Yesterday I had a chance to experience the LocalU Virtual conference event. The team at LocalU lead by Joy Hawkins, Mary Bowling, and Mike Blumenthal, did a great job of flipping what had been planned as a live event in Atlanta into a virtual conference.
I am sure the LocalU team (all of whom have day jobs) didn’t expect the coronavirus curveball. None of us did. Still, they pushed forward to deliver a mountain of quality content throughout the day-long event.
While I have been around the local search space for a few decades, I’ve never really exposed myself to the hardcore intricacies of delivering local search for customers. The speakers bridged the gap between quant nerds and strategic thinkers with alternating dives into the weeds and flights up into the clouds, as appropriate.
A GMB Master Class
The event certainly delivered on its billing as an intensive or Master Class on Google My Business. The morning lead off with a quick history of Google’s role in local search. Mary Bowing, SEO analyst at Sterlingsky.ca took us through an often amusing history of Google’s perhaps love-hate relationship with the local space.
Mary was followed by Greg Gifford of Searchlabdigital.com who shared his best practices for using Google Data Studio, which enables agencies to build high-quality reports for their customers. Greg was quite funny, offered some important pointers and used GIFs as well as I’ve seen anyone use them in a presentation.
Local search luminary Mike Blumenthal took us through a great case study of how he helped an Olean, New York restaurant double its business in about 18 months. My chief takeaway was that by applying a few small steps over time (and not a whole lot of time), Mike was able to boost the visibility and hence the business prospects of the restaurant. I did wonder, as an amateur, if the timeframe could have been collapsed from 18 months to say nine months.
Aaron Weiche, CEO of GatherUp.com, shared his best practices for managing reviews. One of his key messages was that old reviews shouldn’t just sit and collect dust. Well written ones can be used throughout the marketing messages for a business – no matter their age (presuming it is the same owner). He also showed some data that, not surprisingly, focused on review currency being the most important factor for consumers. Aaron also commented that if a competitor to a customer has four or five times the number of reviews, then you’ve got a review challenge. But if they have five or 10 more, you’re essentially on par.
Spam, Spam, Spam…
As I listened, I heard the word spam used. A lot.
Of course, I knew that this has been an issue in the space for a long time. Mike Blumenthal mentioned that he’s been reporting on spam in local results for more than a decade.
What I didn’t realize was the extent to which the problem continues to be a substantive issue that agencies — and by extension business owners — face day in and day out. That legitimate local search practitioners have to spend so much of their time “getting rid of spam” seems like a real drag on the industry.
The time spent combatting spam time could be better used to help customers improve their stories, produce more content, and deliver better customer experiences.
More Expert Hacks
My friend Andrew Shotland of localseoguide shared his hacks for working with multi-location and enterprise customers. He offered some nifty tricks to get around Google’s 10-location limit. What I liked most was his RICE tool. These are essentially a way to demonstrate the value of a client’s SEO investment. He also noted a number of free tools that the localseoguide team has made available to agencies.
Kickpoint‘s Dana DiTomaso explained the differences in data that come via Google My Business, Google Search Counsel and Google Analytics. Frankly, I don’t understand why there are some many different options. This must drive local search and SEO practitioners mad.
There Will Be a Quiz at the End
Joy Hawkins, a LocalU co-founder and CEO of Sterlingsky.ca, closed out this long but highly informative day with a 10 question interactive quiz. What I loved about her approach was that for each question she offered convincing test data to supported the answer. The attendees who did the quiz (there was no way was I going to take it) scored above 75%. It was a great way to end the day.
After the event, Andrew Shotland explained that the reason Joy is so knowledgeable is because she spent years as an agency SEO for SMBs. Doing this work made her a GMB Product Expert. She left a few years ago to go out on her own and grow her consulting business. Last year she bought both LocalSearchForum.com and LocalU.org. These entities are helping raise the knowledge of those trying to navigate all of Google’s quirks and craziness.
Having risen at 4:52 am to join this virtual conference, I skipped the final Q&A session. All in all, I learned a ton. And I also realized that there’s an amazing amount of detail that goes into getting someone’s GMB stuff to work for them instead of against them.
Thanks to Joy and Andrew for inviting me to their event. I really appreciated the opportunity.