Local SEO Expert Q&A: 7 Answers from David Mihm

Local SEO is a tough game. One minute you’re ranking number one with your Google My Business listing for your top keyword + city, the next minute, Google changes the number of listings they show in the local pack from seven to three and you’re filtered right out of the Google My Business results.

Or, maybe you’ve experienced another scenario, where you’re say, a local office with one physical location. Let’s say Milwaukee for sake of this example, that sells digital printing and direct mail services. But you don’t just sell those services to people in Milwaukee, you also sell them to people in nearby cities like Brookfield and New Berlin.

Your top goal has always been to rank as high as you can for local searches related to “digital printing” and “direct mail” in the Milwaukee and 25 mile surrounding area. Then, one day, Google decides it rather make the results more localized and show offices with physical locations in the cities mentioned above that you don’t have a physical office in. Your Milwaukee digital printing company that once ranked well in New Berlin, Wisconsin, a 25 minute drive away from Milwaukee, has now disappeared completely with only local offices in New Berlin appearing.

Talk about depressing!

Which is exactly why I interviewed experts like David for their tips.

Below are seven answers featured from local SEO expert, David Mihm, who, among some of the top local SEO experts in the online marketing field today, answered 56 questions on local marketing.

Q 1: What do you think are going to be the biggest changes in local search within the next year (2018) that small businesses should pay attention to?

A 1: I wrote about this pretty extensively in my 2017 predictions post: ads and Knowledge Panels.

We’re already seeing a decline in the amount of organic traffic Google sends to websites of all sizes — whether due to increased monetization of the Search Engine Results Page, or searcher interaction with rich-attribute Knowledge Panels.  The decline in the number of businesses for whom organic search (SEO) is a viable primary channel for customer acquisition will get steeper and steeper in the next few years if these two trends (ads and Knowledge Panels) continue at their current rate.

Q 2: If you were a small, local shop selling baked goods or beverages with limited time to work with your online marketing, what are the top three things you would focus on in order of importance?

A 2: This question is really at the heart of my rationale for creating the Local Marketing Stack graphic.  It sort of depends at what stage your business is, but, I would say the lowest-cost, highest-return digital marketing initiatives for local businesses are:

  1. Gathering customer emails — these can be leveraged into customer intelligence, content, promotions, reviews, remarketing and lookalike audience acquisition
  2. A strong, consistent email newsletter to stay top-of-mind
  3. Gathering customer feedback and channeling net promoters into leaving online reviews

Q 3 : With the increase in mobile device usage, what do you think restaurants and online retailers should be doing as a minimum in regard to local SEO?

A 3: I don’t know that the increase in mobile device usage really has anything to do with it, but basically everything inside of Zone 2 of this graphic.

Specifically, I’d say that every local business needs:

  1. A mobile-responsive website
  2. A customer email list
  3. Claimed local profiles (Google, FB, Yelp) with good photos
  4. A handful of customer reviews on each of those platforms
  5. Claimed social profiles with good photos (FB, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, depending on your industry)
  6. And probably a handful of links from local community groups/charities you’re involved in

Q 4: Do you think local SEO will get more or less important as time goes on?

A 4: As I said in question 1, I’d say somewhat less important over time, because I think Google and Facebook will continue to monetize more and more searches.  Within Local SEO, there will still be foundational tactics that every business should execute (like claiming their Google My Business page, adding good photos, keeping information current, getting reviews), but things we usually start with today as SEO fundamentals (title tags, links, citations) will over time decline in importance as Google ingests more and more personalized engagement signals.
Q 5: How do you think the advancements in virtual reality will affect local businesses in search, if at all?

A 5: Certainly, there’s value as a medium for any industry which is heavily visual.  Google has been working on 360-degree Trusted Photographer views of local businesses for a long time, so extending this framework into VR would make total sense. We’re probably only 4-5 years away from seeing this kind of thing as a common experience.

But I’m pretty bearish on the commercial value of AR/VR as a platform. I see AR/VR platforms as a lot closer to a video game than a mobile search in terms of how people will interact with it and the utility for local businesses. The biggest AR/VR sensation so far, Pokémon Go, only works for a VERY limited set of businesses in terms of attracting customers. I just don’t see lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, nail salons, roofers, and so on getting much value out of something like Pokémon Go, or placing a virtual billboard in a virtual experience.

Q 6: Do you have any suggestions for in-house marketers to get buy-in on local SEO initiatives?

A 6: First of all, Google has a lot of great studies and surveys at thinkwithgoogle.com. They’re skewed/biased towards paid search but executives tend to place a lot of trust in Google data and there are certainly some compelling findings that can be persuasive.

Secondly, I would just ask executives to think about their own behaviors about their discovery mechanisms (and evaluation mechanisms) for local businesses.  If they’re looking for a (fill in the blank business type), how do they go about it?  Even if they are recommended a business by a friend offline or via email, they’re probably still going to look it up on Google or Facebook to view photos, read reviews, etc.

Q 7: How important is Google My Business and Reviews as it relates to restaurants in local search?

A 7: Essential. Review volume and review content (on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Zomato, and others as well as Google and Facebook) is, in a vacuum, probably the #1 ranking factor in the restaurant industry.

David’s Bio:

David Mihm is first and foremost an advocate for sustainable digital marketing techniques for small businesses.  In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in the local search engines.  He’s a co-founder of the Local University conference series.

David now runs Tidings and his weekly newsletter, Minutive.  In his spare time, he volunteers with and serves on the Board of MercyCorps Northwest, enjoys travel (to world-class links courses in particular), Oregon-made craft coffee and craft beer, and spectator sports of almost all kinds—go Blazers and Timbers!