Smooth Reviews Like Service Magic

The company I work for has been in business for over 8 years, does great work and has exactly 0 reviews in Yahoo and another 0 in google. Not that surprised are you? I know.

But I find this surprising… having signed up with Service Magic only a few months ago, this garage door business has already been reviewed 5 separate times. I started asking why.

I found there are 2 things a small business can copy from Service Magic to get more reviews. The first ask multiple times… or at least once. The second is to make it smoother. You see when a person goes to review a business on Service Magic they are already signed up, so they don’t need to make up a password or download anything or stand on their head. Their in… it’s smooth.

Small businesses often know/ask for their customer’s email addresses, now use it to make it easier for the customer to review you. If they have a yahoo email, they already belong to Yahoo; if they have gmail they already have a Google account. Send them a link to the review site of which you know they already belong – Smooooth.

On the lighter side: I spent my vacation in part reading Seth Godin books, which is why I’m using the term smooth. And I couldn’t help but think his cover photo resembled an athletic african-american.

Now, those of you who know what Mr. Godin looks like think I’m crazy… so I’m going to prove it to you. Here is Seth Godin side by side with David Justice – retired baseball player.

David Justice and Seth Godin Side by Side

David Justice and Seth Godin Side by Side

Posted in Local Search, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Studio iPhone

30 years ago people lined up outside Studio 54 to buy expensive drinks and snort coke with famous people, today they are lined up outside the Apple Store at the Garden State plaza in Paramus to get the latest in technological wizardry: The iPhone. Outside both venues is the rope, which was made legendary buy the NY club, but I was shocked to see it outside the Apple store.

I arrived at the mall at about 10:30am, it had just recently opened and the Saturday mall crowd had not yet arrived. But as I approached the Apple Store, I saw the line that started behind a small velvet rope and snaked out of sight.

I talked to the guy who was next online and asked him what was going on. He told me he was on line for the iPhone. He explained the system to me, which seemed to be the low-tech method used by bakeries and deli counter for years, except the numbers were dispensed by an attractive girl with a headset instead of a machine inviting you to “take a number.” He told me he got there at 9:00 and seemed pleased that he was on the verge of iPhone possession. When I told him I was interested in purchasing an iPhone too, he looked over his shoulder, assessed the line and estimated the wait time at 4 hours. “Thanks”, I told him “I don’t need one that bad.”

Not being able to buy one online and certainly not willing to line up for the priviledge, I don’t know if I will buy one now. I was sure I would when I left the house this morning but now I’m not so sure. It’s interesting how Apple is using distribution (or the lack of it) to create buzz. The big question for me is whether my patience will survive this marketing tactic.

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Yellow Pages… Better Results Than Google?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the death of the yellow pages, however, much of what I read is anecdotal. There is little doubt that yp usage is slipping but the reports I read would have you believe that it is already buried. Usage is down less than 15% in the past 8 years… the year it was originally predicted to die (the year that the always-on internet tipped). And if you look at the top headings the ROI is about the same as 8 years ago, according to Dr Fromholzer, whose evidence is based on metered lines, thousand of them.

Most recently the bell was rung by Chris Silver Smith a person with considerable knowledge of the industry, in fact when he left Superpages a few years ago they came up first in Google for the term yellow pages, and they haven’t since his departure. He was careful to limit his prediction to 10 years from now… but is that what people will read and re-tell? Or will they just read the word dying… I think the latter.

To be successful, small business owners need to focus on the here and now and right now the yp is still a powerful tool. In fact, the small business that just hired me gets 50% of their business from yp and 15% from the internet. My job is to get that number to 25%… (a wonderful assignment). In my heart of hearts I believe I’ll do a bit better but this is a very good example of how powerful the yp still are.

And often, the results are often sooooo much better than you find in Google in large measure due to spam, check out these reults where Google goes 0 for 10, that’s right out of 10 in the local one box not one listing is helpful as a single spammer has overwhelmed the results:

Garage Door Repair Closter NJ

Garage Door Repair Closter NJ


There are thousands of results for this locksmith across all of North Jersey. Most of which are pointing at a single website… which I’ll let you find for yourself, I won’t link to it even with “no-follow”, sorry. I will tell you this though, the website is written in Latin, which one would think, Google could easily detect as spam.

David Mihm has recently written about filtering urls that are obviously spamming and in this case his solution would have gone a long way to solving the problem. Mike Blumenthal has written a ton about cleaning up results like these but Google has left us with only confusing instructions.

One could easily envision a searcher abandon their search for a garage door repairman and grab a yellow pages given the above results, don’t you think? Maybe in 10 years, Google will have it worked out and Chris Silver Smith will be right… but until then Small Business Owners: You need to maximize both media.

Posted in Local Search, SEO | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Throw Away Your Resume And Find The Perfect Job

I met with the owner of a multi-million dollar company (in terms of revenue) and within an hour was offered my dream job along with a package that included a good salary plus an equity stake… did I mention it is a multi-million dollar company.

How did I do it?

Was it my perfectly organized resume? Nope, I never bothered to put one together.

Maybe it was my perfectly polished appearance? Uh… no… trust me. The meeting was come-as-you-are.

Perhaps, it was the impressive way I prepared for the interview? No, I didn’t have time. We met within hours of our first telephone conversation.

So, how did I find this amazing opportunity? I didn’t… the company’s owner found this blog while researching internet advertising. He was also looking for someone with a diverse set of skills. You see, he owns 2 companies… a garage door repair company in NJ and an advertising agency that primarily handles yellow page advertising. So, check out the skill set he was looking for:

  • Yellow page knowledge… inside and out.
  • Same with Internet Yellow Pages
  • Website Design
  • SEM
  • SEO
  • Management Experience
  • Sales

That just happens to be my exact background… but the odds of us hooking up using traditional job search techniques like resumes, interview, head hunters etc. is exactly zero.

The blog allowed me to build my brand and allowed him to find a find a candidate with the 6 or 7 qualifications he was looking for. Think about it… it’s hard for an employer to find a good candidate when the job requires a single qualification; the permutations when 7 are needed are mind boggling.

So, my advice to anyone who is thinking about changing careers is to worry less about your resume and start building your brand. In other words… start blogging. And employers, depending on what you are looking for… you might consider a Google blog search before heading over to Monster.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Local Seo Is Easy… Just Create A Good Yellow Page Ad

The first site I got to the first of page of results for a specific keyword, I did so, quite by accident. When I designed the site I did so with PPC in mind and I included all the copy points that I knew from years of yellow pages ad design were necessary to motivate a potential buyer to call.

I found this to be a wonderful thing… that the things that would help rank a site in search engines would be the same things that would help convert them to a customer… that’s my kind of symmetry.

There are 3 of these “symmetries” between ranking and conversion factors that I think are the most important in Local Seo:

The first:

When writing a yellow page ad include everything you do. Every study I have ever read has concluded that if it is not in the ad the reader assumes that you don’t do it.

This little fact often frustrated potential advertisers or they thought it was a trick to get more copy and sell them a bigger ad. But I always believed it whole-heartedly. If I need a drain cleaned and I find 2 ads side by side under Plumbers and one says they do drain cleaning and the other doesn’t… guess who is getting the call?

This is true with Search Engines as well. If you don’t mention the service on your site, Google assumes that you don’t do it. And you will have little chance of ranking for that term (unless of course you get a bunch of other folks to say it in anchor text, but that is a story for another day :) ).

This idea seems to carry over to the local ten-pack as well:

Notice how often the words drain and cleaning appear in the results near the top.

The second:

Define your service area… specifically.

Long before small business owners thought about search engines, they were asking me to find space in their ads to list the towns they served. These were the savvy, long term yellow page advertisers. And they did it because it worked.

A quick example: You want a pizza delivered… and you find an ad for a Pizza joint in the next town who offers free delivery… do you call or keep reading? You then find and ad that says free to delivery to… and lists your town. Yup, that second one is going to work better even if some answered “call” to the question above.

Listing those towns could be a great help to your site too, if your looking for Google to serve up a first page result for those queries in neighboring towns.

The third:

This one is really true regardless of the media. Try and come up with the best content. If you’re going to advertise in the yellow pages; read your competitor’s ads… learn from them and then design the best ad in the heading. Try and answer all the questions that one might have when shopping for your type of business.

If you want to get your site ranked number 1 on Google… begin by looking at what’s there now and try and create a page that is better than that one based on the searchers intent for a particular search query. Some of the ideas above might help.

Posted in Local Search | Tagged | 10 Comments

More Local Search Analytics

I discovered Mongoose Metrics a few weeks back and I’m surprised by how much I was missing. I was blind and now can see.

On one of the sites I manage, I segmented the traffic sources and used separate phone numbers to track and test the different sources of traffic. So, when the phone rings I can tell if it was from organic or PPC… and for PPC I can tell if a geo-modifier was used. And obviously, when the contact form is used I can get it down to the keyword level.

Because it is a small local site, it is difficult to draw any “significant” conclusions this soon, but even after a short time I have gained some interesting insights.

The site has had a total of 197 visitors since April 2nd, when the test began, so about 22 days.

155 of those visitors came from organic traffic, 30 from PPC Traffic that included a geo-modifier and 12 from PPC containing short keyphrases (1-3 words) that did not include a geo-modifier. During this time we recorded 22 conversions, which I defined as contact by email or phone call.

22 Conversions – 12 were by phone call and 10 used the contact form.
-The contact form was used a higher % of time than one might expect.

The organic traffic converted at a rate of 12%… 19 contacts/155 Visitors.
-If I took out the 17 image searches this conversion rate really starts looking good!

PPC traffic converted at 10% when the geo-modifier was present… 3 contacts/30 visitors.
-The 3 contacts were by phone call… which leads to a developing theory – Adword users may be less likely to use a contact form.

PPC traffic with no geo modifier – 0 contacts / 12 visitors.
-Although the results are not statistically significant it appears that the shorter the keyphrase the more expensive the click and the less likely it is to convert.

The number of words in the keyphrase that led to the 9 email conversions were as follows: 6, 4, 5, 7, 5, 6, 5, 5, 5. All of which contained a geo-modifier. Paying more for a one word phrase, does not seem like a good idea, especially considering a mark up of nearly 40% for some 1-word queries.

There are so many more cool things that I’ve discovered, that I will share in coming posts as the data keeps coming in. And yes, for research sake, I will continue paying for the short keyphrases, at least until the study becomes statistically significant. And no, the client is not paying for them… at least not my client.

Posted in Analytics | 8 Comments

From My Point Of View… Seth Godin Got It Wrong

What Seth Godin calls ‘advertising’… I call ‘national advertising’ and what he calls ‘clutter’… I call ‘the widespread ability for a small business to effectively and affordably brand their business for the first time in history.’

A couple of examples might help to understand:

  • 200 TV channels – Seth Godin calls this clutter. But really it also represents an opportunity for SMBs to engage in television advertising.
  • Magazines – The cost of publishing a magazine has dropped so much in the last 10 years that we are starting to see a number of local publications. There are now magazines that a local advertiser can affordably advertise in that are as local as a single county. The cost of ink alone would have made this prohibitively expensive a short time ago. Now, they can choose niche publication or lifestyle… choices like these were strictly in the dominion of the national advertiser a very short time ago. I don’t think of this as clutter… I think of this as progress… and opportunity.
  • Radio and Newspaper – The option to advertise in these mediums has been available to local advertisers for a long time… what has changed of course is the ability to purchase this type of advertising from Google and Yahoo, which will either contribute to the ‘clutter’ or enhance the ability of the local business to brand their business; depending on your point of view.

When Mr. Godin refers to advertising being less effective than it was in the past, again, he is referring to national advertising… and claiming that it is less effective than in the past because of the clutter. It could just be that consumers have a natural preference to local information; and since it has become more abundantly available, they are consuming more of it and less of the national stuff. To a traditional advertiser this would indeed appear as a decline in the effectiveness of advertising.

This is not semantic… far from it. The way national advertisers have eliminated local retail businesses like bakers, butchers and hardware stores. Savvy local advertisers who grasp the concept of branding and effectively leverage this new technology will be in a position to do the same thing in local service industries. This is a life and death situation for these local businesses and just like the bakers and hardware stores, who didn’t see it coming, most local service businesses won’t see this coming. The big difference is that the business that gulps down all the market share won’t come from outside, like a Home Depot, but will rather rise up from among them as they adapt the marketing techniques formerly restricted to large corporations.

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The .02 Minimum Bid And Split-Testing

I got a little lazy the other day, while going through an Adwords account that I am managing, and rather than write a new ad to compete with the winner of a split-test… I paused it; and a funny thing happened… the minimum bid ticked down from 3 cents to 2.

The CTR on the winner was 21% and the loser almost 15%, so I was a little surprised that this dropped the minimum by over 30%. So, it go me thinking. Certainly the CTR is high enough to justify a low minimum bid but there have been times when the CTR has been higher than it is now and the minimum bid did not change. So, why now?

I think I figured it out. The winning ad’s copy is a paraphrase of the landing page’s headline. The ad that was paused also reiterated copy from the landing page… but that copy is in an image and appears further down on the page. I think there is something to be learned there. :)

Although, I have paused the split-test, this is a powerful testimony to what can be accomplished using the technique. The winning ad was put together quickly; written only to serve as the sacrificial lamb to the ad that I had painstakingly composed… or so I thought. Because of it however, we are now enjoying a fifth of the traffic to a keyphrase that when converts can produce revenue deep into the 5 digit range… and paying nearly half of what we initially bid for a click.

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Google Makes Exception To Display URL Policy For Large Advertiser?

Bill Hartzer has written an important post explaining how Google’s display url policy will effect large local search marketers like ReachLocal. Bill shows a good example of how ReachLocal’s advertisers could be adversely effected by the policy change.

However, it doesn’t appear that ReachLocal was effected by this change at all; as they continue to display URLs in Adwords that are different from the landing page URL. Here is how ReachLocal is currently displaying the url in an adwords ad:

www.mysite.com

Here is the URL on the landing page:

www.mysite.reachlocal.com/

Here is Google’s policy as quoted from the Inside Adword’s Blog:

What about tracking URLs?
We do understand that many advertisers utilize tracking URLs within the destination field of their ads. Therefore, if the URL of your landing page matches that of your display URL, your ads will be approved.

For example:

Display URL: www.google.com/adwords
Destination URL: www.trackingurl.com/google123
–> Landing page URL: www.google.com would be acceptable

Display URL: www.google.com/adwords
Destination URL: www.trackingurl.com/google123
–> Landing page URL: www.trackingurl.com would not be acceptable

Inside Adword’s Blog further clarifies this point as it goes on to say:

Yes, the use of sub-domains and additional text within the display will continue to be acceptable provided the top-level domain matches the URL of your landing page.

As you can see, ReachLocal is plainly in violation of this policy. The top-level domain is clearly reachlocal.com, yet this is what is happening today, April 5th, 5 days after the policy has taken effect.

Here is a screen shot of the display url, please double-click the thumbnail to view the image. The Adwords ad has companyname.com. This screen shot was taken today:

Display URL of ReachLocal AD
I will not show a screen shot of the ad, though I have it, because I believe it could adversely effect the advertiser. For that reason, I have blurred the business name in the URL, as well.

My only question is whether Google has made an exception for ReachLocal or has Reachlocal taken more time to get in compliance with the policy? And if the latter is the case, which seems naive to believe, why are the ads currently running?

If an exception was made, which seems to be the most likely scenario at this point, we are all at a disadvantage. Most small businesses that advertise on Google are in competition with ReachLocal. If they are granted an exception, how are we supposed to compete?

This is an enormous issue and I hope that it is resolved quickly and in a way that is fair to everyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Split Testing Local Search

The best team wins nearly every game and the faster runner wins nearly every race, so are we surprised that the best ad gets nearly every phone call?

For similar sized ads; the standard deviation of the calls received from yellow page ads is greater than the mean.

-Paraphrasing Dr. Dennis Fromholzer, CRM Associates

That quote means that 2 same size yellow page ads for the same type of business are likely to get wildly different call volumes. One of the ads will be just like the better team and the faster runner and win nearly each time the product is searched. Should we expect this to be different on the web? I think not.

Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that the quality of a business owner’s website is an important factor in earning the consumer’s trust. Over 75 percent of respondents said they were more likely to make a purchase from “an unfamiliar business with a quality website,” than “a poor website from a known business.”

-This is from a Study by Nielsen and WebVisible as reported by Peter Krasilovsky.

The lament of the loser


“I was getting the clicks, but I wasn’t getting the calls” or “Yellow Pages doesn’t work for my type of business.”

I always felt terrible when I heard this and I work hard to inform anyone and everyone around me as to the importance of good content. But the challenge is always the same… how do you define it? What does it look like? The only way to consistently improve the content of any form of advertising that I am aware of is to split test it.

It is has always been much easier to focus on coming up higher in the search results or getting a bigger ad; but there is no doubt the best bang for your buck in advertising will be accomplished with good content.

Local advertisers have been relegated to a place where marketing tools like split-testing just weren’t available to them. After all, do you think the publishers of any Yellow Pages, are going to spend the extra millions to publish and distribute 2 directories so the ads could be split-tested? Not likely. (Side note: This might not be a bad investment for yellow pages, as they would own the copyright on almost every small businesses best yellow page ad and could prevent that ad from being published in a competitor’s book).

The Times They Are A Changin’


I am thrilled that this is not true for the local advertiser on the web even if they depend on phone calls; and can now have this data all reported in one analytics program.

Such a local site can be measured with nearly the precision and ease, previously afforded only to e-commerce sites. It can be done without creating dynamic pages and except for the cost of the phone lines and calls… it is free.

It could also be used to measure conversion for keywords. I have just set up a test that will measure the difference in conversion rates between search phrases that include geo-modifiers and the same terms when the geo-modifier is missing. That’s cool… when you are a local nerd like me.

How To Split Test A Website When Measuring Conversion In Emails and Phone Calls.


What follows is a step by step tutorial for setting up split testing for a website when conversion is measured in contacts through an email contact form and telephone calls. In order to use it, you must have or set-up an account in Google Analytics and have or set up an account with Mongoose Metrics. I have no affiliation with either service.

  1. Have or create 2 hidden pages on your site.
    • One for contact form submissions and one for telephone calls. Only the one for contact form submissions will ever be seen by the customer, this one should say something like “Thank you for contacting us, we will return your message within 24 hours. The other one doesn’t need to say anything as it will not be viewed by the customer.
    • Both need to have the code from Google Analytics. The same code will be on all your pages. Not to worry, we’ll set up filters for that in GA.
  2. Replicate the site twice and put each copy in its own subdirectory
    • On each of the replicated pages use the meta tag “noindex, nofollow” to prevent your content from being indexed multiple times. (Make one copy; add the tags and then make the second one to save you from having to add the tags twice)
    • The name of the subdirectory you choose will be viewable in the url (www.example.com/subdirectory/actualpage.html), so choose something that relates.
  3. Have or create an account in Mongoose Metrics and purchase 2 phone numbers.
    • Consider waiting awhile after purchase to make sure the lines are clean.
    • In your mongoose account, map the tracking number to the actual phone number and configure the tracking to the url of the hidden page of each replicated site.
    • On each of the replicated sites, replace the real phone number with the new trackable number on all pages. Make sure you have one unique phone number per “site”. And that the url’s are mapped to the corresponding phone number in your mongoose account.
    • In effect, you now have 3 sites, each with a unique phone number, and unique confirmation pages. But all on the same domain. We just need to prepare Google Analytics for our first test.

  4. Go to Google Analytics and set up a new profile. Put the radio button on “Add a profile for an existing domain” and use the pull down menu to choose your site.
  5. Name the profile and add a filter to include only traffic that comes to the pages within your first subdirectory. Here’s the set up:
  6. Filter Type: Use Only Traffic From A Subdirectory
    Subdirectory: ^/mysub/ (inside the lines put the name of your subdirectory)

  7. Find the profile for your original site, and create a filter to exclude the traffic from pages in a subdirectory
  8. Filter Type: Custom Filter
    Exclude
    Filter Field: Request URI
    Filter Pattern: ^/mysub/

    These pages in the subdirectory will now be tracked in Google Analytics like they are on their own domain. Which is exactly what we want.

  9. Repeat steps 4, 5 & 6 for the pages in your second subdirectory
  10. We’re now ready to set up the goals in Google Analytics

  11. Find the settings column in your first “test’ profile and click edit to add the goals:
  12. /mysub/emailformthanks.html
    /mysub/ijustgotaphonecall.html

  13. Repeat this step for the 2nd profile.

That’s it… now you’re ready to go. Split test a redesign, keywords, copy… whatever you like. And since both Mongoose Metrics and Google Analytics allow you to tag urls you can use this set up to test conversion on almost any form of internet advertising.

Local websites, typically don’t get enough traffic that these tests can be done overnight. So be patient, over the course of months, I believe they will prove invaluable when making decisions about where to spend money, how much and changing aspects of the website.

None of us are good enough that we are going to develop the very best combination of content on our first try. So, track and enjoy.

Posted in Analytics, Local Search | 7 Comments