It’s pretty impossible to work in Local SEO for very long without hearing Mike Blumenthal’s name. The “Godfather of Local,” as the nickname itself might imply, has been one of the big-name experts in the industry for a very long time.
In fact, if you want to stay right on top of what’s going on in Local, you could do worse than just making sure you subscribe to his weekly newsletter and podcast.
Yet today, he’s speaking less about the ins-and-outs of what’s going on with Google My Business (GMB) lately and more about how agency owners can incorporate local SEO services into their service offerings, or how they can best approach building a pure local SEO business.
If you’re looking to get ahead in this niche, then don’t miss today’s episode.
In 2018, Mike chose a business that had a Facebook-only digital presence and was convinced that he could help to demonstrate to them that a Google presence could dramatically improve the number of incoming customers they were receiving.
“They could then reach out and contact those customers via Facebook. I was convinced that Facebook would not provide nearly as many new customers as Google could. So I took a Google-only approach.
They had zero budget. I showed them in a really clear way that a Google-focused presence for pre-sale was absolutely killing Facebook, 10 to 1, 15 to 1, in terms of leads generated and much less work, once the attributes were set up, on an ongoing basis.”
Garrett asked what Mike’s perspective was in terms of using that approach to sell that service to SMBs.
“Clearly GMB plays a role in virtually any local SEO campaign. It is a primary place where conversions happen. Google has done an incredible job of quote-unquote stealing the phone calls, stealing driving directions, stealing the website visit.
GMB has become, through the use of photography and immersive technologies and transaction technologies, a central point in finding customers for every business. But in the case of super-small businesses or businesses that have yet to heavily invest in digital, it provides a way to prove easily the benefits of digital marketing.
It can be done in a very low-cost way, spending an hour a two a month for an agency, and yet with very concrete key performance indicators that are beneficial and meaningful to the business.
You can easily track, with no extra expenditure, the number of calls they’re getting, the number of driving directions they’re getting, and if you have one of the transactional pieces in play like appointments or scheduling, you can track that as well. You can prove to the small business that it is succeeding for them.”
“It scales well, too,” Mike adds. “Because Google has an API, the API’s very accessible. They have bulk features in terms of management. There are a number of tools out there that allow you to manage in bulk.
You can move from 1 to 100 to 500 locations in this project, do it really cost-effectively. Then, as you’ve proven the worth of digital marketing, move them into a longer-term view where you can control more of the stack.”
“I would focus first on the Google-centric features that enhance Google and increase the likelihood of conversions. Things like photos. You can go into a business, and with any good solid iPhone or Android take incredible photos.
You can take several hundred and you can post them regularly to the business in a relatively automatic way. Those photos could also inform your posts. There are a number of free or very low-cost paid tools that would allow you to schedule posts out to the business.
Mike recommends David Mihm’s Tidings program.
“It’s a very low-cost, easy to use, agency-friendly way to scale email newsletters. I think it’s a very good add-on tool.”
The high-value sequence then is:
“Once you get that done, you can continue to demonstrate high KPIs, and then you can move into all sorts of other areas beyond that.”
He notes that email should come well before advertising in that list of service offerings.
“The problem with advertising is that you have to essentially reacquire customers and pay Google or Facebook to do so.
Whereas with email marketing, once you’ve acquired [the address] with Google, if you move it into the email marketing funnel then you own it. You own the relationship, and you’re not having to pay to re-rent those same customers back every time.
It’s also simpler, easier to understand, and easier to manage.”
Trying to decide which clients to go after is a challenge for most agencies.
To offer insight into the decision-making process, Mike mentioned a conversation he had with an agency in Lancaster, PA.
“They look for clients who have a lifetime relationship with their customers, so they can help these businesses build value over the lifetime of the relationship. They can then help implement technologies at every stage of that.”
What does a business like that look like?
“They don’t look for clients who have one and done customers. Not a one time HVAC installation. Instead, they look for businesses that do HVAC, and plumbing, and other services. They’re looking to build longer-term customer relationships.”
He says that’s an example of looking for clients based on the value of the client, as opposed to the vertical. He says he finds those businesses, in the long haul, “More profitable and less aggravating.”
He also does find some value in sticking to a vertical when you’re just getting started, “because there is 80% overlap client to client.”
In smaller towns and markets where there are only so many of a given vertical in the market, knowing something like GatherUp in-depth is the alternative.
“When you know all the ways you can quickly move into a business, have a short conversation with them about how they interact, and help them pick the best way.”
Once you have the clients, of course, you have to find ways to continue to prove your value to them.
“Build an effective digital platform that is accountable in terms of metrics and meaningful KPIs. Once that’s done, I think that agencies need to be moving upstream.”
Mike spoke of how certain aspects of digital marketing are becoming commodified by AI. One example was Google Adwords.
“So you need to build value over the long-haul after you’ve established this digital core basis of services around helping the business improve. That’s where the real money is. Ongoing understanding of the business you’re dealing with.”
From there, you can begin leading these SMBs through their next steps.
“The next step to improve their retention. The next step to improve their revenue per customer. Improve their overall bottom line.”
He says that he sees a real need for agencies to move from “local SEO” to local consulting.
“Helping businesses with the strategic view of their marketing. To me, that’s where the value is, ultimately. I think you need to move beyond tactical. Not that tactical isn’t important, but you need to get the business and yourself aligned to higher objectives.”
He says there’s a quick test to see if an agency is doing that.
“When they implement a review program, do they see the reviews as just one more notch on their belt? Or do they see the review as a potential way to improve the business?
Helping a business improve is a much more powerful way to have a relationship with your clients.”
“I originally thought if you could help a business discipline themselves to gather the email addresses and get them uploaded regularly, that would guarantee success.”
Now he thinks there are quicker ways to succeed.
“With GatherUp, we’ve recognized that being able to reuse all these existing reviews for your marketing as a first step is a great way to engage them, to get them to appreciate the value of all these reviews, and then to get the other benefits from it.”
GatherUp tries to encourage agencies to get the website up with segmented review content, for example.
“So reviews about homeowner’s insurance go to the homeowner’s page. Reviews about auto insurance go to the auto insurance page. Reviews about commercial insurance go to the commercial insurance page.
Set things up like social sharing so that businesses can easily and quickly take their existing body of reviews and remarket them via Facebook, Twitter, or Google Post.”
Mike says this creates an immediate value both for the agency and for the business.
“Whether the agency chooses to do all that for the business or just helps the business learn to do it just really depends on how you want to run your agency.”
Once businesses get excited about reviews and are attached to sharing them, “you can worry about integrating the review-asking process into their workflow.”
He says one thing agencies must do is get a true understanding of how businesses interact with their customers. This minimizes the amount of work the business needs to do to keep something like GatherUp flowing. “To get the email address. To get the SMS.”
He gives some examples of the different methods he’s encountered.
“Is it a salesman interacting with a customer in real-time? Is it a text back mode where the owner of a restaurant just points out a QR code on a tabletop which encourages the customers to use it in the restaurant? Is it Zapier integration with Quickbooks?”
He says that moving emails into the review process should happen with as little work as possible on the part of the SMBs. “Then you can start getting a massive number of reviews.”
He’s not just talking about Google reviews.
“In the best-case scenario, if you’re just asking for Google Reviews, maybe 10% of your customers are going to leave a Google Review. What we find is 40% or 50% of them are willing to give you a direct review.
That data, both for web content and marketing, is valuable, but it’s particularly valuable, then, to help the agency help that business take the next step to understand where they need to improve.”
Those reviews give SMBs a meaningful and accurate reflection of the business.
“Then you can use that content with the tools built into GatherUp and other tools to truly improve your business.”
He reiterates that he sees this all as a very logical flow.
“Start with the marketing, get them excited. Do the integration so it’s automated, get first and third party reviews so you have a lot of data, then help them understand the management information that’s lurking there, which is so rich.”
“We added auto-tagging several years ago. Auto-tagging allows an agency to configure for both management and marketing.”
Mike explains how one restaurant even used this data to try to anticipate problems before they could arise.
“We had a multi-location restaurant who set up tagging. They were looking for incidents of disease or stomach disorders so they could assess whether there was a systemic problem they were going to have to deal with quickly.
So they would review this report every day, tagging reviews with words like ‘stomach’ or ‘distress’ or ‘diarrhea’ or any of those words that could indicate there were problems.”
Fortunately, this restaurant did not find any problems, but it’s good that they were looking!
“Another restaurant chain saw a dip in its NPS score. They went in and set up tags, looked at a few reviews, went in, and set up tags around Covid-related issues. They learned some of their locations weren’t implementing rigorous Covid standards.
They upgraded to national standards and their NPS returned. The tagging is just an incredibly powerful way for management, but it’s also incredibly powerful for marketing in terms of generating fresh, great content.”
For an interesting case study on how implementing Covid standards can make an impact on a multi-location business, see Mike’s article: How One Business Made a Mess of Masking.
Mike also points out that fresh content is one of the biggest challenges for local websites.
“They’re not going to be bloggers. They’re not going to be updating their content very regularly. Reviews are the best source of new content that’s keyword related and contextually related.
It makes your job as an agency super easy. If you’re generating content for the homeowner’s page, content for the auto insurance page, content for the commercial pages, then you can keep those key service pages updated.
If it’s multi-location you can keep those multi-location pages updated with current content that relates specifically to the geography. It’s a great service for agencies to help small businesses deal with the content problem.”
Google review attributes are a new feature of Google that also adds a sort of “tagging” and sorting feature to Google Reviews.
Mike describes them as the “ability to add more granular, structured detail to a review.”
Google first tested the feature in 2010 with a product called Hot Pot. They’d been using them for hotels for awhile. They rolled them out “in a more structured way to home service businesses last fall, then again in the middle of Covid so nobody noticed it.”
Mike notes if you give a business a review you’re giving them 3-5 attributes that are either positive or negative based on whether your review is positive or negative.
“What’s interesting to me is that they’ve dramatically reduced the number of ratings-only reviews, which is important because rating-only reviews don’t tell anybody anything.”
Mike again stresses that Google Review Attributes provides lots of important management information, just as GatherUp’s tagging tool does.
“It also provides a standardized way to analyze your competitors. You can crank a competitor into GatherUp that has attributes, and see which of these three or four attributes you do better on than they do.
It also provides a focus for your content strategy for your website, because you get user intent from these.”
He notes that if users are talking a lot about timeliness, and you know timeliness is something you can do well, then you can use that to stand out.
“The other benefit of attributes is they are what is called a ‘semantic triple.’ It’s a way for a machine to understand and analyze entities. A triple is a subject, a predicate, and an object. This triple is a machine learning technique that Google can then use to analyze and reason about that business.
It provides Google with massive amounts of structured data to more accurately rank you and compare you to other businesses.”
Mike says he really loves attributes because it offers the intersection of Google, competitive analysis, and the consumer, “all brought together with the benefits of attributes to improve the review experience from just a bunch of numbers to contextual comparisons between and betwixt different entities.”
Mike wants to encourage agencies to perform “mission-related efforts” on behalf of struggling local businesses. “They’re struggling to survive.”
He notes GatherUp has an upcoming post about how to provide a low-cost digital service to a business for free if that business really needs it to keep their doors open.
“It speaks to all the needs of your business as well as their business. So rather than donating to some local charity, you can help these businesses by implementing a Google-only project for them. Help them automate so they can improve their processes.”
It’s not pure charity work, of course.
“When they come out of this, you’ll be who they think of when they move into full-blown digital marketing.”
Want more from the Godfather of Local?