Local Search Interview With David Mihm

by Shagun Vatsa on November 3, 2009

In light of the new changes that Google has introduced to its local platform, I thought it would be a great idea to get feedback from some of the local SEO gurus on what they think the ramifications are of these enhancements. These interviews will detail their views opinions about the local sphere and also give us an opportunity to get to know them  a little more personally.

I chose to kick things off with interviewing David Mihm. David is one of the leading industry experts in the field of local search today. Innovator of the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey and a regular contributor to many leading search marketing conferences, David has made his mark and demonstrated his expertise in local search optimization. If local search is your niche, I highly recommend reading David’s work on his blog, Mihmorandum. He is also a regular contributor on Search Engine Land.

1) For those who may not be familiar with your background, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought your interest to the field of local search?

Sure.  I first got into “internet stuff” back in college, when I started a college basketball website as a hobby.  In 2003, my boss at the job I used to have in the summer (still an occasional client) had me redesign his website.  I got indoctrinated into the world of search engine optimization almost exclusively via those projects, and although I took a couple of years to try architecture school and a job at an ad agency, I found myself working full-time for small businesses in about 2005.
Most of my clients needed to rank for geographic terms, since 99% of their business came from local areas, so it was really out of necessity that I tried to figure out what worked and what didn’t.  When Google Maps exploded onto the scene as part of the Universal Search rollout in 2007, it was pretty obvious that was going to be a pretty key area to focus on going forward.  Anymore, I do very little design work & my time at David Mihm, Inc. is focused almost exclusively on Local Search consulting.

2) What are thoughts on local search and its importance now, compared to a couple of years ago? Do you think its rise will or is contributing to the death of traditional and internet Yellow Pages?

The print yellow pages would have gone the way of the dinosaur whether or not Local search had risen in importance.  Sure, there are still a few categories you might check the print books for, like locksmiths or payday loans, but by and large almost every demographic (including my parents!) is finding some pretty good results by searching online.  There’s still time for the internet Yellow Pages to recover, particularly if there’s a unique offering to their individual websites.  Yelp’s pretty much cornered the market on user reviews across most industries, but there are plenty of great vertical sites like Angie’s List, Boorah, etc.  As far as Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, etc., I’ve said for years that they need to transition their business models away from selling a product to selling a service–helping SMB’s figure out what the best place to spend their money online is, whether or not it happens to be an ad on their own sites.  Sell expertise, not screen real estate.

3) In your opinion, what has been your favourite or the most important change in the local sphere especially when talking about Google’s local platform?

I love to see Google promoting the Local Business Center the way it has over the last handful of months.  For all of our sniping at Google for its lack of customer service, the Local Business Center can truly be a huge kickstart for SMB’s online presence when it works properly.  I think the thing that I’m most excited to see roll out are the new Local Listing Ads, which I think are priced and organized in such a way that they’ll be a total no-brainer for a lot of SMB’s.

4) One of the testimonials on your blog says that you go above and beyond to educate your clients about local search. Local rankings across various niches recently dropped for a period of time due to algorithmic changes. In cases like these, how do you deal with client expectations and concerns?

Luckily, most of my clients’ rankings are still holding pretty steady…I think if you do the “blocking and tackling” in Local Search–making sure your data’s correct at the major providers, submitting yourself to relevant sites in your vertical, continuing to gain positive reviews, doing the basics of on-page optimization, you’re probably still fine.  I’m not sure Google intended the recent interface changes to shake up their algorithm, necessarily, and we’ll probably some leveling out over the next few months.  As far as dealing with client expectations, I’m always up front about the fact that there is no guarantee whatsoever of any sustained rankings, and that it’s important not to rely on Google as the sole source of their income.

5) What do you think are the ramifications of the new 7 pack?

Not much, actually.  I had thought they introduced it largely to make way for the Local Listing Ads, but  Matt McGee actually pointed out on my blog that it takes up the same amount of screen real estate as the 10-pack.  If anything, it should increase clickthrough for those businesses that ARE in the 7-pack since there’s more whitespace around their individual listings than before.

6) How does analyzing local data differ when using Google Analytics vs. the enhanced LBC Dashboard. Which offers more accurate results or are they equally precise?

Analytics proper tends to be much more valuable, I think, since you tend to get the actual geographic keywords that are pulling up your listing–especially if you’ve set up filters to track 7-pack clicks.  That’s one feature that I just can’t understand why Google doesn’t include in the LBC Dashboard.  Not sure I see the benefit to holding back full keyword data, though perhaps they’re worried about TMI confusing a typical small business owner.

7) You seem to be a solo practitioner of search. How do you balance providing local SEO services with actively speaking at conferences and other events?

Well, I wouldn’t be speaking at conferences or giving other presentations if I didn’t still work “in the trenches!”  I think it’s essential to continue to be involved in Local SEO for actual businesses in order to be sure what you’re advising still works!  It’s one area where I think our particular community of bloggers and thought leaders does a great job; I’m not sure I’d say the same for some of the areas of online marketing.  Sometimes the CEO of a larger company is not the best guy to be giving a tactical presentation.
Traveling to conferences & catching up with friends and colleagues in other parts of the SEO world has been a ton of fun, but as you say, without someone to respond to email and phone calls while I’m away, it can be a challenge to catch up.  I’m still recovering from SMX East last month!

8 ) How do you keep up with the ongoing changes and news related to local search?

I am an avid blog reader and Twitter feed scanner!  I probably spend about two hours a day just staying up-to-date on what’s happening, either via reading and commenting or over private email.  It’s just part of the job description (or should be, anyway).  Most of the people I read regularly are linked in the main sidebar of my own blog–Mike Blumenthal & Greg Sterling have been particularly prolific recently and I’d definitely start there.

9) What advice do you have for aspiring local SEO experts?

I’d encourage them to try to get experience in as many different industries as possible.  For one thing, I think it’s helpful from a business standpoint–focusing on one industry pigeonholes you, leaving you vulnerable to cutbacks in one industry, and also makes it difficult to take on additional business that won’t be competitive with existing clients.But more importantly, getting exposure across multiple industries and categories can give you a better understanding of how the algorithms work, powerful citation sources, etc. And for heaven’s sake, blog!  There’s no better way to build up your reputation in the industry than publishing great content or unique insights you’ve gleaned from your experience.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dev Basu November 3, 2009 at 10:10 am

Great interview Shagun and David. It’s always refreshing to see new commentary on the changing world of local search!

Andew Shotland November 3, 2009 at 10:40 am

Totally in agreement with David re providing more local analytics in the LBC dashboard. Since we already suffer from TMI, might as well pour it on.

Mike Belasco November 3, 2009 at 11:53 am

excellent interview. Agreed with Andrew, pour on the info in the LBC. I maybe analytics junkie, but there is never TMI IMHO.

Kevin Alvarez November 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Great interview. I have never met David but I am going to assume he is too humble to honestly answer your last question – “What advice do you have for aspiring local SEO experts?”. In my opinion, the first thing any aspiring Local SEO expert should do is visit David’s blog and study the Local SEO ranking factors (which was as put together by him and other knowledgeable contributors such as Dev Basu, Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Brian Carter, Andrew Shotland, and more).

Matthew November 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Great Interview!

David, I always love hearing about your passion about local search. I too am starting to dream about it. :)

Michael Vlaicu November 4, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Great job Shagun, it’s always refreshing to read your input on SEO expertise.

Mike Ramsey November 6, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I very much enjoyed reading this article. My favorite point was the time spent per day staying up to date with the constant changes.

It is amazing how much information is freely shared about local search through a great network of bloggers. David is spot on with his advice to scan twitter and read what is happening in the industry.

Phoenix Locksmith November 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Why are the locals for locksmiths so hard to create these days? Everytime I make a local Google just deletes it or flags it for content.

Shagun Vatsa November 9, 2009 at 7:25 pm

@Phoenix Locksmith

The locksmith industry is heavily watched by Google and there are a number of reasons why your listing might be getting flagged. Why don’t you get in touch with me via email (shagun@shagunvatsa.com) so we can discuss this further.

Subhash Kandpal November 13, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Great Interview. I always love to read David’s posts.

Martijn Beijk November 20, 2009 at 2:27 am

This interview is a great read and I want to thank Shagun Vatsa for publishing it! Great point by the way by David to be upfront to your clients by not giving any guarantee about rankings,.
It is a strategy often used by many people to lure in customers, but you are really cutting yourself when Google is shaking up their algorythm and you need to deal with clients that feel like they are being left out in the dark.

Local Internet Marketing November 20, 2009 at 6:47 am

Local SEO allows results to be filtered and customized in accordance with the reception of a particular group of audience. This is really great interview.

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