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The Business of Local (and Localized) Search
16th March 2015 • Search and Social • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:46:59

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Google rankings are dynamic and ever-changing, especially when searches are made by different people in different locations.

For example, a search for “car insurance” yields 5 out of 10 localized results for local directories like Yelp, local car insurance agents, and then national companies.

SEO is no longer about one type of rating. Google now serves different results based on query themes, the location of the user, personalization, devices used, and types of content available.

Has Google leveled the playing field, or is it making it harder to compete?

In this episode of Search & Deploy I invited my long time friend Kris Jones, who is a seasoned VC and sold his first company twice … first to GSI Commerce, which was then acquired by eBay.

Kris has launched or invested in two local marketing companies, ReferLocal and (a local SEO provider).

In this 55-minute episode, Kris Jones of KBJ Capital and I discuss:

  • SEO and the small business
  • Google’s Localization of SERPS (not to be confused with Local Search)
  • Content marketing at the local level for smaller companies and international brands (such as AirBNB)
  • Promoting content to local influencers and getting links
  • How agencies can better work with local companies
  • Opportunities for the little guy and vice versa (for the larger Enterprise in local)
  • Tips on obtaining reviews and ratings at the local level
  • Key takeaways for competing in SEO

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The Transcript

The Business of Local (and Localized) Search

Loren Baker: Greetings, and welcome to the second edition of Search and Deploy. This is your host, Loren Baker. On Search and Deploy, we like to talk about things that are happening in the search world and how to implement those news items and happenings into your overall SEO and search marketing strategy. I’ll be bringing on our first guest of the day, Kris Jones, a little bit later. Before we bring on Kris, I want to talk a little bit about what I’ve been doing and reading about in the past week and different thoughts with search rankings.

There’s been a tendency in the search world to say, “Hey, rankings aren’t important anymore, or the way you show up in Google isn’t as important as your traffic.” I understand the point to a lot of that, but there’s a couple of different caveats that I really wanted to bring to the equation. I put together a post on Search Engine Journal, basically going over my thoughts on rankings, the importance of knowing the searches themselves, and who you’re competing against.

One of the biggest points that I really wanted to focus on is that rankings are different, wherever you are. Google is basically a dynamic search engine that serves rankings based on the device that the person is using — the location, where the person is, and the search history. To an extent, basic search rankings have become irrelevant in cases of searching one data center, which typically is referred to as Google USA.

However, the ability to look at your rankings across the US — whether it’s state by state, city by city, town by town, or zip code by zip code — basically brings the ability for any company to understand its true competitive landscape and how companies can make different changes to their overall search strategies to better compete in some areas, where according to Google USA, they may be ranking number 2.

In a city like Dallas, you could be on the second page of results. In a city like Orlando, you might be ranked number 1. In a city like New York, you could be totally below the fold. It’s really understanding how people are finding your company, when they’re doing those queries, and who you’re competing against in each market, whether you are a digital entity, a brick and mortar, or a franchise — or possibly just a local store or a local business that’s trying to compete against all of the above in that atmosphere.

I decided to bring on someone I consider an expert in many fields, whether it be local search, the affiliate world, startups, or apps. I called my friend Kris Jones and asked him to be on this show. Welcome to Search and Deploy, Kris.

Kris Jones: Thanks, Loren, happy to be here.

How Kris Got to Where He is Today

Loren Baker: Great! Like I said, you’re a jack of all trades in many ways and are involved in a lot of things. Could you tell the audience a little bit about what you’re doing as a whole? Then about what you’re doing on the search side right now?

Kris Jones: This is my 17th year as a digital marketing professional. I started out learning the net back in the late 90s. I was an early adopter of search marketing, both SEO as well as pay per click. I was doing pay per click back in the day on the original platform, the pioneer in the pay per click space called

Loren Baker: Oh yeah.

Kris Jones: Do you remember that, Loren?

Loren Baker: I remember bid jamming on before it became part of Overture and everything else.

Kris Jones: Bid jams.

Loren Baker: Yeah, bid jams.

Kris Jones: Bid surfing and stuff, yeah, wow! That’s awesome. We could probably spend just the next 20 minutes on that, but we’re not going to do that.

We’re going to focus on local. Really, I was an early adopter, and I learned how to generate web traffic and then eventually how to monetize that traffic. Again, pay per click, SEO, I was an early adopter in the affiliate marketing space. I took that experience and launched a digital marketing company called Pepperjam.

I had built it from what was a super affiliate in the late 90s and the early 2000s to one of the more notable, large digital agency brands in the mid-2000s. I sold that company in 2009 after we had diversified from just marketing services to also technology. We launched an affiliate network called Pepperjam Network.

I sold it in 2009 to a company called GSI Commerce, which was a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ at that time, who was also quite well-known in the e-commerce space. Shortly thereafter, we were acquired by eBay. For those folks that are listening, that are familiar with eBay Enterprise’s Affiliate Network, that’s actually the company that I founded. It’s the top 3 affiliate network in the US.

After that, I founded an investment fund called KBJ Capital, which I think is why you’re referring to me as the jack of all trades. I have 15 different portfolio companies, one of which we’ll talk more about because it’s in the local search space. I’ve invested in a whole range of early-stage tech companies, including a consumer app called French Girls app where you take a selfie and anybody in the world could draw you.

Loren Baker: Which is one of my favorites, by the way.

Kris Jones: Sweet! It’s only available on iOs, French Girls app. I m really proud of the team that’s building that company.

I got involved in a startup out of San Francisco called VigLink. I was one of their first advisors. What VigLink does is they focus on outbound link monetization, trying to just give publishers and website owners an additional opportunity to monetize their traffic. That just gives you a feel. I do a lot of writing.

The first book I wrote was a book on search engine optimization in 2008. I’ve put out three prints of that, most recently in 2013. I do a lot of contributing to publications like Fast Company and Inc. Magazine, Forbes, I’ve done several articles for.

So let’s talk about search. One of my core startups is a company called, and we focus on local search. I read your article. I feel that we could dive into it, but I felt like it really did capture one of the biggest evolutions in Google over the last 5 years, which is this — I pitch it as Google wanting you to live and spend more time in their ecosystem. I think that personalization and local are examples. You allude to the idea of Google Plus Local or whatever they’re calling it now, Google My Business.

Loren Baker: Google My Business Plus pages.

SEO and the Small Business

Kris Jones: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m happy to dive into that if you have any questions. The one other startup that I’ll mention, that gives me a little bit of credibility speaking to this topic, is I founded a company called ReferLocal. It is a local, e-commerce company that was taken over last year by NimbleCommerce, but I’m still an Advisor to NimbleCommerce. I built that company up over the last 4 years. I’m really proud of what I’ve learned about the struggles and the challenges that small businesses face.

Really, I guess I’m on a mission of sorts to try to help small businesses gain access to professional digital marketing services, like those that you and I offer. I’m trying to do that in a way that’s affordable, is possible, and non-dilutive.

What I’ve seen happen over the last number of years, really with ReferLocal, and even going back to my Pepperjam days, is most of the successful digital marketing agencies really tailor to medium and enterprise business because, really, that’s where the money’s at. They also don’t want to turn business down, so they end up taking on this smaller client, who’s faced with some of these very challenging opportunities I guess. What happens is that it’s a lose-lose.

I’ve really been thinking through how to help small businesses succeed. I think your article’s an example of one way of doing it, by just pushing out content and trying to help them think through where Google’s at and how to best benefit from the search — X amount of things I’ve done, but go ahead.

Loren Baker: You have a really interesting point, especially something that I’ve always struggled with, with the consultancies and agency work that I’ve done. Sometimes you really want to, from the business side, from the agency side, bring on smaller clients, whether it’s a local client or just someone that you maybe know through a personal connection. You want to be able to help them, but the profit margin and the time that you can spend … If you’re a larger agency and you’re billing out a specific rate, sometimes you can only offer 2 hours of work or 3 hours of work to that smaller client for that same hourly rate.

I see this happening a lot actually with SEO consultants as they grow. A lot of consultants will start bringing on, not just anyone, but they’ll bring on smaller clients at a specific rate to help them establish a business. Then as they grow, sometimes those initial clients become a little bit less profitable for them as a company, and they struggle in what to do — whether they should carry on with that client to the next step or … I read this on Twitter every day — people talking about firing their clients. I really hate that term. I’ve always hated that term because I see client work as being more of a mutual relationship.

I read your article that you wrote on this, that you are identifying a need, both on the agency side — I struggle with saying no. I always have. I really want to help people out and on the small business side. When someone feels like they’re working with a company, consultancy, or agency that’s larger than they are, sometimes they don’t feel like they’re getting the attention that they deserve.

Kris Jones: Yeah. The reality is that a lot of agencies across the United States will take on this business that falls below their thresholds. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that they don’t get an equivalent amount of services. They tend to get put on, God forbid, autopilot.

Loren Baker: Right.

Kris Jones: That’s why I use the word “dilutive.” My anger really, over the last 5, 6, 7 years, has been meeting small business owners who are under the illusion that they’re getting SEO services or digital marketing services. The product or the service is so diluted because the agency or the purveyor had to come down in their pricing from what they’re comfortable with and where they make their money. It just becomes a lose-lose.

Google, AoS Localization of SERPs (Not to Be Confused with Local Search)

Kris Jones: What does that mean? I think that, honestly, my message to small business owners and entrepreneurs that are starting businesses out there is, if you want to position yourself as a dominant player in your space, you really do need to self-educate.

There are tools out there, but a lot of the tools are complex. Even look at Google AdWords. Google AdWords, there is so much going on there. It is a highly advanced product. I couldn’t recommend to a small business owner that they just go in and open a Google AdWords account without me first saying, “Do you know that there’s a Google AdWords certification? If you got certified, you learn how to actually use all the breadth of the tool set that Google offers you for their pay per click product?” You would be in pole position.

That’s what I did back in the day. I just self-educated, and that’s unequivocally my recommendation. I think you and I are examples. There’s a lot of folks out there putting great content together on issues facing the local space, the small business space. It starts with self-education and then finding tools and the resources to help you execute.

Loren Baker: It was really interesting too, when I did put together a webinar and an article on this. The basic focus was, how to track your rankings across different cities and zip codes or what not. There’s really not that many tools that offer that capability, although Google basically ruled us out, 4 years ago. The tools that I listed in the post are all great companies in their own right.

Kris Jones: Yeah.

Loren Baker: Of course, they’re all paid. I really noticed where the comments and the questions and the feedback were coming from … People were like, “Hey, is there a free version of the tool that can do this? I have 3 stores in 3 cities. I only need to be able to pull those, and I can’t really justify paying for a service like this.” There does seem to be that payment threshold.

Yet at the same time, I’m happy you brought up AdWords because almost every small business that I know — that has worked with either myself or with any colleagues that do paid search — sometimes they’re throwing away a lot of money that they could reinvest into their core, whether it be their website or their blog, by mismanagement, so to speak, by just not really knowing how to properly manage an AdWords campaign. It used to be things like not selecting broadmatch targeting. It’s just gotten more and more difficult.

Talking about bid jamming, it doesn’t exist anymore. It used to be really easy to knock out people that had smaller budgets. There is a threshold of what someone can obtain by running a campaign right out of the box, versus taking the time or just working with a PPC consultant, to make sure it’s a better spend on their side.

Kris Jones: Yeah. I think that when it comes to local, one of the driving factors of my desire to be involved in it is that as SEOs, we spend a lot of time trying to predict the future. In that respect, as consultants, we’ll always have a job.

When it comes to smaller budgets, less time, less resources, we need to be much more concise as SEO professionals. We need to get right … We need to demystify. We need to unravel the algorithm and help small businesses focus on those 6 or 10 or 15 ranking factors that are most important. David Mihm puts out this study every year. David Mihm, I think he’s the head of local app Moz. He used to run his own site called GetListed, right?

Loren Baker: Yeah.

Kris Jones: Anyway, he puts out a study that’s public that will help a small business owner get a better handle on what really matters a lot of times … Here’s the...