The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon: A Competitive Advantage for Clients

Posted by MiriamEllis

Photo credit: Michelle Shirley

What if a single conversation with one of your small local business clients could spark activity that would lead to an increase in their YOY sales of more than 7%, as opposed to only 4% if you don’t have the conversation? What if this chat could triple the amount of spending that stays in their town, reduce pollution in their community, improve their neighbors’ health, and strengthen democracy?

What if the brass ring of content dev, link opportunities, consumer sentiment and realtime local inventory is just waiting for you to grab it, on a ride we just haven’t taken yet, in a setting we’re just not talking about?

Let’s travel a different road today, one that parallels our industry’s typical conversation about citations, reviews, markup, and Google My Business. As a 15-year sailor on the Local SEO ship, I love all this stuff, but, like you, I’m experiencing a merging of online goals with offline realities, a heightened awareness of how in-store is where local business successes are born and bred, before they become mirrored on the web.

At Moz, our SaaS tools serve businesses of every kind: Digital, bricks-and-mortar, SABs, enterprises, mid-market agencies, big brands, and bootstrappers. But today, I’m going to go as small and as local as possible, speaking directly to independently-owned local businesses and their marketers about the buy local/shop local/go local movement and what I’ve learned about its potential to deliver meaningful and far-reaching successes. Frankly, I think you’ll be as amazed as I’ve been.

At the very least, I hope reading this article will inspire you to have a conversation with your local business clients about what this growing phenomenon could do for them and for their communities. Successful clients, after all, are the very best kind to have.

What is the Buy Local movement all about?

What’s the big idea?

You’re familiar with the concept of there being power in numbers. A single independent business lacks the resources and clout to determine the local decisions and policies that affect it. Should Walmart or Target be invited to set up shop in town? Should the crumbling building on Main St. be renovated or demolished? Which safety and cultural services should be supported with funding? The family running the small grocery store has little say, but if they join together with the folks running the bakery, the community credit union, the animal shelter, and the bookstore … then they begin to have a stronger voice.

Who does this?

Buy Local programs formalize the process of independently-owned businesses joining together to educate their communities about the considerable benefits to nearly everyone of living in a thriving local economy. These efforts can be initiated by merchants, Chambers of Commerce, grassroots citizen groups, or others. They can be assisted and supported by non-profit organizations like the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

What are the goals?

Through signage, educational events, media promotions, and other forms of marketing, most Buy Local campaigns share some or all of these goals:

  • Increase local wealth that recirculates within the community
  • Preserve local character
  • Build community
  • Create good jobs
  • Have a say in policy-making
  • Decrease environmental impacts
  • Support entrepreneurship
  • Improve diversity/variety
  • Compete with big businesses

Do Buy Local campaigns actually work?

Yes – research indicates that, if managed correctly, these programs yield a variety of benefits to both merchants and residents. Consider these findings:

1) Healthy YOY sales advantages

ILSR conducted a national survey of independent businesses to gauge YOY sales patterns. 2016 respondents reported a good increase in sales across the board, but with a significant difference which AMIBA sums up:

“Businesses in communities with a sustained grassroots “buy independent/buy local” campaign reported a strong 7.4% sales increase, nearly doubling the 4.2% gain for those in areas without such an alliance.”

2) Keeping spending local

The analysts at Civic Economics conducted surveys of 10 cities to gauge the local financial impacts of independents vs. chain retailers, yielding a series of graphics like this one:

While statistics vary from community to community, the overall pattern is one of significantly greater local recirculation of wealth in the independent vs. chain environment. These patterns can be put to good use by Buy Local campaigns with the goal of increasing community-sustaining wealth.

3) Keeping communities employed and safe

Few communities can safely afford the loss of jobs and tax revenue documented in a second Civic Economics study which details the impacts of Americans’ Amazon habit, state by state and across the nation:

While the recent supreme court ruling allowing states to tax e-commerce models could improve some of these dire numbers, towns and cities with Buy Local alliances can speak plainly: Lack of tax revenue that leads to lack of funding for emergency services like fire departments is simply unsafe and unsustainable. A study done a few years back found that ⅔ of volunteer firefighters in the US report that their departments are underfunded with 86% of these heroic workers having to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies to keep their stations going. As I jot these statistics down, there is a runaway 10,000 acre wildfire burning a couple of hours north of me…

Meanwhile, Inc.com is pointing out,

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the end of the Great Recession, small businesses have created 62 percent of all net new private-sector jobs. Among those jobs, 66 percent were created by existing businesses, while 34 percent were generated through new establishments (adjusted for establishment closings and job losses)”.

When communities have Go Local-style business alliances, they are capitalizing on the ability to create jobs, increase sales, and build up tax revenue that could make a serious difference not just to local unemployment rates, but to local safety.

4) Shaping policy

In terms of empowering communities to shape policy, there are many anecdotes to choose from, but one of the most celebrated surrounds a landmark study conducted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance which documented community impacts of spending at the local book and music stores vs. a proposed Borders. Their findings were compelling enough to convince the city not to give a $2.1 million subsidy to the now-defunct corporation.

5) Improving the local environment

A single statistic here is incredibly eye opening. According to the US Department of Transportation, shopping-related driving per household more than tripled between 1969-2009.

All you have to do is picture to yourself the centralized location of mainstreet businesses vs. big boxes on the outskirts of town to imagine how city planning has contributed to this stunning rise in time spent on the road. When residents can walk or bike to make daily purchases, the positive environmental impacts are obvious.

6) Improving residents’ health and well-being

A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 Americans found that nearly half of them always or sometimes feel lonely, lacking in significant face-to-face interactions with others. Why does this matter? Because the American Psychological Association finds that you have a 50% less chance of dying prematurely if you have quality social interactions.

There’s a reason author Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series about life in a small town in North Carolina has been a string of NY Times Best Sellers; readers and reviewers continuously state that they yearn to live someplace like this fictitious community with the slogan “Mitford takes care of its own”. In the novels, the lives of residents, independent merchants, and “outsiders” interweave, in good times and bad, creating a support network many Americans envy.

This societal setup must be a winner, as well as a bestseller, because the Cambridge Journal of Regions published a paper in which they propose that the concentration of small businesses in a given community can be equated with levels of public health.

Beyond the theory that eating fresh and local is good for you, it turns out that knowing your farmer, your banker, your grocer could help you live longer.

7) Realizing big-picture goals

Speaking of memorable stories, this video from ILSR does a good job of detailing one view of the ultimate impacts independent business alliances can have on shaping community futures:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=150&=&v=kDw4dZLSDXg

I interviewed author and AMIBA co-founder, Jeff Milchen, about the good things that can happen when independents join hands. He summed it up,

“The results really speak for themselves when you look at what the impact of public education for local alliances has been in terms of shifting culture. It’s a great investment for independent businesses to partner with other independents, to do things they can’t do individually. Forming these partnerships can help them compete with the online giants.”

Getting going with a Go Local campaign, the right way

If sharing some of the above with clients has made them receptive to further exploration of what involvement in an independent business alliance might do for them, here are the next steps to take:

  1. First, find out if a Go Local/Shop Local/Buy Local/Stay Local campaign already exists in the business’ community. If so, the client can join up.
  2. If not, contact AMIBA. The good folks there will know if other local business owners in the client’s community have already expressed interest in creating an alliance. They can help connect the interested parties up.
  3. I highly, highly recommend reading through Amiba’s nice, free primer covering just about everything you need to know about Go Local campaigns.
  4. Encourage the client to publicize their intent to create an alliance if none exists in their community. Do an op ed in the local print news, put it on social media sites, talk to neighbors. This can prompt outreach from potential allies in the effort.
  5. A given group can determine to go it alone, but it may be better to rely on the past experience of others who have already created successful campaigns. AMIBA offers a variety of paid community training modules, including expert speakers, workshops, and on-site consultations. Each community can write in to request a quote for a training plan that will work best for them. The organization also offers a wealth of free educational materials on their website.
  6. According to AMIBA’s Jeff Milchen, a typical Buy Local campaign takes about 3-4 months to get going.

It’s important to know that Go Local campaigns can fail, due to poor execution. Here is a roundup of practices all alliances should focus on to avoid the most common pitfalls:

  1. Codify the definition of a “local” business as being independently-owned-and-run, or else big chain inclusion will anger some members and cause them to leave.
  2. Emphasize all forms of local patronage; campaigns that stick too closely to words like “buy” or “shop” overlook the small banks, service area businesses, and other models that are an integral part of the independent local economy.
  3. Ensure diversity in leadership; an alliance that fails to reflect the resources of age, race, gender/identity, political views, economics and other factors may wind up perishing from narrow viewpoints. On a related note, AMIBA has been particularly active in advocating for business communities to rid themselves of bigotry. Strong communities welcome everyone.
  4. Do the math of what success looks like; education is a major contributing factor to forging a strong alliance, based on projected numbers of what campaigns can yield in concrete benefits for both merchants and residents.
  5. Differentiate inventory and offerings so that independently-owned businesses offer something of added value which patrons can’t easily replicate online; this could be specialty local products, face-to-face time with expert staff, or other benefits.
  6. Take the high road in inspiring the community to increase local spending; campaigns should not rely on vilifying big and online businesses or asking for patronage out of pity. In other words, guilt-tripping locals because they do some of their shopping at Walmart or Amazon isn’t a good strategy. Even a 10% shift towards local spending can have positive impacts for a community!
  7. Clearly assess community resources; not every town, city, or district hosts the necessary mix of independent businesses to create a strong campaign. For example, approximately 2.2% of the US population live in “food deserts”, many miles from a grocery store. These areas may lack other local businesses, as well, and their communities may need to create grassroots campaigns surrounding neighborhood gardens, mobile markets, private investors and other creative solutions.

In sum, success significantly depends on having clear definitions, clear goals, diverse participants and a proud identity as independents, devoid of shaming tactics.

Circling back to the Web — our native heath!

So, let’s say that your incoming client is now participating in a Buy Local program. Awesome! Now, where do we go from here?

In speaking with Jeff Milchen, I asked what he has seen in terms of digital marketing being used to promote the businesses involved in Buy Local campaigns. He said that, while some alliances have workshops, it’s a work in progress and something he hopes to see grow in the future.

As a Local SEO, that future is now for you and your fortunate clients. Here are some ways I see this working out beautifully:

Basic data distribution and consistency

Small local businesses can sometimes be unaware of inconsistent or absent local business listings, because the owners are just so busy. The quickest way I know to demo this scenario is to plug the company name and zip into the free Moz Check Listing tool to show them how they’re doing on the majors. Correct data errors and fill in the blanks, either manually, or, using affordable software like Moz Local. You’ll also want to be sure the client has a presence on any geo or industry-specific directories and platforms. It’s something your agency can really help with!

A hyperlocalized content powerhouse

Build proud content around the company’s involvement in the Buy Local program.

  • Write about all of the economic, environmental, and societal benefits residents can support by patronizing the business.
  • Motivated independents take time to know their customers. There are stories in this. Write about the customers and their needs. I’ve even seen independent restaurants naming menu items after beloved patrons. Get personal. Build community.
  • Don’t forget that even small towns can be powerful points of interest for tourists. Create a warm welcome for travelers, and for new neighbors, too!

Link building opportunities of a lifetime

Local business alliances form strong B2B bonds.

  • Find relationships with related businesses that can sprout links. For example, the caterer knows the wedding cake baker, who knows the professional seamstress, who knows the minister, who knows the DJ, who knows the florist.
  • Dive deep into opportunities for sponsoring local organizations, teams and events, hosting and participating in workshops and conferences, offering scholarships and special deals.
  • Make fast friends with local media. Be newsworthy.

A wellspring of sentiment

Independents form strong business-to-community bonds.

  • When a business really knows its customers, asking for online reviews is so much easier. In some communities, it may be necessary to teach customers how to leave reviews, but once you get a strategy going for this, the rest is gravy.
  • It’s also a natural fit for asking for written and video testimonials to be published on the company website.
  • Don’t forget the power of Word of Mouth Marketing, while you’re at it. Loyal patrons are an incredible asset.
  • The one drawback could be if your business model is one of a sensitive nature. Tight-knit communities can be ones in which residents may be more desirous of protecting their privacy.

Digitize inventory easily

30% of consumers say they’d buy from a local store instead of online if they knew the store was nearby (Google). Over half of consumers prefer to shop in-store to interact with products (Local Search Association). Over 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition (Bright Local).

It all adds up to the need for highly-authentic independently-owned businesses to have an online presence that signals to Internet users that they stock desired products. For many small, local brands, going full e-commerce on their website is simply too big of an implementation and management task. It’s a problem that’s dogged this particular business sector for years. And it’s why I got excited when the folks at AMIBA told me to check out Pointy.

Pointy offers a physical device that small business owners can attach to their barcode scanner to have their products ported to a Pointy-controlled webpage. But, that’s not all. Pointy integrates with the “See What’s In Store” inventory function of Google My Business Knowledge Panels. Check out Talbot’s Toyland in San Mateo, CA for a live example.

Pointy is a startup, but one that is exciting enough to have received angel investing from the founder of WordPress and the co-founder of Google Maps. Looks like a real winner to me, and it could provide a genuine answer for brick-and-mortar independents who have found their sales staggering in the wake of Amazon and other big digital brands.

Local SEOs have an important part to play

Satisfaction in work is a thing to be cherished. If the independent business movement speaks to you, bringing your local search marketing skills to these alliances and small brands could make more of your work days really good days.

The scenario could be an especially good fit for agencies that have specialized in city or state marketing. For example, one of our Moz Community members confines his projects to South Carolina. Imagine him taking it on the road a bit, hosting and attending workshops for towns across the state that are ready to revitalize main street. An energetic client roster could certainly result if someone like him could show local banks, grocery stores, retail shops and restaurants how to use the power of the local web!

Reading America

Our industry is living and working in complex times.

The bad news is, a current Bush-Biden poll finds that 8/10 US residents are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the state of democracy in our nation.

The not-so-bad news is that citizen ingenuity for discovering solutions and opportunities is still going strong. We need only look as far as the runaway success of the TV show “Fixer Upper”, which drew 5.21 million viewers in its fourth season as the second-largest telecast of Q2 of that year. The show surrounded the revitalization of dilapidated homes and businesses in and around Waco, Texas, and has turned the entire town into a major tourist destination, pulling in millions of annual visitors and landing book deals, a magazine, and the Magnolia Home furnishing line for its entrepreneurial hosts.

While not every town can (or would want to) experience what is being called the “Magnolia effect”, channels like HGTV and the DIY network are heavily capitalizing on the rebirth of American communities, and private citizens are taking matters into their own hands.

There’s the family who moved from Washington D.C. to Water Valley, Mississippi, bought part of the decaying main street and began to refurbish it. I found the video story of this completely riveting, and look at the Yelp reviews of the amazing grocery store and lunch counter these folks are operating now. The market carries local products, including hoop cheese and milk from the first dairy anyone had opened in 50 years in the state.

There are the half-dozen millennials who are helping turn New Providence, Iowa into a place young families can live and work again. There’s Corning, NY, Greensburg, KS, Colorado Springs, CO, and so many more places where people are eagerly looking to strengthen community sufficiency and sustainability.

Some marketing firms are visionary forerunners in this phenomenon, like Deluxe, which has sponsored the Small Business Revolution show, doing mainstreet makeovers that are bringing towns back to life. There could be a place out there somewhere on the map of the country, just waiting for your agency to fill it.

The best news is that change is possible. A recent study in Science magazine states that the tipping point for a minority group to change a majority viewpoint is 25% of the population. This is welcome news at a time when 80% of citizens are feeling doubtful about the state of our democracy. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States – an astonishing potential educational force – if communities can be taught what a vote with their dollar can do in terms of giving them a voice. As Jeff Milchen told me:

One of the most inspiring things is when we see local organizations helping residents to be more engaged in the future of their community. Most communities feel somewhat powerless. When you see towns realize they have the ability to shift public policy to support their own community, that’s empowering.”

Sometimes, the extremes of our industry can make our society and our democracy hard to read. On the one hand, the largest brands developing AI, checkout-less shopping, driverless cars, same-day delivery via robotics, and the gig economy win applause at conferences.

On the other hand, the public is increasingly hearing the stories of employees at these same companies who are protesting Microsoft developing face recognition for ICE, Google’s development of AI drone footage analysis for the Pentagon, working conditions at Amazon warehouses that allegedly preclude bathroom breaks and have put people in the hospital, and the various outcomes of the “Walmart Effect”.

The Buy Local movement is poised in time at this interesting moment, in which our democracy gets to choose. Gigs or unions? Know your robot or know your farmer? Convenience or compassion? Is it either/or? Can it be both?

Both big and small brands have a major role to play in answering these timely questions and shaping the ethics of our economy. Big brands, after all, have tremendous resources for raising the bar for ethical business practices. Your agency likely wants to serve both types of clients, but it’s all to the good if all business sectors remember that the real choosers are the “consumers”, the everyday folks voting with their dollars.

I know that it can be hard to find good news sometimes. But I’m hoping what you’ve read today gifts you with a feeling of optimism that you can take to the office, take to your independently-owned local business clients, and maybe even help take to their communities. Spark a conversation today and you may stumble upon a meaningful competitive advantage for your agency and its most local customers.

Every year, local SEOs are delving deeper and deeper into the offline realities of the brands they serve, large and small. We’re learning so much, together. It’s sometimes a heartbreaker, but always an honor, being part of this local journey.

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How to Get New Clients at Every Stage of Your Business

Posted by dohertyjf

I remember when I first went out on my own to build my business. Because I planned to bootstrap the product into existence, I needed to pick up some consulting work to cover my own bills before I felt comfortable taking time to build my product.

I had a sizable group of peers that I contacted to let them know that I was no longer with my last company and was looking to bring on a few new clients. Within a week, I had to stop taking introductions because I was so busy! If you’re a brand-new freelance consultant, this post has some goodies for you.

I have other friends who are purposefully freelance consultants with no current plans to scale beyond it. In fact, they’ve resisted these opportunities because they enjoy what they’re doing so much, and are able to charge a premium for it. This post will help you out.

Some of my friends are at a different stage. They’ve worked for themselves for 3–4 years or longer now and are growing an agency beyond themselves and their own skillset. Along the way, of course, they’re figuring out the challenges of growing headcount and types/sizes of clients while they themselves learn to level up as a CEO, as a manager, and as a sales executive, since agency founders are often the salespeople for the first few years of their company’s existence. The client acquisition strategies change. This post is also for you.

And finally, agencies often decide that they are ready to expand beyond their main core offering and offer tangential services that they are either being asked for actively or where they perceive an opportunity exists. Since they already have a functional and maybe even (wildly) profitable services business, how can they justify taking time away from that to build out a new service offering? The mindset and strategies change once again. We’ll get into some of those.

Building a service-based business is hard

Over the last two years, I’ve worked with over 150 agencies and have seen over 800 businesses (it’s probably closer to 1,000 at this point) looking to hire an agency or consultant. I’ve also worked in-house, as a solo consultant, and for a quickly growing boutique digital agency.

After the experiences I’ve had seeing everyone — from new scared-out-of-their-wits solo consultants all the way to long-established agencies looking to grow their practice — I decided to take a step back and reflect on the strategies I’ve seen both work and not work for consulting entities at different stages of growth.

That’s what we’ll cover today. If you’re a new consultant, an agency looking to level up the size of your accounts, or an agency looking to move into new service offerings, you’ll find something in this post for you.

Along the way, you’ll hear from consultants and agency owners at different stages of their business and what they did to get to where they are currently. After all, war stories are way more fun than “here are x steps you can follow to also be amazing” anecdotes.


New consultants

Tell me if you’ve seen this happen before: a friend is tired of their job, gets laid off, or otherwise finds themselves unemployed. They decide that they’re going to give freelance consulting a go.

Three months later, they’ve taken a new job at a new agency and are repeating the cycle they went through before.

Sound familiar? If you’re in the digital marketing consulting world, you likely know at least a few, if not closer to a dozen people where this has held true.

I’m not going to say that everyone goes back to traditional employment because they’re having a difficult time getting new clients, but this is far and away the largest reason I see. They get a few months in, they have too few clients paying them too little, and so they panic and go take a job doing what is comfortable. They’ll repeat the cycle in a few years again.

I get it. The beginning of working for yourself can be terrifying. I’ve been there. Saw a therapist, got the t-shirt, am I right?

What if I told you that you could avoid this if you really want to? That you could use some proven techniques to get new clients that pay you what you’re worth?

Overcoming common “new consultant” fears with strategic thinking

You’ll hear entrepreneurs who have built and sold their companies (sometimes multiple times) tell you to take a “burn the ships” approach, where you set off and don’t give yourself a time limit or an out if you can’t make it work.

The problem with this is that it’s a fallacy brought about by survivorship bias — defined as “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” Often these entrepreneurs look back and talk about how they could have done it, or how they did it for their second or third business once they’d already made quite a bit of money.

Quite simply, if you want to set yourself up for success, you should already have replaced (or have a clear path to replacing) your income from your day job before you even go out on your own.

You can do this by picking up freelance work on the side from your day job. Get one or two clients that pay you every month and learn how to manage those. Learn what it takes to retain these clients and even grow the accounts.

Next, figure out the minimum amount of money you need to make every month while only working the number of hours you want to work before you take the leap. If you have two clients, you can probably get two more pretty easily. If you spend 10 hours a week on these two clients and only want to bill 30 hours per week (which is actually quite a lot), then you know you can bring on four more clients at the same level (and fewer clients if they pay you more) and have the lifestyle and income you want.

It’s simple math.

The “new consultant” sales mindset

Clients come to solo consultants instead of agencies for a very specific reason. They want direct access to your specific brain and to be able to speak with the person actually doing the work. In fact, I’ve seen many companies come through Credo who need multiple services (not just strategy) across organic and paid, but they don’t want an account manager setup like they’ve had before with an agency.

This, plus your experience, is your competitive moat. During the initial discovery call with every potential client, don’t forget that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You need to learn:

  • What they are specifically looking to accomplish through retaining someone’s services;
  • What their expectations are for how quickly they will see this;
  • If they have resources to get done what you recommend, or if you have time to implement what they need;
  • Whether they’re willing to pay you what you are worth.

Assuming all of these check out, then in my opinion, you’re good to move forward with the proposal process.

A quick word on pricing

If you’ve never worked for an agency before, you should ask agency friends or other freelance friends what they charge per hour, then use that as a benchmark. If you want to raise your rates, then do it slowly with new clients until you hit a ceiling. Now you know your price ceiling for the current services (whether strategy, implementation, or both) you offer.

New client acquisition channels

Now that we have the common fears identified and you’re armed with a better sales mindset, let’s explore the strategies you should leverage first to build your consulting practice to a base where it sustains your lifestyle and you’re able to remove the stress of starting from the equation and eventually think about growth.

The strategies I always counsel brand new solo consultants to use are:

  • Referrals – Ask your circle of professional peers if they know anyone looking for what you have to offer;
  • Referrals – Ask your friends and family if they know anyone that might need what you’re offering;
  • Agency white label – Approach agencies in your area to see if they need help on a contract basis with their clients;
  • Teaching – This is a longer-term play, but a great way to get clients in the long run is to teach others how to do what you do. I’ve seen it hold true that if you teach people how to do what you do, they’ll want to hire you to do it for them.

These are the easiest and most direct ways to get introductions to potential clients who are highly likely to close into clients.

Long-term this does not scale, but it can get you to the point of covering your expenses, allowing you to breathe a little bit and invest for the future. And if you’re smart about it and haven’t signed yourself up for 60+ hours per week of billed work, you can have a great life balance.

To give some real-world examples, I reached out to two of my friends who became solo consultants in 2013/2014.

First is Tom Critchlow, who went solo in late 2014 after two years at Google New York. When asked how he got his first consulting clients, Tom said that his first leads came from direct referrals from a friend:

“Since that first lead I’ve gotten about 80% of my clients through referrals from my direct network,” he shared. “I’d definitely emphasize the importance of a strong network and ensuring that you’re communicating with your network often to keep them up-to-date with what work you’re doing.”

Next I chatted with Michael King, who has since built his agency iPullRank into an industry powerhouse, and asked him how he got his first clients when he left the NYC agencies he worked for. To get his first, he shared that thought leadership played a huge role:

“My first two clients came through two different methods of thought leadership. One came via a post I’d written for Moz about content strategy, and the other came from a panel I spoke on. Overnight, I went from 0 to 10.5K MRR.”


Solo consultants happy staying solo

If this is you, then congratulations. In my mind, you’re finding nirvana in a lot of ways.

Solo consultants with more years of direct consulting experience are able to charge good hourly rates and monthly minimums from clients, according to my data.

solo consultant pricing.png

Once a consultant has survived the initial push to get new clients, the journey is far from over. In fact, many solo consultants have come up against this and gone through droughts where they were between projects.

This brings up the question: How can solo consultants, who can only realistically bring on a limited number of clients before they become too numerous, keep a strong potential client pipeline?

Define your niche and build processes

The answer is usually to tightly define your niche and then, depending on your niche, to build processes to deliver high quality work.

High-touch strategic consulting does not scale. It also does not have to scale if you charge a high hourly rate ($300/hr for strategic consulting that drives large revenue increases is not crazy, and may even be too low), in which case you can work with just a few clients and still create a great income for yourself.

When you’ve defined your niche, whether affiliate marketing driven by content or local SEO for realtors, then you put together the strategy to reach them.

This should go without saying, but if you’re asking how to define your niche, then you aren’t ready to be a highly paid solo consultant yet. Hone your craft and discover who you love to do work for, then go serve those customers on your own.

Once your niche is defined, you can focus on that group.

Targeting your ideal audience

As mentioned above, the toughest part of being and staying a solo consultant is managing your workload and saying “no” or “not yet” to potential clients, while at the same time protecting your downside should a client decide to stop your services for any reason, whether your fault or because of internal actions.

The best solo consultants that I know, who also have a strong pipeline of potential clients, have built this through:

  1. Content. They produce content related to their target market’s problems and thus become a thought leader in that niche. This will often lead to recurring columns in industry publications.
  2. A strong referral network. They know the who’s who of their niche and are their go-to when someone needs the consultant’s specific skillset.
  3. Speaking. Getting a one-off or set of speaking engagements in front of your target audience often directly drives potential clients and cements you as an expert in their minds.

The goal is to build your own name as an expert so that you consistently have potential customers approaching you to see if you can work with them, while also knowing your limits and when you may next have available time.

The goal isn’t to magically be able to get new inquiries when you need them (though this may happen if you’ve built this system), but to be able to go back to a group of people who have already inquired about your services and tell them that you have some availability. A pro move is also to ask if they know anyone who may need your services, as well.

Creating processes

Not every consultant desires working with large clients who each pay the equivalent of a full-time salary. Some consultants prefer working with smaller clients, mostly small or local businesses, because of the unique challenges that these clients face.

In this case, the challenge is to work out how you scale quantity without sacrificing quality or client retention. There are many ways to do this:

  • Find an agency or group of consultants you trust that you can outsource certain parts of the project to;
  • Leverage technologies like HubSpot, Moz, or others that allow you to automate a lot of the work;
  • Use tools like HubSpot, Calendly, UberConference, or others to help scale scheduling and admin parts of the business;
  • Use virtual assistants, bookkeeping services like Bench, and payroll services like Gusto to alleviate a lot of the business operations so you have more time to work for clients.

As Francois Marcil of Ehook.co shared:

When you have over 10 clients, the time spent attending meetings is the biggest obstacle to serving all your clients well. For this reason, I reserve 2 days of the week for meetings and 3 days for work. The rule is strict, and I inform my clients from the start.”

When a solo consultant sets up these processes, it not only makes their life a lot easier and their clients happier (which leads to better retention, which leads to a healthier business), but it also sets them up for success should they decide later that they want to start an agency. In this case, their processes of both acquiring and managing new clients will let them generate the cash flow needed to make the leap to employing someone full time.


Agencies leveling up

Some business owners don’t feel the need to constantly push and grow their business. They’re bootstrapped, their business affords them and their employees a great lifestyle, and they have no desire to take on more responsibility with their business. If this is you, then I’m a bit envious and encourage you to enjoy it.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re never happy with maintaining. You always want to be growing, to be learning, to push yourself and your business to see what it’s capable of. If you’re on this course, then keep reading.

Your strategies have to change a bit when you go from being a solo consultant to growing your agency. A lot of your processes are going to break or need tweaking as you grow the number of people working on accounts. Your challenge now becomes managing the growth of your headcount while maintaining quality and bringing in great new clients at the same time.

This is likely way too much for one person to handle, so at some point you’ll be forced to decide what you are great at (and love doing) that is also instrumental to the business’s success. Then hire out for the rest.

Let’s focus on the sales part, of course.

At the beginning of your journey as a brand-new consultant, you were likely heavily dependent on one-off referrals from family and friends. But referrals don’t really scale.

As you’re looking to grow your business quickly, your channels have likely shifted to:

  • Speaking. If you have a dynamic founder who is a keynote-level (or heading in that direction) speaker, this can be great lead generation;
  • Strategic partnerships with investors or other agencies;
  • Your own search traffic and thought leadership on your own website;
  • Your own advertising of your services online.

You’re facing the unique challenge of increasing the quantity of potential clients contacting you while not sacrificing quality. While difficult, this is absolutely possible. You can grow your revenue by:

  1. Targeting new clients who have similar traits to your existing ideal clients;
  2. Growing accounts by upselling your existing clients to other services you offer that they need;
  3. Defining a specific niche or type of company where you get outsized returns, and then target them specifically through content, speaking, education, or both.

Sales changes as you grow. You’re looking for long-term sustainable clients as it is four to ten times cheaper to retain and grow your current clients than to get new clients (source). If you’re investing in landing new clients, you should not also have to worry about retaining your current clients. If you are, then you are simply refilling a leaky bucket and you will not grow.

Michael King of iPullRank is no stranger to the challenges that agency founders face as they grow, but he’s successfully transitioned from solo consultant to now managing seven figures in agency income. So what does he do differently?

“The difference is really that it’s far more dire,” he shared. “The maintenance of payroll becomes the battery in your back to have to just figure it out. Whereas when you’re by yourself and you have a low month or you lose a client, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Johnathan Dane of KlientBoost credits lessons he’s learned about sales along the way in growing KlientBoost from himself to $4M in revenue in just a few years:

“We’ve been very fortunate to have 99% of our sales come from our content, and when that happens, our sales cycle is drastically reduced because the potential client already likes us and has found value from what we’ve given them,” he said. “So even 2.5 years in, I still handle the inbound sales — which I know isn’t scalable — but you gotta allow yourself to still have some fun.”

I should also note that at this point, you should have someone dedicated to sales and onboarding new clients full-time. This can be filled by the founder if the founder is stellar at sales, but most often I see this role being given to a dedicated sales executive who hopefully also has marketing experience, or has proven their aptitude for learning and applying it so they sell the right work.


Agencies moving into new service offerings

At some point, you may max out your growth in your current niche and with your current offerings. At the same time, you want to continue growing but don’t have the option of increasing client budgets. Or, maybe a new platform emerges (think: Snapchat) that has the opportunity to be big and you want to be an early mover in helping your clients get exposure.

But moving into new niches is hard when you’ve established yourself in another service offering and that’s how you’re known. Every agency has a primary service offering, so how do you move into new niches?

There are two main ways:

  1. Think of this new service offering as a startup in and of itself. It is responsible for its own profit and loss (P&L), as well as landing its own new clients;
  2. Upsell your current clients into this new offering as well.

This is hard. Brandon Doyle of Wallaroo Media, who went from being a generic SEO agency to leading the way in travel marketing and Snapchat from their offices in Provo, Utah, knows this firsthand:

With a background in SEO, we strongly believed in its ability as a channel,” he shared. “We utilized SEO and evergreen content to carve out a name for ourselves both in the travel space, and more recently as a leader in Snapchat-related content, strategies, and news. The latter paid off, as we were just recently named an official Snapchat Agency Partner!”

Will Critchlow, CEO of digital marketing agency Distilled (full disclosure: I used to work for Distilled), also knows a thing or two about moving into an adjacent vertical. The agency recently become recognized for not only SEO, but creative content and outreach services, too:

“All our moves have come from the passion of the team,” shared Will. “Team members saw an opportunity, started doing part of the solution, and pitched the rest.”

Finally, your marketing will change as you seek traction in this new vertical. The topics you write about, the people you reference, the outreach you do, and the places you choose to interact will necessarily change.

This is specifically why I recommend tasking someone specifically with building out this new area. At Wallaroo, this was Brandon. At Distilled, this was Mark Johnstone who was previously an SEO consultant who had an interest in big creative content and Tom Anthony with an interest in technical A/B testing for SEO.


Conclusion

Consistently generating new potential projects at every cycle of your business’s growth is the best skill you can learn as a services business owner.

Leave a comment about the channels you’ve found to be the most effective!

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Reblogged 9 months ago from moz.com

Darryl, the man behind dotmailer’s Custom Technical Solutions team

Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

I first got to know dotmailer when the company was just a bunch of young enthusiastic web developers called Ellipsis Media back in 1999. I was introduced by one of my suppliers and we decided to bring them on board to build a recruitment website for one of our clients. That client was Amnesty International and the job role was Secretary General. Not bad for a Croydon company whose biggest client before that was Scobles the plumber’s merchants. So, I was probably dotmailer’s first ever corporate client! After that, I used dotmailer at each company I worked for and then one day they approached a colleague and me and asked us if we wanted to work for them. That was 2013.  We grabbed the opportunity with both hands and haven’t looked back since.

Tell us a bit about your role

I’m the Global Head of Technical Solutions which actually gives me responsibility for 2 teams. First, Custom Technical Solutions (CTS), who build bespoke applications and tools for customers that allow them to integrate more closely with dotmailer and make life easier. Second, Technical Pre-sales, which spans our 3 territories (EMEA, US and APAC) and works with prospective and existing clients to figure out the best solution and fit within dotmailer.

What accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I would say so far it has to be helping to turn the CTS team from just 2 people into a group of 7 highly skilled and dedicated men and women who have become an intrinsic and valued part of the dotmailer organization. Also I really enjoy being part of the Senior Technical Management team. Here we have the ability to influence the direction and structure of the platform on a daily basis.

Meet Darryl Clark – the cheese and peanut butter sandwich lover

Can you speak a bit about your background and that of your team? What experience and expertise is required to join this team?

My background is quite diverse from a stint in the Army, through design college, web development, business analysis to heading up my current teams. I would say the most valuable skill that I have is being highly analytical. I love nothing more than listening to a client’s requirements and digging deep to work out how we can answer these if not exceed them.

As a team, we love nothing more than brainstorming our ideas. Every member has a valid input and we listen. Everyone has the opportunity to influence what we do and our motto is “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”

To work in my teams you have to be analytical but open minded to the fact that other people may have a better answer than you. Embrace other people’s input and use it to give our clients the best possible solution. We are hugely detail conscious, but have to be acutely aware that we need to tailor what we say to our audience so being able to talk to anyone at any level is hugely valuable.

How much of the dotmailer platform is easily customizable and when does it cross over into something that requires your team’s expertise? How much time is spent on these custom solutions one-time or ongoing?

I’ll let you in on a little secret here. We don’t actually do anything that our customers can’t do with dotmailer given the right knowledge and resources. This is because we build all of our solutions using the dotmailer public API. The API has hundreds of methods in both SOAP and REST versions, which allows you to do a huge amount with the dotmailer platform. We do have a vast amount of experience and knowledge in the team so we may well be able to build a solution quicker than our customers. We are more than happy to help them and their development teams build a solution using us on a consultancy basis to lessen the steepness of the learning curve.

Our aim when building a solution for a customer is that it runs silently in the background and does what it should without any fuss.

What are your plans for the Custom Tech Solutions team going forward?

The great thing about Custom Technical Solutions is you never know what is around the corner as our customers have very diverse needs. What we are concentrating on at the moment is refining our processes to ensure that they are as streamlined as possible and allow us to give as much information to the customer as we can. We are also always looking at the technology and coding approaches that we use to make sure that we build the most innovative and robust solutions.

We are also looking at our external marketing and sharing our knowledge through blogs so keep an eye on the website for our insights.

What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

Most questions seem to revolve around reassurance such as “Have you done this before?”, “How safe is my data?”, “What about security?”, “Can you talk to my developers?”, “Do I need to do anything?”.  In most instances, we are the ones asking the questions as we need to find out information as soon as possible so that we can analyse it to ensure that we have the right detail to provide the right solution.

Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

We talk a lot about working with best of breed so for example a customer can use our Channel Extensions in automation programs to fire out an SMS to a contact using their existing provider. We don’t force customers down one route, we like to let them decide for themselves.

Also, I really like to emphasize the fact that there is always more than one way to do something within the dotmailer platform. This means we can usually find a way to do something that works for a client within the platform. If not, then we call in CTS to work out if there is a way that we can build something that will — whether this is automating uploads for a small client or mass sending from thousands of child accounts for an enterprise level one.

What do you see as the future of marketing automation technology?  Will one size ever fit all? Or more customization going forward?

The 64 million dollar question. One size will never fit all. Companies and their systems are too organic for that. There isn’t one car that suits every driver or one racquet that suits every sport. Working with a top drawer partner network and building our system to be as open as possible from an integration perspective means that our customers can make dotmailer mold to their business and not the other way round…and adding to that the fact that we are building lots of features in the platform that will blow your socks off.

Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m a dyed in the wool Gooner (aka Arsenal Football Club fan) thanks to my Grandfather leading me down the right path as a child. If you are still reading this after that bombshell, then food-wise I pretty much like everything apart from coriander which as far as I’m concerned is the Devils own spawn. I don’t really have a favorite band, but am partial to a bit of Level 42 and Kings of Leon and you will also find me listening to 90s drum and bass and proper old school hip hop. My favorite holiday destination is any decent villa that I can relax in and spend time with my family and I went to Paris recently and loved that. Guilty pleasure – well that probably has to be confessing to liking Coldplay or the fact that my favorite sandwich is peanut butter, cheese and salad cream. Go on try it, you’ll love it.

Want to meet more of the dotmailer team? Say hi to Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support, and Dan Morris, EVP for North America.

Reblogged 2 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Meet Dan Morris, Executive Vice President, North America

  1. Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

The top three reasons were People, Product and Opportunity. I met the people who make up our business and heard their stories from the past 18 years, learned about the platform and market leading status they had built in the UK, and saw that I could add value with my U.S. high growth business experience. I’ve been working with marketers, entrepreneurs and business owners for years across a series of different roles, and saw that I could apply what I’d learned from that and the start-up space to dotmailer’s U.S. operation. dotmailer has had clients in the U.S. for 12 years and we’re positioned to grow the user base of our powerful and easy-to-use platform significantly. I knew I could make a difference here, and what closed the deal for me was the people.  Every single person I’ve met is deeply committed to the business, to the success of our customers and to making our solution simple and efficient.  We’re a great group of passionate people and I’m proud to have joined the dotfamily.

Dan Morris, dotmailer’s EVP for North America in the new NYC office

      1. Tell us a bit about your new role

dotmailer has been in business and in this space for more than 18 years. We were a web agency, then a Systems Integrator, and we got into the email business that way, ultimately building the dotmailer platform thousands of people use daily. This means we know this space better than anyone and we have the perfect solutions to align closely with our customers and the solutions flexible enough to grow with them.  My role is to take all that experience and the platform and grow our U.S. presence. My early focus has been on identifying the right team to execute our growth plans. We want to be the market leader in the U.S. in the next three years – just like we’ve done in the UK –  so getting the right people in the right spots was critical.  We quickly assessed the skills of the U.S. team and made changes that were necessary in order to provide the right focus on customer success. Next, we set out to completely rebuild dotmailer’s commercial approach in the U.S.  We simplified our offers to three bundles, so that pricing and what’s included in those bundles is transparent to our customers.  We’ve heard great things about this already from clients and partners. We’re also increasing our resources on customer success and support.  We’re intensely focused on ease of on-boarding, ease of use and speed of use.  We consistently hear how easy and smooth a process it is to use dotmailer’s tools.  That’s key for us – when you buy a dotmailer solution, we want to onboard you quickly and make sure you have all of your questions answered right away so that you can move right into using it.  Customers are raving about this, so we know it’s working well.

  1. What early accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I’ve been at dotmailer for eight months now and I’m really proud of all we’ve accomplished together.  We spent a lot of time assessing where we needed to restructure and where we needed to invest.  We made the changes we needed, invested in our partner program, localized tech support, customer on-boarding and added customer success team members.  We have the right people in the right roles and it’s making a difference.  We have a commercial approach that is clear with the complete transparency that we wanted to provide our customers.  We’ve got a more customer-focused approach and we’re on-boarding customers quickly so they’re up and running faster.  We have happier customers than ever before and that’s the key to everything we do.

  1. You’ve moved the U.S. team to a new office. Can you tell us why and a bit about the new space?

I thought it was very important to create a NY office space that was tied to branding and other offices around the world, and also had its own NY energy and culture for our team here – to foster collaboration and to have some fun.  It was also important for us that we had a flexible space where we could welcome customers, partners and resellers, and also hold classes and dotUniversity training sessions. I’m really grateful to the team who worked on the space because it really reflects our team and what we care about.   At any given time, you’ll see a training session happening, the team collaborating, a customer dropping in to ask a few questions or a partner dropping in to work from here.  We love our new, NYC space.

We had a spectacular reception this week to celebrate the opening of this office with customers, partners and the dotmailer leadership team in attendance. Please take a look at the photos from our event on Facebook.

Guests and the team at dotmailer's new NYC office warming party

Guests and the team at dotmailer’s new NYC office warming party

  1. What did you learn from your days in the start-up space that you’re applying at dotmailer?

The start-up space is a great place to learn. You have to know where every dollar is going and coming from, so every choice you make needs to be backed up with a business case for that investment.  You try lots of different things to see if they’ll work and you’re ready to turn those tactics up or down quickly based on an assessment of the results. You also learn things don’t have to stay the way they are, and can change if you make them change. You always listen and learn – to customers, partners, industry veterans, advisors, etc. to better understand what’s working and not working.  dotmailer has been in business for 18 years now, and so there are so many great contributors across the business who know how things have worked and yet are always keen to keep improving.  I am constantly in listening and learning mode so that I can understand all of the unique perspectives our team brings and what we need to act on.

  1. What are your plans for the U.S. and the sales function there?

On our path to being the market leader in the U.S., I’m focused on three things going forward: 1 – I want our customers to be truly happy.  It’s already a big focus in the dotmailer organization – and we’re working hard to understand their challenges and goals so we can take product and service to the next level. 2 – Creating an even more robust program around partners, resellers and further building out our channel partners to continuously improve sales and customer service programs. We recently launched a certification program to ensure partners have all the training and resources they need to support our mutual customers.  3 – We have an aggressive growth plan for the U.S. and I’m very focused on making sure our team is well trained, and that we remain thoughtful and measured as we take the steps to grow.  We want to always keep an eye on what we’re known for – tools that are powerful and simple to use – and make sure everything else we offer remains accessible and valuable as we execute our growth plans.

  1. What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

The questions we usually get are around price, service level and flexibility.  How much does dotmailer cost?  How well are you going to look after my business?  How will you integrate into my existing stack and then my plans for future growth? We now have three transparent bundle options with specifics around what’s included published right on our website.  We have introduced a customer success team that’s focused only on taking great care of our customers and we’re hearing stories every day that tells me this is working.  And we have all of the tools to support our customers as they grow and to also integrate into their existing stacks – often integrating so well that you can use dotmailer from within Magento, Salesforce or Dynamics, for example.

  1. Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

In addition to the ones above – ease of use, speed of use and the ability to scale with you. With dotmailer’s tiered program, you can start with a lighter level of functionality and grow into more advanced functionality as you need it. The platform itself is so easy to use that most marketers are able to build campaigns in minutes that would have taken hours on other platforms. Our customer success team is also with you all the way if ever you want or need help.  We’ve built a very powerful platform and we have a fantastic team to help you with personalized service as an extended part of your team and we’re ready to grow with you.

  1. How much time is your team on the road vs. in the office? Any road warrior tips to share?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, one year I attended 22 tradeshows! Top tip when flying is to be willing to give up your seat for families or groups once you’re at the airport gate, as you’ll often be rewarded with a better seat for helping the airline make the family or group happy. Win win! Since joining dotmailer, I’m focused on being in office and present for the team and customers as much as possible. I can usually be found in our new, NYC office where I spend a lot of time with our team, in customer meetings, in trainings and other hosted events, sales conversations or marketing meetings. I’m here to help the team, clients and partners to succeed, and will always do my best to say yes! Once our prospective customers see how quickly and efficiently they can execute tasks with dotmailer solutions vs. their existing solutions, it’s a no-brainer for them.  I love seeing and hearing their reactions.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m originally from Yorkshire in England, and grew up just outside York. I moved to the U.S. about seven years ago to join a very fast growing startup, we took it from 5 to well over 300 people which was a fantastic experience. I moved to NYC almost two years ago, and I love exploring this great city.  There’s so much to see and do.  Outside of dotmailer, my passion is cars, and I also enjoy skeet shooting, almost all types of music, and I love to travel – my goal is to get to India, Thailand, Australia and Japan in the near future.

Want to find out more about the dotfamily? Check out our recent post about Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support.

Reblogged 2 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Setting Local SEO Expectations: 3 Points To Hit Early And Often

When it comes to providing SEO for local businesses, it’s crucial to set realistic expectations. Columnist Jenny Foster discusses three points she likes to drive home with clients to ensure a strong relationship and a smooth campaign.

The post Setting Local SEO Expectations: 3 Points To Hit Early…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 2 years ago from feeds.searchengineland.com

Why Effective, Modern SEO Requires Technical, Creative, and Strategic Thinking – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

There’s no doubt that quite a bit has changed about SEO, and that the field is far more integrated with other aspects of online marketing than it once was. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand pushes back against the idea that effective modern SEO doesn’t require any technical expertise, outlining a fantastic list of technical elements that today’s SEOs need to know about in order to be truly effective.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to do something unusual. I don’t usually point out these inconsistencies or sort of take issue with other folks’ content on the web, because I generally find that that’s not all that valuable and useful. But I’m going to make an exception here.

There is an article by Jayson DeMers, who I think might actually be here in Seattle — maybe he and I can hang out at some point — called “Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise.” It was an article that got a shocking amount of traction and attention. On Facebook, it has thousands of shares. On LinkedIn, it did really well. On Twitter, it got a bunch of attention.

Some folks in the SEO world have already pointed out some issues around this. But because of the increasing popularity of this article, and because I think there’s, like, this hopefulness from worlds outside of kind of the hardcore SEO world that are looking to this piece and going, “Look, this is great. We don’t have to be technical. We don’t have to worry about technical things in order to do SEO.”

Look, I completely get the appeal of that. I did want to point out some of the reasons why this is not so accurate. At the same time, I don’t want to rain on Jayson, because I think that it’s very possible he’s writing an article for Entrepreneur, maybe he has sort of a commitment to them. Maybe he had no idea that this article was going to spark so much attention and investment. He does make some good points. I think it’s just really the title and then some of the messages inside there that I take strong issue with, and so I wanted to bring those up.

First off, some of the good points he did bring up.

One, he wisely says, “You don’t need to know how to code or to write and read algorithms in order to do SEO.” I totally agree with that. If today you’re looking at SEO and you’re thinking, “Well, am I going to get more into this subject? Am I going to try investing in SEO? But I don’t even know HTML and CSS yet.”

Those are good skills to have, and they will help you in SEO, but you don’t need them. Jayson’s totally right. You don’t have to have them, and you can learn and pick up some of these things, and do searches, watch some Whiteboard Fridays, check out some guides, and pick up a lot of that stuff later on as you need it in your career. SEO doesn’t have that hard requirement.

And secondly, he makes an intelligent point that we’ve made many times here at Moz, which is that, broadly speaking, a better user experience is well correlated with better rankings.

You make a great website that delivers great user experience, that provides the answers to searchers’ questions and gives them extraordinarily good content, way better than what’s out there already in the search results, generally speaking you’re going to see happy searchers, and that’s going to lead to higher rankings.

But not entirely. There are a lot of other elements that go in here. So I’ll bring up some frustrating points around the piece as well.

First off, there’s no acknowledgment — and I find this a little disturbing — that the ability to read and write code, or even HTML and CSS, which I think are the basic place to start, is helpful or can take your SEO efforts to the next level. I think both of those things are true.

So being able to look at a web page, view source on it, or pull up Firebug in Firefox or something and diagnose what’s going on and then go, “Oh, that’s why Google is not able to see this content. That’s why we’re not ranking for this keyword or term, or why even when I enter this exact sentence in quotes into Google, which is on our page, this is why it’s not bringing it up. It’s because it’s loading it after the page from a remote file that Google can’t access.” These are technical things, and being able to see how that code is built, how it’s structured, and what’s going on there, very, very helpful.

Some coding knowledge also can take your SEO efforts even further. I mean, so many times, SEOs are stymied by the conversations that we have with our programmers and our developers and the technical staff on our teams. When we can have those conversations intelligently, because at least we understand the principles of how an if-then statement works, or what software engineering best practices are being used, or they can upload something into a GitHub repository, and we can take a look at it there, that kind of stuff is really helpful.

Secondly, I don’t like that the article overly reduces all of this information that we have about what we’ve learned about Google. So he mentions two sources. One is things that Google tells us, and others are SEO experiments. I think both of those are true. Although I’d add that there’s sort of a sixth sense of knowledge that we gain over time from looking at many, many search results and kind of having this feel for why things rank, and what might be wrong with a site, and getting really good at that using tools and data as well. There are people who can look at Open Site Explorer and then go, “Aha, I bet this is going to happen.” They can look, and 90% of the time they’re right.

So he boils this down to, one, write quality content, and two, reduce your bounce rate. Neither of those things are wrong. You should write quality content, although I’d argue there are lots of other forms of quality content that aren’t necessarily written — video, images and graphics, podcasts, lots of other stuff.

And secondly, that just doing those two things is not always enough. So you can see, like many, many folks look and go, “I have quality content. It has a low bounce rate. How come I don’t rank better?” Well, your competitors, they’re also going to have quality content with a low bounce rate. That’s not a very high bar.

Also, frustratingly, this really gets in my craw. I don’t think “write quality content” means anything. You tell me. When you hear that, to me that is a totally non-actionable, non-useful phrase that’s a piece of advice that is so generic as to be discardable. So I really wish that there was more substance behind that.

The article also makes, in my opinion, the totally inaccurate claim that modern SEO really is reduced to “the happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.”

Wow. Okay. Again, I think broadly these things are correlated. User happiness and rank is broadly correlated, but it’s not a one to one. This is not like a, “Oh, well, that’s a 1.0 correlation.”

I would guess that the correlation is probably closer to like the page authority range. I bet it’s like 0.35 or something correlation. If you were to actually measure this broadly across the web and say like, “Hey, were you happier with result one, two, three, four, or five,” the ordering would not be perfect at all. It probably wouldn’t even be close.

There’s a ton of reasons why sometimes someone who ranks on Page 2 or Page 3 or doesn’t rank at all for a query is doing a better piece of content than the person who does rank well or ranks on Page 1, Position 1.

Then the article suggests five and sort of a half steps to successful modern SEO, which I think is a really incomplete list. So Jayson gives us;

  • Good on-site experience
  • Writing good content
  • Getting others to acknowledge you as an authority
  • Rising in social popularity
  • Earning local relevance
  • Dealing with modern CMS systems (which he notes most modern CMS systems are SEO-friendly)

The thing is there’s nothing actually wrong with any of these. They’re all, generally speaking, correct, either directly or indirectly related to SEO. The one about local relevance, I have some issue with, because he doesn’t note that there’s a separate algorithm for sort of how local SEO is done and how Google ranks local sites in maps and in their local search results. Also not noted is that rising in social popularity won’t necessarily directly help your SEO, although it can have indirect and positive benefits.

I feel like this list is super incomplete. Okay, I brainstormed just off the top of my head in the 10 minutes before we filmed this video a list. The list was so long that, as you can see, I filled up the whole whiteboard and then didn’t have any more room. I’m not going to bother to erase and go try and be absolutely complete.

But there’s a huge, huge number of things that are important, critically important for technical SEO. If you don’t know how to do these things, you are sunk in many cases. You can’t be an effective SEO analyst, or consultant, or in-house team member, because you simply can’t diagnose the potential problems, rectify those potential problems, identify strategies that your competitors are using, be able to diagnose a traffic gain or loss. You have to have these skills in order to do that.

I’ll run through these quickly, but really the idea is just that this list is so huge and so long that I think it’s very, very, very wrong to say technical SEO is behind us. I almost feel like the opposite is true.

We have to be able to understand things like;

  • Content rendering and indexability
  • Crawl structure, internal links, JavaScript, Ajax. If something’s post-loading after the page and Google’s not able to index it, or there are links that are accessible via JavaScript or Ajax, maybe Google can’t necessarily see those or isn’t crawling them as effectively, or is crawling them, but isn’t assigning them as much link weight as they might be assigning other stuff, and you’ve made it tough to link to them externally, and so they can’t crawl it.
  • Disabling crawling and/or indexing of thin or incomplete or non-search-targeted content. We have a bunch of search results pages. Should we use rel=prev/next? Should we robots.txt those out? Should we disallow from crawling with meta robots? Should we rel=canonical them to other pages? Should we exclude them via the protocols inside Google Webmaster Tools, which is now Google Search Console?
  • Managing redirects, domain migrations, content updates. A new piece of content comes out, replacing an old piece of content, what do we do with that old piece of content? What’s the best practice? It varies by different things. We have a whole Whiteboard Friday about the different things that you could do with that. What about a big redirect or a domain migration? You buy another company and you’re redirecting their site to your site. You have to understand things about subdomain structures versus subfolders, which, again, we’ve done another Whiteboard Friday about that.
  • Proper error codes, downtime procedures, and not found pages. If your 404 pages turn out to all be 200 pages, well, now you’ve made a big error there, and Google could be crawling tons of 404 pages that they think are real pages, because you’ve made it a status code 200, or you’ve used a 404 code when you should have used a 410, which is a permanently removed, to be able to get it completely out of the indexes, as opposed to having Google revisit it and keep it in the index.

Downtime procedures. So there’s specifically a… I can’t even remember. It’s a 5xx code that you can use. Maybe it was a 503 or something that you can use that’s like, “Revisit later. We’re having some downtime right now.” Google urges you to use that specific code rather than using a 404, which tells them, “This page is now an error.”

Disney had that problem a while ago, if you guys remember, where they 404ed all their pages during an hour of downtime, and then their homepage, when you searched for Disney World, was, like, “Not found.” Oh, jeez, Disney World, not so good.

  • International and multi-language targeting issues. I won’t go into that. But you have to know the protocols there. Duplicate content, syndication, scrapers. How do we handle all that? Somebody else wants to take our content, put it on their site, what should we do? Someone’s scraping our content. What can we do? We have duplicate content on our own site. What should we do?
  • Diagnosing traffic drops via analytics and metrics. Being able to look at a rankings report, being able to look at analytics connecting those up and trying to see: Why did we go up or down? Did we have less pages being indexed, more pages being indexed, more pages getting traffic less, more keywords less?
  • Understanding advanced search parameters. Today, just today, I was checking out the related parameter in Google, which is fascinating for most sites. Well, for Moz, weirdly, related:oursite.com shows nothing. But for virtually every other sit, well, most other sites on the web, it does show some really interesting data, and you can see how Google is connecting up, essentially, intentions and topics from different sites and pages, which can be fascinating, could expose opportunities for links, could expose understanding of how they view your site versus your competition or who they think your competition is.

Then there are tons of parameters, like in URL and in anchor, and da, da, da, da. In anchor doesn’t work anymore, never mind about that one.

I have to go faster, because we’re just going to run out of these. Like, come on. Interpreting and leveraging data in Google Search Console. If you don’t know how to use that, Google could be telling you, you have all sorts of errors, and you don’t know what they are.

  • Leveraging topic modeling and extraction. Using all these cool tools that are coming out for better keyword research and better on-page targeting. I talked about a couple of those at MozCon, like MonkeyLearn. There’s the new Moz Context API, which will be coming out soon, around that. There’s the Alchemy API, which a lot of folks really like and use.
  • Identifying and extracting opportunities based on site crawls. You run a Screaming Frog crawl on your site and you’re going, “Oh, here’s all these problems and issues.” If you don’t have these technical skills, you can’t diagnose that. You can’t figure out what’s wrong. You can’t figure out what needs fixing, what needs addressing.
  • Using rich snippet format to stand out in the SERPs. This is just getting a better click-through rate, which can seriously help your site and obviously your traffic.
  • Applying Google-supported protocols like rel=canonical, meta description, rel=prev/next, hreflang, robots.txt, meta robots, x robots, NOODP, XML sitemaps, rel=nofollow. The list goes on and on and on. If you’re not technical, you don’t know what those are, you think you just need to write good content and lower your bounce rate, it’s not going to work.
  • Using APIs from services like AdWords or MozScape, or hrefs from Majestic, or SEM refs from SearchScape or Alchemy API. Those APIs can have powerful things that they can do for your site. There are some powerful problems they could help you solve if you know how to use them. It’s actually not that hard to write something, even inside a Google Doc or Excel, to pull from an API and get some data in there. There’s a bunch of good tutorials out there. Richard Baxter has one, Annie Cushing has one, I think Distilled has some. So really cool stuff there.
  • Diagnosing page load speed issues, which goes right to what Jayson was talking about. You need that fast-loading page. Well, if you don’t have any technical skills, you can’t figure out why your page might not be loading quickly.
  • Diagnosing mobile friendliness issues
  • Advising app developers on the new protocols around App deep linking, so that you can get the content from your mobile apps into the web search results on mobile devices. Awesome. Super powerful. Potentially crazy powerful, as mobile search is becoming bigger than desktop.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and relax. I don’t know Jayson’s intention, and in fact, if he were in this room, he’d be like, “No, I totally agree with all those things. I wrote the article in a rush. I had no idea it was going to be big. I was just trying to make the broader points around you don’t have to be a coder in order to do SEO.” That’s completely fine.

So I’m not going to try and rain criticism down on him. But I think if you’re reading that article, or you’re seeing it in your feed, or your clients are, or your boss is, or other folks are in your world, maybe you can point them to this Whiteboard Friday and let them know, no, that’s not quite right. There’s a ton of technical SEO that is required in 2015 and will be for years to come, I think, that SEOs have to have in order to be effective at their jobs.

All right, everyone. Look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next time for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Moz Local Officially Launches in the UK

Posted by David-Mihm

To all Moz Local fans in the UK, I’m excited to announce that your wait is over. As the sun rises “across the pond” this morning, Moz Local is officially live in the United Kingdom!

A bit of background

As many of you know, we released the US version of Moz Local in March 2014. After 12 months of terrific growth in the US, and a boatload of technical improvements and feature releases–especially for Enterprise customers–we released the Check Listing feature for a limited set of partner search engines and directories in the UK in April of this year.

Over 20,000 of you have checked your listings (or your clients’ listings) in the last 3-1/2 months. Those lookups have helped us refine and improve the background technology immensely (more on that below). We’ve been just as eager to release the fully-featured product as you’ve been to use it, and the technical pieces have finally fallen into place for us to do so.

How does it work?

The concept is the same as the US version of Moz Local: show you how accurately and completely your business is listed on the most important local search platforms and directories, and optimize and perfect as many of those business listings as we can on your behalf.

For customers specifically looking for you, accurate business listings are obviously important. For customers who might not know about you yet, they’re also among the most important factors for ranking in local searches on Google. Basically, the more times Google sees your name, address, phone, and website listed the same way on quality local websites, the more trust they have in your business, and the higher you’re likely to rank.

Moz Local is designed to help on both these fronts.

To use the product, you simply need to type a name and postcode at moz.com/local. We’ll then show you a list of the closest matching listings we found. We prioritize verified listing information that we find on Google or Facebook, and selecting one of those verified listings means we’ll be able to distribute it on your behalf.

Clicking on a result brings you to a full details report for that listing. We’ll show you how accurate and complete your listings are now, and where they could be after using our product.

Clicking the tabs beneath the Listing Score graphic will show you some of the incompletions and inconsistencies that publishing your listing with Moz Local will address.

For customers with hundreds or thousands of locations, bulk upload is also available using a modified version of your data from Google My Business–feel free to e-mail enterpriselocal@moz.com for more details.

Where do we distribute your data?

We’ve prioritized the most important commercial sites in the UK local search ecosystem, and made them the centerpieces of Moz Local. We’ll update your data directly on globally-important players Factual and Foursquare, and the UK-specific players CentralIndex, Thomson Local, and the Scoot network–which includes key directories like TouchLocal, The Independent, The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Scotsman, and Wales Online.

We’ll be adding two more major destinations shortly, and for those of you who sign up before that time, your listings will be automatically distributed to the additional destinations when the integrations are complete.

How much does it cost?

The cost per listing is £84/year, which includes distribution to the sites mentioned above with unlimited updates throughout the year, monitoring of your progress over time, geographically- focused reporting, and the ability to find and close duplicate listings right from your Moz Local dashboard–all the great upgrades that my colleague Noam Chitayat blogged about here.

What’s next?

Well, as I mentioned just a couple paragraphs ago, we’ve got two additional destinations to which we’ll be sending your data in very short order. Once those integrations are complete, we’ll be just a few weeks away from releasing our biggest set of features since we launched. I look forward to sharing more about these features at BrightonSEO at the end of the summer!

For those of you around the world in Canada, Australia, and other countries, we know there’s plenty of demand for Moz Local overseas, and we’re working as quickly as we can to build additional relationships abroad. And to our friends in the UK, please let us know how we can continue to make the product even better!

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

Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it