John Jantsch: Hello, welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Justin Sturges. He is a local SEO, website building, and lead generation expert, and also the co-author of a book called Local Lead Generation, and he just so happens to also be a member of the Duct Tape Marketing consultant network. So, Justin, thanks for joining me.
Justin Sturges: Cool, thanks, John.
John Jantsch: So you’ve been doing this a long time, but one version or another, and I always like to kind of … Especially with this online stuff, so much is changing particularly rapidly lately, so when it comes to getting found locally, your business, online locally, what are some of the most significant recent changes that you’ve seen?
Justin Sturges: Man, I guess really the … One of the biggest changes that Google just made recently was in not showing advertising on the right-hand side of search results. I mean, that’s really been a pretty big pivot in a couple key areas. So, for AdWords, you’ve got three, maybe four locations that are above the fold that are really the prime real estate now, and the other section that you’ll see above the fold on most people’s screens is the local Maps results. So those two are really prime real estate now, and if you can get some solid visibility with a unique strategy that really stands out in those two locations, you have some really good opportunity to get a lot of calls and leads. And, of course, then having some more organic placement below that is really key as well, so we find … We call that kind of the Holy Trinity, if you can get in AdWords and Maps, and then a little bit of organic presence, you typically will see a big uptake in phone calls or contacts for a business.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I mean, I’m … 90% of the time, I’m on a laptop, and there are certain instances where there’s nothing above the fold but the ads.
Justin Sturges: Yeah.
John Jantsch: So yeah, that … And I think that they’re even experimenting with expanding the pixel width of those ads and the SERPs, and so I think that’s even making the ads more prominent.
Justin Sturges: Yup, [inaudible 00:02:35].
John Jantsch: So when it comes to the organic part, because obviously, that … For a lot of people, they really want to win that, because that doesn’t come attached, necessarily, with a click cost. What are some of the main driving factors, you think? And again, focusing mostly on a local business, what are the factors that get them to show up in organic search?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of different variation, right, because-
John Jantsch: Yeah, I think I read an article the other day that outlined 115 factors, but let’s focus on the main ones.
Justin Sturges: Yeah, well, that … And there’s also so many different cities, and the competition level. But when it comes to the rudimentary stuff that everybody has to have, in my opinion, you have to have a well-put-together website that has really unique content that really supports your particular strategy, and the content also has to be tailored for the search results that you’re going after. Right? So if you’re, say, a custom home-builder, it would behoove you to have a number of pages, and even a variety of content, like maybe video, infographics, great articles, or key evergreen sort of positioning pieces on how you look at custom home-building, all in one little section of your website, for instance.
That is going to give Google a lot of signals as to what keywords are appropriate for you, and that you’re going through and doing those extra things to have a high-quality site. And depending on where you’re at, that may be enough on its own to really, really do a lot as far as your organic placement, and maybe even help your Maps placement, and also be a good page, possibly, to drive AdWords to, if you’re advertising on really related keywords.
John Jantsch: So, you mentioned the maps, or … You know, we used to be seven listings, then five, I think they’re down to three now in the local search, and obviously, there are people that look at the ads and they don’t … They think that, “Okay, that’s an ad, I’m not going to click on that.” Obviously, Google makes a whole lot of money, so somebody’s clicking on it.
Justin Sturges: Yeah.
John Jantsch: But a lot of people, especially local folks, really hone in on those map results, because they have directions, and it’s very simple, and reviews show up there. So clearly, that’s an important for … Particularly for local destination kind of businesses, that’s a really important place to show up. But obviously, it’s pretty competitive if it’s only three listings, so instead of asking you … I’ll flip this around, because I know it’d be easy for you to answer some of the factors that get somebody in there, but you work with a lot of local businesses: What are the things that they’re doing that just about ensure they won’t show up there?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, I guess the big mistakes are … And it’s funny, too, I can show you examples of Google doing things wrong, so to speak, so you can always find a spot where someone’s doing things wrong and still showing up, but basically, having the … Not the same address in your Google Maps listing or Google My Business listing, if that address is different, really in any way, than on your website. And then if you have all your citations out there, like Yelp and Whitepages and all those kinds of things, if they’re not consistent, that’s not doing the right thing as far as what Google wants to see in [inaudible 00:06:13]-
John Jantsch: Let me drill down one little quick thing on that.
Justin Sturges: Yeah.
John Jantsch: How specific are they? So, in other words, if in one place, I’m being lazy, I put “St.” for “Street,” and another place, I put “Street” spelled out, is that going to get me in trouble?
Justin Sturges: It could. Again, there’s so many … So many things are kind of screwy online that it’s probably not going to be the end of the world. But basically, our process is claim that Google listing, or if it exists, use the Google My Business, how they show your address in the actual search results, and then take that and use it for all your other citations and your website in order to make sure that things are congruent with what Google actually displays, and that’s typically what we go off of.
John Jantsch: And I think people would be surprised, if they haven’t studied this. I mean, you think, “Oh, well, the four places I know about, I’ve updated it,” but I’ve been in business for going on 30 years now, and I’ve found some listings that were four addresses ago, just because some service picked it up, collected it because they wanted to sell it to somebody or something, and that’s out there. I didn’t make it happen; it’s just out there because I had an address, and I think a lot of people underestimate that, don’t they?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, and one of the key things that is often missed in a lot of the tools out there are the key aggregators … Oh shoot, I’m so bad with names. There’s Localeze, there’s-
John Jantsch: Acxiom.
Justin Sturges: Yes, thank you, and there’s one other, one or two other really key aggregators out there, and they often get missed, and if you miss those when you’re doing your citations and kind of straightening out your profiles, then those guys, whatever they have, if it’s wrong, that will trickle down to all kinds of other sites, so it’s really important to get it right on those aggregators, as well as all your other key places, and then that will start to sort of ripple out and help start to fix over time those thousands, or 2,000, or 5,000 listings that you may have.
John Jantsch: What role do reviews play in that three-pack? I mean, obviously, you see some results there are no … People don’t have any reviews. You see some results where a person has that little golden stars that really kind of highlights them. Is that a ranking factor, or is that a ranking factor slash social proof factor?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, it’s arguable. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of times where someone’s in 20th place, and they have more reviews than some of the guys in the top three spots, so it’s kind of a typical combination type of situation, but it sure is helpful to have those reviews. And once you do have one of those top three spots, if you don’t have reviews, the people who do have those stars showing, which takes, I think, at least five reviews on Google, then that’s a really key factor in getting people to click and to build trust. That trust travels with that click to your website or to your listing, so if someone sees that, and then gets to your site, and you’ve got a nice robust site, now that experience they’ve had, from the time they searched to the time they clicked and then found your site, builds up to enough to feel good enough about you to call or click or whatever you’ve got going on.
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Now, I know you are a really big proponent of local content as well, and even very intentionally building pages for different service areas, or different suburbs, or different neighborhoods, even. Is that a practice that has real impact for … Particularly in larger cities, where maybe people are searching in subsets of the city?
Justin Sturges: Yeah. I mean, from us, from what we see, it’s absolutely huge. But one of the key things is, people like to get lazy, so they’ll make a bunch of pages and just change out the city name. Even though they may have a good long page, that is spammy to Google, right, so you’re not doing yourself any favors, and your site may actually even get … I’ve seen quite a few people have 50 or 100 of those, and it’s too much, and especially when they’re spammy, it can actually hurt your site. But if you take the time to do unique content on each one of those service area pages, and maybe optimize for your most key service that you’re going after across those pages, which is a little bit of a challenge, to write unique content for each one. But if you do, then you’ll find that if there are local results triggering, like the Maps, or organic placement, you’re going to really expand the number of cities you can show up for, even when you have an address in maybe a different city or area. So we find those being really, really effective.
John Jantsch: Sure, and one of my favorites for people to do is just do a case study. Profile a client that you did in that suburb or that neighborhood, or that type of thing. That’s a good start, isn’t it?
Justin Sturges: Yeah. No, absolutely, we were just talking to a remodeler client the other day, and they’ve been around long enough, they’ve done like 5,000 remodels or something. We were talking about creating service area pages where we had a bunch of map spots, maybe not right on the folks’ homes, but in the general area, so we could show, “Hey, we’ve done 10, 15, 20 remodels in this particular area,” and each one of those markers can have a little … If you click, you could have a few pictures from the remodel and stuff, and that’s a kind of thing that we’ve seen that Google really likes to see, you know, that extra data on those pages that builds trust in them.
John Jantsch: So you see a lot of talk these days about rich text snippets, and even longitude and latitude data, and that kind of stuff. How geeky do you have to get about that whole geography stuff?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, I mean, for me, because we can control it, we’re … Like, someone linking to our site, there’s levels of control that are … Oftentimes, that’s not completely something we can do, right?
John Jantsch: Right, right.
Justin Sturges: So to me, the things that we can control, which are a lot of those geeky factors, we find that when we put the time into getting all those things straight and right, and going that extra mile, really makes a difference, and oftentimes, makes a difference really quickly. Once Google indexes a site that’s totally put together well, you may not have to worry about a lot of other link building, and these other kinds of tactics, if you get that stuff right. Now, of course, if you’re a cosmetic surgeon in LA, you’re probably going to have to worry about some links and things, but there are so many small businesses that are in little niches, and we even were just working on a wedding … She does hair and makeup for weddings, and she’s in New Jersey, but we launched her site, and within a few weeks, she was, with no link building, she was starting to get two, three calls or lead-gen forms a day just from the site being set up correctly.
John Jantsch: So, explain this … I don’t know how to … I was going to say “Explain rich text snippets,” but give a little bit of an overview of just, actually, how your address needs to be structured, and some of the … Again, somebody listening might not actually go out and do this themselves, but just so they understand if somebody’s pitching this to them, what exactly is Google looking for with that?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, there’s two main approaches right now, and they’re basically just kind of ways to put extra code around, say, your address and other information that you may be putting on your site, like even testimonials and that kind of thing. It’s kind of extra code in the back end that tells Google, “Hey, this is a testimonial with a rating, and then it’s this many stars,” or “Here’s our business, it’s this kind of business, in this city, with this address, here’s our phone number,” all that kind of stuff, and there’s two kind of … There’s schema markup, and then there’s JSON. Schema.org is the one that we typically use, although JSON’s starting to come on because some people think it’s a little easier. But basically, there’s those two main approaches to adding those markup elements that can make a big difference in a lot of different ways in how you show up in the search results.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and there’s certain known variables that Google says, “Yes, if you have an address, this is the markup for an address.”
Justin Sturges: Yeah.
John Jantsch: If you, as you said, reviews or product names, those start to become just … Just more data to make it easier for Google, and I guess you get rewarded for that sometimes.
Justin Sturges: Yup, yup, absolutely.
John Jantsch: So let’s talk about the role of advertising, or the connection between AdWords, since we’re talking about Google, between AdWords and Search, or between AdWords and Google My Business. I mean, are there … I mean, are we at a point where you would tell somebody, “Hey, you may not have a huge budget, but you’d better be spending some money in AdWords if you’re going to maximize your local play”?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, we typically do. I mean, there are some industries where it’s really, really competitive and really … Like, it’s so expensive that it’s prohibitive for a lot of the players, like HVAC may be one, depending on which city you’re in.
John Jantsch: And what, we might be talking about like 20 bucks a click or something?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, yeah, and actually, I’ve seen personal injury lawyer stuff go up to $600 for a click, not a lead, but a click. So in some cases, we avoid it, but nine times out of ten, especially if you’ve got a good strategy, and you’ve got a good difference, and your business can stand out in those short kind of haiku lines of text that you can put in an ad, if you can get them to stand out, and then also, we use ad extensions a lot, which will give us extra real estate there. So if we can tell a little bit more of a story about that business in those paid spots, you can oftentimes get really good click-through rates still that really turn into business, so it’s [inaudible 00:17:42]-
John Jantsch: So you can add things like phone numbers, and addresses, and testimonials, and product categories, even, can’t you?
Justin Sturges: Yup, yup, absolutely, and we take advantage of a lot of those, and once in a while, we find that you can actually go too far. Once in a while, Google likes you so much that they throw a whole bunch of stuff up there, so you might have to pare them down a little bit if you do get in there a lot. But really, really digging into those ad extensions, so many people get lazy on that, and it really buys you a lot more real estate for free. It helps your click-through rate, [inaudible 00:18:16]-
John Jantsch: And to make this not so geeky, for those of you listening, just do some searches in your community, and start noticing the difference, and how those stand out, because I think … A lot of times, when I’ve talked to clients, they glaze over, but then you show them that, and they go, “Wow, that ad pops. That ad’s way better than mine.” And I think … Pay attention to some of that just by looking at it, and I think you’ll start seeing the impact that it has on you, even though it’s maybe somewhat subconscious.
Justin Sturges: Yeah, and that’s a really good suggestion. Like, following with the example we were talking about before, say custom home-builder in a particular city, if you’re going to advertise on that keyword, do that exact search, and see what your competitors are doing right now, and then … And that can help you kind of sharpen your strategy, and how you’re going to … What are you saying, what is your core message, and make sure that it’s really unique and stands out. And that’s just absolutely important, and you can tell that so many people don’t do that when they set up accounts.
John Jantsch: Well, and part of that’s, if we can blame Google — hopefully they’re not listening to this now — but, you know, if … You know, they want your money, so they … Obviously, they want click-throughs, so there’s a lot of information they have out there about how to do it better, but if you just go through their default kind of setup, you’ll have a pretty bad ad and be paying a lot for it.
Justin Sturges: Yeah.
John Jantsch: Typically, so there’s a little bit to blame there. I want to switch to directories, and primarily, you’ve mentioned a remodeling contractor a couple times. One of the things that people experience in most cities today, if you type in “remodeling contractor, your city,” you’re going to … You’ll see the ads, you’ll see the local map listings, but then the organic results that you see, there’s a good chance many of those will just be lead aggregators, people that are in the business of selling leads to remodeling contractors. Front Porch, Houzz, those types of places. Now, those folks will all sell memberships to you, they’ll gladly send you leads for a fee. Do you, as a local business, recommend … Or for your local businesses, do they have to play in that game, because those folks are taking so much of that real estate? Do they have to use those directories themselves?
Justin Sturges: We certainly suggest it, and, you know, it all depends on priority, and what your budget is, and what your time is, but if you do those searches, and you see that those prime searches that you need to be competing on do have a really strong presence from Yelp, Angie’s List, BBB, Houzz, whatever it might be, HomeAdvisor, there’s all kinds of them … If those are really prevalent on those pages, then yeah, it would be pretty darn smart to maybe pay attention to your Yelp profile enough to get the reviews on there, and engage with it enough that instead of just general Yelp listings, it becomes your Yelp listing, which you’ll notice, there are kind of two kinds. There’s general Yelp, and then there’s your business, and if you can become the “your business,” because you’re so much better than everybody else, as far as how it looks, you’re in really good shape.
So there’s a lot to showing up in all these different ones. Houzz is one you could pay for. Yelp, we typically … They’re probably not going to like this. We typically don’t pay for them, but we certainly make sure we’re optimizing well, you know, what’s your title, what content do you have there, and hopefully getting proactive reviews, that kind of thing. Houzz is a tough one, because they really show mostly people who are paying, in a lot of cases. So it may be important for you, if they really have prevalence on those key searches, to consider that. There’s also a lot … Having reviews, of course, on Houzz, and having a robust profile will also help with your listings there.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I mean, at the very least, you’d better make sure that you’re at least in those directories, because that may not be guaranteed. So at the very least, be in them, optimize your profile, and you may start showing up in their top 10 X in that city. Where do you … This is such a changing field. I’m just curious where you get your information. What are some of the sources that you go to for the latest and greatest, whether it’s related to Google, or just SEO and web programming in general?
Justin Sturges: That’s a good question. It’s so interesting, because there’s not a heck of a lot of really good, in-detail, local information out there. There’s lots of general organic SEO, but I kind of bring things together from a lot of different sources. I mean, of course, Moz is pretty good on the local side. There’s a few others which I would not mention here, because there are a lot of people who combine black hat information with white hat information, and you really have to be careful about what you can pull out of there that’s useful, and what is really not cool, spammy kind of stuff.
But there is a lot of really good technical information that you can get out of the black hat side of things sometimes, and I do dive into that stuff. I never do any of the spammy stuff, but learning, like, the Semantic Web, and what Google’s looking for from a technical perspective, can be very helpful, but it’s pretty deep stuff, and if you’re not really committing to it, stay out of there, because it’s going to mean trouble.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I think some of the places like SEO Roundtable, for example, I mean, there’s a lot of that that goes on there, and so you do kind of have to cipher through some of it. But one of the things, I think, is you do get to see … Those are usually working people, meaning they’re doing local SEO in their community, and regardless of what Google’s saying, they’re saying, “Here’s what’s actually happening.” And so sometimes, you can … Like you said, whether you’re going to practice what’s happening or working or not, I think sometimes, that’s the only way to get real, I suppose.
Justin Sturges: Yup, yup, absolutely, and just looking at what other people are doing, and having a few tools where you can look at their link profiles. I mean, I’m talking about your competitors, right?
John Jantsch: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Justin Sturges: Looking at their link profiles, looking at their list of citations — Whitespark’s a great one for that, as well as BrightLocal, a couple others — seeing what they have, and then basically benchmarking off of that, and going, “Okay, we need to do that, plus a little bit, and we should be in good shape.” That’s really one of the best ways to get the knowledge you need for any specific niche.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I agree. Let’s finish up with one last question. If a new client came to you, and they said, “Gosh, you know, we really need to be ranking locally, we’re not necessarily doing what we need to be doing,” is there kind of the low-hanging fruit? Like, the one thing that you see most people mess up, and you know that if you go fix that, that’s going to help them?
Justin Sturges: Yeah, you know, honestly, I would go back to strategy, in the sense of what are you saying, what … In your meta tags, in your title tags, in those things that people see when they do run across you online, how are you standing out, and how are you priming people to get that click? I mean, you’re not always going to be number one, but if you’re in those organic results, and you stand out with what you’re saying, you’ll find that you don’t have to be number one. People window-shop, and they go from one to the next, because a lot of them are crappy-looking sites that have terrible stories. So even if you’re at the bottom of the page, and you have something unique going on, and then you deliver with a really good site with great content that shows you care about those visitors more, and have thought about them more, you’re going to find you can get a lot of business by just doing that: just kind of being present, having a better story, and having a great site when people go there.
John Jantsch: Awesome, Justin. Thanks so much for joining us. We’re speaking with Justin Sturges. He is a local SEO, website building, and lead generation expert out in the California area, and also the co-author of Local Lead Generation, and happens to be a Duct Tape Marketing consultant as well. So, Justin, thanks for joining us, and appreciate you sharing your knowledge.
Justin Sturges: Thanks so much, John.