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David Minchala talks Local Search (Lunch with an Expert)

On August 24th, we invited Local Search Expert David Minchala (SEO Manager at Yodle) to join us for our inaugural episode of Lunch with an Expert. Check it out as he offer insights on how to track local search rankings, some key changes he’s been seeing lately in the SERPs, Google removing data from the DoubleClick…

On August 24th, we invited Local Search Expert David Minchala (SEO Manager at Yodle) to join us for our inaugural episode of Lunch with an Expert. Check it out as he offer insights on how to track local search rankings, some key changes he’s been seeing lately in the SERPs, Google removing data from the DoubleClick AdPlanner and as well as questions he answered live for folks in the Google+ channel.

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Mike: Today we’re joined by Dave Minchala, awesome local search guy,maven, expert and works at Yodle. He’s the SEO manager there. I invited himdown today just so we can have some lunch. We’re having sandwiches fromthis spot on Ninth Ave. What are you having?

Dave: I’ve got this pastrami. Real serious, by the way.

Mike: And I’m over here with turkey and cheese, mayo on top, mustardon the bottom or maybe they reversed it this time. That’s cool. I reallyjust invited you today so we can kick it, have lunch, talk about things.Anything you’re seeing in the SERPs lately that’s kind of crazy?

Dave: MozCast inspired me. MozCast is actually a really, really usefultool. I’m really happy that Dr. Pete and the Moz team put that together. Wehave our own metrics with them. They’ve been watching Yodle on a dailybasis. Some of the challenges I have in dealing with search vendors’ tools and MozCast is the queries that they use are generally things that may ormay not be relevant to my space in particular. We deal with pretty much alllocally focused queries, most of the time transactional. I need a plumbernow, an emergency plumber, toothache, med spa, those types of things. Intalking to Dr. Pete, he mentioned that there are not a whole lot of those queries in MozCast’s system so I had to do a little work in figuring out ifwhat we’re seeing in MozCast is actually a truly global thing or somethingthat’s more closely tied to the queries that they’re tracking in that tool.

Sure enough I actually work with a really awesome rank vendor, Zoom Rank.If you guys don’t know about Zoom Rank, check them out. Putting a stake inthe ground right now, better than AWR, better than pretty much anybody.Their approach and their ability to work with the data that you need andhow you need it is really, really cool. What they have out of the box isfrigging sweet as it is. We looked at our own data. We’re able to see whatkind of SERP it is. Is it a blended type? Is it a purely organic sevenpack? We’re looking at how many organic listings are on a page, how manypin listings are on a page.

In that crazy week that we were all at MozCon, as Pete noted, there was alot of volatility in the SERPs that last week of July into the first weekof August. We saw a lot of what Pete coined as “SERP shrink” to the pointwhere certain SERPs were returning a max of two organic listings on a page.The rest were all local. There was also, in that time period, a higherconcentration of blended listings on the SERPs as well versus previousweeks. Pure organic dropped heavily in favor of more blendeds. It seems asif it was a truly global something, some big shake up was happening. Itcould have been a really massive A/B test for a SERP. It could have beensome sort of data calculation taking effect. It levelled off and it seemsto be one of those test type things, but it was really interesting. Wedefinitely saw impact in other things like our per cent of page ones. Wewere able to track phone calls and see the impact on that. Overall,everything that we’ve seen pretty much since Penguin, Penguin Apocalypse,has been in our favour, but that’s probably the last biggest thing that Imonitored. I actually finished that up just yesterday.

Mike: Cool. We’re going to keep taking questions from you guys. Ifyou have any questions about local search, about anything that you think Dave might know about, feel free to let us know and we’ll ask him in realtime. It’s kind of funny, Dave and I a couple weeks ago, his wife, my girlfriend, we all went out to a really awesome dinner, definitely a reallypinkies up dinner, and now we’re following up with these sandwiches. It’s definitely a steep decline. What are you working on? Well, maybe you don’twant to speak about the tool that you’re working on. What type of insight can you give people as far as right now where local search is and what are the new best practices? I know a lot has changed in the last few months.

Dave: There are two kind of passes to it, as a business owner and amarketer. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way business owners think about their marketing online. Unfortunately, and I feel like this isnot unique to the local space, this is more a general challenge, clientsare still heavily focused and fixated on rankings as the end goal which is damaging not only to the work that we’re trying to do, generalize anindustry, but can often be damaging to their total business strategy as awhole. It’s distracting from making more money, quite honestly. Even certain things like the tip that I left at MozCon, near equals is the fundamental…for me the marquis reason why rankings can be distracting isif you spent all your time tracking your rankings for your locations in Los Angeles, California, without using near equals, you are not seeing the SERPs that your customers in Los Angeles, California, are seeing.

If you didn’t know that, you would have been making all kinds ofoptimization decisions, spending all kinds of resources and energy ontrying to fix your visibility there without truly knowing whether or notyou’re visible. In point of fact, I was dealing with a client the other daywho was upset with their perceived lack of visibility. They were a customerin Jersey City. I very easily pulled up a browser, set the location as Jersey City and showed them they were ranking for a really freaking big head term right on page one, top of the page, first ten listing. They wouldn’t have noticed that, they wouldn’t have seen that unless theythought about that. Google is doing a lot better job than taking care ofthe SERP as it relates to the customer and where they’re actually located.I think that’s a worthwhile net commentary and web designers need to think about it.

The other day my wife and I were in a part of town that we generally don’tgo. She needed a bag of flour. We stopped at this hole in the wall, off tothe side deli that we would never see unless we were truly looking for it. Get to the counter, this guy’s got this Pantech seven inch tablet where itvery simply says, “Give me your phone number, and you’ll get a free sandwich after six visits” I gave my phone number right away. I’ve beenthere three more times since just for that reason because I want my free sandwich. He’s thinking about it differently. He’s thinking about reachingthe local customer using technology in a practical way. And he’s thinkingabout making more money as opposed to getting likes on Facebook andFacebook friends. He’s tripled his business with me just by doing that.

Mike: It’s no Foursquare involved, it’s just getting your number.

Dave: Exactly.

Mike: You’re back to the old school like the way a Subway sandwich club where you get a stamp every time you buy a sandwich.

Dave: Exactly. Only I’m more apt to go and visit him because I don’t haveto remember a thumb card. I don’t have to have a little punch ticket withme. As marketers, if we can help the business owner focus on customeracquisition and customer retention, whatever the SERP looks like, it doesn’t matter. Just focus on those as key end goals, then we can do moreeffective, more interesting things like finding out what the local audienceis. You put me on the great tool, [inaudible 8:49]. Very super useful ifyou match that up with insights from the AppFinder, I don’t know if youheard today AppFinder is pulling back from some of the data that they’ll beexposing. They will only be showing data for sites on the Google displaynetwork now, not the general Internet. They won’t be enabling demo datalike income, educational, things like that. Keyword insights are gone as of September 5th.

Mike: Wow.

Dave: So, that’s a tool [inaudible 9:22] go ham on it, just download asmany things as you can. If they’re not on Google where are they andwherever they’re at, can I reach them in an impactful way that’ll startfrom [inaudible 9:39].

Mike: You’ve got a question real quick. When scaling on local for big brand, do you recommend trying to have unique descriptions acrossthe board? It gets tough with 1000 plus locations.

Dave: When he says “descriptions”, it sounds like he might be talking abouta description he might use on a Google Plus local profile page. That’s nothard to do. You can create a template, a boilerplate description in Excelthat speaks to the core searches that each location would do. Then you’dhave dynamic replacers that will say city, state or even set code level ifthat helps and then you use formulas in Excel to match and replace againstthose dynamic columns. If that’s something that people find helpful, I can probably mark something together and send it out in a couple weeks. Ifthat’s truly the need, that’s a very easy thing to address.

Mike: Cool. Keep the questions coming, please. I’m the only oneeating here. You want to eat a little bit and I’ll talk a little?

Dave: Go for it.

Mike: What are you doing this weekend?

Dave: Tonight I’m going to keep it nerdy. I might be involved in a game ofRisk, really old school. The thing about that is the game of Risk is it’sworse that Monopoly. You’ve got to be ready to dedicate about a day and ahalf of your time, especially if you’re particularly competitive.

Mike: I’ve never played Risk, to be honest.

Dave: It’s been a long, long while for me. I don’t even know if I remember,but Tom and I are good for those things. Literally, the second activity we ever did together was play chess in a chess club. It got pretty intense tothe point where I’m ignoring my wife and my sister-in-law on the other side and we’re just completely into it. Saturday, I’m not exactly sure. Sunday, I’m probably going to be hanging out with my folks. The thing is I live like 15 minutes from them so if I don’t see them every weekend it’s justkind of weird to think.

Mike: We’ve got some more questions. I don’t mean to cut you off.How do you report a local ranking at the metro level?

Dave: Metro level I guess would be [inaudible 12:12] or something, like itmight imply suburbs and stuff. Again, I would definitely recommend lookinginto near equals; it’s a framer that you would just append to the furrystring in Google. For example, if I want to look for Elmhurst, Queens, but I’m sitting here in New York City, I’d do my query as normal. Then I’d editit to append, “ampersand near equals Elmhurst comma plus NY”. Hit enter andthen you’ll see that your browser’s location has been changed to Elmhurst,New York, and you’ll see results for whatever the query is that arespecific to Elmhurst, Queens. The trick here is if you’ve got a geomodified query, if you’ve specifically asked for [inaudible 13:07] NYCyou’ll always get generally the same SERPs no matter where you are even ifyou’re using near equals. The key here is if you’re searching like mostpeople, where you just know you need a plumber, that’s where near equals will actually help you see different SERPs and actually drill down to whatthe difference is between you sitting here in New York City and the guysitting in Elmhurst, Queens.

Mike: Do you have a post about that anywhere?

Dave: No. I’ve been playing it a little close to the chest for a long, long while.

Mike: That’s a secret for you guys, the near equals trick.

Dave: That got debuted at MozCon. Darren approached me for a secret. We’d already rolled it into how you look at things. If you look hard enough,you’ll see one or two other people talking about it. It’s no longer asecret. It’s probably something you can roll out for yourself.

Mike: Cool. Another question. What are the most important directories?

Dave: There are a couple tiers. There are your giant data syndicators. Dexand SuperMedia are merging so they’re going to be a pretty big deal reallysoon. City Grid. Yelp’s still a pretty big deal. A really good thing tolook at would be the BI market citation study that Dave Meme and Darren Shaw did. I believe that lives either on the Dave Mihm site or Whitesparksite. Whitespark.ca, start there. For the top markets in the country,they’ve got a list of what the most common directories are. Theirmethodology is pretty good. It’s for the top ranking sites. These are the directories that tend to be used when something does pretty well. Checkthat out, use that. I hope that’s helpful.

Mike: Next question is what do you think of using UBL?

Dave: UBL, their model is give us your data, and we’ll make it available to all our aggregators. It’s a bit passive for my taste. I’ve done my owntesting on UBL and I’ve got firm opinions on it already. It’s not fair forme to expose what I know on that one off case because I really have one offcase for them. Suffice it to say, I prefer a more active citation creationthan what you get on that software.

Mike: You wrote a post, I think it was about a year ago nowwhere you were talking about how our rankings will artificially inflate thenumbers, especially for local search terms. Remember? Ranking tools. Ithink the example you gave was something like…

Dave: Keywords, the [inaudible 16:39] tool. With you go to keyword research, you’ve got to remember that there is a ton of people just likeyou and me doing keyword research. If we’ve got a strong enough technology backbone behind us, we can do it in serious bulk and create serious volumethat’s not commercially viable. It’s really just exploratory. I don’tbelieve Google’s doing a good job of filtering that stuff out. The examplethat I gave in the post was the divorce sector, actually the lawyer sector.There is one spot in Minnesota, St. Paul, I believe, that for some reasonwas generating the most demand. This is according to Google Insight’sresearch, for divorce, personal injury and bankruptcy law. The top threepractice areas for the lawyers. I only know that from my background atLexus Nexus.

When you drill down deeper and just knowing what I know, as it turns outthere’s a very big lawyer and marketing company out there so it stands toreason that that’s probably what’s informing a lot of that keyword demandversus genuine actual consumer demand. The data [inaudible 18:00] verifywith the census data talking about divorce in households. St. Paul,Minnesota in general wasn’t anywhere even near the top ten. For them to begenerating that much demand for the top practice area had to be related tosomething else. Even in my experience, where I was working, we were doingour own queries and it multiplied out over time as we expanded our workforce, expanded our need for more frequent rank checking, things like that.I think Google’s still susceptible to it. They’ll get more sensitive withtheir POP triggers, and then we’ll figure out a technology solution to getaround that.

Mike: Are you suggesting that when we do this keyword research, wedon’t just take those numbers blindly? You should corroborate that withother things?

Dave: Absolutely not. Ad Words for modeling is a good tool to finddirectional data and relational. So this keyword versus this keyword lookslike it would be more valuable. Those types of numbers are helpful andimportant. I don’t actually believe that this keyword on a monthly basis isdriving this many individual impressions for qualified buyers. Not evenclose. That’s why the need for other data points is important in yourkeyword research. SEM Rush, Ad Words, if you can loop in Ad Finder as well.Check out Facebook if it’s relevant to your marketing strategies, anythingelse that’ll give you some level of qualitative data.

Another thing I like to do for the keywords that’s generating a lot ofdemand in Ad Words, I might pull down a few sites in Ad Finder that speakto those keyword themes, pull down all the keywords from their websites andthen figure out which ones are tied to something like blog post and figureout from there which ones are the most popular. If Ad Words is saying thatkeyword A is more popular than keyword B but this site is telling me thatkeyword B is getting crazy more shares on its blog post. That meanssomething might have changed recently where demand is shifting for keywordB. I’d probably pay more attention to that.

Mike: One more question because we’re about to wrap it up so you caneat your lunch. Are you seeing social signals affect rankings, and if so towhat degree?

Dave: Anything that needs to be said on this topic I think has already beencovered. Will Krechel [SP] had an interesting post on it just this week. Weknow that it’s not a direct causation, but we can probably gain some socialsignals and this really only relates to bits of content. Likes and sharesand pluses on a homepage in my experience generally tends to be part of anoffline or secondary marketing push where it’s likes and pluses for its ownsake. That in and of itself I would think makes a homepage that much moreuseful rather than rank worthy.

Mike: We’ve got about a minute left. If there are any morequestions, let them flow and we’ll get those answers real quick. Otherwise,we’re going to let Dave enjoy his lunch. He’s @DaveMinchala. Make sure youfollow this individual. He’s a really sharp guy, like I said in my video.Thanks for coming, Dave.

Dave: Any time.

Mike: Cool. No more questions, guys? No more questions. Thanks,everyone. We’re out. Wait. One more from Evan Fishkin. What is yourpreferred local listing management service for enterprise?

Dave: Here’s what you do, Ev. You just pick up the phone, you call Yodle and let us take care of it for you.

Mike: Nice. Great plug. All right. We’re off.

  • http://twitter.com/joegriffin Joe Griffin

    Dave, does ZoomRank allow one to see organic results in a way someone from NYC would see them (as an example)?

    • http://twitter.com/daveminchala David C. Minchala

      It does. Not an out-of-the-box option (I don’t think), but talk to Scott from ZR – let him and Noel show you what data they can provide. It’s freakin sweet.

    • http://twitter.com/daveminchala David C. Minchala

      Also remember it (for the moment) also depends on how the query is constructed. This is worth a blog post but the shorthand is [new york city plumber] will likely produce same SERP near= anywhere whereas [plumber] will produce very different SERPs with local (pinned) results in most cities.

  • http://twitter.com/joegriffin Joe Griffin

    Oh bam – 12:45 seconds in you explained how to see the results for “near” that area. That’s a new one for me :)