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.
(To Download just right-click and “save link as” locally)
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.
- Conducting Keyword Research for Local
- Using PPC for Local SEO Campaigns
- Leveraging Market Knowledge for Keyword Research
- Differences Between an Organic Campaign & a Google Places Campaign
- Call Tracking Recommendations (or Not?)
- Rank Checking Recommendations (Organic & Maps)
- Taking Over a Local Campaign, What Usually is Missing
- Duplicate Content Concerns, Same Services in Different Locations
- Marketing Local SEO Services & Client Acquisition Tips
- Starting a New Local Business & Key Mistakes to Avoid
- Example of Clients Opening Up an Otherwise Tight Budget
- SEO & Non-SEO Tools the Help with Scaling
- What are Business Owners Looking For in a Company or Campaign?
- Pricing, Pricing, Pricing
- Favorite Local Resources
- Debunking the “Local Marketing” is Unscalable Argument
- List of Resources
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Jacob: Yeah, the service we’ve used is Ifbyphone, and it seems to work
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
Jacob: The phone’s ringing off the hook.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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, 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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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