When it comes to local search, there aren’t many names bigger than Mike Blumenthal. Mike is the co-founder and presenter at Getlisted.org Local University and author of the well cited blog, Understanding Google Places & Local Search – Developing Knowledge about Local Search. Getlisted.org’s Local University is a nationwide series of SEO seminars targeting small business owners. Below is a photo from one of their events:
I was honored to have the opportunity to interview Mike and ask him some questions about local search and best practices for business owners and consumers. See his answers below:
Craig: For those that don’t follow you or your work, how long have you been doing local search?
Mike: I have been doing local search since 2001 when I closed my retail storefront and started devoting full time to my web development business.
Craig: How did you become interested in local search and what do you enjoy the most about it?
Mike: Running a web company in a very rural town, I quickly realized that very few of my clients and potential clients would ever have a national reach and thus would be unable to take advantage of the “world wide web” other than locally and perhaps regionally. Even in the early years of this decade I realized that it was imperative that they be found on the few local organic searches that were made and I set out to learn about SEO.
In 2004 when Google released what was then known as Google Local, an online local business directory, I had an epiphany. I was able to throw away the 9 Yellow Page books that I needed to prospect in my market. As I studied and played with Google Local and its successor, Google Maps, I realized that it was driven by a different algorithm than was organic search.
There isn’t just one thing I enjoy about local search there are several. I love that a small retail business can engage in the local search world and get real benefit from it with a moderate investment of time and no money. And that they can reach a local, regional and international audience by doing so.
Since 2000 there has been an inversion of utilization on the internet. In those early years local people would search the world for information and shopping opportunities. Now world wide individuals look on the web for local information. A florist no longer needs Teleflora to be able to be in front of a person in Buffalo, NY that wants to send a friend flowers in Petaluma, California.
Another thing I love is the collaborative learning about Local search that I have engaged in via my blog. I love taking the time to share my knowledge with others and that they share back with me. I get emails from all over the world about new features, bugs, spam and functionality in local search. Without these folks actively sending me their observations and the lot of us analyzing it, we would not learn as much or understand the local search reality as quickly. This has led me to make a raft of new friends.
With some of these friends, I helped create Getlisted.org Local University. I truly love educating small businesses about online opportunities. Local U allows me to meet up with many of the friends that I have made (David Mihm, Mary Bowling, Matt McGee, Ed Reese, Will Scott, Mike Ramsey, Aaron Weiche) and share what we have learned with these business owners as we travel to their towns. Here is a schedule of upcoming events:
Craig: For local business on the web, or any online business for that matter, do you agree that they should be devoting time and resources into obtaining digital product/service reviews from their audience? Do you feel that businesses are doing this effectively?
Mike: We live in a world that is separated by great distance. Many times we, as consumers, are looking for goods or products that are not available from the shops that we normally frequent. Reviews provide the bridge of trust to gaining the information and confidence that we need to buy a new product or service at a location that we are not personally knowledgeable about. A Harvard Business review study found that 70% of online users believe the reviews that they read from total strangers.
The goal for any business is to be sure that the complete range of voices of their customers are heard in the world of on line reviews. Most happy customers (the 99% as it were) are unlikely to take the time to express their satisfaction without some guidance from a store owner. Most businesses are not yet making that an easy process for their customers.
Some of the small businesses that have tried garnering online reviews are not making it an ethical process either. They either buy fake reviews or post their clients testimonials on their behalf. Neither is really what reviews are all about. See: Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash
Craig: The Next Web published a post back in November of 2011 titled “Hotel-owners blackmailed with bad TripAdvisor reviews for not offering freebies”. What can businesses do to ensure that they do not become victims to these types of “scams”?
Mike: Unethical customers and unethical competitors are a reality of the consumer world that we live in. The affects of these sorts of behaviors are potentially amplified by the affects of the internet. There really is no way that a small business person can control the acts of either irrational or selfish people. He/she can only control what they themselves do. In the world of reviews, my advice to the small business person is to be sure that they have set up a system of engaging all of their many happy customers in the review process so that the efforts of the malicious minority are not as visible.
Craig: Do you feel that there is enough technology or procedures in place to identify and prevent users from taking advantage of business owners via fraudulent negative feedback?
Mike: Absolutely agree not but again a small business person cannot control others particularly the huge businesses that are Google, Tripadvisor and Yelp. Most of these companies have processes to remove fraudulent reviews but their policies skew towards the consumer and not the business.
A good review management plan involves not just helping good customers create reviews by making it easier but monitoring the reviews that have been placed.
When a negative review does appear, have a plan ready. Know what the policy of the posting website is and attempt to have the review removed. Realize that they are unlikely to remove the review. Be ready to post an owner response that is rational and caring. DO NOT RESPOND off the cuff as that is likely to create more problems than it solved. Respond with a measured and calm voice realizing that you are writing your response to your prospect NOT the review writer. See: Hit by Competitor Spam Reviews: The Plot Thickens.
And continue to get more good reviews. These types of reviews are quickly buried if you have real and sincere reviews coming in. The bad review will be pushed off the page and no longer be noticed. If you have done a good job of taking care of your clients and they have become reviewers, they will step in and provide a defense as well.
Craig: Businesses are held accountable for bad practices, poor service or faulty products. I personally feel that there is nothing to deter consumers from publishing false information about businesses. Do you feel that there should be more policies or enforcement deployed to hold consumers accountable for their fraudulent actions?
Mike: While I do think that there should be more policies to hold the companies that publish these reviews accountable for insuring the accuracy of reviews, my thinking it, will not make it so. We live in a world that is largely controlled by large corporations and just because I want a different world my ability to influence those policies is very limited.
But I have seen that by taking their destiny into their own hands, a small business can have a great deal of success and not be as affected by the negative impacts of false reviews. I have worked with a number of clients and we have successfully overcome the negative impacts of these sorts of reviews. The tactics varied but in every case it was incumbent upon the business to keep getting good reviews from real customers and doing a good job of taking care of their real customers.
Below are several articles that Mike has written that pertain to putting a review system in place:
Craig: What is one piece of advice you would give to a digital marketer interested in specializing in local search/SEO?
Mike: Focus on the needs of the clients first, foremost and always.
There you have it folks, local search expert, Mike Blumenthal. I would like to thank Mike for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. SEOs, if you have yet to read Local Search Ranking Factors in which Mike and other contributors share their expertise, I highly recommend checking it out.