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BrightLocal launches ‘Local RankFlux’ Google local algorithm tracking tool

The tool is designed to help SEOs and businesses more easily track local algo changes.



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Google now showing competitor ads on local business profiles

The unit is from Local Campaigns and businesses cannot pay to remove them.



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Kindness as Currency: How Good Deeds Can Benefit Your Local Business

Posted by MiriamEllis

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” – Taisen Deshimaru, Buddhist philosopher


A woman stands in a busy supermarket checkout line. The shopper in front of her realizes that they don’t have enough money with them to cover their purchase, so she steps in and makes up the balance. Then, when she reaches the checkout, her own receipt totals up higher than she was expecting. She doesn’t have enough left in her purse.

“No problem,” says the young clerk and swipes his own debit card to pay for her groceries.

A bystander snaps a photo and posts the story to Facebook. The story ends up on local radio and TV news. Unstructured citations for the grocery store start crackling like popcorn. National news takes notice. A scholarship foundation presents a check to the clerk. When asked how he felt about it, the clerk said:

“Personally, I think it’s undeserved attention. Because she did something so good … I felt like it was my responsibility to return the favor.”

In the process, if only for a moment in time, an everyday supermarket is transformed into a rescue operation for hope in humanity. Through the lens of local SEO, it’s also a lesson in how good deeds can be rewarded by good mentions.

Studying business kindness can be a rewarding task for any motivated digital marketing agency or local brand owner. I hope this post will be both a pick-me-up for the day, and a rallying cry to begin having deeper conversations about the positive culture businesses can create in the communities they serve.

10+ evocative examples of business kindness

“We should love people and use things, but sadly, we love things and use people,” Roger Johnson, Artisan

As a youngster in the American workforce, I ran into some very peculiar styles of leadership.

For instance, one boss gruffly told me not to waste too much time chatting with the elderly customers who especially loved buying from me…as if customer support doesn’t make or break business reputations.

And then there was the cranky school secretary who reprimanded me for giving ice packs to children because she believed they were only “trying to get attention” … as if schools don’t exist to lavish focus on the kids in their care.

In other words, both individuals would have preferred me to be less kind, less human, than more so.

Perhaps it was these experiences of my superiors taking a miserly approach to workplace human kindness that inspired me to keep a little file of outbreaks of goodwill that earned online renown. These examples beg self-reflective questions of any local business owner:

  1. If you launched your brand in the winter, would you have opened your doors while under construction to shelter and feed housing-insecure neighbors?
  2. If a neighboring business was struggling, would you offer them floor space in your shop to help them survive?
  3. Would your brand’s culture inspire an employee to cut up an elder’s ham for him if he needed help? How awesome would it be if a staffer of yours had a day named after her for her kindness? Would your employees comp a meal for a hungry neighbor or pay a customer’s $ 200 tab because they saw them hold open a door for a differently-abled guest?
  4. What good things might happen in a community you serve if you started mailing out postcards promoting positivity?
  5. What if you gave flowers to strangers, including moms, on Mother’s Day?
  6. How deeply are you delving into the season of giving at the holidays? What if, like one business owner, you opened shop on Thanksgiving just to help a family find a gift for a foster child? You might wake up to international fame on Monday morning.
  7. What if visitors to your community had their bikes stolen on a road trip and your shop gifted them new bikes and ended up on the news?
  8. One business owner was so grateful for his community’s help in overcoming addiction, he’s been washing their signage for free. What has your community done for you and how have you thanked them?
  9. What if all you had to do was something really small, like replacing negative “towed at your own expense” signs by welcoming quick stop parking?
  10. What if you, just for a day, you asked customers to pay for their purchases with kind acts?

I only know about these stories because of the unstructured citations (online references to a local business) they generated. They earned online publicity, radio, and television press. The fame for some was small and local, for others, internationally viral. Some activities were planned, but many others took place on the spur of the moment. Kindness, empathy, and gratitude, flow through them all like a river of hope, inviting every business owner to catch the current in their own way. One easy way for local business owners to keep better track of any positive mentions is by managing and monitoring reviews online with the New Moz Local.

See your online presence

Can kindness be taught in the workplace?

In Demark, schoolchildren learn empathy as a class subject. The country is routinely rated as one of the happiest in the world. At Moz, we have the TAGFEE code, which includes both generosity and empathy, and our company offers internal workshops on things like “How to be TAGFEE when you disagree.” We are noted for the kindness of our customer support, as in the above review.

According to Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, people “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. In his study, the monetary amount donors gave to charity went up or down based on whether they were told their peers gave much or little. They matched the generosity or stinginess they witnessed. In part two of the study, the groups who had seen others donating generously went on to offer greater empathy in writing letters to penpals suffering hard times. In other words, kindness isn’t just contagious — its impact can spread across multiple activities.

Mercedes-Benz CEO, Stephen Cannon, wanted employees to catch the kindness bug because of its profound impact on sales. He invited his workforce to join a “grassroots movement” that resulted in surprising shoppers with birthday cakes, staff rushing to remote locations with spare tires, and other memorable consumer experiences. Cannon noted:

“There is no scientific process, no algorithm, to inspire a salesperson or a service person to do something extraordinary. The only way you get there is to educate people, excite them, incite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the occasion to do something arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”

In a 2018 article, I highlighted the reviews of a pharmacy that made it apparent that staff wasn’t empowered to do the simplest self-determined acts, like providing a chair for a sick man who was about to fall down in a long prescription counter line. By contrast, an Inc. book review of Jill Lublin’s The Profits of Kindness states:

“Organizations that trade in kindness allow their employees to give that currency away. If you’re a waitress, can you give someone a free piece of pie because the kid at the next table spilled milk on their foot? If you’re a clerk in a hotel, do you have the authority to give someone a discounted rate because you can tell they’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?”

There may be no formula for teaching kindness, but if Zaki is right, then leadership can be the starting point of demonstrative empathy that can emanate through the staff and to its customers. How do you build for that?

A cared-for workforce for customer service excellence

You can find examples of individual employees behaving with radical kindness despite working for brands that routinely disregard workers’ basic needs. But, this hardly seems ideal. How much better to build a business on empathy and generosity so that cared-for staff can care for customers.

I ran a very quick Twitter poll to ask employees what their very most basic need is:

Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents cited a living wage as their top requirement. Owners developing a kind workforce must ensure that staff are housing-and-food-secure, and can afford the basic dignities of life. Any brand that can’t pay its staff a living wage isn’t really operational — it’s exploitation.

Beyond the bare minimums, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 Survey of 7,300 executives, HR experts, and employees highlighted trending worker emphasis on:

  • Flexibility in both hours and location to create a healthy work/life balance
  • Ethics in company technology, practices, and transparency
  • Equity in pay ratios, regardless of gender
  • Empathy in the workplace, both internally and in having a positive societal impact with customers

It’s just not very hard to connect the dots between a workforce that has its basic and aspirational needs met, and one possessing the physical, mental and emotional health to extend those values to consumers. As I found in a recent study of my own, 70 percent of negative review resolution was driven by brands having to overcome bad/rude service with subsequent caring service.

Even at the smallest local business level, caring policies and initiatives that generate kindness are within reach, with Gallup reporting that SMBs have America’s happiest and most engaged workers. Check out Forbes list of the best small companies of 2019 and note the repeated emphasis on employee satisfaction.

Kindness as currency, with limitless growth potential

“I wanted a tangible item that could track acts of kindness. From that, the Butterfly Coin emerged.” Bruce Pedersen, Butterfly Coins

Maybe someday, you’ll be the lucky recipient of a Butterfly Coin, equipped with a unique tracking code, and gifted to you by someone doing a kind act. Then, you’ll do something nice for somebody and pass it on, recording your story amongst thousands of others around the world. People, it seems, are so eager for tokens of kindness that the first mint sold out almost immediately.

The butterfly effect (the inspiration for the name of these coins) in chaos theory holds that a small action can trigger multiple subsequent actions at a remove. In a local business setting, an owner could publicly reward an employee’s contributions, which could cause the employee to spread their extra happiness to twenty customers that day, which could cause those customers to be in a mood to tip waitstaff extra, which could cause the waitstaff to comp meals for hungry neighbors sitting on their doorsteps, and on and on it goes.

There’s an artisan in Gig Harbor, WA who rewards kindnesses via turtle figurines. There are local newspapers that solicit stories of kindness. There are towns that have inaugurated acts-of-kindness weeks. There is even a suburb in Phoenix, AZ that re-dubbed itself Kindness, USA. (I mentioned, I’ve been keeping a file).

The most priceless aspect of kindness is that it’s virtually limitless. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantified. The Butterfly Coin idea is attempting to track kindness, and as a local business owner, you have a practical means of parsing it, too. It will turn up in unstructured citations, reviews, and social media, if you originate it at the leadership level, and share it out from employee to customer with an open hand.

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Video: Local search expert Joy Hawkins shares an unexpected finding from her Google reviews research

Hawkins talks to Search Engine Land editor Barry Schwartz about breaking out on her own, buying Local Search Forum and a recent discovery she made around Google’s review gating policy.



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The New Moz Local Is Here! Can’t-Miss Highlights & How to Get Started

Posted by MiriamEllis

Last month we announced that the new Moz Local would be arriving soon. We’re so excited — it’s here! If you’re a current Moz Local customer, you may have already been exploring the new and improved platform this week! If not, signing up now will get you access to all the new goodies we have in store for you.

With any major change to a tool you use, it can take a bit for you to adjust. That’s why I wanted to write up a quick look at some of the highlights of the product, and from there encourage you to dig into our additional resources.

What are some key features to dig into?

Full location data management

More than 90% of purchases happen in physical stores. The first object of local SEO is ensuring that people searching online for what you offer:

  1. Encounter your business
  2. Access accurate information they can trust about it
  3. See the signals they’re looking for to choose you for a transaction

Moz Local meets this reality with active and continuous synching of location data so that you can grow your authority, visibility, and the public trust by managing your standard business information across partnered data aggregators, apps, sites, and databases. This is software centered around real-time location data and profile management, providing updates as quickly as partners can support them. And, with your authorized connection to Google and Facebook, updates you make to your business data on these two powerhouse platforms are immediate. Moz Local helps you master the online consumer encounter.

And, because business data changes over time, ongoing management of your online assets is essential. 80% of customers lose trust in a brand when its local business listings mislead them with incorrect information like wrong names, phone numbers, or hours of operation. No brand can afford to lose this trust! Moz Local’s data cleansing service delivers ongoing accuracy and proper formatting for successful submission to the platforms that matter most.

Finally, Moz Local supports the distribution of rich data beyond the basics. Give customers compelling reasons to choose your business over others by uploading photos, videos descriptions, social links, and more. Full control over these elements can greatly enhance customer encounters and improve conversions.

Automated duplicate deletion

Duplicate listings of a business location can turn profile management into a tangle, mislead consumers, dilute ranking strength, and sometimes even violate platform guidelines. But historically, detection and resolution of duplicates has been cumbersome and all but impossible to scale when handled manually.

One of the most exciting improvements you’ll experience with the new Moz Local is that duplicate workflows are now automated! Our next-level algorithmic technology will identify, confirm and permanently delete your duplicate listings in a fully automated fashion that requires no interaction or involvement on your part. This is a major development that will save local brands and agencies an amazing amount of time.

Deep Google and Facebook reporting & management

Logging in and out of multiple dashboards can be such a hassle, but with Moz Local, you’ll have insights about all of your locations and clients in a single space. Moz Local is now hooked up with Facebook management (hooray!) and we’ve deepened our Google My Business integration.

We’ll capture Facebook insights data for impressions and clicks for your location’s published Facebook content. And you’ll find it convenient that we surface impressions data for both Google Maps and Search. This means you’ll have easy access click data for the familiar attributes: clicks-for-directions, clicks-to-website and clicks-to-call, plus tracking of direct, indirect, and branded queries. Whether you’re dealing with just one listing or 100,000 of them, all the data will be at your fingertips.

One new feature I’m especially keen to share is the alerts you’ll receive every time a new photo is uploaded to your Google listing by a third party. Image spam is real, and awareness of public uploads of imagery that violates guidelines is part and parcel of reputation management.

Local dashboard

Our goal is to make your local SEO work as simple as possible, and very often, the at-a-glance summary in the new Moz Local dashboard will tell you all you need to know for routine check-ups. The default view of all the locations you manage can, of course, be easily filtered and segmented to look at specific clients or locations. Almost effortlessly, you’ll get a very quick overview of data like:

    • Average Profile Completeness
    • Locations requiring attention
    • Total listings in sync (sync is the new term for what we previously referred to as “published”)
    • Listings being updated
    • Listings requiring sync
    • Duplicate Reporting
    • Facebook Insights data
    • Google My Business Insights data

Profile suggestion engine

Who has time for guesswork when you’re trying to make the most of your online assets? Our powerful new profile suggestion engine tells you exactly what you what data you need to prove to reach maximum profile completeness.

Quickly drill down to a specific location. From there, Moz Local surfaces multiple fields (like long description, photos, opening hours, fax numbers, etc.) along with suggestions based on other verifiable online sources to improve consistency across the data publisher and partner network. Again, this is a big time-saver, especially if your agency has multiple clients or your enterprise has multiple locations to manage.

Email alerts, notifications, activity feed

Choose how you’d like to stay up-to-date on the status of your listings.

  • Every Moz Local dashboard contains an activity feed that continuously streams the latest information, updates, and alerts for all of your listings
  • Opt-in for email alerts if that’s your preferred method of notification. Digest emails are configurable to be sent on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis
  • Optional upgrade for email alerts for new reviews. If you upgrade, you’ll receive these notification daily, ensuring you aren’t missing complaints, praise and conversion opportunities

Review management

Google has revealed that about one-third of people looking for local business information are actually trying to find local business reviews. From the viewpoint of consumers, your online reviews are your brand’s reputation. Our own large-scale marketing survey found that 90% of respondents agree that reviews impact local rankings, but that 60% of participants lack a comprehensive review management strategy. The result is that platforms like Google have become mediums of unheard customer voices, neglected leads, and reputation damage.

The good news is that Moz Local customers have the option to upgrade their subscriptions to turn this unsustainable scenario completely around. Be alerted to incoming reviews on multiple platforms and respond to them quickly. See right away if a problem is emerging at one of your locations, necessitating in-store intervention, or if you’ve been hit with a review spam attack. And go far beyond this with insight into other types of customer sentiment, like photo uploads and Google Q&A.

The truth is, that in 2019 and in the foreseeable future, no business in a competitive market can afford to neglect public sentiment management, because it has become central to customer service. Every brand is in the business of customer service, but awareness, responsiveness, accountability, and action require strategy and the right tools. Let Moz Local help you take control of your priceless reputation.

Social posting

Manage the interactive aspects of your local business profiles with this optional upgrade. Share news, special offers, and questions & answers with customers on social platforms and in directories. This includes:

  • Engaging with customers on social media to share. News posts can be shared on Facebook and eligible directories. Offers can be posted in eligible directories. Questions & Answers can be posted to your Google Business Profile.
  • Publishing Posts instantly or scheduling them for a future date. And here’s something you’ll be excited to hear: you can submit the same post for multiple locations at once, create and save templates for posts, and edit/delete posts from the publishing dashboard!

In competitive local markets, transitioning from passive observation of online assets to interactive engagement with the public can set your brand apart.

What should my next steps in the new Moz Local be?

  1. Ensure that your location data and your profile are complete and accurate within the new Moz Local. Be sure to add in as much data as you can in the Basic Data, Rich Data, and Photos & Videos sections to reach high profile completeness. Doing so will ensure that your locations’ listings throughout the local search ecosystem are as informative as possible for potential customers. Moz Local acts as a “source of truth” for your location data and overwrites data on third party platforms like Google and Facebook, so be sure the data you’ve provided us is accurate before moving on to step two.
  2. Gain immediate insights into your local search presence by connecting your Google My Business and Facebook profiles. Once connected, these will begin to pull in tons of data, from impressions, to clicks, to queries.
  3. Once your profile is complete and Google My Business and Facebook profiles are connected, it’s time to sync your data to ensure that what you’ve provided to Moz Local is shared out to our network. Simply click the Sync button in the top right to push your information to our partners.

Where can I find more information?

I’m glad you’ve asked! Our resource center will be a great place to start. There, a user guide and video tutorial can show you the ropes, and you can also get registered for our upcoming webinar on June 25th at 10:00am PST:

Save my spot

The Help Hub has also been given a complete refresh with the new Moz Local. There you will find ample resources, FAQs, and descriptions of each area of the tool to dig into.

For any questions that you can’t find answers to, you can always reach out to our wonderful Help Team.

Download your free copy of the Moz Local User’s Manual

In the spirit of making things as delightfully simple for every customer, we’ve published a guide to smooth sailing in unfamiliar waters. In this short and sweet Moz Local User Manual, you’ll find:

  • A full visual key to the dashboard and all its functions
  • Instructions for adding locations
  • Instructions for editing locations
  • Instructions for cancelling locations
  • Instructions for managing reviews and social engagement
  • And other actionable info!

Who is the Moz Local User Manual for?

Anyone on your team who touches your Moz Local account should have a copy of this guide. It will level everyone up and cut down on team leads having to answer the same questions over and over again about basic tasks. Where appropriate, agencies may also want to send a copy over to clients who need clarity about why you’re using Moz Local as an integral part of local search marketing campaigns. We’ve written the manual in non-technical language, with step-by-step instructions any reader can follow.

Download the free guide

What’s next from Moz?

Expect a number of exciting new updates to continue rolling out — both in the new Moz Local tool as well as in other areas of our platform. As I mentioned before, it’s our serious plan to devote everything we’ve got into putting the power of local SEO into your hands. Keep an eye out for more to come from Moz to support your local search marketing.

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Rural Local SEO: A Marketing Package Strong on Education

Posted by MiriamEllis

Can your marketing agency make a profit working with low-budget clients in rural areas?

Could you be overlooking a source of referrals, publicity, and professional satisfaction if you’re mainly focused on landing larger clients in urban locales? Clients in least-populated areas need to capture every customer they can get to be viable, including locals, new neighbors, and passers-through. Basic Local SEO can go a long way toward helping with this, and even if package offerings aren’t your agency’s typical approach, a simple product that emphasizes education could be exactly what’s called for.

Today, I’d like to help you explore your opportunities of serving rural and very small town clients. I’ve pulled together a sample spreadsheet and a ton of other resources that I hope will empower you to develop a bare-bones but high-quality local search marketing package that will work for most and could significantly benefit your agency in some remarkable ways.

Everything in moderation

The linchpin fundamental to the rural client/agency relationship is that the needs of these businesses are so exceedingly moderate. The competitive bar is set so low in a small-town-and-country setting, that, with few exceptions, clients can make a strong local showing with a pared-down marketing plan.

Let’s be honest — many businesses in this scenario can squeak by on a website design package from some giant web hosting agency. A few minutes spent with Google’s non-urban local packs attest to this. But I’m personally dissatisfied by independent businesses ending up being treated like numbers because it’s so antithetical to the way they operate. The local hardware store doesn’t put you on hold for 45 minutes to answer a question. The local farm stand doesn’t route you overseas to buy heirloom tomatoes. Few small town institutions stay in business for 150 years by overpromising and under-delivering.

Let’s assume that many rural clients will have some kind of website. If they don’t, you can recommend some sort of freebie or cheapie solution. It will be enough to get them placed somewhere in Google’s results, but if they never move beyond this, the maximum conversions they need to stay in business could be missed.

I’ve come to believe that the small-to-medium local marketing agency is the best fit for the small-to-medium rural brand because of shared work ethics and a similar way of doing business. But both entities need to survive monetarily and that means playing a very smart game with a budget on both sides.

It’s a question of organizing an agency offering that delivers maximum value with a modest investment of your time and the client’s money.

Constructing a square deal

When you take on a substantial client in a large town or city, you pull out all the stops. You dive deeply into auditing the business, its market, its assets. You look at everything from technical errors to creative strengths before beginning to build a strategy or implement campaigns, and there may be many months or years of work ahead for you with these clients. This is all entirely appropriate for big, lucrative contracts.

For your rural roster, prepare to scale way back. Here is your working plan:

1. Schedule your first 15-minute phone call with the client

Avoid the whole issue of having to lollygag around waiting for a busy small business owner to fill out a form. Schedule an appointment and have the client be at their place of business in front of a computer at the time of the call. Confirm the following, ultra-basic data about the client.

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • URL
  • Business model (single location brick-and-mortar, SAB, etc.)
  • Category
  • Are there any other businesses at this address?
  • Main products/services offered
  • If SAB, list of cities served
  • Most obvious search phrase they want to rank for
  • Year established and year they first took the business online
  • Have they ever been aware of a penalty on their website or had Google tell them they were removing a listing?
  • Finally, have the client (who is in front of their computer at their place of business) search for the search term that’s the most obviously important and read off to you the names and URLs of the businesses ranking in the local pack and on the first page of the organic results.

And that’s it. If you pay yourself $ 100/hr, this quick session yields a charge of $ 25.

2. Make a one-time investment in writing a bare-bones guide to Local SEO

Spend less than one working day putting together a .pdf file or Google doc written in the least-technical language containing the following:

  • Your briefest, clearest definition of what local SEO is and how it brings customers to local businesses. Inspiration here.
  • An overview of 3 key business models: brick & mortar, SAB, and home-based so the client can easily identify which of these models is theirs.
  • A complete copy of the Guidelines for representing your business on Google with a link in it to the live guidelines.
  • Foolproof instructions for creating a Google account and creating and claiming a GMB listing. Show the process step-by-step so that anyone can understand it. Inspiration here.
  • A list of top general industry citation platforms with links to the forms for getting listed on them. Inspiration here and if the client can hit at least a few of these, they will be off to a good start.
  • An overview of the role of review acquisition and response, with a few simple tips for earning reviews and a list of the top general industry review platforms. Inspiration here and here.
  • An overview of the role of building offline relationships to earn a few online linktations. Inspiration here.
  • Links to the Google My Business forum and the main Google support platforms including their phone number (844.491.9665), Facebook, Twitter, and online chat. Tell the client this is where to go if they encounter a problem with their Google listing in the future.
  • Links to major independent business associations as a support vehicle for small and rural businesses like AMIBA, ILSR, and Small Business Saturday. Inspiration here.
  • Your agency’s complete contact information so that the business can remember who you are and engage you for further consulting down the road, if ever necessary.

If you pay yourself $ 100 an hour, investing in creating this guide will cost you less than $ 1000.00. That’s a modest amount that you can quickly earn back from clients. Hopefully, the inspirational links I’ve included will give you a big head start. Avoid covering anything trendy (like some brand new Google feature) so that the only time you should have to update the guide in the near future will be if Google makes some major changes to their guidelines or dashboard.

Deliver this asset to every rural client as their basic training in the bare essentials of local marketing.

3. Create a competitive audit spreadsheet once and fill it out ad infinitum

What you want here is something that lets you swiftly fill in the blanks.

For the competitive audit, you’ll be stacking up your client’s metrics against the metrics of the business they told you was ranking at the top of the local pack when they searched from their location. You can come up with your own metrics, or you can make a copy of this template I’ve created for you and add to it/subtract from it as you like.

Make a copy of the ultra-basic competitive local audit template — you can do so right here.

You’ll notice that my sample sheet does not delve deeply into some of the more technical or creative areas you might explore for clients in tougher markets. With few exceptions, rural clients just don’t need that level of insight to compete.

Give yourself 45 focused minutes filling in the data in the spreadsheet. You’ve now invested 1 hour of time with the client. So let’s give that a value of $ 100.

4. Transfer the findings of your audit into a custom report

Here’s another one-time investment. Spend no more than one workday creating a .pdf or Google Docs template that takes the fields of your audit and presents them in a readable format for the client. I’m going to leave exact formatting up to you, but here are the sections I would recommend structuring the report around:

  • A side-by-side comparison of the client vs. competitor metrics, bucketed by topic (Website, GMB, Reputation, Links, Citations, etc)
  • A very basic explanation of what those metrics mean
  • A clear recommendation of what the client should do to improve their metrics

For example, your section on reputation might look like this:

The beauty of this is that, once you have the template, all you have to do is fill it out and then spend an hour making intelligent observations based on your findings.

Constructing the template should take you less than one workday; so, a one-time investment of less than $ 1,000 if you are paying yourself $ 100/hr.

Transferring the findings of your audit from the spreadsheet to the report for each client should take about 1 hour. So, we’re now up to two total hours of effort for a unique client.

5. Excelling at value

So, you’ve now had a 15-minute conversation with a client, given them an introductory guide to the basics of local search marketing, and delivered a customized report filled with your observations and their to-dos. Many agencies might call it a day and leave the client to interpret the report on their own.

But you won’t do that, because you don’t want to waste an incredible opportunity to build a firm relationship with a business. Instead, spend one more hour on the phone with the owner, going over the report with them page by page and allowing a few minutes for any of their questions. This is where you have the chance to deliver exceptional value to the client, telling them exactly what you think will be most helpful for them to know in a true teaching moment.

At the end of this, you will have become a memorable ally, someone they trust, and someone to whom they will have confidence in referring their colleagues, family members, and neighbors.

You’ve made an overall investment of less than $ 2,000 to create your rural/small town marketing program.

Packaging up the guide, the report and the 1:1 phone consulting, you have a base price of $ 300 for the product if you pay yourself $ 100/hour.

However, I’m going to suggest that, based on the level of local SEO expertise you bring to the scenario, you create a price point somewhere between $ 300–$ 500 for the package. If you are still relatively green at local SEO, $ 300 could be a fair price for three hours of consulting. If you’re an industry adept, scale it up a bit because, because you bring a rare level of insight to every client interaction, even if you’re sticking to the absolute basics. Begin selling several of these packages in a week, and it will start totaling up to a good monthly revenue stream.

As a marketer, I’ve generally shied away from packages because whenever you dig deeply into a client’s scenario, nuances end up requiring so much custom research and communication. But, for the very smallest clients in this least competitive markets, packages can hit the spot.

Considerable benefits for your agency

The client is going to walk away from the relationship with a good deal … and likely a lot to do. If they follow your recommendations, it will typically be just what they needed to establish themselves on the web to the extent that neighbors and travelers can easily find them and choose them for transactions. Good job!

But you’re going to walk away with some amazing benefits, too, some of which you might not have considered before. To wit:

1. Relationships and the ripple effect

A client you’ve treated very well on the phone is a client who is likely to remember you for future needs and recommend you. I’ve had businesses send me lovely gifts on top of my consulting fee because I’ve taken the time to really listen and answer questions. SEO agencies are always looking for ways to build authentic relationships. Don’t overlook the small client as a centroid of referrals throughout a tight-knit community and beyond it to their urban colleagues, friends, and family.

2. Big data for insights and bragging rights

If your package becomes popular, a ton of data is going to start passing through your hands. The more of these audits you do, the more time you’re spending actively observing Google’s handling of the localized SERPs. Imagine the blog posts your agency can begin publishing by anonymizing and aggregating this data, pulling insights of value to our industry. There is no end to the potential for you to grow your knowledge.

Apart from case studies, think of the way this package can both build up your proud client roster and serve as a source of client reviews. The friendly relationship you’ve built with that 1:1 time can now become a font of very positive portfolio content and testimonials for you to publish on your website.

3. Agency pride from helping rebuild rural America

Have you noticed the recent spate of hit TV shows that hinge on rebuilding dilapidated American towns? Industry consolidation is most often cited as the root of rural collapse, with small farmers and independent businesses no longer able to create a tax base to support basic community needs like hospitals, fire departments, and schools. Few of us rejoice at the idea of Main Streets — long-cherished hallmarks not just of Americana but of shared American identity — becoming ghost towns.

But if you look for it, you can see signs of brilliant small entrepreneurs uniting to buck this trend. Check out initiatives like Locavesting and Localstake. There’s a reason to hope in small farming co-ops, the Main Street movement, and individuals like these who can re-envision a crumbling building as an independent country store, a B&B, or a job training center with Internet access.

It can be a source of professional satisfaction for your marketing agency if you offer these brave and hard-working business owners a good deal and the necessary education they need to present themselves sufficiently on the web. I live in a rural area, and I know just how much a little, solid advice can help. I feel extra good if I know I’m contributing to America’s rural comeback story.

Promoting your rural local SEO package

Once you’ve got your guide and templates created, what next? Here are some simple tips:

  • Create a terrific landing page on your website specifically for this package and call it out on your homepage as well. Wherever appropriate, build internal links to it.
  • Promote on social media.
  • Blog about why you’ve created the package, aligning your agency as an ally to the rebuilding of rural communities.
  • If, like me, you live in a rural area, consider presenting at local community events that will put you in front of small business owners.
  • Don’t overlook old school media like community message boards at the local post office, or even fliers tacked to electric poles.
  • If you’re a city slicker, consider how far you’d have to travel to get to the nearest rural community to participate in events.
  • Advertising both off and online in rural papers can be quite economical. There are also place of worship print bulletins, local school papers, and other publications that welcome sponsors. Give it a try.
  • And, of course, ask happy clients to refer you, telling them what it means to your business. You might even develop a referral program.

The truth is that your agency may not be able to live by rural clients, alone. You may still be targeting the bulk of your campaigns towards urban enterprises because just a few highly competitive clients can bring welcome security to your bank account.

But maybe this is a good day to start looking beyond the fast food franchise, the NY attorney and the LA dermatology group. The more one reads about rural entrepreneurs, the more one tends to empathize with them, and empathy is the best foundation I know of for building rewarding business relationships.

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How to Find Your True Local Competitors

Posted by MiriamEllis

Who are your clients’ true competitors?

It’s a question that’s become harder to answer. What felt like a fairly simple triangulation between Google, brand, and searcher in the early days of the local web has multiplied into a geodesic dome of localization, personalization, intent matching, and other facets.

This evolution from a simple shape to a more complex shape has the local SEO industry starting to understand the need to talk about trends and patterns vs. empirical rankings.

For instance, you might notice that you just can’t deliver client reports that say, “Congratulations, you’re #1” anymore. And that’s because the new reality is that there is no #1 for all searchers. A user on the north side of town may see a completely different local pack of results if they go south, or if they modify their search language. An SEO may get a whole different SERP if they search on one rank checking tool vs. another — or even on the same tool, just five minutes later.

Despite all this, you still need to analyze and report — it remains a core task to audit a client’s competitive landscape.

 Today, let’s talk about how we can distill this dynamic, complex environment down to the simplest shapes to understand who your client’s true competitors are. I’ll be sharing a spreadsheet to help you and your clients see the trends and patterns that can create the basis for competitive strategy.

Why are competitive audits necessary…and challenging?

Before we dive into a demo, let’s sync up on what the basic point is of auditing local competitors. Essentially, you’re seeking contrast — you stack up two brands side-by-side to discover the metrics that appear to be making one of them dominant in the local or localized organic SERPs.

From there, you can develop a strategy to emulate the successes of the current winner with the goal of meeting and then surpassing them with superior efforts.

But before you start comparing your brand A to their brand B, you’ve got to know who brand B actually is. What obstacles do you face?

1. SERPs are incredibly diversified

    A recent STAT whitepaper that looked at 1.2 million keywords says it all: every SERP is a local SERP. And since both local packs and organic results are both subject to the whims of geo-location and geo-modification, incorporating them into your tracking strategy is a must.

    To explain, imagine two searchers are sitting on the same couch. One searches for “Mexican restaurant” and the other searches for “Mexican restaurant near me”. Then, they divvy up searching “Mexican restaurant near me” vs. “Mexican restaurant in San Jose”. And, so on. What they see are local packs that are only about 80 percent similar based on Google recognizing different intents. That’s significant variability.

    The scenario gets even more interesting when one of the searchers gets up and travels across town to a different zip code. At that point, the two people making identical queries can see local packs that range from only about 26–65 percent similar. In other words, quite different.

    Now, let’s say your client wants to rank for seven key phrases — like “Mexican restaurant,” “Mexican restaurant near me,” “Mexican restaurant San Jose,” “best Mexican restaurant,” “cheap Mexican restaurant,” etc. Your client doesn’t have just three businesses to compete against in the local pack; they now have multiple multiples of three!

    2) Even good rank tracking tools can be inconsistent

    There are many useful local rank tracking tools out there, and one of the most popular comes to us from BrightLocal. I really like the super easy interface of this tool, but there is a consistency issue with this and other tools I’ve tried, which I’ve captured in a screenshot, below.

    Here I’m performing the same search at 5-minute intervals, showing how the reported localized organic ranking of a single business vary widely across time.

    The business above appears to move from position 5 to position 12. This illustrates the difficulty of answering the question of who is actually the top competitor when using a tool. My understanding is that this type of variability may result from the use of proxies. If you know of a local rank checker that doesn’t do this, please let our community know in the comments.

    In the meantime, what I’ve discovered in my own work is that it’s really hard to find a strong and consistent substitute for manually checking which competitors rank where, on the ground. So, let’s try something out together.

    The simplest solution for finding true competitors

    Your client owns a Mexican restaurant and has seven main keyword phrases they want to compete for. Follow these five easy steps:

    Step 1: Give the client a local pack crash course

    If the client doesn’t already know, teach them how to perform a search on Google and recognize what a local pack is. Show them how businesses in the pack rank 1, 2, and 3. If they have more questions about local packs, how they show up in results, and how Google ranks content, they can check out our updated Beginners Guide to SEO.

    Step 2: Give the client a spreadsheet and a tiny bit of homework

    Give the client a copy of this free spreadsheet, filled out with their most desired keyword phrases. Have them conduct seven searches from a computer located at their place of business* and then fill out the spreadsheet with the names of the three competitors they see for each of the seven phrases. Tell them not to pay attention to any of the other fields of the spreadsheet.

    *Be sure the client does this task from their business’ physical location as this is the best way to see what searchers in their area will see in the local results. Why are we doing this? Because Google weights proximity of the searcher-to-the-business so heavily, we have to pretend we’re a searcher at or near the business to emulate Google’s “thought process”.

    Step 3: Roll up your sleeves for your part of the work

    Now it’s your turn. Look up “directions Google” in Google.

    Enter your client’s business address and the address of their first competitor. Write down the distance in the spreadsheet. Repeat for every entry in each of the seven local packs. This will take you approximately 10–15 minutes to cover all 21 locations, so make sure you’re doing it on company time to ensure you’re on the clock.

    Step 4: Get measuring

    Now, in the 2nd column of the spreadsheet, note down the greatest distance Google appears to be going to fill out the results for each pack.

    Step 5: Identify competitors by strength

    Finally, rate the competitors by the number of times each one appears across all seven local packs. Your spreadsheet should now look something like this:

    Looking at the example sheet above, we’ve learned that:

    • Mi Casa and El Juan’s are the dominant competitors in your client’s market, ranking in 4/7 packs. Plaza Azul is also a strong competitor, with a place in 3/7 packs.
    • Don Pedro’s and Rubio’s are noteworthy with 2/7 pack appearances.
    • All the others make just one pack appearance, making them basic competitors.
    • The radius to which Google is willing to expand to find relevant businesses varies significantly, depending on the search term. While they’re having to go just a couple of miles to find competitors for “Mexican restaurant”, they’re forced to go more than 15 miles for a long tail term like “organic Mexican restaurant”.

    You now know who the client’s direct competitors are for their most desired searches, and how far Google is willing to go to make up a local pack for each term. You have discovered a pattern of most dominant competition across your client’s top phrases, signaling which players need to be audited to yield clues about which elements are making them so strong.

    The pros and cons of the simple search shape

    The old song says that it’s a gift to be simple, but there are some drawbacks to my methodology, namely:

    • You’ll have to depend on the client to help you out for a few minutes, and some clients are not very good at participation, so you’ll need to convince them of the value of their doing the initial searches for you.
    • Manual work is sometimes tedious.
    • Scaling this for a multi-location enterprise would be time-consuming.
    • Some of your clients are going to be located in large cities and will want to know what competitors are showing up for users across town and in different zip codes. Sometimes, it will be possible to compete with these differently-located competitors, but not always. At any rate, our approach doesn’t cover this scenario and you will be stuck with either using tools (with their known inconsistencies), or sending the client across town to search from that locale. This could quickly become a large chore.

    Negatives aside, the positives of this very basic exercise are:

    • Instead of tying yourself to the limited vision of a single local pack and a single set of competitors, you are seeing a trend, a pattern of dominant market-wide competitors.
    • You will have swiftly arrived at a base set of dominant, strong, and noteworthy competitors to audit, with the above-stated goal of figuring out what’s helping them to win so that you can create a client strategy for emulating and surpassing them.
    • Your agency will have created a useful view of your client’s market, understanding the difference between businesses that seem very embedded (like Mi Casa) across multiple packs, vs. those (like Taco Bell) that are only one-offs and could possibly be easier to outpace.
    • You may discover some extremely valuable competitive intel for your client. For example, if Google is having to cast a 15-mile net to find an organic Mexican restaurant, what if your client started offering more organic items on their menu, writing more about this and getting more reviews that mention it? This will give Google a new option, right in town, to consider for local pack inclusion.
    • It’s really quite fast to do for a single-location business.
    • Client buy-in should be a snap for any research they’ve personally helped on, and the spreadsheet should be something they can intuitively and immediately understand.

    My questions for you

    I’d like to close by asking you some questions about your work doing competitive audits for local businesses. I’d be truly interested in your replies as we all work together to navigate the complex shape of Google’s SERPs:

    1. What percentage of your clients “get” that Google’s results have become so dynamic, with different competitors being shown for different queries and different packs being based on searcher location? What percentage of your clients are “there yet” with this concept vs. the old idea of just being #1, period?
    2. I’ve offered you a manual process for getting at trustworthy data on competitors, but as I’ve said, it does take some work. If something could automate this process for you, especially for multi-location clients, would you be interested in hearing more about it?
    3. How often do you do competitive audits for clients? Monthly? Every six months? Annually?

    Thanks for responding, and allow me to wish you and your clients a happy and empowering audit!

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    SearchCap: Local SEO survey, Moz domain authority and GOOG earnings

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



    Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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    B2B Local Search Marketing: A Guide to Hidden Opportunity

    Posted by MiriamEllis

    Is a local business you’re marketing missing out on a host of B2B opportunities? Do B2B brands even qualify for local SEO?

    If I say “B2B” and you think “tech,” then you’re having the same problem I was finding reliable information about local search marketing for business-to-business models. While it’s true that SaaS companies like Moz, MailChimp, and Hootsuite are businesses which vend to other businesses, their transactions are primarily digital. These may be the types of companies that make best-of B2B lists, but today let’s explore another realm in which a physical business you promote is eligible to be marketed both locally and as a B2B.

    Let’s determine your eligibility, find your B2B opportunities, identify tips specific to your business model, analyze an outreach email, explore your content with a checklist, and find an advantage for you in today’s article.

    Seeing how Google sees you

    First to determine whether Google would view your brand as a local business, answer these two questions:

    1. Does the business I’m marketing have a physical location that’s accessible to the public? This can’t be a PO Box or virtual office. It must be a real-world address.
    2. Does the business I’m marketing interact face-to-face with its customers?

    If you answered “yes” to both questions, continue, because you’ve just met Google’s local business guidelines.

    Seeing your B2B opportunity

    Next, determine if there’s a component of your business that already serves or could be created to serve other businesses.

    Not totally sure? Let’s look at Google’s categories.

    Out of the 2,395 Google My Business Categories listed here, there are at least 1,270 categories applicable to B2B companies. These include companies that are by nature B2B (wholesalers, suppliers) and companies that are B2C but could have a B2B offering (restaurants, event sites). In other words, more than half of Google’s categories signal to B2B-friendly companies that local marketing is an opportunity.

    Let’s look at some major groups of categories and see how they could be fine-tuned to serve executive needs instead of only consumer needs:

    Food establishments (restaurants, cafes, food trucks, caterers, etc.) can create relationships with nearby employers by offering business lunch specials, delivery, corporate catering, banquet rooms, and related B2B services. This can work especially well for restaurants located in large business districts, but almost any food-related business could create a corporate offering that incentivizes loyalty.

    Major attractions (museums, amusements, cultural centers, sports centers, etc.) can create corporate packages for local employers seeking fun group activities. Brands looking to reduce implicit bias may be especially interested in interacting with cultural groups and events.

    Professional services (realty, financial, printing, consulting, tech, etc.) can be geared towards corporate needs as well as individuals. A realtor can sell commercial properties. A printer can create business signage. A computer repair shop can service offices.

    Personal services (counseling, wellness, fitness, skill training, etc.) can become corporate services when employers bring in outside experts to improve company morale, education, or well-being.

    Home services (carpet cleaning, landscaping, plumbing, contracting, security, etc.) can become commercial services when offered to other businesses. Office buildings need design, remodeling, and construction and many have lounges, kitchens, restrooms, and grounds that need janitorial and upkeep services. Many retailers need these services, too.

    Entertainers (comedians, musicians, DJs, performance troupes, etc.) can move beyond private events to corporate ones with special package offerings. Many brands have days where children, family members, and even pets are welcomed to the workplace, and special activities are planned.

    Retailers (clothing, gifts, equipment, furniture, etc.) can find numerous ways to supply businesses with gear, swag, electronics, furnishings, gift baskets, uniforms, and other necessities. For example, a kitchen store could vend breakfast china to a B&B, or an electronics store could offer special pricing for a purchase of new computers for an office.

    Transportation and travel services (auto sales and maintenance, auto rentals, travel agencies, tour guides, charging stations, etc.) can create special packages for businesses. A car dealer could sell a fleet of vehicles to a food delivery service, or a garage could offer special pricing for maintaining food trucks. A travel agency could manage business trips.

    As you can see, the possibilities are substantial, and this is all apart from businesses that are classic B2B models, like manufacturers, suppliers, and wholesalers who also have physical premises and meet face-to-face with their clients. See if you’ve been missing out on a lucrative opportunity by examining the following spreadsheet of every Google My Business Category I could find that is either straight-up B2B or could create a B2B offering:

    See local B2B categories

    The business I’m marketing qualifies. What’s next?

    See which of these two groups you belong to: either a B2B company that hasn’t been doing local SEO, or a local business that hasn’t created a B2B offering yet. Then follow the set of foundational tips specific to your scenario.

    If you’re marketing a B2B company that hasn’t been doing local SEO:

    1. Know that the goal of local SEO is to make you as visible as possible online to any neighbor searching for what you offer so that you can win as many transactions as possible.
    2. Read the Guidelines for Representing your business on Google to be 100% sure your business qualifies and to familiarize yourself with Google’s rules. Google is the dominant player in local search.
    3. Make sure your complete, accurate name, address, and phone number is included in the footer of your website and on the Contact Us page. If you have multiple locations, create a unique page on your website for each location, complete with its full contact information and useful text for website visitors. Make each of these pages as unique and persuasive as possible.
    4. Be sure the content on your website thoroughly describes your goods and services, and makes compelling offers about the value of choosing you.
    5. Make sure your website is friendly to mobile users. If you’re not sure, test it using Google’s free mobile-friendly test.
    6. Create a Google My Business profile for your business if you don’t already have one so that you can work towards ranking well in Google’s local results. If you do have a profile, be sure it is claimed, accurate, guideline-compliant and fully filled out. This cheat sheet guide explains all of the common components that can show up in your Google Business Profile when people search for your company by name.
    7. Do a free check of the health of your other major local business listings on Moz Check Listing. Correct errors and duplicate listings manually, or to save time and enable ongoing monitoring, purchase Moz Local so that it can do the work for you. Accurate local business listings support good local rankings and prevent customers from being misdirected and inconvenience.
    8. Ask for, monitor, and respond to all of your Google reviews to improve customer satisfaction and build a strong, lucrative reputation. Read the guidelines of any other platform (like Yelp or TripAdvisor) to know what is allowed in terms of review management.
    9. Build real-world relationships within the community you serve and explore them for opportunities to earn relevant links to your website. Strong, sensible links can help you increase both your organic and local search engine rankings. Join local business organizations and become a community advocate.
    10. Be as accessible as possible via social media, sharing with your community online in the places they typically socialize. Emphasize communication rather than selling in this environment.

    If you’re marketing a local business that hasn’t created a B2B offering yet:

    1. Research your neighborhood and your community to determine what kinds of businesses are present around you. If you’re not sure, reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce or a local business association like AMIBA to see if they have data they can share with you. Doing searches like “Human Resources Event Seattle” or “People Ops Event Seattle” can bring up results like this one naming some key companies and staffers.
    2. Document your research. Create a spreadsheet with a column for why you feel a specific business might be a good fit for your service, and another column for their contact information.See if you can turn up direct contact info for the HR or People Ops team. Phone the business, if necessary, to acquire this information.
    3. Now, based on what you’ve learned, brainstorm an offering that might be appealing to this audience. Remember, you’re trying to entice other business owners and their staff with something that’s special for them and meets their needs..
    4. Next, write out your offering in as few words at possible, including all salient points (who you are, what you offer, why it solves a problem the business is likely to have, available proof of problem-solving, price range, a nice request to discuss further, and your complete contact info). Keep it short to respect how busy recipients are.
    5. Depending on your resources, plan outreach in manageable batches and keep track of outcomes.
    6. Be sure all of your online local SEO is representing you well, with the understanding that anyone seriously considering your offer is likely to check you out on the web. Be sure you’ve created a page on the site for your B2B offer. Be sure your website is navigable, optimized and persuasive, with clear contact information, and that your local business listings are accurate and thorough — hopefully with an abundance of good reviews to which you’ve gratefully responded.
    7. Now, begin outreach. In many cases this will be via email, using the text you’ve created, but if you’ve determined that an in-person visit is a better approach, invest a little in having your offer printed nicely so that you can give it to the staff at the place of business. Make the best impression you possibly can as a salesperson for your product.
    8. Give a reasonable amount of time for the business to review and decide on your offer. If you don’t hear back, follow up once. Ideally, you’re hoping for a reply with a request for more info. If you hear nothing in response to your follow-up, move on, as silence from the business is a signal of disinterest. Make note of the dates you outreached and try again after some time goes by, as things may have changed at the business by then. Do, however, avoid aggressive outreach as your business will appear to be spamming potential clients instead of helping them.

    As indicated, these are foundational steps for both groups — the beginnings of your strategy rather than the ultimate lengths you may need to go to for your efforts to fully pay off. The amount of work you need to do depends largely on the level of your local competition.

    B2B tips from Moz’s own Team Happy

    Moz’s People Ops team is called Team Happy, and these wonderful folks handle everything from event and travel planning, to gift giving, to making sure people’s parking needs are met. Team Happy is responsible for creating an exceptional, fun, generous environment that functions smoothly for all Mozzers and visitors.

    I asked Team Happy Manager of Operations, Ashlie Daulton, to share some tips for crafting successful B2B outreach when approaching a business like Moz. Ashlie explains:

    • We get lots of inquiry emails. Do some research into our company, help us see what we can benefit from, and how we can fit it in. We don’t accept every offer, but we try to stay open to exploring whether it’s a good fit for the office.
    • The more information we can get up front, the better! We are super busy in our day-to-day and we can get a lot of spam sometimes, so it can be hard to take vague email outreach seriously and not chalk it up to more spam. Be real, be direct in your outreach. Keeping it more person-to-person and less “sales pitchy” is usually key.
    • If we can get most of the information we need first, research the website/offers, and communicate our questions through emails until we feel a call is a good next step, that usually makes a good impression.

    Finally, Ashlie let me know that her team comes to decisions thoughtfully, as will the People Ops folks at any reputable company. If your B2B outreach doesn’t meet with acceptance from a particular company, it would be a waste of your time and theirs to keep contacting them.

    However, as mentioned above, a refusal one year doesn’t mean there couldn’t be opportunity at a later date if the company’s needs or your offer change to be a better fit. You may need to go through some refinements over the years, based on the feedback you receive and analyze, until you’ve got an offer that’s truly irresistible.

    A sample B2B outreach email

    La práctica hace al maestro.”
    – Proverb

    Practice makes perfect. Let’s do an exercise together in which we imagine ourselves running an awesome Oaxacan restaurant in Seattle that wants to grow the B2B side of our business. Let’s hypothesize that we’ve decided Moz would be a perfect client, and we’ve spent some time on the web learning about them. We’ve looked at their website, their blog, and have read some third-party news about the company.

    We found an email address for Team Happy and we’ve crafted our outreach email. What follows is that email + Ashlie’s honest, summarized feedback to me (detailed below) about how our fictitious outreach would strike her team:

    Good morning, Team Happy!

    When was the last time Moz’s hardworking staff was treated to tacos made from grandmother’s own authentic recipe? I’m your neighbor Jose Morales, co-owner with my abuela of Tacos Morales, just down the street from you. Our Oaxacan-style Mexican food is:

    - Locally sourced and prepared with love in our zero-waste kitchen
    - 100% organic (better for Mozzers’ brains and happiness!) with traditional, vegan, and gluten-free options
    - $ 6–$ 9 per plate

    We know you have to feed tons of techies sometimes, and we can effortlessly cater meals of up to 500 Mozzers. The folks at another neighboring company, Zillow, say this about our beautiful food:

    “The best handmade tortillas we’ve ever had. Just the right portions to feel full, but not bogged down for the afternoon’s workload. Perfect for corporate lunches and magically scrumptious!”

    May I bring over a complimentary taco basket for a few of your teammates to try? Check out our menu here and please let me know if there would be a good day for you to sample the very best of Taco Morales. Thank you for your kind consideration and I hope I get the chance to personally make Team Happy even happier!

    Your neighbors,
    Jose y Lupita Morales
    Tacos Morales
    www.tacosmorales.com
    222 2nd Street, Seattle – (206) 111-1111

    Why this email works:

    • We’re an inclusive office, so the various dietary options catch our eye. Knowing price helps us decide if it’s a good fit for our budget.
    • The reference to tech feels personalized — they know our team and who we work with.
    • It’s great to know they can handle some larger events!
    • It instills trust to see a quote from a nearby, familiar company.
    • Samples are a nice way to get to know the product/service and how it feels to work with the B2B company.
    • The menu link, website link, and contact info ensure that we can do our own exploring to help us make a decision.

    As the above outreach illustrates, Team Happy was most impressed by the elements of our sample email that provided key information about variety, price and capacity, useful links and contact data, trust signals in the form of a review from a well-known client, and a one-on-one personalized message.

    Your business is unique, and the precise tone of your email will match both your company culture and the sensibilities of your potential clients. Regardless of industry, studying the above communication will give you some cues for creating your own from the viewpoint of speaking personally to another business with their needs in mind. Why not practice writing an email of your own today, then run it past an unbiased acquaintance to ask if it would persuade them to reply?

    A checklist to guide your website content

    Your site content speaks for you when a potential client wants to research you further before communicating one-on-one. Why invest both budget and heart in what you publish? Because 94% of B2B buyers reportedly conduct online investigation before purchasing a business solution. Unfortunately, the same study indicates that only 37% of these buyers are satisfied with the level of information provided by suppliers’ websites. Do you see a disconnect here?

    Let’s look at the key landing pages of your website today and see how many of these boxes you can check off:

    My content tells potential clients…

    ☑ What my business name, addresses, phone numbers, fax number, email addresses, driving directions, mapped locations, social and review profiles are

    ☑ What my products and services are and why they meet clients’ needs

    ☑ The complete details of my special offers for B2B clients, including my capacity for fulfillment

    ☑ What my pricing is like, so that I’m getting leads from qualified clients without wasting anyone’s time

    ☑ What my USP is — what makes my selling proposition unique and a better choice than my local competitors

    ☑ What my role is as a beneficial member of the local business community and the human community, including my professional relationships, philanthropy, sustainable practices, accreditations, awards, and other points of pride

    ☑ What others say about my company, including reviews and testimonials

    ☑ What my clients’ rights and guarantees are

    ☑ What value I place on my clients, via the quality, usefulness, and usability of my website and its content

    If you found your content lacking any of these checklist elements, budget to build them. If writing is not your strong suit and your company isn’t large enough to have an in-house content team, hire help. A really good copywriter will partner up to tell the story of your business while also accurately portraying its unique voice. Expect to be deeply interviewed so that a rich narrative can emerge.

    In sum, you want your website to be doing the talking for you 24 hours a day so that every question a potential B2B client has can be confidently answered, prompting the next step of personal outreach.

    How to find your B2B advantage

    Earlier, we spoke of the research you’ll do to analyze the business community you could be serving with your B2B offerings, and we covered how to be sure you’ve got the local digital marketing basics in place to showcase what you do on the web. Depending on your market, you could find that investment in either direction could represent an opportunity many of your competitors have overlooked.

    For an even greater advantage, though, let’s look directly at your competitors. You can research them by:

    1. Visiting their websites to understand their services, products, pricing, hours, capacity, USP, etc.
    2. Visiting their physical premises, making inquiries by phone, or (if possible) making a purchase of their products/services to see how you like them and if there’s anything that could be done better
    3. Reading their negative reviews to see what their customers complain about
    4. Looking them up on social media, again to see what customers say and how the brand handles complaints
    5. Reading both positive and negative media coverage of the brand

    Do you see any gaps? If you can dare to be different and fill them, you will have identified an important advantage. Perhaps you’ll be the only:

    • Commercial cleaning company in town that specializes in servicing the pet-friendly hospitality market
    • Restaurant offering a particular type of cuisine at scale
    • Major attraction with appealing discounts for large groups
    • Commercial printer open late at night for rush jobs
    • Yoga instructor specializing in reducing work-related stress/injuries

    And if your city is large and highly competitive and there aren’t glaring gaps in available services, try to find a gap in service quality. Maybe there are several computer repair shops, but yours is the only one that works weekends. Maybe there are a multitude of travel agents, but your eco-tourism packages for corporations have won major awards. Maybe yours is just one of 400+ Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but the only one to throw in a free bag of MeeMee’s sesame and almond cookies (a fortune cookie differentiator!) with every office delivery, giving a little uplift to hardworking staff.

    Find your differentiator, put it in writing, put it to the fore of your sales process. And engineer it into consumer-centric language, so that hard candy buttons with chocolate inside them become the USP that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” solving a discovered pain point or need.

    B2B marketing boils down to service

    “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

    - Charles Dickens

    We’re all in business to serve. We’re all helpers. At Moz, we make SEO easier for digital and local companies. At your brand, _________?

    However you fill in that blank, you’re in the business of service. Whether you’re marketing a B2B that’s awakening to the need to invest in local SEO or a B2C on the verge of debuting your new business-to-business offering, your project boils down to the simple question,

    “How can I help?”

    Looking thoughtfully into your brand’s untapped capacities to serve your community, coupled with an authentic desire to help, is the best groundwork you can lay at the starting point for satisfaction at the finish line.

    Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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    Taking Local Inventory Online: An Interview with Pointy’s Mark Cummins

    Posted by MiriamEllis

    Let’s go back in time 20 years so I can ask you the question, “How often do you look at a paper map every month?”

    Unless you were a cartographer or a frequent traveler, chances are good that your answer would be, “Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.”

    But in 2019, I’d wager there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something fun to do. That web-based map in your hand has become a given.

    And yet, there’s one thing you’re still not using the Internet for. And it’s something you likely wonder about almost daily. It starts with the question,

    “I wonder who around here carries X?”

    A real-world anecdote

    After the tragic fires we’ve had this year in California, I wanted to wet mop all the floors in my house instead of vacuuming them, due to my concerns about particulate pollution in the air. My mother recommended I buy a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but I didn’t turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet doesn’t tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the local hardware stores, pharmacies, or big box retailers have reliable, live online inventory. At the same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.

    And so I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this particular product. It wasn’t a convenient experience, and it was an all-too-common one.

    The next big thing in local already exists

    My real-world anecdote about a wet mop is exactly why I’m so pleased to be interviewing Mark Cummins, CEO of Pointy. 90% of purchases still take place in physical stores and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online knowledge about offline inventory and has now set out to bridge it.

    I predict that within a few years, you’ll be using the Internet to find local inventory as frequently and easily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.

    The real-world roots of an existing local need

    Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, but that your journey with Pointy began by walking into retail shops and talking face-to-face with owners. What did these owners tell you about their challenges in relation to offline/online inventory? A memorable real-world anecdote would be great here.

    Mark: I started thinking about this problem because of an experience just like your story about trying to find a Swiffer. I’d recently moved to a new country and I had to buy lots of things to set up a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt like there was a huge gap there that search engines could help with, but they weren’t.

    I had been working at Google developing what became Google Lens (Google’s image recognition search feature). It felt strange that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.

    So I started thinking about ways to fix that. Initially I would just walk into retailers and talk to them about how they managed their inventory. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be hard. Almost every retailer I spoke to had a different method of tracking it. Some kept records on paper. Some didn’t count their inventory at all.

    My first idea was a little crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that would drive around the store every night and photograph all the shelves, and use image recognition to figure out the inventory and the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but then landed on the idea of the Pointy box, which is a much simpler solution.

    Miriam: Can you briefly describe what a typical Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of this being technology most retailers already have in place?

    Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a typical Point of Sale system. The market is really fragmented, it sometimes feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, from the old-style systems that are essentially a glorified calculator with a cash drawer, up to modern cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It’s very disruptive for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems tend to stay in use for a long time. The systems also differ by vertical — there are specialized systems for pharmacies, liquor stores, etc. Dealing with all of that variation is what makes it so hard to get uniform local inventory data.

    A simple inventory solution is born

    Miriam: So, you spoke with retailers, listened to their challenges and saw that they already have Point of Sale systems in place. And Pointy was born! Please, describe exactly what a Pointy device is, how it solves the problems you learned about, and fits right in with existing Point of Sales technology.

    Mark: Right! It was pretty clear that we needed to find a solution that worked with retailers’ existing systems. So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a retailer’s barcode scanner. Basically it links the barcode scanner to a website we create for the retailer. Whenever the retailer scans a product with their barcode scanner, we recognize the barcode, and list the product on the website. The end result is live website listing everything in the store — here’s an example for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have over ten thousand products listed on their site, without any manual work.

    The experience is pretty much seamless — just plug in Pointy, and watch your store website build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone network, so there’s really nothing to set up. Just plug it in and it starts working. New products automatically get added to your store page, old products get removed when you no longer sell them, item stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a bit of machine learning to make that all automatic. Once the site is live, we also have some SEO and SEM tools to help retailers drive search traffic for the products they sell.

    Miriam: My understanding is that the Pointy Team had to do a ton of legwork to put together various product catalogues from which data is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its information can be displayed on the web. I’m not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do to pull all of this together? Also, is it true that your team hand-reviews all the product data?

    Mark: If you’re working in shopping search, then product catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique barcode number, but unfortunately there’s no master database where you can enter a barcode number and get back the product’s name, image, etc. So basically every retailer has to solve this problem for themselves, laboriously entering the product details into their systems. Pointy helps eliminate that work for retailers.

    There are some product catalogs you can license, but each one only covers a fraction of products, and errors are common. We built a big data pipeline to pull together all of this product data into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the work, but if you want the highest quality then machine learning alone isn’t enough. So every single product we display also gets approved by a human reviewer, to make sure it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products like this. The end result for the retailer is that they just plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry required. It’s a pretty magical feeling the first time you see it. Especially if you’ve spent countless hours of your life doing it the old way!

    Where real-time local inventory appears on the web

    Miriam: So, then, the products the retailer scans create the brand’s own inventory catalogue, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy page with their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the website? Something else? And do these Pointy pages feature SEO basics? Please describe.

    Mark: Some retailers use Pointy as their main website. Others have it as an additional profile, in the same way that they might have a Facebook page or a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy brings is the full live inventory of the store, which generally isn’t listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most just link across from their main sites or social media profiles. A few also embed Pointy into their sites via an iframe.

    We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on ranking for are things like “product name near me” or “product name, location.” For example, a query like “rubber piggy bank san mateo” currently has the Pointy page for Talbot’s Toyland in #1 position. We have an engineering team working on this all the time, and we’ve actually discovered a few interesting things.

    Miriam: And how does this work when, for example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale for a different price?

    Mark: We keep that information updated live. The stock status is updated based on the information from the Pointy box. We also handle price data, though it depends on what features the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer not to display their prices online.

    See What’s In Store: Google totally sees the opportunity

    Miriam: I was fascinated to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store feature, and readers can see an example of this with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you explain what’s involved for retailers who want their inventory to appear in the SWIS area of the Google Business Profile (aka “Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such an important opportunity? Also, does the business have to pay a commission to Google for inclusion/impressions/clicks?

    Mark: This is a pretty exciting feature. It lets retailers display their full product catalogue and live inventory information in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably start to surface the information in more ways over time.

    It’s completely free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid service, so it’s notable that Google is now offering some organic exposure with this new feature.

    I think that this is going to become table stakes for retailers in the next year or two, in the same way that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are simply going to expect the convenience of finding local product information online. I think that’s a good thing, because it will help local businesses win back customers that might otherwise have gone to Amazon.

    We’ve worked a lot with Google to make the setup experience for local retailers very simple. You just link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears in the Google Business Profile. Behind the scenes we do a lot of technical work to make that happen (including creating Merchant Center accounts, setting up feeds, etc). But the user experience is just a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it’s been a very popular feature. We have a bit more detail on it here.

    What about special retail scenarios?

    Miriam: So, basically, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online for small and independent retailers who just don’t have the time to deal with a complicated e-commerce system. I understand that you have some different approaches to offer larger enterprises, involving their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?

    Mark: Yes, some larger retailers may be able to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at every POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for the retailer. We are also directly integrated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of those systems can download a free Pointy app from their system’s app store and integrate with us that way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can use a Pointy box.

    Miriam: And what about retailers whose products lack labels/barcodes? Let’s say, a farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?

    Mark: Unfortunately we’re not a great fit for those kind of retailers. We designed the experience for retailers who sell barcoded products.

    Miriam: You’re a former Google staffer, Mark. In local search, Google has become aggressive in taking a cut of an increasing number of local consumer actions and this is particularly hard on small businesses. We’ve got Local Service Ads, paid ads in local packs, booking buttons, etc, all of which struggling independent businesses are having to pay Google for. Right now, these retailers are eager for a competitive edge. How can they differentiate themselves? Please, share tips.

    Mark: It’s true, lots of channels that used to be purely organic now have a mix of organic and paid. I think ultimately the paid ads still have to be ROI-positive or nobody will use them, but it’s definitely no fun to pay for traffic you used to get for free.

    On the positive side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers organically. If small businesses invest in staying ahead of the game, they can do very well. Lots of local product searches essentially have no answer, because most retailers haven’t been able to get their inventory online yet. It’s easy to rank well for a query when you’re the only one with the answer. There’s definitely still an opening there for early adopters.

    “Pointing” the way to the future

    Miriam: Finally, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short amount of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like to you for retailers and for Pointy? What do you see as Pointy’s mission?

    Mark: We want to bring the world’s brick-and-mortar retailers online and give them the tools they need to thrive. More than 90% of retail goes through brick and mortar stores, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have an amazing technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and difficulty of accessing data has held everyone back, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing that.

    Miriam: Thank you, Mark. I believe Pointy has what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!

    Summing up

    In doing this interview, I learned a ton from Mark and I hope you did, too. If a local retailer you market is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I’d seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What’s In Store feature. It’s prime Google Business Profile (formerly Knowledge Panel) real estate, and so long as SWIS is free and Pointy is so affordable, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to set yourself apart in these early days with a very modest investment.

    I’m feeling confident about my prediction that we’re on the verge of a new threshold in user behavior, in terms of people using local search to find local inventory. We’ll all have the enjoyment of seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years. And if you heard it first at Moz, that will be extra fun!

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