to share the results of experiments, vs. choosing to hold them back.
  • [7:36] Working as a remote local SEO team.
  • [10:59] 10x and level up.
  • [16:13] Looking ahead to 2021: trends in local search.
  • [21:36] Key recommendations for the new year.
  • [25:00] Colan’s causes.

The insights:

A Day In the Life of a Local SEO

It’s easy to get caught up in putting out fires, so Colan says he likes to do an exercise every now and then that helps him plan his days.

“I like to sit down and do a brain dump of: what are the core things I’m actually contributing, or what is the value I’m bringing to the table?”

Colan says he has found four separate areas or buckets where he provides value.

“The first one is Sterling Sky. A big part of what I do is actual account management. I’ve got a certain number of clients who I’m directly responsible for. If I had to boil that down really, that’s about building trust. The clients that have been with us the longest, I would say we’ve developed our relationship to the point where they’re a friend. When we have conversations, whether it’s on a monthly call or what have you, we’re probably talking 50% about work-related stuff, and 50% about their personal life, my personal life, what’s going on in the world.”

He says building this rapport is a big part of keeping clients retained and happy.

“The other huge chunk is the actual client work. So I’m pulling levers, I’m optimizing websites, optimizing GMB profiles, doing spam-fighting, doing strategy, all this groundwork stuff. I like to have a certain percentage of my time doing it for no other good reason than to keep that knife sharp with all the different things you need to be doing, and so you’re not distanced from the actual work.”

He says the next thing he spends time on is his role as a leader within Sterling Sky.

He notes that Sterling Sky recently had everyone take a DISC personality test, and he found out he was a “Counselor” type.

“I have a few people on my team who report up to me, so we do monthly one-on-ones, a lot of feedback sessions helping them learn the ropes of local SEO or whatever they’re trying to do.”

Colan says the last thing he spends a lot of his time doing is brand-building.

“Both the brand of Sterling Sky and my personal brand as a local search optimization expert. That’s things like the Google My Business forum and spending a lot of time there as a product expert, as well as the local search forum we run, spending time there, helping people out, providing really good answers—or at least trying to!”
local search forum

Colan also spends time blogging on the Sterling Sky blog.

When to Share Experiment Results and When to Hold Back

Colan talked about how he’s trying to spend a lot of time figuring out new things that haven’t been discussed or looked into or is trying to find answers to questions that people have had about local search, but have never been answered with an actual test or data.“Within Sterling Sky, we have a ton of hours set aside each month to do actual tests of our own.”Garrett asked how the team at Sterling Sky decides what they’re going to share with the public, and what they’re going to keep to themselves for competitive advantages.
“Usually that comes down to an internal discussion with the team. One of our core values is designed around the fact that we love to give back and share, not just with the local SEO community, but businesses in general. I don’t know what the actual percentage of stuff we share vs. don’t share is, but I’d say it’s probably upwards of 90% shared.”
What inspires them to hold back? The answer may surprise you.
“It’s usually because we figure in some ways it might actually do more harm than good to have that thing out there, in the sense the tactic might get diluted.”

Working as a Remote Local SEO Team

Colan also had some insights to share about how the team has been working during the pandemic.

“At the beginning of every month, everybody on the team uses a calendar blocking approach to organizing our month. By the 2nd or 3rd day of the month I’ve got my entire month planned out for the most part.

Obviously, things come up that are unplanned, but I would say 99% of the month is blocked in. I love that. I’ve been doing that for about four years.”

This approach continued to serve everyone well even when the team went remote.

“On any particular day what we’ll typically find is a couple of hours devoted to client work, like specifically just getting in there and doing some, whether it’s an audit or a little bit of consulting, or actually going in and doing some website adjustments, internal linking optimization, whatever it may be.

Then there can be a chunk dedicated to some operations tasks, helping to organize our internal processes, making sure they’re documented clearly and they’re updated. Then you’ll probably find a block dedicated to doing a little bit of testing, maybe some blogging, forums, every day.”

10X and Level Up

Colan also talks about how he has come to enjoy some of the parts of his work that he didn’t enjoy so much three years ago, specifically, the client relationship management part of his job.

Garrett asked how he accomplished this breakthrough.

“It wasn’t necessarily that there was an aspect of managing a client relationship I didn’t like. I was just much more introverted, and maybe it’s just I didn’t have as much experience at the time managing relationships.

I’ve been doing so much of it over the past three years that it’s gotten me to a point where I’m just more comfortable with, and actually look forward to, having client calls.”

He says he thinks this shift was a more personal thing and shares some advice for people looking to make a similar shift.

“On a high level, I think the most important thing someone can do is identify something in your life that you have control over that is negatively acting on your life or not positively contributing to your life.

If you can identify that thing, and it’s something you have control over and the ability to work towards removing it or fixing it.”

For Colan, this was giving up alcohol.

“On New Years’ Eve 2019 I drank my last drink. I wasn’t super far down the spectrum as far as the spectrum goes for a drinking problem, but I identified that [as a problem] for my life, and where I wanted to get myself both personally and professionally.”

He says he thinks it was similar to Steve Jobs making the choice to wear black every day.

“By doing that, he didn’t have to worry about dressing anymore. For me, I could remove this and I didn’t have to worry about that part anymore that was consuming too much energy. That has this snowball effect on your health, on your vitality, the whole shebang.

Fast forward a little over a year later, and I feel like a completely different person than I was. That has been the 10x thing for me.”

Looking Ahead to 2021: Trends in Local Search

Colan says that local businesses and marketing agencies should continue to pay attention to the various things that have changed over the past year because of the pandemic.

GMB new attributes
“I don’t think, moving forward, we’ll see these features dialed back.”

Colan points out that it’s possible to put an attribute on your GMB listing that says you have virtual services.

“You can put in a virtual services link.”

He says we’re going into a whole new style of economy.

“This came up quite a bit on a recent webinar. Andrew Shotland was talking about this with Joy Hawkins and Ben Fisher, where there’s basically this coming together of local SEO and eCommerce.

It’s not just local SEOs who are going: oh, we’ve gotta start learning this stuff. There are people on the eCommerce side going: oh, we’ve got to start learning this local SEO stuff. That’s going to come to a point where it all just blends together. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year.

Certainly, by next year I think every local SEO will probably need to have eCommerce as part of their toolbelt as more and more businesses will be that hybrid style of maybe having a brick and mortar, but also offering online services.”

the state of local search

He notes an example that Andrew Shotland brought up on the same webinar.

“He used grills as an example. Historically you would never get a 3-pack if you were searching for grills or grills near me, but now you get a 3-pack and it will list places that carry that particular product.”
grills near me
“That’s the other trend that’s tied into this, is definitely seeing more 3-packs where maybe there were not 3-packs before, and where we’re seeing those more is for queries that typically aren’t perceived as local intent, but now Google is understanding that they actually do have more local intent.”

Key Recommendations For the New Year

“I think it’s going to boil down to reviews and reputation,” says Colan. “And to go even further down: review responses.”

He mentions a real-world experience he had with this recently.

“I live in a little town of 10,000 to 15,000 people, and it just opened up two cannabis stores. I’ve been interacting with the two business owners in our community here and having these conversations that just kind of come up naturally.”

One of the stores got 5 reviews in their first week, but one was a 1-star review that dropped their rating to a 3.9. “Which I feel horrible about it, they’re awesome.”

The owner wasn’t sure if they should respond just to the bad review, or to all the reviews.

“It’s easy to forget that’s not an easy thing as a business owner who doesn’t understand local SEO to intuitively know.

So I was able to explain the fact that yeah, you want to be responding to all your reviews, especially the negative ones because that person is going to get a notification you responded so there’s an opportunity to maybe fix the situation, plus of course it looks really good for future customers when they see how you handled that negative review.”

He advises doing something to make sure you’re closing that feedback loop, perhaps by incorporating automated software.

What’s your right now cause?

Colan suggests getting out into your community and sharing some local SEO knowledge, all without trying to turn anyone into a client. He’s even looking to be more proactive about it, walking into various businesses with the goal of offering a little advice.

With businesses struggling to survive, it is an excellent way to help and share your expertise, and one that costs nothing at all.

Connect with Colan Nielsen

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