Podcast Interview: Andrew Shotland on Local Search Optimization

Just had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Shotland, a local search engine optimization expert, and had the opportunity to ask him some local SEO questions. Click the podcast button for the audio version, or read below for the transcript.

Andrew Shotland Interview

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Hi this is Justin from Searching Solutions, and I have Andrew Shotland on the line with me. He’s a local SEO expert, and I was hoping he could answer a few questions for us. Thank you Andrew for joining us today. If you wouldn’t mind just letting people know what your background is, and what you’re doing right now.

I’ve been in the internet business since the beginning in the mid 90′s. I launched Showtime network’s first website, and I worked for NBC for many years and worked for NBC.com for a while. For the last several years, I’ve been doing search engine optimization consulting, and I worked for a local startup called Insiderpages.com where I did a lot of local search engine optimization. So I worked for some big media companies, a lot of startups and a lot of small businesses who were looking for local search help.

What would you say your percentage of clients are that are more focused on localized search… I know your blog is pretty much all local SEO.

I’d say it’s probably about 50/50, but more and more even big media clients are sort of getting it. For example, right now I’m doing a project for a lot of big television stations, and they think of themselves as local, but they never really thought of themselves as candidates for local search, and now that we’re having these conversations with them, it’s opening up their eyes to all this local traffic that they’ve ignored.

So their thinking more in terms of building a national brand awareness, and things like that? Instead of localized searches basically?

They’re thinking of very specific local searches. There not as much interested in national awareness. They have all this content and programming on their site, but they never think to try to rank for keywords like ‘Oprah’. They are really focused on news, traffic, weather, and classifieds. They’ve never thought until recently that there was traffic outside of those things. Be it Yellowpages, event searches, restaurant reviews, etc. A lot of these companies have very authoritative and trusted websites, and don’t really need to do a lot to rank well for these niche terms.

You have unique experience coming from Insiderpages.com. One of the questions I had was: You constantly see in localized searches these big authoritative directory type websites like Superpages.com, Yellowpages.com, etc. What are you finding that it takes for the smaller guy that’s trying to rank well in those local searches? What is it typically taking to rank well above those?

It’s not as hard as you’d think. I’m constantly amazed when I see some startup kicking a$$ over the yellowpages.com or superpages.com type of websites. Those sites have a lot of trust, but they haven’t been especially good at getting people to generate content. They’ve gotten better with their architecture, but they’re still very slow moving in adding new stuff. For example, when I was at Insiderpages, we talked to Superpages a lot about “hey, can we share reviews with you” We wanted to share our reviews all over the place. They kept saying, we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it, but it took 2 years to just add reviews because they had so many mine fields to navigate before they did that. But if you look at a site like Yellowbot, which came out of nowhere last year, they were able to quickly launch a generic IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) and use some really creative architecture mostly around the idea of niche local tagging to start getting all these crazy niche local searches which … you know… sites like Yellowpages.com, they’re just not there. So I’ve seen a lot of start ups be able to instantly dominate these big IYPs because they’re more flexible, they’re faster, and they’re more focused. So for example, You have a site in… where are you located?

Castle Rock Colorado, just below Denver

Ok, so if you wanted to create a Denver local search site, I can pretty much guarantee, if you just work at it for a couple months, you could start to outrank DEX for a lot of searches. Because you’ll focus. You’ll get a lot of people in Denver linking to you, you’ll get a lot of content created, whereas, they’re trying to do 20 million different things.

Yeah, I’ve definitely seen that in our local market. I was just curious to see what your perspective was on it because that seems like some of the primary competition. Especially for your medium sized markets… between 50,000 – 100,000 residents. There’s not a lot of competition there, but the main competition seems to be these big authoritative type hubs.

Yeah, if you wanted to create a local search product, for small towns all over the place, it could do really well. Even just… think about architecturally, a yellowpages.com or superpages, they need to focus on the biggest markets. So if you focused on instead of the top 50 markets, the bottom 50 markets, you’d have all those markets prioritized in your architecture.

I wanted to talk about the long tail just for a minute. You know it’s a very common term in the SEO industry… but moving it over to localized search, for the small business owner… Most of the small business owners I talk to… you know, you have a local plumber that’s in the Denver area, and they’re just thinking in terms of trying to rank for phrases like ” Denver Colorado Plumber”. And they’re totally not thinking about long tail type searches, and they’re just not even considering the possibility. Do you think there’s value for small businesses to move in that direction and work on some of these long tail phrases? Keeping mind that there’s not a lot of search volume for those types of phrases, but do you think there is some value there?

Oh for sure. First off, to get back to your previous question, I think the small business owner has the biggest advantage when it comes to competing and ranking in these pages. Because ultimately that’s the content that Google wants to show you. The guy that can actually do your plumbing, not the page that aggregates 20 people who can do your plumbing. Which is just kind of a repeat of Google’s search results. I think for small local companies, just focus on SEO a bit, and you will see dramatic results. Because, they are so much more favored. They have a lot more relevant links to them usually, and they just have a lot more interesting relevant content created.

So I think, in your plumber example, I think they can get a lot of bang out of long tail because many times, long tail keywords are much more qualified people. I’d rather have someone for me, looking for… let’s say… “leaky toilet in Denver”, then “Denver plumber”. Because it’s just a much more qualified searcher, and they certainly know what they want. It definitely couldn’t hurt. This is always the challenge, it takes a little bit of work and research to just figure this stuff out, and figure out where is the relevant search volume in the market, and can I first rank for that, meaning I have to create content for it and build links to it, and then, can I service it and turn it into a lead. But I think that the smart local guy will do the same things that the big sites are doing just on a smaller scale.

One more quick question before I let you go. If you could speak directly to that local business owner. Everyone knows the economy is tighter, and business budgets are pretty tight, but what would be a couple real practical tips you’d give to the business owner that may not be the most technically savvy type of a person, where they could really improve their rankings without too much of an investment.

A lot of it’s the basics. Look at your title tags first. That’s always the first thing, and best thing to do. And make sure you get content on the page that targets specific terms you want to rank for. Make sure that you have your phone number on every page. And that’s not for SEO, that’s for getting people to call you. And it couldn’t hurt to have email me, or a contact form on every page as well in big letters… so many companies don’t do that. Certainly try to get local links from your local chamber of commerce, and friends, partners, things like that.

But the thing that I’ve found that is the biggest bang for the buck is looking in your analytics, and most web packages, even cheap ones, have some kind of analytics that they can get access to, and most businesses don’t really look at these things, but if you can get access to your charts… here’s how many people you’ve got this month from Google, or Yahoo, and here are the keywords they used to get to you. If you take a look at that, And look at the keywords that are sending traffic, then go to Google and search for them and see where you rank, getting an approximation of where you rank… and if you rank let’s say, at the bottom of page one or page two, That’s a sign that that keyword is pretty good for you if you’re getting traffic for it. So I would recommend figuring out which page is sending that traffic for that keyword, and boost your internal links to that page for that keyword, with the keyword as the anchor text. I’ve found that it works for big sites, small sites, and it works really fast, which is great.

That’s a great tip. Thank you so much, and thank you for taking the time to give this interview.

For more information about Andrew Shotland you can view his page on Local Search Optimization at LocalSEOGuide.com

Thanks again Andrew!