The Mother of All SMX Local/Mobile Recaps

MIHMORANDUM NO. 111 | July 29th, 2008Reader Comments (30)

So I’ve just returned from SMX Local in San Francisco and my head is still spinning. Chris Sherman, Greg Sterling, and the rest of the Third Door Media team did an amazing job with this conference, and if you are at all inclined towards Local Search, I’d highly recommend attending next year.

Pros:
- Amazing collection of talent recruited to speak
- Probably “got more” out of this conference than any other, in terms of actionable tips
- Incredibly tight networking due to small size (you could have met almost ANYONE you wanted in Local Search)

Cons:
- Venue too expensive for many small business owners to attend
- Some sessions mis-titled
- Would have been nice to have a pre-conference networking event Wednesday night, a la SMX Seattle

As you can see, the pros were very positive and the cons were fairly minor. I enjoyed my first major speaking engagement and SO appreciated the opportunity to get such great exposure for the Local Search Ranking Factors.

Speaking of which, it was terrific to meet so many of the contributors in-person at a dinner co-hosted by myself and Will Scott the night before the conference!

Most Valuable Conference Tips (as you can see, there were a LOT of them!)

Gib Olander, Localeze

  • Consistent structured content is critical to your Local search success. “Structured” means business name, address, phone number, website, categories, etc. that the search engines can digest easily and properly attribute to your business.
  • “Other” is the fourth-largest Local search engine, meaning it’s critical to syndicate this content on as many platforms as possible.
  • (Note from DM: I don’t think Gib ever mentioned in his presentation that Localeze does exactly this—provide a structured platform for Local business content that is syndicated to a number of different providers. Kudos for not pitching, but I fear that this may have been lost on attendees who weren’t familiar with Localeze already!)

Steve Espinosa, eLocalListing

  • If you’ve got a “weak” website, think about piggybacking on your Yahoo Local or Citysearch listings and leverage the ranking power of those domains. Throw a few links at those listings and get them to rank in Google and count as citations for your Local Business Listing. Google is far more likely to rank a Yahoo Local profile on page one, for example, than it is to rank a site with few or no inbound links.
  • Video SEO for Small Businesses: Create a separate page on your website for your video. Associate an HTML description of the video on that page. Link to your YouTube video page with the geo-targeted anchor text you’re trying to rank for, as that might help a thumbnail of that video get included in Universal search results for those keywords. Include keywords in the TITLE of your video and your business name in the DESCRIPTION, and not the other way around.
  • Research your competitors’ citations to move from page two of Google Maps to Page One / the 10-pack. Citations from the Better Business Bureau are incredibly valuable.
  • Getting a citation from a web page with your keywords in its Title Tag can have a HUGE impact. (Check “mortgage in Toronto” search result as an example.
  • In the Q&A Steve recommended avoiding TubeMogul if you can commit the resources to managing your videos yourself.

Michael Jensen, SoloSEO / CityMarketer

  • Reviews can help mom & pop’s compete with and outrank national chains, especially in non-competitive areas
  • A business’s rating can be even more important than ranking. For instance if your business has five stars and all of your competitors average between 2.5 and 3, even if you are further down the page there’s a good chance you’ll have the highest clickthrough. Chris Silver Smith pointed out later in the conference that clickthrough rate may in fact influence RANKING as a signal to the search engines of the highest-quality Local Listings, so in this manner higher ratings may lead to higher rankings indirectly.
  • Why are reviews so hard for small businesses to obtain?
    - Customers have no motivation
    - Customers are not internet savvy
  • To combat these two factors, provide an incentive to motivate them (such as offering free WiFi in your waiting area where the landing page defaults to your “Leave a Review” page). Use a TinyURL or a redirect to create a more memorable address like “mysite.com/review”
  • Place a higher priority on obtaining reviews on sites that are syndicating to the search engines in your industry and your geography. If a third-party site like Citysearch or Yelp is ranking in the top ten for your target keywords already, it’s a good indication you’ll want to obtain reviews on those sites.

Will Scott, SearchInfluence

  • Geo-specific organic rankings are still more important than Local rankings in terms of the traffic and conversions they drive. There are very few OneBoxes for state or regional searches, except in smaller states like Connecticut or Delaware.
  • Low quality, easily obtained links can still win for local (long tail) search.

Dan Hobin, G5 Search Marketing

  • When calculating the real value of search for your clients, think about a different metric: “Cost Per Visitor”, which equals (CPC + Cost of Ad Agency Fee) / (Unique Visits)
  • Superpages and Citysearch had a much higher cost per visitor than Google Adwords due to the low click volume—the economics made no sense when including the ad agency fee.

Ian White, UrbanMapping

  • 40% of queries are Local in intent
    Only 5% of search terms use city and state
    Only 2% use neighborhoods or informal terms
    Only .5% use ZIP code
    32% + of Local searchers aren’t using geo-modifiers
  • As I clumsily tried to point out during the Q&A for this session, this 32% statistic speaks to Google’s desire for better ZIP code targeting among non-iGoogle users. However, Ian rightly countered that it’s difficult to get granular with ZIP code targeting because of incredible amount of overlap among ZIP codes using centroids and radii, because many ZIPs aren’t even close to a perfect circle.

Bryson Meunier, Resolution Media

  • Google Analytics does not work for mobile—we need mobile-specific analytics packages.
  • Consider the Mobile search experience – SUGGESTIONS become key—unique keyword research specifically for mobile may be worthwhile if mobile traffic is critical for your business.
  • Linkbuilding to the Mobile version of your website may have a large impact in your Mobile search rankings.

Mary Bowling, Blizzard Internet

  • Call tracking is critical for marketing companies to prove their worth to the customers (see Jon Schepke’s comment below for a follow-up).
  • Coupons “kinda” work—it had better be a really good offer if you’re going to see any real value or increased click through.
  • Profile Data works really, really well – standardize the information, keep it updated, but keep in mind that not all services can deliver on what they promise.
  • Adwords with geo-qualified keywords works really well. Consider geo-targeting feeder markets if you’re in the hospitality industry (e.g. Denver feeds Santa Fe, the Bay Area feeds Tahoe, etc.) Long tail keywords work ESPECIALLY well
  • Local Business Center ads “kinda” work. They are low traffic, low cost, high click-through rate, and low cost/conversion. But keep in mind Dan Hobin’s finding with Citysearch / Superpages. Your company may find that the time involved or cost of agency time to set these up may not be worth it.
  • Mary hasn’t found that ranking well in Google Maps yields much of an advantage, though as Mike Blumenthal pointed out on two occasions in Q&A, it is currently impossible to differentiate click traffic coming from the 10-pack, so this is ALL getting counted as organic.
  • Reinforcement of seeing 10-pack, PPC, AND organic might be a triple threat & increase CTR relative to ranking for just each of those areas.
  • Partner up with whoever’s ranking well in your area—don’t necessarily view them as competitors. Directories about your area, CofC’s, CVB’s, etc., as well as local bloggers.
  • In Q&A Mary suggested to check out Google’s Maps page for “Aspen, CO” (or similar) as the beginnings of its city guides – keep an eye on this trend to see what other kinds of information besides photos, etc. are being pulled in there.

Jon Schepke, Strategic Internet Marketing Partners

  • “Local search is more about phone calls than clicks.” Universal and mobile search make call tracking INCREDIBLY important and lies at the convergence of analytics for these two areas.
  • Text messaging is LIKE email marketing but leads to dramatically higher open rates! A successful strategy for Jon has been to promote on-property activities for his hospitality industry clients via TXT coupons.

Marty Weintraub, AIM Clear

  • Exploit content gaps within your own Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Bureau’s website to gain maximum search traffic.
  • “The magic to Local SEO is recurring content” so keep publishing up-to-date information about your community!

Scott Dunlap, NearbyNow

  • Local SEO drives 70% of search traffic for mall sites “Levi’s skinny jeans San Francisco” – if you can get geo-targeting of both location AND product, $900 CPM is not unreasonable because the conversion rate is so tremendous (e.g. for chocolates at Valentine’s Day).
  • NearbyNow’s Shopping Mall customers have had great success with what Scott called a “mobile claim check.” Personalize text messages to set up an “appointment” to pick up items in your size to increase conversion rate, as customers feel more obligated to make the meeting.

Chris Silver Smith, NetConcepts / Natural Search Blog

  • Store Locators are often neglected – they tend to be dead-end search boxes, when they need to spiderable with individual store profile pages for each location.
  • Your LBC profile listings should link directly to specific store pages for a better user experience and higher conversion rate.

Tony Wright, Wright IMC

  • Check out the “Ad Intelligence” tool from Microsoft – Excel plugin which can drill down on Keyword Volume to the City level; can extrapolate via market share estimates for search volume on Yahoo and Google. Note from DM: I tried this tool last night & it really only works for large cities, unfortunately, but I’m guessing that Microsoft will continue to try to provide more accurate data for smaller cities / rural area searches.

Mike Blumenthal

  • Why does Mike do the kind of research that he does? “I want the same information that any good spammer has, so I can help my clients compete honestly and effectively.”
  • Distance to Centroid, Business Title, and number of Web Citations were ALL more important than reviews in correlating to 10-pack ranking.
  • Distance to Centroid seems to matter most among industries where there are very few quality signals (like Plumbers in smaller towns, 75% of whom don’t even have websites).
  • Check out this amazing graphic of Mike’s assessment of what matters for ranking well in the 10-pack.

  • Because of the variety in the number and quality of non-LBC signals by industry, it’s important to do a fluid analysis of who’s ranking well based on how competitive your industry is.
  • Note / full disclosure from DM: Along with other notable Local Search bloggers, I helped Mike do some of the research for this project. Nonetheless, I found Mike’s presentation to be probably the single most fascinating discussion of ranking factors at the entire conference. I’m hoping he commits a lengthy blog post, or potentially a series, discussing the results of this research in their entirety.

Jordan Kasteler, UtahSEOPro

Give Google plenty of signals to signify that your site is mobile-friendly:

  • Use an XHTML mp or WAP 2.0 doctype tag (encode in utf-8)
  • CSS – use only %’s and absolute positioning (no floats)
  • Images, maximum 120 pixels wide
  • Using the telephone attribute can help a phone dial that number directly (<a href=”#” tel=”5035602755”>503 560 2755</a>)
  • Keep file size under 20K for fastest download to mobile devices.
  • <link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” media=”handheld,projection,tv” href=”mobile.css”>.
  • Create an XML mobile sitemap and submit to Google and Yahoo.
  • Get links from and link out TO mobile sites.
  • Submit your site to niche mobile directories.

Chris Travers, Universal Business Listing

  • UBL has hundreds of people at its call center in North Carolina entering your business data in a “web card” – standard microformatting structure.
  • Their data set is free to any search engine that wants to use it & represents the best attempt at a standardized platform.

Chris Silver Smith, Natural Search Blog / NetConcepts

  • The usual SEO signals still play into ranking well in Local/Maps.
  • Using call tracking services with different local phone numbers might be a problem since these will send confusing signals to the search engines.

30 Responses to “The Mother of All SMX Local/Mobile Recaps”

  1. MiriamEllis says at

    Wonderful, wonderful recap, David! This is fantastic.

    I know…the Mike data is totally fascinating. I believe he is going to post about it and then maybe all of us who contributed to that can discuss it together.

    I was glad to see Chris Silver Smith’s indication that CTR is likely a ranking factor. I guessed it was. Nice to see someone else saying this!

    You did a great job on this David. I hope someone powerful will Sphinn this. There was almost zero coverage of the conference on Sphinn. That needs to be corrected and this post should do it!
    Miriam

  2. emad says at

    Thanks for the great recap for those of us who couldn’t make it!

  3. David Mihm says at

    Thanks, Miriam. Matt McGee was kind enough to Sphinn it for those who are interested.

  4. Matt McGee says at

    I had a wonderful time last Thursday with old friends who were visiting from across the country, and wouldn’t trade that for the world. But this recap also makes me really sorry to have missed the conference. Thanks for the great recap, David….

  5. Don Campbell says at

    Excellent write-up David – thanks. It was great meeting you at the event!
    -Don

  6. Tom Cole says at

    David, I will add to the kudos here for a wonderful recap! My only regret is not meeting you until after your talk, which I did not catch (I was in the other room listening to the alternate track). I definitely would have liked to hear your comments live, but again I really appreciate your sharing these notes.

  7. James Wilson says at

    Excellent post David. You just saved me a bunch of time in collecting all my notes from the conference : ) It was good meeting you at the conference as well.

  8. Maps Guide Jen says at

    David, thanks for the superb recap. It was great to meet and talk to you!

  9. Jeremy Kuhnke says at

    Nice recap David. It was nice meeting you at the conference, now I can put a face to the search ranking factors presentation.

  10. David Temple says at

    Thanks for the great recap David. Excellent information in here, definitely go for the triple threat. I love Monterey, used to live there. Did you golf Pebble Beach?

  11. David Mihm says at

    @DonCampbell @TomCole @JamesWilson @JeremyKuhnke – Great to meet all of you guys as well! Some fantastic networking opps :)

    MapsGuideJen, what an honor to have you here on the blog! Great to meet you as well!

    David, I actually played at Poppy Hills – I have a friend who works for the NCGA who was nice enough to get me on there on Sunday morning. Really enjoyed the round, though the fog was so thick that we could only see about 180 yards in front of us for pretty much the entire round! I’m a big fan of the Peninsula also :D

  12. Will Scott says at

    Hey David,

    I know I’m not as hip as Steve Espinosa but you left out the most important part: low quality, easily obtained links can still win for local (long tail) search. Link drop: http://www.searchinfluence.com/blog/2008/07/local-search-ranking-presentation/

    It was great to see you in person and to connect with so many of my online friends. Thanks for all your great work — including this post!

    Hopefully next time we’ll have Miriam and Matt too!

    See you soon,
    Will

  13. David Mihm says at

    Will, you’re absolutely right. Something must have happened with my copy-and-paste into WordPress because I distinctly remember typing that sentence. Thanks for dropping that link. I’m going to add it to the main post.

    Great to see you also!

  14. Michael Jensen says at

    David, fantastic recap, thanks for taking such great notes! It was so fun getting together Wednesday night, thanks to you and Will for heading that up.

  15. Gib Olander says at

    This is a fantastic recap, thank you for taking the time to make the content shared at SMX Local so “utilizable”. It was a pleasure to meet you. Please keep up the great work, you make it so much easier for me to do my job!

  16. Dave Oremland says at

    Great review David. On the one hand I regret I wasn’t there. On the other hand I feel like I’ve gotten a wonderful recap of important information. Having partaken in both your research and Mike’s research, I was interested in the review of these items along with the other perspectives.

    I agree with Mike Blumenthal on the point put forth by Mary Bowling. We have discussed it in depth. Within one’s analytics program, a search that starts out in organic search and generates a 10 pac, 3 pac or authoritative map shows in your analytics as a search through organic. It doesn’t identify a click on your site as coming from Maps. So it is hard to determine if clicks within maps originating in organic searches were the determining factor or not. I went so far as to check with an analyst at one of the market firms to determine their methodology to ascertain usage of maps. Unfortunately at the analytics level we can’t see where in google (inserted map or organic listing) that the customer is clicking.

    On the other hand, here is one anecdotal example vis a vis maps inserts into organic listings.

    I have a business wherein I’ve tracked traffic phrases for years. Among many long tail/regional local phrases, there are 3 that over many years generated about the same volume of traffic. The business is located near a city that borders two states. The 3 long tail search prhases represent the main business term with either city or state names. Once Google started inserting maps into organic searches—the site fortunately picked up an authoritative one map for the search phrase with the city name.

    Over the next year traffic into the phrase with city name (and authoritative one map) increased by about 50% over the other two phrases–after years of driving about the same volume of traffic as the business term/state names (without any type of map).

    At the very least the authoritative one map has had a seeming huge impact.

    (I hope that is understandable) :D

    Terrific recap.

    Dave

  17. Ryan Mull says at

    Great great recap – thank you!

    I have one comment – This position by Chris Smith seems off to me…

    “Using call tracking services with different local phone numbers might be a problem since these will send confusing signals to the search engines.”

    It is my belief that using call tracking gives so much value to the business on what is working and what isn’t, that it far outweighs POSSIBLE unproven search engine optimization issues he is suggesting. Most have the ability to record the calls as well, which brings even more value by evaluating how leads are handled as well as evaluating the lead quality.

    Finally, if needed, the business can always keep the special pages generated for such things as PPC campaigns, with tracking phone numbers, hidden by keeping those pages from being crawled and causing these POSSIBLE SEO issues.

  18. David Mihm says at

    Ryan, the problem that I think Chris was alluding to is that using different numbers for the same businesses across multiple platforms means those platforms don’t get credit as citations, meaning those businesses might not rank in the first place. Google and Yahoo might think they refer to different businesses. This could end up being a HUGE detriment to any Local SEO efforts and might lead to no calls to track :)

    I don’t think he was referring to PPC tracking at all…

    But maybe Chris will stop by and respond to your comment himself?

  19. David Mihm says at

    Dave, your Authoritative OneBox example is certainly illustrative, but unfortunately that seems to occur so rarely it is hard to judge the effectiveness for the more common 10 and 3-packs, as you point out.

    I have one client who has a very low PR website but a well-optimized Google Local presence receiving about 1,200 search engine visits to his website each month in a large MSA. I have to think Local is driving almost ALL of his traffic…but because we don’t have solid organic results to compare it to, it’s hard to know what % of TOTAL traffic that 10-pack listing is capturing.

  20. Mike Blumenthal says at

    It was a great conference. Thanks for the great coverage above.

    Glad we got to spend some time together.

    Mike

  21. Dave Oremland says at

    I agree David. The one-box is the exception rather than the rule. Still the anecdotal evidence suggests the one box works….(if you can get it). As to being #1 in a 10 pac or 3 pac versus lower–who knows how it works.

    Still, analytics doesn’t give us an idea as to the number of users that click on maps inserted into organic searches. So we have to guess.

    While the anecdotal evidence I present suggests that people click on links in universal maps inserts into organic searches…..here is another anecdotal piece of evidence that questions the Maps values.

    I’m sure there were a lot of maps clicks on my business….but can’t tell how many. I ran a very attractive coupon in the Google Local Business Center with significant dollar savings. Over a reasonable lengthy period–not one contact referenced the coupon. Not one.

    It suggests to me that visitors are clicking on the website link rather than the local business center/Maps link. Again, just an anecdotal example, not hard evidence.

    Its a tricky thing to track vis a vis using different phone numbers and/or other potential methods. Nobody wants to “screw up” the local listing.

    On the other hand…..1,200 visitors/month for a local business based on high maps rankings…BRAVO!!!! (they should give you a bonus!!!!!)

    Dave

  22. David Mihm says at

    Dave, I definitely think that most users are just clicking the direct link to your website rather than the ‘more’ link or ‘reviews’ link. I’ve run a coupon for two years on my own LBL and not a single inquirer has referenced it either. Does that signify that G should consider adding a ‘coupon’ logo inline with the 10-pack results, kind of like they do with G Checkout and Adwords?

  23. Dave Oremland says at

    Hah. I looked at your coupon. That is worthwhile. Mine was definitely worthwhile. No reference in either case. The Google Coupon placement issue doesn’t seem to attract action.

    I agree, I have no evidence that people look at the details in the LBL.

    Greg Sterling has referenced that coupon usage is on the increase. Mary Bowling commented that coupons “sort of work”. My old experience with print was that they work….somewhat.

    Until Google makes a change….I’d highlight couponing in a format different than offered by the Google LBL

  24. Chris Silver Smith says at

    David, thanx for putting this extensive recap together! It was great to meet you in person and to interact with everyone else.

    Ryan, I seem to recall jumping in to say that “…Using call tracking services with different local phone numbers might be a problem…”, because I was attempting to summarize why some other conference speaker had recommended against the practice.

    First, this would/could be a problem if search engines absorbed multiple listings with differing phone numbers and did not properly canonicalize them into one business listing. If that were to happen, it would spread out that one business’s ranking value across multiple listings, diluting it and resulting in lower rankings in SERPs.

    HOWEVER, local search engines do not use phone numbers solely in collapsing duplicate listings down — they also use business names and addresses, so in my opinion this is likely a low risk (unless perhaps it’s for a business which doesn’t have street addresses).

    I’ve also recommended using tracking phone numbers in the past, since it’s a great way of measuring effectiveness and knowing where one’s customers are coming from. If you use the tracking numbers and they cause multiple dupe listings to spawn off, stop and get it fixed. Otherwise, use the numbers so you can properly gage effectiveness of your various placements.

  25. David Mihm says at

    Chris, thanks for clearing that up. I realize that it wasn’t clear from my own notes that you weren’t making that proclamation directly, though for anyone in the room at the time your tone was obvious. Another part of the problem was that I have had tracking numbers NOT get collapsed with a couple of client listings so I am a little more sensitive to the risk :)

  26. Ryan Mull says at

    Chris & David – Thanks for clearing up… That helps!

  27. Hayden Dell says at

    Very informative post. Thank you from all of us that couldn’t attend.

  28. Lucas Ng says at

    Thumbs up David!
    Sounds like the intimacy of smaller conferences helps the networking tremendously.
    Informative read for those that didn’t make it there :)

  29. Jon says at

    Thanks David, a fascinating read. I wish we had a similar event in the UK

    Cheers, Jon

  30. exhibition says at

    You completed several good points there. I did a search on the problem and located practically all folks will have exactly the same opinion with your weblog.

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