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What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

Everything your brand does in the new year should support just one goal: better local customer service.

Does this sound too simple? Doesn’t marketing brim with a thousand different tasks? Of course — but if the goal of each initiative isn’t to serve the customer better, it’s time for a change of business heart. By putting customers, and their problems, at the absolute center of your brand’s strategy, your enterprise will continuously return to this heart of the matter, this heart of commerce.

What is local customer service in 2019?

It’s so much more than the face-to-face interactions of one staffer with one shopper. Rather, it’s a commitment to becoming an always-on resource that is accessible to people whenever, wherever and however they need it. A Google rep was recently quoted as saying that 46% of searches have a local intent. Mobile search, combined with desktop and various forms of ambient search, have established the local web as man’s other best friend, the constant companion that’s ever ready to serve.

Let’s position your brand to become that faithful helper by establishing the local customer service ecosystem:

Your Key to the Local Customer Service Ecosystem

At the heart sits the local customer, who wants to know:

  • Who can help them, who likes or dislikes a business, who’s behind a brand, who’s the best, cheapest, fastest, closest, etc.
  • What the answer is to their question, what product/service solves their problems, what businesses are nearby, what it’s like there, what policies protect them, what’s the phone number, the website URL, the email address, etc.
  • Where a business is located, where to find parking, where something is manufactured or grown, etc.
  • When a business is open, when sales or events are, when busiest times are, when to purchase specific products/services or book an appointment, etc.
  • Why a business is the best choice based on specific factors, why a business was founded, why people like/dislike a business, etc.
  • How to get to the business by car/bike/on foot, how to learn/do/buy something, how to contact the right person or department, how to make a complaint or leave feedback, how the business supports the community, etc.

Your always-on customer service solves all of these problems with a combination of all of the following:

In-store

Good customer service looks like:

  • A publicly accessible brand policy that protects the rights and defends the dignity of both employees and consumers.
  • Well-trained phone staff with good language skills, equipped to answer FAQs and escalate problems they can’t solve. Sufficient staff to minimize hold-times.
  • Well-trained consumer-facing staff, well-versed in policy, products and services. Sufficient staff to be easily-accessible by customers.
  • In-store signage (including after-hours messaging) that guides consumers towards voicing complaints in person, reducing negative reviews.
  • In-store signage/messaging that promotes aspects of the business that are most beneficial to the community. (philanthropy, environmental stewardship, etc.) to promote loyalty and word-of-mouth.
  • Cleanliness, orderliness and fast resolution of broken fixtures and related issues.
  • Equal access to all facilities with an emphasis on maximum consumer comfort and convenience.
  • Support of payment forms most popular with local customers (cash, check, digital, etc.), security of payment processes, and minimization of billing mistakes/hassles.
  • Correctly posted, consistent hours of operation, reducing inconvenience. Clear messaging regarding special hours/closures.
  • A brand culture that rewards employees who wisely use their own initiative to solve customers’ problems.

Website

Good customer service looks like:

  • Content that solves people’s problems as conveniently and thoroughly as possible in language that they speak. Everything you publish (home, about, contact, local landing pages, etc.) should pass the test of consumer usefulness.
  • Equal access to content, regardless of device.
  • Easily accessible contact information, including name, address, phone number, fax, email, text, driving directions, maps and hours of operation.
  • Signals of trustworthiness, such as reviews, licenses, accreditations, affiliations, and basic website security.
  • Signals of benefit, including community involvement, philanthropy, environmental protections, etc.
  • Click-to-call phone numbers.
  • Clear policies that outline the rights of the consumer and the brand.

Organic SERPs

Good customer service looks like:

  • Management of the first few pages of the organic SERPs to ensure that basic information on them is accurate. This includes structured citations on local business directories, unstructured citations on blog posts, news sites, top 10 lists, review sites, etc. It can also include featured snippets.
  • Management also includes monitoring of the SERPs for highly-ranked content that cites problems others are having with the brand. If these problems can be addressed and resolved, the next step is outreach to the publisher to demonstrate that the problem has been addressed.

Email

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accessible email addresses for customers seeking support and fast responses to queries.
  • Opt-in email marketing in the form of newsletters and special offers.

Reviews

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accuracy of basic business information on major review platforms.
  • Professional and fast responses to both positive and negative reviews, with the core goal of helping and retaining customers by acknowledging their voices and solving their problems.
  • Sentiment analysis of reviews by location to identify emerging problems at specific branches for troubleshooting and resolution.
  • Monitoring of reviews for spam and reporting it where possible.
  • Avoidance of any form of review spam on the part of the brand.
  • Where allowed, guiding valued customers to leave reviews to let the greater community know about the existence and quality of your brand.

Links

Good customer service looks like:

  • Linking out to third-party resources of genuine use to customers.
  • Pursuit of inbound links from relevant sites that expand customers’ picture of what’s available in the place they live, enriching their experience.

Tech

Good customer service looks like:

  • Website usability and accessibility for users of all abilities and on all browsers and devices (ADA compliance, mobile-friendliness, load speed, architecture, etc.)
  • Apps, tools and widgets that improve customers’ experience.
  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Analytics that provide insight without trespassing on customers’ comfort or right to privacy.

Social

Good customer service looks like:

  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Social monitoring of the brand name to identify and resolve complaints, as well as to acknowledge praise.
  • Participation for the sake of community involvement as opposed to exploitation. Sharing instead of selling.
  • Advocacy for social platforms to improve their standards of transparency and their commitment to protections for consumers and brands.

Google My Business

Good customer service looks like:

  • Embrace of all elements of Google’s local features (Google My Business listings, Knowledge Panels, Maps, etc.) that create convenience and accessibility for consumers.
  • Ongoing monitoring for accuracy of basic information.
  • Brand avoidance of spam, and also, reporting of spam to protect consumers.
  • Advocacy for Google to improve its standards as a source of community information, including accountability for misinformation on their platform, and basic protections for both brands and consumers.

Customers’ Problems are Yours to Solve

“$ 41 billion is lost each year by US companies following a bad customer experience.”
-
New Voice Media

When customers don’t know where something is, how something works, when they can do something, who or what can help them, or why they should choose one option over another, your brand can recognize that they are having a problem. It could be as small a problem as where to buy a gift or as large a problem as seeking legal assistance after their home has been damaged in a disaster.

With the Internet never farther away than fingertips or voices, people have become habituated to turning to it with most of their problems, hour by hour, year by year. Recognition of quests for help may have been simpler just a few decades ago when customers were limited to writing letters, picking up phones, or walking into stores to say, “I have a need.” Now, competitive local enterprises have to expand their view to include customer problems that play out all over the web with new expectations of immediacy.

Unfortunately, brands are struggling with this, and we can sum up common barriers to modern customer service in 3 ways:

1) Brand Self-Absorption

“I’ve gotta have my Pops,” frets a boy in an extreme (and, frankly, off-putting) example in which people behave as though addicted to products. TV ads are rife with the wishfulness of marketers pretending that consumers sing and dance at the mere idea of possessing cars, soda, and soap. Meanwhile, real people stand at a distance watching the song and dance, perhaps amused sometimes, but aware that what’s on-screen isn’t them.

“We’re awesome,” reads too much content on the web, with a brand-centric, self-congratulatory focus. At the other end of the spectrum, web pages sit stuffed with meaningless keywords or almost no text as all, as though there aren’t human beings trying to communicate on either side of the screen.

“Who cares?” is the message untrained employees, neglected shopping environments, and disregarded requests for assistance send when real-world locations open doors but appear to put customer experience as their lowest priority. I’ve catalogued some of my most disheartening customer service interludes and I know you’ve had them, too.

Sometimes, brands get so lost in boardrooms, it’s all they can think of to put in their million-dollar ad campaigns, forgetting that most of their customers don’t live in that world.

One of the first lightbulb moments in the history of online content marketing was the we-you shift. Instead of writing, “We’re here, isn’t that great?”, we began writing, “You’re here and your problem can be solved.” This is the simple but elegant evolution that brands, on the whole, need to experience.

2) Ethical Deficits

Sometimes, customers aren’t lost because a brand is too inwardly focused, but rather, because its executives lack the vision to sustain an ethical business model. Every brand is tasked with succeeding, but it takes civic-minded, customer-centric leadership to avoid the abuses we are seeing at the highest echelons of the business world right now. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and similar majors have repeatedly failed to put people over profits, resulting in:

  • Scandals
  • Lawsuits
  • Fines
  • Boycotts
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Employee loss of pride in company culture

At a local business level, and in a grand understatement, it isn’t good customer service when a company deceives or harms the public. Brands, large and small, want to earn the right of integration into the lives of their customers as chosen resources. Large enterprises seeking local customers need leadership that can envision itself in the setting of a single small community, where dishonest practices impact real lives and could lead to permanent closure. Loss of trust should never be an acceptable part of economies of scale.

The internet has put customers, staffers, and media all on the same channels. Ethical leadership is the key ingredient to building a sustainable business model in which all stakeholders take pride.

3) Lack of Strategy

Happily, many brands genuinely do want to face outward and possess the ethics to treat people well. They may simply lack a complete strategy for covering all the bases that make up a satisfying experience. Small local businesses may find lack of time or resources a bar to the necessary education, and structure at enterprises may make it difficult to get buy-in for the fine details of customer service initiatives. Priorities and budgets may get skewed away from customers instead of toward them.

The TL;DR of this entire post is that modern customer service means solving customers’ problems by being wherever they are when they seek solutions. Beyond that, a combination of sufficient, well-trained staff (both online and off) and the type of automation provided by tools that manage local business listings, reviews and social listening are success factors most brands can implement.

Reach Out…

We’ve talked about some negative patterns that can either distance brands from customers, or cause customers to distance themselves due to loss of trust. What’s the good news?

Every single employee of every local brand in the US already knows what good customer service feels like, because all of us are customers.

There’s no mystery or magic here. Your CEO, your devs, sales team, and everyone else in your organization already know by experience what it feels like to be treated well or poorly.

And they already know what it’s like when they see themselves reflected in a store location or on a screen.

Earlier, I cited an old TV spot in which actors were paid to act out the fantasy of a brand. Let’s reach back in time again and watch a similar-era commercial in which actors are paid to role play genuine consumer problems – in this case, a family that wants to keep in touch with a member who is away from home:

The TV family may not look identical to yours, but their featured problem – wanting to keep close to a distant loved one – is one most people can relate to. This 5-year ad campaign won every award in sight, and the key to it is that consumers could recognize themselves on the screen and this act of recognition engaged their emotions.

Yes, a service is being sold (long distance calling), but the selling is being done by putting customers in the starring roles and solving their problems. That’s what good customer service does, and in 2019, if your brand can parlay this mindset into all of the mediums via which people now seek help, your own “reach out and touch someone” goals are well on their way to success.

Loyal Service Sparks Consumer Loyalty

“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
Harvard Business Review

“Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.”
White House Office of Consumer Affairs

I want to close here with a note on loyalty. With a single customer representing up to 10x the value of their first purchase, earning a devoted clientele is the very best inspiration for dedication to improving customer service.

Trader Joe’s is a large chain that earns consistent mentions for its high standards of customer service. Being a local SEO, I turned to its Google reviews, looking at 5 locations in Northern California. I counted 225 instances of people exuberantly praising staff at just these 5 locations, using words like “Awesome, incredible, helpful, friendly, and fun!”. Moreover, reviewers continuously mentioned the brand as the only place they want to shop for groceries because they love it so much. It’s as close as you can get to a “gotta have my Pops” scenario, but it’s real.

How does Trader Joe’s pull this off? A study conducted by Temkin Group found that, “A customer’s emotional experience is the most significant driver of loyalty, especially when it comes to consumers recommending firms to their friends.” The cited article lists emotional connection and content, motivated employees who are empowered to go the extra mile as keys to why this chain was ranked second-highest in emotion ratings (a concept similar to Net Promoter Score). In a word, the Trader Joe’s customer service experience creates the right feelings, as this quick sentiment cloud of Google review analysis illustrates:

This brand has absolutely perfected the thrilling and lucrative art of creating loyal customers, making their review corpus read like a volume of love letters. The next move for this company – and for the local brands you market – is to “spread the love” across all points where a customer might seek to connect, both online and off.

It’s a kind of love when you ensure a customer isn’t misdirected by a wrong address on a local business listing or when you answer a negative review with the will to make things right. It’s a kind of love when a company blog is so helpful that its comments say, “You must be psychic! This is the exact problem I was trying to solve.” It’s a kind of love when a staff member is empowered to create such a good experience that a customer tells their mother, their son, their best friend to trust you brand.

Love, emotions, feelings — are we still talking about business here? Yes, because when you subtract the medium, the device, the screen, it’s two very human people on either side of every transaction.

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SearchCap: Google News update coming, local features & Search Console stats

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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How to Create a Local Marketing Results Dashboard in Google Data Studio – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by DiTomaso

Showing clients that you’re making them money is one of the most important things you can communicate to them, but it’s tough to know how to present your results in a way they can easily understand. That’s where Google Data Studio comes in. In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, our friend Dana DiTomaso shares how to create a client-friendly local marketing results dashboard in Google Data Studio from start to finish.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Dana DiTomaso. I’m President and partner of Kick Point. We’re a digital marketing agency way up in the frozen north of Edmonton, Alberta. We work with a lot of local businesses, both in Edmonton and around the world, and small local businesses usually have the same questions when it comes to reporting.

Are we making money?

What I’m going to share with you today is our local marketing dashboard that we share with clients. We build this in Google Data Studio because we love Google Data Studio. If you haven’t watched my Whiteboard Friday yet on how to do formulas in Google Data Studio, I recommend you hit Pause right now, go back and watch that, and then come back to this because I am going to talk about what happened there a little bit in this video.

The Google Data Studio dashboard

This is a Google Data Studio dashboard which I’ve tried to represent in the medium of whiteboard as best as I could. Picture it being a little bit better design than my left-handedness can represent on a whiteboard, but you get the idea. Every local business wants to know, “Are we making money?” This is the big thing that people care about, and really every business cares about making money. Even charities, for example: money is important obviously because that’s what keeps the lights on, but there’s also perhaps a mission that they have.

But they still want to know: Are people filling out our donation form? Are people contacting us? These are important things for every business, organization, not-for-profit, whatever to understand and know. What we’ve tried to do in this dashboard is really boil it down to the absolute basics, one thing you can look at, see a couple of data points, know whether things are good or things are bad.

Are people contacting you?

Let’s start with this up here. The first thing is: Are people contacting you? Now you can break this out into separate columns. You can do phone calls and emails for example. Some of our clients prefer that. Some clients just want one mashed up number. So we’ll take the number of calls that people are getting.

If you’re using a call tracking tool, such as CallRail, you can import this in here. Emails, for example, or forms, just add it all together and then you have one single number of the number of times people contacted you. Usually this is a way bigger number than people think it is, which is also kind of cool.

Are people taking the action you want them to take?

The next thing is: Are people doing the thing that you want them to do? This is really going to decide on what’s meaningful to the client.

For example, if you have a client, again thinking about a charity, how many people filled out your donation form, your online donation form? For a psychologist client of ours, how many people booked an appointment? For a client of ours who offers property management, how many people booked a viewing of a property? What is the thing you want them to do? If they have online e-commerce, for example, then maybe this is how many sales did you have.

Maybe this will be two different things — people walking into the store versus sales. We’ve also represented in this field if a person has a people counter in their store, then we would pull that people counter data into here. Usually we can get the people counter data in a Google sheet and then we can pull it into Data Studio. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it certainly represents all their data in one place, which is really the whole point of why we do these dashboards.

Where did visitors com from, and where are your customers coming from?

People contacting you, people doing the thing you want them to do, those are the two major metrics. Then we do have a little bit deeper further down. On this side here we start with: Where did visitors come from, and where are your customers coming from? Because they’re really two different things, right? Not every visitor to the website is going to become a customer. We all know that. No one has a 100% conversion rate, and if you do, you should just retire.

Filling out the dashboard

We really need to differentiate between the two. In this case we’re looking at channel, and there probably is a better word for channel. We’re always trying to think about, “What would clients call this?” But I feel like clients are kind of aware of the word “channel” and that’s how they’re getting there. But then the next column, by default this would be called users or sessions. Both of those are kind of cruddy. You can rename fields in Data Studio, and we can call this the number of people, for example, because that’s what it is.

Then you would use the users as the metric, and you would just call it number of people instead of users, because personally I hate the word “users.” It really boils down the humanity of a person to a user metric. Users are terrible. Call them people or visitors at least. Then unfortunately, in Data Studio, when you do a comparison field, you cannot rename and call it comparison. It does this nice percentage delta, which I hate.

It’s just like a programmer clearly came up with this. But for now, we have to deal with it. Although by the time this video comes out, maybe it will be something better, and then I can go back and correct myself in the comments. But for now it’s percentage delta. Then goal percentage and then again delta. They can sort by any of these columns in Data Studio, and it’s real live data.

Put a time period on this, and people can pick whatever time period they want and then they can look at this data as much as they want, which is delightful. If you’re not delivering great results, it may be a little terrifying for you, but really you shouldn’t be hiding that anyway, right? Like if things aren’t going well, be honest about it. That’s another talk for another time. But start with this kind of chart. Then on the other side, are you showing up on Google Maps?

We use the Supermetrics Google My Business plug-in to grab this kind of information. We hook it into the customer’s Google Maps account. Then we’re looking at branded searches and unbranded searches and how many times they came up in the map pack. Usually we’ll have a little explanation here. This is how many times you came up in the map pack and search results as well as Google Maps searches, because it’s all mashed in together.

Then what happens when they find you? So number of direction requests, number of website visits, number of phone calls. Now the tricky thing is phone calls here may be captured in phone calls here. You may not want to add these two pieces of data or just keep this off on its own separately, depending upon how your setup is. You could be using a tracking number, for example, in your Google My Business listing and that therefore would be captured up here.

Really just try to be honest about where that data comes from instead of double counting. You don’t want to have that happen. The last thing is if a client has messages set up, then you can pull that message information as well.

Tell your clients what to do

Then at the very bottom of the report we have a couple of columns, and usually this is a longer chart and this is shorter, so we have room down here to do this. Obviously, my drawing skills are not as good as as aligning things in Data Studio, so forgive me.

But we tell them what to do. Usually when we work with local clients, they can’t necessarily afford a monthly retainer to do stuff for clients forever. Instead, we tell them, “Here’s what you have to do this month.Here’s what you have to do next month. Hey, did you remember you’re supposed to be blogging?” That sort of thing. Just put it in here, because clients are looking at results, but they often forget the things that may get them those results. This is a really nice reminder of if you’re not happy with these numbers, maybe you should do these things.

Tell your clients how to use the report

Then the next thing is how to use. This is a good reference because if they only open it say once every couple months, they probably have forgotten how to do the stuff in this report or even things like up at the top make sure to set the time period for example. This is a good reminder of how to do that as well.

Because the report is totally editable by you at any time, you can always go in and change stuff later, and because the client can view the report at any time, they have a dashboard that is extremely useful to them and they don’t need to bug you every single time they want to see a report. It saves you time and money. It saves them time and money. Everybody is happy. Everybody is saving money. I really recommend setting up a really simple dashboard like this for your clients, and I bet you they’ll be impressed.

Thanks so much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Follow the Local SEO Leaders: A Guide to Our Industry’s Best Publications

Posted by MiriamEllis

Change is the only constant in local SEO. As your local brand or local search marketing agency grows, you’ll be onboarding new hires. Whether they’re novices or adepts, they’ll need to keep up with continuous industry developments in order to make agile contributions to team strategy. Particularly if local SEO is new to someone, it saves training time if you can fast-track them on who to follow for the best news and analysis. This guide serves as a blueprint for that very purpose.

And even if you’re an old hand in the local SEM industry, you may find some sources here you’ve been overlooking that could add richness and depth to your ongoing education.

Two quick notes on what and how I’ve chosen:

  1. As the author of both of Moz’s newsletters (the Moz Top 10 and the Moz Local Top 7), I read an inordinate amount of SEO and local SEO content, but I could have missed your work. The list that follows represents my own, personal slate of the resources that have taught me the most. If you publish great local SEO information but you’re not on this list, my apologies, and if you write something truly awesome in future, you’re welcome to tweet at me. I’m always on the lookout for fresh and enlightening voices. My personal criteria for the publications I trust is that they are typically groundbreaking, thoughtful, investigative, and respectful of readers and subjects.
  2. Following the leaders is a useful practice, but not a stopping point. Even experts aren’t infallible. Rather than take industry advice at face value, do your own testing. Some of the most interesting local SEO discussions I’ve ever participated in have stemmed from people questioning standard best practices. So, while it’s smart to absorb the wisdom of experts, it’s even smarter to do your own experiments.

The best of local SEO news

Who reports fastest on Google updates, Knowledge Panel tweaks, and industry business?

Sterling Sky’s Timeline of Local SEO Changes is the industry’s premiere log of developments that impact local businesses and is continuously updated by Joy Hawkins + team.

Search Engine Roundtable has a proven track record of being among the first to report news that affects both local and digital businesses, thanks to the ongoing dedication of Barry Schwartz.

Street Fight is the best place on the web to read about mergers, acquisitions, the release of new technology, and other major happenings on the business side of local. I’m categorizing Street Fight under news, but they also offer good commentary, particularly the joint contributions of David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal.

LocalU’s Last Week in Local video and podcast series highlights Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling’s top picks of industry coverage most worthy of your attention. Comes with the bonus of expert commentary as they share their list.

TechCrunch also keeps a finger on the pulse of technology and business dealings that point to the future of local.

Search Engine Land’s local category is consistently swift in getting the word out about breaking industry news, with the help of multiple authors.

Adweek is a good source for reportage on retail and brand news, but there’s a limit to the number of articles you can read without a subscription. I often find them covering quirky stories that are absent from other publications I read.

The SEMPost’s local tab is another good place to check for local developments, chiefly covered by Jennifer Slegg.

Search Engine Journal’s local column also gets my vote for speedy delivery of breaking local stories.

Google’s main blog and the ThinkWithGoogle blog are musts to keep tabs on the search engine’s own developments, bearing in mind, of course, that these publications can be highly promotional of their products and worldview.

The best of local search marketing analysis

Who can you trust most to analyze the present and predict the future?

LocalU’s Deep Dive video series features what I consider to be the our industry’s most consistently insightful analysis of a variety of local marketing topics, discussed by learned faculty and guests.

The Moz Blog’s local category hosts a slate of gifted bloggers and professional editorial standards that result in truly in-depth treatment of local topics, presented with care and attention. As a veteran contributor to this publication, I can attest to how Moz inspires authors to aim high, and one of the nicest things that happened to our team in 2018 was being voted the #2 local SEO blog by BrightLocal’s survey respondents.

The Local Search Association’s Insider blog is one I turn to again and again, particularly for their excellent studies and quotable statistics.

Mike Blumenthal’s blog has earned a place of honor over many years as a key destination for breaking local developments and one-of-a-kind analysis. When Blumenthal talks, local people listen. One of the things I’ve prized for well over a decade in Mike’s writing is his ability to see things from a small business perspective, as opposed to simply standing in awe of big business and technology.

BrightLocal’s surveys and studies are some of the industry’s most cited and I look eagerly forward to their annual publication.

Whitespark’s blog doesn’t publish as frequently as I wish it did, but their posts by Darren Shaw and crew are always on extremely relevant topics and of high quality.

Sterling Sky’s blog is a relative newcomer, but the expertise Joy Hawkins and Colan Nielsen bring to their agency’s publication is making it a go-to resource for advice on some of the toughest aspects of local SEO.

Local Visibility System’s blog continues to please, with the thoughtful voice of Phil Rozek exploring themes you likely encounter in your day-to-day work as a local SEO.

The Local Search Forum is, hands down, the best free forum on the web to take your local mysteries and musings to. Founded by Linda Buquet, the ethos of the platform is approachable, friendly, and often fun, and high-level local SEOs frequently weigh in on hot topics.

Pro tip: In addition to the above tried-and-true resources, I frequently scan the online versions of city newspapers across the country for interesting local stories that add perspective to my vision of the challenges and successes of local businesses. Sometimes, too, publications like The Atlantic, Forbes, or Business Insider will publish pieces of a high journalistic quality with relevance to our industry. Check them out!

The best for specific local marketing disciplines

Here, I’ll break this down by subject or industry for easy scanning:

Reviews

  • GatherUp (formerly GetFiveStars) can’t be beat for insight into online reputation management, with Aaron Weiche and team delivering amazing case studies and memorable statistics. I literally have a document of quotes from their work that I refer to on a regular basis in my own writing.
  • Grade.us is my other ORM favorite for bright and lively coverage from authors like Garrett Sussman and Andrew McDermott.

Email marketing

  • Tidings’ vault contains a tiny but growing treasure trove of email marketing wisdom from David Mihm, whose former glory days spent in the trenches of local SEO make him especially attuned to our industry.

SABs

  • Tom Waddington’s blog is the must-read publication for service area businesses whose livelihoods are being impacted by Google’s Local Service Ads program in an increasing number of categories and cities.

Automotive marketing

  • DealerOn’s blog is the real deal when it comes to automotive local SEO, with Greg Gifford teaching memorable lessons in an enjoyable way.

Legal marketing

  • JurisDigital brings the the educated voices of Casey Meraz and team to the highly-specialized field of attorney marketing.

Hospitality marketing

Independent businesses

Link building

  • Nifty Marketing’s blog has earned my trust for its nifty local link building ideas and case studies.
  • ZipSprout belongs here, too, because of their focus on local sponsorships, which are a favorite local link building methodology. Check them out for blog posts and podcasts.

Schema + other markup

  • Touchpoint Digital Marketing doesn’t publish much on their own website, but look anywhere you can for David Deering’s writings on markup. LocalU and Moz are good places to search for his expertise.

Patents

  • SEO by the Sea has proffered years of matchless analysis of Google patents that frequently impact local businesses or point to future possible developments.

Best local search industry newsletters

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Follow the local SEO leaders on Twitter

What an easy way to track what industry adepts are thinking and sharing, up-to-the-minute! Following this list of professionals (alphabetized by first name) will fill up your social calendar with juicy local tidbits. Keep in mind that many of these folks either own or work for agencies or publishers you can follow, too.

Aaron Weiche
Adam Dorfman
Andrew Shotland
Ben Fisher
Bernadette Coleman
Bill Slawski
Brian Barwig
Carrie Hill
Casey Meraz
Cindy Krum
Colan Nielsen
DJ Baxter
Dan Leibson
Dana DiTomaso
Dani Owens
Darren Shaw
Dave DiGreggorio
David Mihm
Don Campbell
Garrett Sussman
Glenn Gabe
Greg Gifford
Greg Sterling
Jennifer Slegg
Joel Headley
Joy Hawkins
Mary Bowling
Mike Blumenthal
Mike Ramsey
Miriam Ellis
Phil Rozek
Sherry Bonelli
Thibault Adda
Tim Capper
Tom Waddington

Share what you learn

How about your voice? How do you get it heard in the local SEO industry? The answer is simple: share what you learn with others. Each of the people and publications on my list has earned a place there because, at one time or another, they have taught me something they learned from their own work. Some tips:

  • Our industry has become a sizeable niche, but there is always room for new, interesting voices
  • Experiment and publish — consistent publication of your findings is the best way I know of to become a trusted source of information
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, so long as you are willing to own them
  • Socialize — attend events, amplify the work of colleagues you admire, reach out in real ways to others to share your common work interest while also respecting busy schedules

Local SEO is a little bit like jazz, in which we’re all riffing off the same chord progressions created by Google, Facebook, Yelp, other major platforms, and the needs of clients. Mike Blumenthal plays a note about a jeweler whose WOMM is driving the majority of her customers. You take that note and turn it around for someone in the auto industry, yielding an unexpected insight. Someone else takes your insight and creates a print handout to bolster a loyalty program.

Everyone ends up learning in this virtuous, democratic cycle, so go ahead — start sharing! A zest for contribution is a step towards leadership and your observations could be music to the industry’s ears.

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Local Business Transparency & Empathy for the Holidays: Tips + Downloadable Checklist

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your local business will invest its all in stocking shelves and menus with the right goods and services in advance of the 2018 holiday season, but does your inventory include the on-and-offline experiences consumers say they want most?

Right now, a potential patron near you is having an experience that will inform their decision of whether to do business with you at year’s end, and their takeaway is largely hinging on two things: your brand’s transparency and empathy.

An excellent SproutSocial survey of 1,000 consumers found that people define transparency as being:

  • Open (59%)
  • Clear (53%)
  • Honest (49%)

Meanwhile, after a trying year of fake news, bad news, and privacy breaches, Americans could certainly use some empathy from brands that respect their rights, needs, aspirations, and time.

Today, let’s explore how your local brand can gift customers with both transparency and empathy before and during the holiday season, and let’s make it easy for your team with a shareable, downloadable checklist, complete with 20 tips for in-store excellence and holiday Google My Business best practices:

Grab the Holiday Checklist now!

For consumers, even the little things mean a lot

Your brother eats at that restaurant because its owner fed 10,000 meals to displaced residents during a wildfire. My sister won’t buy merchandise from that shop because their hiring practices are discriminatory. A friend was so amazed when the big brand CEO responded personally to her complaint that she’s telling all her social followers about it now.

Maybe it’s always been a national pastime for Americans to benefit one another with wisdom gained from their purchasing experiences. I own one of the first cookbooks ever published in this country and ‘tis full of wyse warnings about how to avoid “doctored” meats and grains in the marketplace. Social media has certainly amplified our voices, but it has done something else that truly does feel fresh and new. Consider SproutSocial’s findings that:

  • 86% of Americans say transparency from businesses is more important than ever before.
  • 40% of people who say brand transparency is more important than ever before attribute it to social media.
  • 63% of people say CEOs who have their own social profiles are better representatives for their companies than CEOs who do not.

What were customers’ chances of seeking redress and publicity just 20 years ago if a big brand treated them poorly? Today, they can document with video, write a review, tweet to the multitudes, even get picked up by national news. They can use a search engine to dig up the truth about a company’s past and present practices. And… they can find the social profiles of a growing number of brand representatives and speak to them directly about their experiences, putting the ball in the company’s court to respond for all to see.

In other words, people increasingly assume brands should be directly accessible. That’s new!

Should this increased expectation of interactive transparency terrify businesses?

Absolutely not, if their intentions and policies are open, clear, and honest. It’s a little thing to treat a customer with fairness and regard, but its impacts in the age of social media are not small. In fact, SproutSocial found that transparent practices are golden as far as consumer loyalty is concerned:

  • 85% of people say a business’ history of being transparent makes them more likely to give it a second chance after a bad experience.
  • 89% of people say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue.

I highly recommend reading the entire SproutSocial study, and while it focuses mainly on general brands and general social media, my read of it correlated again and again to the specific scenario of local businesses. Let’s talk about this!

How transparency & empathy relate to local brands

“73.8% of customers were either likely or extremely likely to continue to do business with a merchant once the complaint had been resolved.”
- GetFiveStars

On the local business scene, we’re also witnessing the rising trend of consumers who expect accountability and accessibility, and who speak up when they don’t encounter it. Local businesses need to commit to openness in terms of their business practices, just as digital businesses do, but there are some special nuances at play here, too.

I can’t count the number of negative reviews I’ve read that cited inconvenience caused by local business listings containing wrong addresses and incorrect hours. These reviewers have experienced a sense of ill-usage stemming from a perceived lack of respect for their busy schedules and a lack of brand concern for their well-being. Neglected online local business information leads to neglected-feeling customers who sometimes even believe that a company is hiding the truth from them!

These are avoidable outcomes. As the above quote from a GetFiveStars survey demonstrates, local brands that fully participate in anticipating, hearing, and responding to consumer needs are rewarded with loyalty. Given this, as we begin the countdown to holiday shopping, be sure you’re fostering basic transparency and empathy with simple steps like:

  • Checking your core citations for accurate names, addresses, phone numbers, and other info and making necessary corrections
  • Updating your local business listing hours to reflect extended holiday hours and closures
  • Updating your website and all local landing pages to reflect this information

Next, bolster more advanced transparency by:

  • Using Google Posts to clearly highlight your major sale dates so people don’t feel tricked or left out
  • Answering all consumer questions via Google Questions & Answers in your Google Knowledge Panels
  • Responding swiftly to both positive and negative reviews on core platforms
  • Monitoring and participating on all social discussion of your brand when concerns or complaints arise, letting customers know you are accessible
  • Posting in-store signage directing customers to complaint phone/text hotlines

And, finally, create an empathetic rapport with customers via efforts like:

  • Developing and publishing a consumer-centric service policy both on your website and in signage or print materials in all of your locations
  • Using Google My Business attributes to let patrons know about features like wheelchair accessibility, available parking, pet-friendliness, etc.
  • Publishing your company giving strategies so that customers can feel spending with you supports good things — for example, X% of sales going to a local homeless shelter, children’s hospital, or other worthy cause
  • Creating a true welcome for all patrons, regardless of gender, identity, race, creed, or culture — for example, gender neutral bathrooms, feeding stations for mothers, fragrance-free environments for the chemically sensitive, or even a few comfortable chairs for tired shoppers to rest in

A company commitment to standards like TAGFEE coupled with a basic regard for the rights, well-being, and aspirations of customers year-round can stand a local brand in very good stead at the holidays. Sometimes it’s the intangible goods a brand stocks — like goodwill towards one’s local community — that yield a brand of loyalty nothing else can buy.

Why not organize for it, organize for the mutual benefits of business and society with a detailed, step-by-step checklist you can take to your next team meeting?:

Download the 2018 Holiday Local SEO Checklist

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Take the 2018 Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey

Posted by MiriamEllis

Local search marketing is a dynamic and exciting discipline, but like many digital professions, it can be a bit isolating. You may find yourself running into questions that don’t have a ready answer, things like…

  • What sort of benchmarks should I be measuring my daily work by?
  • Do my clients’ needs align with what my colleagues are seeing?
  • Am I over/undervaluing the role of Google in my future work?

Here’s a chance to find out what your peers are observing and doing on a day-to-day basis.

The Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey will dive into job descriptions, industries served, most effective tactics, tool usage, and the non-stop growth of Google’s local features. We’ll even touch on how folks may have been impacted by the recent August 1 algorithm update, if at all. In-house local SEOs, agency local SEOs, and other digital marketers are all welcome! All participants will be entered into a drawing for a $ 100 Amazon gift card. The winner will be notified on 8/27/18.

Give just 5 minutes of your time and you’ll get insights and quotable statistics back when we publish the survey results. Be sure to participate by 8/24/2018. We sincerely appreciate your contributions!

Take the Local SEO Survey Now

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Do You Need Local Pages? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Tom.Capper

Does it make sense for you to create local-specific pages on your website? Regardless of whether you own or market a local business, it may make sense to compete for space in the organic SERPs using local pages. Please give a warm welcome to our friend Tom Capper as he shares a 4-point process for determining whether local pages are something you should explore in this week’s Whiteboard Friday!


Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hello, Moz fans. Welcome to another Whiteboard Friday. I’m Tom Capper. I’m a consultant at Distilled, and today I’m going to be talking to you about whether you need local pages. Just to be clear right off the bat what I’m talking about, I’m not talking about local rankings as we normally think of them, the local map pack results that you see in search results, the Google Maps rankings, that kind of thing.

A 4-step process to deciding whether you need local pages

I’m talking about conventional, 10 blue links rankings but for local pages, and by local pages I mean pages from a national or international business that are location-specific. What are some examples of that? Maybe on Indeed.com they would have a page for jobs in Seattle. Indeed doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar premises in Seattle, but they do have a page that is about jobs in Seattle.

You might get a similar thing with flower delivery. You might get a similar thing with used cars, all sorts of different verticals. I think it can actually be quite a broadly applicable tactic. There’s a four-step process I’m going to outline for you. The first step is actually not on the board. It’s just doing some keyword research.

1. Know (or discover) your key transactional terms

I haven’t done much on that here because hopefully you’ve already done that. You already know what your key transactional terms are. Because whatever happens you don’t want to end up developing location pages for too many different keyword types because it’s gong to bloat your site, you probably just need to pick one or two key transactional terms that you’re going to make up the local variants of. For this purpose, I’m going to talk through an SEO job board as an example.

2. Categorize your keywords as implicit, explicit, or near me and log their search volumes

We might have “SEO jobs” as our core head term. We then want to figure out what the implicit, explicit, and near me versions of that keyword are and what the different volumes are. In this case, the implicit version is probably just “SEO jobs.” If you search for “SEO jobs” now, like if you open a new tab in your browser, you’re probably going to find that a lot of local orientated results appear because that is an implicitly local term and actually an awful lot of terms are using local data to affect rankings now, which does affect how you should consider your rank tracking, but we’ll get on to that later.

SEO jobs, maybe SEO vacancies, that kind of thing, those are all going to be going into your implicitly local terms bucket. The next bucket is your explicitly local terms. That’s going to be things like SEO jobs in Seattle, SEO jobs in London, and so on. You’re never going to get a complete coverage of different locations. Try to keep it simple.

You’re just trying to get a rough idea here. Lastly you’ve got your near me or nearby terms, and it turns out that for SEO jobs not many people search SEO jobs near me or SEO jobs nearby. This is also going to vary a lot by vertical. I would imagine that if you’re in food delivery or something like that, then that would be huge.

3. Examine the SERPs to see whether local-specific pages are ranking

Now we’ve categorized our keywords. We want to figure out what kind of results are going to do well for what kind of keywords, because obviously if local pages is the answer, then we might want to build some.

In this case, I’m looking at the SERP for “SEO jobs.” This is imaginary. The rankings don’t really look like this. But we’ve got SEO jobs in Seattle from Indeed. That’s an example of a local page, because this is a national business with a location-specific page. Then we’ve got SEO jobs Glassdoor. That’s a national page, because in this case they’re not putting anything on this page that makes it location specific.

Then we’ve got SEO jobs Seattle Times. That’s a local business. The Seattle Times only operates in Seattle. It probably has a bricks-and-mortar location. If you’re going to be pulling a lot of data of this type, maybe from stats or something like that, obviously tracking from the locations that you’re mentioning, where you are mentioning locations, then you’re probably going to want to categorize these at scale rather than going through one at a time.

I’ve drawn up a little flowchart here that you could encapsulate in a Excel formula or something like that. If the location is mentioned in the URL and in the domain, then we know we’ve got a local business. Most of the time it’s just a rule of thumb. If the location is mentioned in the URL but not mentioned in the domain, then we know we’ve got a local page and so on.

4. Compare & decide where to focus your efforts

You can just sort of categorize at scale all the different result types that we’ve got. Then we can start to fill out a chart like this using the rankings. What I’d recommend doing is finding a click-through rate curve that you are happy to use. You could go to somewhere like AdvancedWebRanking.com, download some example click-through rate curves.

Again, this doesn’t have to be super precise. We’re looking to get a proportionate directional indication of what would be useful here. I’ve got Implicit, Explicit, and Near Me keyword groups. I’ve got Local Business, Local Page, and National Page result types. Then I’m just figuring out what the visibility share of all these types is. In my particular example, it turns out that for explicit terms, it could be worth building some local pages.

That’s all. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SearchCap: It’s all about Google today–political ad transparency report, local packs, featured snippets launched & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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How to Win Some Local Customers Back from Amazon this Holiday Season

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your local business may not be able to beat Amazon at the volume of their own game of convenient shipping this holiday season, but don’t assume it’s a game you can’t at least get into!

This small revelation took me by surprise last month while I was shopping for a birthday gift for my brother. Like many Americans, I’m feeling growing qualms about the economic and societal impacts of putting my own perceived convenience at the top of a list of larger concerns like ensuring fair business practices, humane working conditions, and sustainable communities.

So, when I found myself on the periphery of an author talk at the local independent bookstore and the book happened to be one I thought my brother would enjoy, I asked myself a new question:

“I wonder if this shop would ship?”

There was no signage indicating such a service, but I asked anyway, and was delighted to discover that they do. Minutes later, the friendly staff was wrapping up a signed copy of the volume in nice paper and popping a card in at no extra charge. Shipping wasn’t free, but I walked away feeling a new kind of happiness in wishing my sibling a “Happy Birthday” this year.

And that single transaction not only opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t have to remain habituated to gift shopping at Amazon or similar online giants for remote loved ones, but it also inspired this article.

Let’s talk about this now, while your local business, large or small, still has time to make plans for the holidays. Let’s examine this opportunity together, with a small study, a checklist, and some inspiration for seasonal success.

What do people buy most at the holidays and who’s shipping?

According to Statista, the categories in the following chart are the most heavily shopped during the holiday season. I selected a large town in California with a population of 60,000+, and phoned every business in these categories that was ranking in the top 10 of Google’s Local Finder view. This comprised both branded chains and independently-owned businesses. I asked each business if I came in and purchased items whether they could ship them to a friend.

Category

% Offer Shipping

Notes

Clothing

80%

Some employees weren’t sure. Outlets of larger store brands couldn’t ship. Some offered shipping only if you were a member of their loyalty program. Small independents consistently offered shipping. Larger brands promoted shopping online.

Electronics

10%

Larger stores all stressed going online. The few smaller stores said they could ship, but made it clear that it was an unusual request.

Games/Toys/Dolls etc.

25%

Large stores promote online shopping. One said they would ship some items but not all. Independents did not ship.

Food/Liquor

20%

USPS prohibits shipping alcohol. I surveyed grocery, gourmet, and candy stores. None of the grocery stores shipped and only two candy stores did.

Books

50%

Only two bookstores in this town, both independent. One gladly ships. The other had never considered it.

Jewelry

60%

Chains require online shopping. Independents more open to shipping but some didn’t offer it.

Health/Beauty

20%

With a few exceptions, cosmetic and fitness-related stores either had no shipping service or had either limited or full online shopping.

Takeaways from the study

  • Most of the chains promote online shopping vs. shopping in their stores, which didn’t surprise me, but which strikes me as opportunity being left on the table.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the number of independent clothing and jewelry stores that gladly offered to ship gift purchases.
  • I was concerned by how many employees initially didn’t know whether or not their employer offered shipping, indicating a lack of adequate training.
  • Finally, I’ll add that I’ve physically visited at least 85% of these businesses in the past few years and have never been told by any staff member about their shipping services, nor have I seen any in-store signage promoting such an offer.

My overarching takeaway from the experiment is that, though all of us are now steeped in the idea that consumers love the convenience of shipping, a dominant percentage of physical businesses are still operating as though this realization hasn’t fully hit in… or that it can be safely ignored.

To put it another way, if Amazon has taken some of your customers, why not take a page from their playbook and get shipping?

The nitty-gritty of brick-and-mortar shipping

62% of consumers say the reason they’d shop offline is because they want to see, touch, and try out items.RetailDive

There’s no time like the holidays to experiment with a new campaign. I sat down with a staff member at the bookstore where I bought my brother’s gift and asked her some questions about how they manage shipping. From that conversation, and from some additional research, I came away with the following checklist for implementing a shipping offer at your brick-and-mortar locations:

✔ Determine whether your business category is one that lends itself to holiday gift shopping.

✔ Train core or holiday temp staff to package and ship gifts.

✔ Craft compelling messaging surrounding your shipping offer, perhaps promoting pride in the local community vs. pride in Amazon. Don’t leave it to customers to shop online on autopilot — help them realize there’s a choice.

✔ Cover your store and website with messaging highlighting this offering, at least two months in advance of the holidays.

✔ In October, run an in-store campaign in which cashiers verbally communicate your holiday shipping service to every customer.

✔ Sweeten the offer with a dedication of X% of sales to a most popular local cause/organization/institution.

✔ Promote your shipping service via your social accounts.

✔ Make an effort to earn a mention of your shipping service in local print and radio news.

✔ Set clear dates for when the last purchases can be made to reach their destinations in time for the holidays.

✔ Coordinate with the USPS, FedEx, or UPS to have them pick up packages from your location daily.

✔ Determine the finances of your shipping charges. You may need to experiment with whether free shipping would put too big of a hole in your pocket, or whether it’s necessary to compete with online giants at the holidays.

✔ Track the success of this campaign to discover ROI.

Not every business is a holiday shopping destination, and online shopping may simply have become too dominant in some categories to overcome the Amazon habit. But, if you determine you’ve got an opportunity here, designate 2018 as a year to experiment with shipping with a view towards making refinements in the new year.

You may discover that your customers so appreciate the lightbulb moment of being able to support local businesses when they want something mailed that shipping is a service you’ll want to instate year-round. And not just for gifts… consumers are already signaling at full strength that they like having merchandise shipped to themselves!

Adding the lagniappe: Something extra

For the past couple of years, economists have reported that Americans are spending more on restaurants than on groceries. I see a combination of a desire for experiences and convenience in that, don’t you? It has been joked that someone needs to invent food that takes pictures of itself for social sharing! What can you do to capitalize on this desire for ease and experience in your business?

Cards, carols, and customs are wreathed in the “joy” part of the holidays, but how often do customers genuinely feel the enjoyment when they are shopping these days? True, a run to the store for a box of cereal may not require aesthetic satisfaction, but shouldn’t we be able to expect some pleasure in our purchasing experiences, especially when we are buying gifts that are meant to spread goodwill?

When my great-grandmother got tired from shopping at the Emporium in San Francisco, one of the superabundant sales clerks would direct her to the soft surroundings of the ladies’ lounge to refresh her weary feet on an automatic massager. She could lunch at a variety of nicely appointed in-store restaurants at varied prices. Money was often tight, but she could browse happily in the “bargain basement”. There were holiday roof rides for the kiddies, and holiday window displays beckoning passersby to stop and gaze in wonder. Great-grandmother, an immigrant from Ireland, got quite a bit of enjoyment out of the few dollars in her purse.

It may be that those lavish days of yore are long gone, taking the pleasure of shopping with them, and that we’re doomed to meager choosing between impersonal online shopping or impersonal offline warehouses … but I don’t think so.

The old Emporium was huge, with multiple floors and hundreds of employees … but it wasn’t a “big box store”.

There’s still opportunity for larger brands to differentiate themselves from their warehouse-lookalike competitors. Who says retail has to look like a fast food chain or a mobile phone store?

And as for small, independent businesses? I can’t open my Twitter feed nowadays without encountering a new and encouraging story about the rise of localism and local entrepreneurialism.

It’s a good time to revive the ethos of the lagniappe — the Louisiana custom of giving patrons a little something extra with their purchase, something that will make it worth it to get off the computer and head into town for a fun, seasonal experience. Yesterday’s extra cookie that made up the baker’s dozen could be today’s enjoyable atmosphere, truly expert salesperson, chair to sit down in when weary, free cup of spiced cider on a wintry day… or the highly desirable service of free shipping. Chalk up the knowledge of this need as one great thing Amazon has gifted you.

In 2017, our household chose to buy as many holiday presents as possible from Main Street for our nearby family and friends. We actually enjoyed the experience. In 2018, we plan to see how far our town can take us in terms of shipping gifts to loved ones we won’t have a chance to see. Will your business be ready to serve our newfound need?

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SearchCap: Google launches video cameos, state of local marketing report & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



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