EP 325 Transcript | Managing Google Brand Story with Mike Blumenthal

By Site Strategics
September 11, 2019

Speaker 1: 00:00:01 On this episode of Edge of the Web …

Mike Blumenthal: 00:00:04 Ignoring it is no longer a choice.

Erin Sparks: 00:00:04 Absolutely.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:00:06 Getting angry about it isn’t very productive. The only path forward in this is acceptance, and acceptance means engaging with this productively. It includes improving your business, because sooner or later, it’s not just about getting more reviews, it’s about getting reviews that you’ve earned because you’re running a good business.

Speaker 1: 00:00:28 Your weekly digital marketing trends with industry trendsetting guests. You are listening and watching Edge of the Web, winners of Best Podcast from the Content Marketing Institute for 2017. Hear and see more at edgeofthewebradio.com. Now here’s your host, Erin Sparks.

Erin Sparks: 00:00:50 Well, thanks for joining us on the Edge. We’re broadcasting from Edge Media Studios, located in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. We’re bringing you the latest trends in digital marketing and the marketing influences from around the planet, each and every week. Check out all the recent shows over at edgeofthewebradio.com. That’s edgeofthewebradio.com.

We’re powered by our title sponsor, Site Strategics, your digital marketing pioneers who actually focus on the Agile Method of digital marketing. If you want to know what that is, it’s results-based. You should be able to hold your own digital marketing company accountable to that same type of methodology, you think? If you’re interested in what they can do for you, go over to sitestrategics.com. That’s S-I-T-E strategics.com. Or actually, just call us at 877-SEO-4WEB, or 877-736-4932 and we can have an hour conversation just unpacking some of the digital tactics that you may want to be able to bring to your online success. I’m your host, Erin Sparks. I’m also the CEO of Site Strategics.

If you’re new to this show, we are blessed to be able to interview some of the top digital marketing minds in the biz. It’s always a great learning opportunity for us. We certainly appreciate any likes, really, or reviews that you have on the show, because we’re always wanting to hear back about how we did and who we should be talking to on the show. This show has been running for eight years. We’re on Episode 325, folks, which is a pretty darn cool thing. We’ve had a good run there.

In the studio with us, we also have Jacob Mann, Studio Creative Producer. Jacob, how you doing, sir?

Jacob Mann: 00:02:25 Hey. Doing all right.

Erin Sparks: 00:02:27 I see that you’re on [inaudible 00:02:28], aren’t you?

Jacob Mann: 00:02:29 Well, you know, I can [inaudible 00:02:30] that one.

Erin Sparks: 00:02:32 How was your weekend this weekend, sir?

Jacob Mann: 00:02:34 It was good, I took the kids to a rave.

Erin Sparks: 00:02:37 To a rave?

Jacob Mann: 00:02:37 Yeah, there was this park up in the north side of Indianapolis, and they have this thing called Glow in the Park. They play electronic, it’s all family-friendly, and they shoot kids with glow in the dark stuff and have black lights everywhere. It was crazy.

Erin Sparks: 00:02:49 I think I am actually too old now, family-friendly raves.

Jacob Mann: 00:02:53 Well there are lots of parents sitting in chairs in the back and they just let their kids go up, have fun, and then come back, check-in.

Erin Sparks: 00:02:58 [inaudible 00:02:58].

Jacob Mann: 00:02:58 I send my kids out, I tell them, “Do two songs, come back, check-in with me.” It was fun.

Erin Sparks: 00:03:02 Very cool. Very cool.

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If you’re not getting significant search traffic, Ahref tools also help you find topics worth creating pages or content on. You can easily see estimated search volumes, gauge traffic potential with their Keyword Explorer. That’s a really cool tool, actually, that we’ve used here over at Site. Along with it, they have some fantastic tools regarding understanding the newly acquired backlinks in order to really amp up your disavow process regularly.

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Now, let’s get into today’s interview.

Speaker 1: 00:04:13 Now it’s time for Edge of the Web feature interview with Mike Blumenthal, co-founder of GatherUp and Local U.

Erin Sparks: 00:04:25 Mike’s in the house. Thanks for joining us with Episode 325 of Edge of the Web. I’m your host, again, Erin Sparks, founder and CEO of Site Strategics. If you’re new to the show, we are blessed to be able to have some interviews with some great digital marketing minds in the biz. Always a great learning opportunity for us.

I’d like to introduce our guest again, Mike Blumenthal. He’s the co-founder of GatherUp, Local U, the godfather of local search. Let’s let our audience know about Mike here. Mike was actually the founding pa-pa-er. Let’s speak today. How about that? The founding partner of GatherUp, which is a computer software that helps businesses provide better customer experience through customer reviews and feedback. Mike also has co-founded Local U, where he works on weekly podcasts and newsletters to help plan conferences and moderate the forums. Mike is actively publishing content on his own personal blog, industry websites, at conferences and on social media. 

Here is a fun fact, his actual nickname is Professor Maps. Now Mike, how did you get that Professor Maps moniker there?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:05:28 Mike Ramsey, a early participant with Local U, saw me presenting at Local U, thought I was too much like a professor. I’m not sure the name was given with affection.

Erin Sparks: 00:05:41 Ah but you embraced it. It is a good thing.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:05:45 I embraced it, right. We don’t know if it’s because I know so much about Google or because I’m so pedantic. To be determined.

Erin Sparks: 00:05:53 We’ll go for the former, not the latter. How about that? Mike …

Mike Blumenthal: 00:05:55 I’m okay with either. How about both?

Erin Sparks: 00:05:59 Well Mike, you certainly been a great influencer in local search for a very long time. I’d like to hear your own personal take on your history, because we got the professional bio there. We know what you’re doing right now, but how did you get into the spot you are with local search and being able to be such an authority of the matter?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:06:21 I returned from my travels to Africa and Alaska as a mountain guide to try to reconcile with my family, early 1980s, started a computer store, Apple, Compaq, etc. Towards the end of that, got into the web and built a content management system [inaudible 00:06:42] 2000 and would allow local area businesses to manage their web presence more easily. Became clear then that they needed to do well in Google, even though there was no such thing as local.

When Google Local came out in 2005, I was excited because in my market, I needed nine Yellow Page books to be able to address my market. With one fell swoop, I was able to do prospecting and throw away the nine Yellow Page books together. I, at that point, predicted the demise of the Yellow Pages. I couldn’t understand why nobody, at the time, was writing about local, because I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

I started writing on my blog 2006, September. It’s been 13 years this month. I didn’t even get a job in local. I was admired in my local market place selling websites, doing web hosting until 2011. After I had started Local U, I started getting business. In this space, I became a local search consultant. Very quickly within the next year or two, it took over my life. I had been writing about it at that time for six years. 

Erin Sparks: 00:07:50 Oh, very good. Very good. It certainly has exploded and it’s a huge area that’s valuable for small businesses around the world. Google is certainly creating this platform for us to be able to launch from and be able to engage with customers. But I got to ask, before anything else, why do they still send Yellow Pages to businesses? Why? They’re showing up, these books are there. What do you do with them?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:08:20 Every year, I track how many pages are in my local Yellow Page book and it’s asymptotically approaching zero. I don’t know when they’re going to stop them, but you see national ads for hearing aids and stuff, and you see the lawyer ads. I guess lawyers and hearing aid companies [inaudible 00:08:38].

Erin Sparks: 00:08:38 They’re just keeping the Yellow Pages afloat, just with those ginormous ads. More power to them, I guess. But they turn into be a door stop for us over here. I don’t want to trash the industry, but you know, come on people.

All right, so back to local search. There’s so many things that are changing. I want to be able to unpack a lot of this, [inaudible 00:08:58] got a lot of questions as well. Local SEO for an important take, is that a misnomer, local SEO?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:09:10 To me, it represents the fact that Google, particularly since the advent of the phone, but even before that was trying to deliver super localized results. It’s a different algorithm somewhat than they purely are results that are reflected in the organic results. It really is the beginning of the zero-click results, and that you now see much more commonly. In local, we’ve been experiencing it for years.

I don’t think it is a misnomer. Maybe it is in a sense that SEO is a misnomer, and really, it’s about local marketing rather than search engine optimization, but other than that, it serves the purpose of explaining the experience of local searches.

Erin Sparks: 00:09:58 Right, that’s where I was going. Explain it to our listeners, what is that zero-click concept for us.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:10:05 Google, over the years, is trying to deliver answers to users. In local, they’re trying to deliver more and more information so the user can get the answer immediately. Or if the answer isn’t immediately available, quickly available, preferably, from their point of view on Google. Google is answering more and more questions directly there. In local, this has been long the case where a user could go and find most of what they need about a business without having to visit the website of the business.

We’re seeing, in this space, where 70%, 80% of the incoming leads are occurring on the front page of Google, as opposed to elsewhere, either in the ecosystem or on the website.

Erin Sparks: 00:10:46 It’s an incredible platform and incredible environment this … The knowledge panel has originated out of this concept and the business profile, obviously, for any organization is right there in plain view. There’s so many additional factors and calls to action. Well, I shouldn’t say call to action. They’re engagement tools that Google’s offering now. It keeps on evolving.

I caught up with your blog here the last few days and they’re changing the architecture of icons on the map to be able to be more engaging. There’s constant nuanced changes in the platform and it’s all predominantly mobile focused, is it not?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:11:33 It’s all mobile first. All the new developments we’re seeing are come out first in mobile. What we’re seeing is when you say calls to action, it goes beyond that. Google’s stated goal at the last conference was to answer users, solve problems for users, beyond just answering their questions. What we’re seeing is a whole development of a range of transactional capabilities, get a quote, reserve a table, reserve sitting at the spa, book a hotel. These are all transactional things that are occurring directly on the front page of Google without users needing to go to online travel companies or to go directly to the spa site to make a reservation. It’s becoming very transactional [inaudible 00:12:20].

Erin Sparks: 00:12:23 That actually raises up a little bit of concern that we’ve had on the show before, but there is a faction of professionals that don’t really like Google getting in the way of our customer or our own sites, that Google’s insisting upon itself to be able to answer the questions. But the businesses that have been cultivating their website over years, to be able to be that answer, they’re getting removed out the equation the little bit, at least there’s a sentiment of that. What are your thoughts about that, that real estate, that enlarging of the real estate that Google has there?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:13:06 My thought is that a lead is a lead. I don’t really care where they come from. If Google is prepared to deliver them at low costs, I’m all in. I don’t care whether they come from my website or they come from the front page of Google. That’s been the case in local for years.

To some extent, the website has become a data feed to Google. Google relies on it very heavily to populate the knowledge panel so you’re providing them that data through your website. If you’re in a more complicated business, people are going to go to Google, see what things look like and then move on to your website to get more answers. But that number has been reducing, been declining dramatically over the last three or four years because the experience on mobile is so dramatically different and Google has worked so hard at answering these questions.

Erin Sparks: 00:13:56 Couldn’t say it better, a lead is a lead. Google is grabbing feeds from a number of different places, not only the website in question or the business’ website in question.

A couple of years ago, you ran the experiment on Yelp, on creating some fake rankings, to be able to see if that actually directly affected rankings on some of the sites that were ranking locally. I know that’s an old study, but it actually ties in to another question I’ve got. What was that experiment and how did it actually play out?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:14:27 At the time, I was exploring what were called the 1-pack results, where only a single business would show in the result instead of a 3-pack. Typically, they occurred in areas where Google didn’t have a direct category themselves, so they were clearly getting the information some place else. In about 30% or 40% of them, I saw that there was high ranking Yelp listings for those businesses, and so I did an experiment to see if there was a correlation or a causation between Yelp and the pack result.

I had six or seven friends leave some reviews on a local bar. The bar was a perfect case study because the only website they had was some sort of community website, and it had a PDF up there with no text, they didn’t have any website, they had links, they had nothing. With reviews on a targeted phrase, Yelp then anointed that business as a top 10 business in dive bars. The Yelp page surfaced in the organic results fairly quickly and that drove, within a few days, a local pack from Google.

We were able to see directly that a page that Yelp throws prominence to through their various [inaudible 00:15:45] pages, if it has enough reviews on a given topic can then drive Google Local results.

Erin Sparks: 00:15:52 How long did that actually stay in place?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:15:56 To this day.

Erin Sparks: 00:15:56 Oh my gosh.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:15:58 Not only that, but now they’ve become “one of the best bars in Olean”. They still, they have a PDF for a website.

Erin Sparks: 00:16:05 Oh my Lord.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:16:07 What happened was once a few reviews started coming in on Yelp, people felt free to review them. They had no reviews on Google at the time. They now had a ton of reviews on Yelp, ton of reviews on Google. They’ve been able to maintain themselves and move beyond the limited categories of dive bars and sports bars that I was experimenting in to literally becoming one of the “best bars in Olean” because the review volume then picked up.

You have to grease the skids. If there are no reviews, people don’t want to be the first. But once those appeared, they started getting them left, right and center.

Erin Sparks: 00:16:39 Reviews are absolutely a factor of local optimization for small, medium and large businesses.

I want to get into a number of factors that affect the performance of any local review. But I did want to come across a quick mention. Joy Hawkins just released a Whiteboard Friday over on Moz, where she gave you a great shout out. She broke out the recipe or the formula for local optimization. She was talking about proximity, talking about prominence and talking about relevance.

In that space, you have been a huge advocate of reputation as a factor of local rankings. With what we were just talking about before, Google picking up feeds from other areas outside of the website, what would you say the proportion of factors that play into local optimization now is if you were looking at your site being one of those factors, is [inaudible 00:17:43] this now completely off site that you have to manage your brand as well as reviews and citations?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:17:51 There’s the tactical side of it, which is not as interesting to me is the strategic side of it, as you know. On the technical side, Google … Starting in 2016 there was this development called Reviews from the Web, where they show in the business profile up to three pages of review sites about your business. They don’t show Yelp, or TripAdvisor, or Better Business Bureau, but any other up to three.

At that point, they elevated on a brand surge. If you typed in your business plus city on that brand search, any page that had reviews got elevated in the search results. Those pages would then show in your business profile. What happened is that elevation of reputation on part of Google to give people a quick snapshot of the fact that maybe they have five stars here, and four stars there, and 4.5 elsewhere, and do whatever, that quick snapshot became really where people go for review information.

More important than the ranking impact was the impact they had on conversation. When you get to Google, you’re doing a little research, and you see a business has a consistent brand story, not just at Google but at Yelp, and at their own website, and at WeddingWire, and The Knot, and all these other place, Facebook, that increases conversions dramatically. To me, the conversion story is more interesting than the tactical story of review impacting rank.

But the other side of it is from a tactical point of view, is that when you read the most recent patents, I wrote about this at GatherUp, analyzing user reviews to determine entity attributes, Google says that they’ll gather reviews from blogs, social network postings, emails, God forbid which email they’re reading, articles written for websites or for printed publications such as magazines, postings and the last item they mentioned are posting made to a user review section of an online vendor.

Google looks everywhere for reviews. When you’re looking at it from a tactical point of view as a long haul thing, it’s not a one-done enterprise. Reputation is one of these ongoing things you have to deal with forever. You need to think about the fact that Google is willing to show up to three there, plus more in their organic result. You, over time, should be working on all of them, including your own site and maximize conversions. But also, I believe that Google is gaining entity information from these first and third party reviews, reviews at Google and other sites.

Erin Sparks: 00:20:26 Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re getting further information, not only from the reviews, but citations and other feeds of content. You just wrote on another blog here just recently, you gave a snapshot of SeaWorld in Orlando. In that respect, that was interesting because … I want to talk about events here in a second, but they had a listing of events of SeaWorld, and right smack dab in the middle of that was a protest event.

Well I doubt that SeaWorld actually was putting that on their calendar, so there’s an aggregate of this content making its way into that Google knowledge panel. That’s part of reputation that you’re talking about.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:21:09 Right, right. Exactly. It’s the page that’s the most seen by users, is that page. Even if they end up gong to your website, they typically are stopping either the beginning, middle or end of their search at Google to assess and choose between your business and another, so everything that’s there that contributes to your reputation is important. That’s everything from the photos, to the reviews, to the events, to the reviews at your site, third party sites. All of that creates what I call a brand story at Google for these businesses. That, to me, is something you have control over and something that is interesting.

Erin Sparks: 00:21:46 You have control over it by your reputation, but just let me pause here for a second. This is a little bit scary if Google’s actually deciding what content, not just how it actually ranks you in a back channel algorithm, but it’s actually presenting content that could be a detriment to you, especially if we’re getting into the elections of 2020. Google’s starting to pull together content that it sees as valuable to its customers, not particularly valuable to the brand that’s ranking. Could you comment on that?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:22:23 Sure. Since reviews have come out, the power has shifted somewhat. Consumers now have an active voice in defining your brand. You can either choose to let them define it, or you can choose to participate in that conversation and define it with them. Those are the choices. Ignoring it is no longer a choice, getting angry about isn’t very productive.

The only path forward in this is accepting, and acceptance means engaging with this productively. That includes improving your business, because sooner or later, it’s not just about getting more reviews, it’s about getting reviews that you’ve earned because you’re running a good business, which is the end logic here is that reviews aren’t a tactic, they’re strategy. They’re an insight into how your business is doing as perceived by people beyond your business. That’s incredibly valuable information.

Erin Sparks: 00:23:15 Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s almost borderline the phrase resistance is futile, and we’re all going to be part of the borg here.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:23:25 But it isn’t that bad. The reality is that you can engage with your customers more effectively and thoroughly. You can be the first line to ask them what they think you can improve. These are all process-driven things that you can do that will drive your presence on Google and be sure that your brand story is a consistent one across all the places that Google is looking.

Erin Sparks: 00:23:49 That insists that the brand needs to be prepared for that type of man power, that type of engagement and observation. If you’re not paying attention, if you don’t have a tool that is actually showing you what’s happening on your own brand, if you’re only just going to Google for a bit of a ping against your own brand, you’re really not seeing the entire picture because Google is scraping these different sites, they’re pulling this content together. You really do need to be watching that closely in order to be able to engage effectively, right?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:24:22 Well it’s why I got into the tool business, I guess. I just thought review …

When I first started with GatherUp, businesses were very afraid of engaging in the world of reviews. I wanted to give them a tool that at least allowed them to participate in the conversation on a more even playing field, which is why we started GatherUp in the first place, was to give them those tools. It has evolved into a tool that allows you look at your reviews, in terms of understanding what’s going wrong with your business, in terms of developing keyword strategies because you could see what’s going right with your business. It can be used for management decisions, as well as marketing. 

The beauty of a review isn’t just that review, it’s the reviews and aggregate can be used across management and marketing to really benefit your business. That’s where the tool has evolved.

Erin Sparks: 00:25:13 It’s almost an ongoing focus group that you have at your disposal to be [crosstalk 00:25:18] able to give a mirror to yourself.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:25:13 Exactly.

Erin Sparks: 00:25:20 Again, we’ve got the crazies out there. They go all caps and they start swinging their bag of cats everywhere, but that’s marginal. Point is, is that if you have the channels open for people to review, and on top of it if you’re asking already in your customer engagement, then you’re getting good contribution.

It used to be that the only people that would be reviewing, by and large, would be the negatives. Well, best practice is to be able to ask of those reviews after a successful transaction, whatever it is. That’s getting more of [inaudible 00:25:52]. We’re seeing a lot of really cool tools out there to be able to cultivate that easily. But people are, by and large, more apt now, say maybe five years ago, to actually provide positive reviews from just the digital savviness. Would you agree with that?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:26:09 Yeah, so I consistently survey consumers to their willingness to how of … I asked the question, how frequently review local business? Never, less than once a year, one to five times a year, more than five times a year? Historically, when I started that survey, the nevers, the people who never wrote a review dropped from 60% never wrote a review, down to about 30% never wrote a review.

Now in this most recent survey, which I haven’t published yet, that is leveling off, it stopped dropping. People are more inclined to review you. Historically though, I would disagree with your characterization, which is negative. Typically, third party reviews have been extremely positive or negative. There has never been a lot in the middle, which is the value of your soliciting directly to your clients as you get all the stuff in the middle.

But you do see some [inaudible 00:27:06]. When you surveyed people why they left reviews, businesses would say they left reviews because they’re going to leave a native one. Consumers would say, to help the business, help the neighbors, or to laude a really good business, or criticize a really bad.

Consumers saw it more broadly than businesses. Businesses thought, “Oh my god, here comes another negative. Here’s an incoming.”

Erin Sparks: 00:27:29 Well the businesses are in risk management in their panic mode because everybody knows, there’s a lineup of poor reactions from businesses to reviews that’s create dead soldiers in the wake. There’s a lot of horror stories out there. Brands, by and large, are still a bit gun-shy getting into this real world engagement, and the amplitude to, on top of that, embrace that negativity and learn and adjust their business model or their customer service by that.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:28:04 Interestingly, we see surveys and research that indicates that consumers actually do business less with businesses that have a perfect five-star review. Consumers are pretty savvy and typically focus on businesses in the 4.2 to 4.5 range is one issue. Consumers aren’t as draconian as you point out businesses in this reactive mode think they are. 

Erin Sparks: 00:28:32 Is a five-star good enough for our utilization now, or should we be expanding the segmentation to give a 1 through 10 rating to audiences?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:28:42 Well, this is where we’ve decided to implement machine learning because even in a five-star … You it on Google too, Google sees reviews as data. In Maps now, they actually segment reviews by topic so you can go in and select [inaudible 00:28:59] topic, and that’s done with natural language processing. We started doing something similar in our product.

Even though there’s only five-point scale in review world, we can understand where there are negative sentiments in a four-star review, or positive sentiments in a two-star review. The lack of scale doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not going to extract enough data.

That being said, I’m a big believer in net promoter score, which is an 11-point scale. Goes from 0 to 11. It’s nice because it’s standardized across industries, so it allows you compare yourself to others in your industry. At the core of our system is net promoter score as a metric.

Erin Sparks: 00:29:43 Very good. Now I get what you’re saying, but it is also I’m leery at machine learning being guided off of review content that is somewhat bias to a particular degree, positive and negative, that there’s these little gravity wells of content that aren’t truly objective, they’re a little bit skewed, and to be able to have that type of categorization and ranking factors inside the lanes of one through five.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:30:17 Sure. That’s a good point about third party reviews. To some extent, first party reviews where the business is asking the consumer for their own feedback directly, we see much more candor, and we see a much greater willingness to review. Now many more people are willing to give you direct feedback, and are willing to go out to Google and create a public testament. You get skewing more with Google than you do when you ask them directly. I’m also a big fan of asking them directly because you get a better data set. You also get review content that you can mark up in schema and put on your website. With our tagging tools, you can actually segment that content so that you can put it on the appropriate selling pages.

In the case of Barbara Oliver, we can take all the content, first and third party, about engagement, engagement rings, wedding and wedding rings, and put that on the wedding ring page. It’s a great content strategy as well, which I see as really one of the many powers of reviews, to go beyond just the issue of ranking or whatever.

Erin Sparks: 00:31:19 Can I ask a technical point on that? I know you love the strategy, not the tactical, but from the local, from that scheme implementation, you should not be one, manufacturing your own reviews. You should allow an entire channel of reviews to populate on your site so you can actually leverage that schema and deployment, right?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:31:41 Correct. Google’s rules are quite clear. They’ve never enforced them, but it’s quite clear it has to be original content directly from the user. You should not be marking up Google reviews and putting them on your site. It should be direct from the user to the business. Those are the ones that you are eligible to mark up.

Erin Sparks: 00:31:57 You should really have a discipline. As much as you’re actually asking for reviews on GMB, as well as Facebook, and Yelp and what have you, you should also have part of your portfolio of reviews, a direct solicitation to review on our website, on this product. That will not make its way anywhere else in the ecosystem except for that particular destination page, right?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:32:21 Correct. Well, it might be on your website in the Reviews page and the Destination page, both, but yes.

Erin Sparks: 00:32:26 All right, very good. 

Mike Blumenthal: 00:32:27 Actually, your first part of your reviews is of equal importance over time because not only does it increase conversions in the search, it increases social proof on your website, it also increases the adjectives and attributes that Google can read about your business. So it has a far reaching benefit across the board.

Erin Sparks: 00:32:48 It’s very valuable, and it demonstrates such a level of authenticity and transparency on behalf of the brand to its prospect customers as well.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:32:59 Right. Given that consumers prefer reviews in the 4.1 to 4.5 range, there’s no reason not to be transparent for most businesses.

Erin Sparks: 00:33:09 Yeah, that’s still going to be a factor, that faction that don’t even want to jump in this, but that’s where the wheat separates from the chaff now, is that businesses that are looking to be able to have that new media engagement, they’ve got to jump into the review space, the citation space. You’ve got be able to embrace the offsite communications and be able to also authentically communicate back to customers if there is a problem.

Would you give any advice to small, medium-sized businesses that maybe have a brand issue that they’re struggling with, how they should behave online, for lack of a better description?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:33:53 Sure. Obviously, making promises about the future improvement to the brand can backfire on you because if you don’t in fact improve and you say you’re going to, that’s probably worse. The first step is to assess this, but I think responding to them, and engaging these people, and even to the point of giving them a small gift for their trouble of writing their review, of the trouble of having a bad experience with you, to me that’s entirely appropriate in response to a review is if you’re having reputation problems is, “Geez, we sorry we this happened. Here’s a gift certificate against your next purchase for whatever.”

Obviously, responding to them, I think, is the first step. A lot of businesses haven’t built out the infrastructure to do that. I think it’s critical, I think it’s … We see research that shows that responding to reviews 1) decreases the number of negative reviews because people realize you’re watching, and 2) increases income. There’s both a monetary and a social reason for responding beyond just the fact that it makes sense, that somebody’s willing to take the time to give you a review, and to be courtesy enough to respond to them.

Erin Sparks: 00:35:01 Again, the business has to be ready to be able to respond quickly. Responses that happen weeks after, as opposed to within days, that’s a brand signal as well, let alone months after.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:35:18 I did some research on that.

Erin Sparks: 00:35:18 Oh, cool.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:35:21 Like what did consumers expect in terms of speed at which they responded.

Erin Sparks: 00:35:25 Unpack that.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:35:26 Surprisingly, most people had very low expectations. I think 60% were okay if it responded within a week, maybe 40% expected it within thee days, something like that. 

If you respond within 24 hours, you are better than 95% or 98% of the firms in this world and you will achieve benefit from it. I agree with you that a timely response is valuable. I think it’s hard, but I think every review deserves a response.

I also asked people that. They said, “Look, I took the time to … ” About 35% said, “Look, I took the time to write a review. I think they should respond.” While not a majority, it was still a significant group of people that expected you to respond, whether the review is negative or positive.

Erin Sparks: 00:36:16 Let me unpack that one more step further regarding that response to the negative review because that’s where the briar patch is. What would you recommend from best practices to respond. 

There’s all the strata of different reactions, but if somebody’s hot blooded, and we seen it before is it all of a sudden a particular reviewer is now empowered and they’re starting to graffiti all of the different review platforms. What do you do with someone like that, that’s just out of the box, just trying to put some blemishes on that brand to, say the least.

Do you respond in a way that is … We’ll, I’ll let you handle it. You tell me.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:37:03 Sure, so firstly, I think you want to have a review plan in place so that you build up your review corpus, so anyone bad review isn’t the death now. If you’ve got 30 or 40 good reviews, one bad one actually is probably to your benefit.

Also, you need to realize you have to change your attitude a little bit that legitimate negative reviews are good qualifiers. They help you call out inappropriate customers. But in terms of the review, you need to be empathetic, you need to be responsive. You don’t necessarily need to kowtow. If the customer is wrong, the customer is wrong. You just have to figure out a general way of telling them.

I think sometimes that’s the best response. Barbara Oliver is my pet client. I frequently talk about her. She’s got a stellar reputation. She did finally get a negative review at Yelp, where the person said, “Oh, she was treating me on the appraisal.” Barbara responded, “Look, sorry you feel that way, but I appraised you based on this standard, and this standard and this standard. Here is why I gave you the appraisal. I apologize that you are unhappy, but this reality.” Sometimes that’s the best way. Other times, it’s just being empathetic. Other times, it’s empathetic and attempting to further solve the problem or understand the problem. 

One of the things that I do with GatherUp, I personally have taken charge of responding to reviews because I want to see what it takes … I respond to every review, personally at GatherUp, because I want to understand what people are thinking. Pursue it as an active exercise for the company so that we can all benefit from. Part of it is distancing yourself from the pain, which is hard, and the other part is being empathetic, being responsive, and engaging that consumer at whatever level you can.

Now sometimes there are true nut cases and you don’t want to get into a flame war with them. Sometimes you need to ignore them. But like I said, if you’ve got a good corpus of reviews, it’s not going to impact you that much at all. It may have been beneficial.

Erin Sparks: 00:39:16 Oh yeah. When you’re responding to these positive reviewers, you are creating such a tribe of loyalists in the space that it’s not only just about conversion, it’s advocacy. Just people love to be lifted up whenever they’re championing a brand, and to be able to be recognized, my gosh, you have a lifelong advocate for your brand, right?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:39:42 Right. Both our software and Google send the owner response back to the user so you’re creating one more communication channel with that user, which I think is really, like you said, a very positive feedback for brand advocates, as well as people who are critical because it shows that you care.

The act of engaging is what’s important.

Erin Sparks: 00:40:04 There it is.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:40:04 I think with integrity, honesty and empathy, that’s the answer. It’s not the same in every situation.

Erin Sparks: 00:40:11 No, no. I appreciate those thoughts on response because brands, by and large, have no idea to get into those waters because they’re not the conventional consumer that they’re dealing with. These people know they have a voice and they know that they have a power. This is the buyer’s platform now, the buyer’s realm where they can control a brand’s value. I know they know where they stand in the ecosystem with Google now, so got to take care of that type of engagement.

But let me ask you about your takes on the local platform itself and the 3-pack. We now have the local ads that are in the space. Now they’re starting to crop up here or there. The Maps have been sacrosanct. They’ve been this go-to place of utilitarianism. This is the transaction, I want this. The local pack that came from, well do we have 10 or 7 at one point in time …

Mike Blumenthal: 00:41:18 Ten.

Erin Sparks: 00:41:18 … down to three. Yeah.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:41:20 Ten then seven, then three. Yeah, it’s [inaudible 00:41:23].

Erin Sparks: 00:41:23 That’s a one sometimes. 

There has been this area of truth that’s inside that, and a trusted factor, especially with Google My Business and the local pack now is getting monetized. The user doesn’t know that it’s connected to the AdWords platform. Do you think that Google’s making a mistake or it’s an advantage for a local business to be able to have that advertising in that space? What’s your takes on that?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:41:54 It breaks out a little bit by industry. So in super high spanning industries like locksmiths, plumbers, garage door openers, Google produced a special AdWords unit called Local Service Ads, where they actually theoretically vet the businesses before they can get advertised. They appear above the pack, and then Google guarantees those results. Some of the ads are like that.

Also, Google is showing ads more and more in Maps, both sponsored [inaudible 00:42:20] and the ads. We’re seeing in some industries, particularly like jewelry and restaurants, we’re seeing a lot more activity in Maps than we use to see.

Then there’s the pack itself. Good, better and different, it’s the reality. Google is a publicly held company with a demand to ever increase their profits. There will be no surface untouched ongoing forward. That’s just the reality.

Now you have to build your marketing plan around it. You can bemoan it all day long, but if you bemoan everything you think Google does is stupid, you’d end up having to after either commit suicide or switch industries.

Erin Sparks: 00:42:58 Or just go to DuckDuckGo. 

Mike Blumenthal: 00:42:59 There you go. I’m saying as a marketer, I’m just … 

Erin Sparks: 00:43:03 Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:43:05 Back to the stories, look, if you get frustrated every time Google changes things, the best you could do is try to understand what they’re doing now, build a marketing plan that’s sustainable regardless of those changes, and be flexible when a change hits that you didn’t anticipate and lean into it. What are you going to …

If they’re still delivering those leads that we talked about in the beginning …

Erin Sparks: 00:43:27 Bang.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:43:27 … bang. You have to live with it and that’s the reality of the relationship.

I think it was Matilda where Danny DeVito says to the little girl, “I’m big, you’re little, I’m right and you’re wrong.” That’s the relationship we have with Google.

Erin Sparks: 00:43:40 That’s awesome. Actually, we’ve seen some really good results with the Local Services ads in comparison to cause per acquisition in the local advertising. We’re seeing incredible and drastic reduction of cost per acquisition and it’s a fantastic toolset in those particular industries. Have you experimented with that particular ad medium?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:44:07 Personally, I don’t do a lot of direct local SEO anymore. I do some with five or six clients, just to keep my finger in the pie, as it were, but I’ve never had many people … I walked away from the locksmith, garage door opener and pluming world long ago because I realized it was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Erin Sparks: 00:44:26 You better believe it.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:44:27 I walked away from it. I do not, but I do follow the reporting on it. 

It’s a super simple ad format. You can self-provision fairly easily, turn it on and off easily, it’s fixed price, you know what it’s going to cost you to get a lead, it’s very powerful. But what we are seeing is Google is rolling it out to more verticals. In San Diego, they’re currently testing it, I think, with lawyers and perhaps real estate agents at the moment. You can expect to see the format in more verticals.

Erin Sparks: 00:44:56 They have a, it’s not a Google guaranteed, it’s a Google certified?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:45:03 Yeah, I can’t remember the phrase, but it was …

Erin Sparks: 00:45:06 Something like that.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:45:07 Yeah, it wasn’t guaranteed. It was just that they had indicated that they had vetted them to some extent.

Erin Sparks: 00:45:15 Again, they’re changing up the environment all the time.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:45:18 That’s one of the things you see with Google is that they will be monetizing on a per industry space and transactional at a category level that what a spa, and health facility, and gym needs is different than what a restaurant needs, or different from what a lawyer needs, or different from what a propane dealer needs. In each of those, they were willing to rolling out transactional capabilities and ad formats that are specific to those verticals.

Erin Sparks: 00:45:51 I wanted to wrap our conversation. I truly appreciate your time here and sharing a wealth of information here. What’s your predictions, if you have any, regarding the business profile in Google My Business and local search? What do you think is going to be happening here? Because we’re certainly seeing a lot of changes here. Even over the last year in the local listings, what are your thoughts about what’s going to happen here soon?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:46:18 Google has said that they want to help people get things done. When you look at that from a practical viewpoint, you’re seeing it already, it’s not going to be surprise. You’re seeing an ever increasing number of transactional capabilities in the business profile. That’s one.

Two, they said this two or three years ago, they wanted to create more immersive experiences, provide better answers. You’re seeing Google building more and more backend tools to either process these transactions or to provide this greater depth. You see it in the travel, you see it in all these industries. You’re going to see ever increasing number of backend tools to keep people on Google, big surprise; you’re going to see ever increasing number of transactional type of capabilities, big surprise; and you’re going to see verticalized ads increasing number, big surprise.

To me, it’s not too much about predicting the future, it’s seeing what they say what they’re going to do they typically do. Watching that develop carefully, you will see clear indications that this is where they’re going. If you look at the mobile brand results now, it likes a little mini website. It’s got an About page, and a Review page, and a Product page, and a Service page, and a Contact Us button and all those things.

That’s the trend and you’re going to see more and more of that. They’re going to be adding more and more into that knowledge panel to make it ever more useful. I don’t think that requires too much future thinking to see that happening.

Erin Sparks: 00:47:51 You’re absolutely right. However, you did catch something here just recently, and that’s the event. You talk about immersive search experience, the event listings. I was actually doing some research on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce here just recently. Google’s got a great event listing there, but it’s an endless loop, it doesn’t take you anywhere. It’s constantly cycling and it brings you right back to the business profile.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:48:18 [inaudible 00:48:18].

Erin Sparks: 00:48:18 Did somebody not get the memo there?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:48:20 It’s one of the worst user interfaces I’ve ever seen. I don’t quite get why they’re doing it. I assume that it’s temporary, pending some more intelligent development, but it sure is dumb.

Erin Sparks: 00:48:30 It is. Okay, yes I want this event. Please, take me there.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:48:35 It does point out though why business … Part of the problem that you mentioned with SeaWorld was that they don’t control their own events quite enough and they need more events showing more frequently to block out third party events that might show there.

Obviously, if you’re an activist, you want to be aware that a meetup even or an Eventbrite event could very well show on the knowledge panel of the place you’re protesting. I think it’s a interesting democratization of marketing.

Erin Sparks: 00:49:05 Oh my, I just thought about a whole nother experiment of faux events to be able [inaudible 00:49:12] out of the lineup there.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:49:15 Tim Capper did it on 10 Downing Street. He actually added an event to his website, see if Google would pick it up, and add it to the business profile and they did.

Erin Sparks: 00:49:25 Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. Oh well, Mike, certainly want to again thank you for … I got one last question, I got a couple questions.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:49:25 Sure.

Erin Sparks: 00:49:34 All right. All right. What are your thoughts, and you don’t have to answer this, but what are your thoughts about platforms like Yext?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:49:45 There’s two aspects to Yext. One is citation distribution, the other is enhancing the data in meaningful ways to deliver to Google and deliver elsewhere. 

Yext is useful, if a company doesn’t have a way to have a canonical list of all their locations, Yext forces them into that discipline. But in terms of their citation distribution, it’s like having citations distributed to 47 websites that nobody goes to. That’s pretty bogus. But again, providing a single way to update Google and Yelp in a single environment, and have a canonical listing might be valuable for larger companies.

For smaller companies, I see it as paying a retainer monthly to Yext to do citations is not worth it. You’re better off going to Whitespark, having them one and done, and being out from under the month retainer if you’re a single location.

I see Yext working reasonably well for larger companies that are looking to maybe build a location page from this data, looking to be sure to have a canonical source of the data because they’re not able to do that internally. But in terms of the distribution of the citations, that was gagging me. Doesn’t do much good.

Erin Sparks: 00:51:04 Tell me what you really feel, Mike.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:51:06 Sure, ask another question. I’d be glad to.

Erin Sparks: 00:51:09 All right, well then I’ll tee it up. What really bugs you about your industry right now?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:51:15 Well, there’s two things. One is, and this gores through all of the conversations, the extreme focus on the tactical trick of the day, whatever that might be, as opposed to the bigger, what I think will be a more valuable bigger focus on the whole marketing picture and helping tell the brand story more effectively. I think that’s a better framework with which to view the things in our business, so you don’t get so sidetracked by getting one more Google review, or a certain structure to a citation, or worrying about the change in the rank results quite that much.

Then the other is Google themselves. Local is a hyperlocal experience. You’re sitting there with a phone and Google is showing you results for maybe three-quarters a mile around your phone. Yet when they analyze their results and they say, “Oh, only 0.5 of 1% ever saw a spammy listening,” it’s horse shit. The reason is that they’re looking at it from the point of view churches, and who …

Yeah, no. You don’t see many spammy churches [inaudible 00:52:29] that’s true, but when they put all that together, meanwhile if you’re sitting in a city in Canada and you type in ‘certified locksmith’, you’re going to see nothing but spam. Spam is a very localized thing, it’s very long tail, and Google has not been willing to invest the engineering resources or their financial resources to deal with the danger that puts to other businesses and consumers.

Imagine bringing somebody into your home that you found on Google for locksmiths, and it’s a scam listing sending scam locksmith who’s going to bait and switch you to who knows how many hundreds of dollars, and could be, if he’s not properly vetted, could be a criminal. It’s a irresponsible on part on Google to do that.

Erin Sparks: 00:53:14 Well, hopefully we’re going to be seeing that playing itself out, as we’ve seen in other areas of SEO is being able to marginalize those spammers, but they’re certainly exploiting the spam right now, aren’t they?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:53:29 In certain local markets, in certain local searches they certainly are. They’ve done it as scale where a lot of these spam listings will go back to a call center who will then figure out who bought the lead for that area, who is available and they’ll distribute it.

It’s a profit making enterprise that hurts businesses that try to compete honestly. I think it’s a threat to the consuming public, and Google has not done enough to stop it.

Erin Sparks: 00:53:57 All right, hear that Google? We need you to police that a little bit more.

Conversely, Mike, last question, what excites you about this industry?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:54:09 Everything. Jesus, it’s like I can’t go a day without reading 20 articles. What excites me is the opportunities businesses have to true … When I say we live in a post-Amazon economy, what I mean by that is saying that Amazon has solved the problems of product availability, and deliverability and returns. Local businesses can no longer compete on that. 

What google has done, in terms of surfacing reputation, is they’ve given businesses an opportunity to be seen and to improve themselves simultaneously. What excites me is the fact that businesses are getting the memo and starting to create experiences that go beyond product delivery and timeliness into the area of making joy for their customers. When business can do that, I get really excited. I think that’s how we view our product, is to try to help businesses deliver the joy to their customers. That’s where I think business needs to be to succeed in these days.

Erin Sparks: 00:55:07 Absolutely, or you’ll be out of business very soon because the online customer is expecting that now. They’re expecting that type of responsiveness, engagement, and quality of service because it’s all out there, isn’t it?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:55:20 Yup.

Erin Sparks: 00:55:21 All right, well I had to swing back around to the thought here. You actually came down from a mountain to help us in digital marketing. Can we throw out the acronym of or the reference of the Moses of local search? What’s all the deal about the mountain. You were actually doing a heck of a lot of natural training up there, weren’t you?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:55:47 From 1972 to 1989, I was an instructor at National Outdoor Leadership School, which is a program that trains people in wilderness living skills. I helped plan, execute and deliver trainings in East Africa, Wyoming and Prince William Sound for a number of years.

Erin Sparks: 00:56:08 Very cool.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:56:09 It was a lot of fun.

Erin Sparks: 00:56:11 If we do have to go off the grid, come to you, yup?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:56:15 Well expeditioning is not quite going off the grid. It’s learning how to live safely for some limited period of time [crosstalk 00:56:21] in the wilderness.

Erin Sparks: 00:56:22 Roger that.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:56:22 Means cooking, carrying your food, learning how to navigate, doing first aid, things that are not necessarily totally off the grid, but things that do require a special skillset.

Erin Sparks: 00:56:35 Yeah, yeah. Some parents and I, we just led our Boys Scout troop to go through an outdoor survival training course, very similar, [inaudible 00:56:46] of what you probably do, but it’s great to be able to teach those young people these basic but very, very important skills of just self-preservation and making sure that they can rely upon themselves.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:56:59 Even beyond self-preservation though is this question of joy, is being comfortable enough that when you’re out there, you can experience it in all of its amazing glory. Having a humpback whale come up next to your kayak, or sliding down a huge glacier to a soft landing at the end, those are joyous experiences.

Part of it is learning the survival skills so that you can be comfortable, and navigate safely and avoid the biggest risks so that you experience a tremendous joy.

Erin Sparks: 00:57:35 See that, everybody should unplug a little bit and go outside. Come on, it’ll be there tomorrow. Go have some joy outside.

Well Mike, thank you so much for your time today. It certainly is a pleasure and we wish you all the best. We’d love to have you back on the show again, talking more about local search, but we certainly want to promote Local U, the Local U podcast. Where can we find that?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:57:57 Localu.org. You can sign up for the podcast there. It’s also on iTunes, and Android, and Stitch.

Erin Sparks: 00:58:05 Sweet. On top of that join, go and subscribe to your email newsletter as well because you’re certainly revealing great nuggets of gold here regularly in the local space. 

Any final word for our digital marketing audience today?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:58:22 The word is understand the current reality so you don’t have to stress about the future, translate that into improved strategies so you don’t have to stress about the tactics, and help your businesses be better. That would it.

Erin Sparks: 00:58:35 That would be it. That’s plenty. Thank you so much. We’ll certainly want to have our audience track you down on Twitter, mblumenthal, over on LinkedIn, mblumenthal. No Instagram, huh?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:58:49 No Instagram.

Erin Sparks: 00:58:51 More power to you.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:58:51 No Instagram and I’m not very active on Facebook.

Erin Sparks: 00:58:54 Roger that. 

Mike Blumenthal: 00:58:56 It’s Twitter or one of the sites I write at.

Erin Sparks: 00:58:58 All right. You’re certainly contributing into the ecosystem regularly. Where are you going to be speaking next?

Mike Blumenthal: 00:59:03 Local U has an advanced training in Denver, September 19th. Then October 8th we’re doing a small business training in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. October 12th I’m speaking to Duct Tape in Savannah. I have a few others lined up, but those are the ones that ….

Erin Sparks: 00:59:20 Cool, cool, cool. Well thank you so much. We’re certainly going to give all the … In the show notes, we’re going to have all the links to those events as well.

Thanks so much for participating today and truly is a pleasure. Thanks, again.

Mike Blumenthal: 00:59:31 Thanks for having me. I’m always willing to come back.

Erin Sparks: 00:59:34 All right. You’re more than welcome.

Thanks for listening to Edge of the Web Radio. Special thank you to our colleagues at Site Strategics for production, each and every week. Thank you obviously to our guest, Mike Blumenthal. Make sure to check out all the must-see videos, and audio, and information over at edgeofthewebradio.com. That’s edgeofthewebradio.com.

That’s it for this week. We’re going to be talking to … Hey, Jacob. Who are we talking to next week? Joe Martinez?

Jacob Mann: 01:00:00 Yes.

Erin Sparks: 01:00:01 See. Put you on the spot there. Joe Martinez is going to be talking about, I believe Quora again, and advertising in Quora. Check us out next week.

From all of us over at Edge of the Web, do not be a piece of cyber driftwood. We’ll talk to you real soon. Buh-bye.

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