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Local SEO and Online Reviews: Key Strategies for Business Success

In Conversation with Alexandra Watson

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Alexandra Watson, Chief Strategy Officer at GTMA. Alexandra addresses challenges faced by local businesses in digital marketing and emphasizes educating clients about marketing ROI and consumer journeys. Watch Now!

Implementing effective SEO strategies is key to improving organic visibility and driving qualified traffic to websites.

Alexandra Watson
Chief Strategy Officer at GTMA

Hey. Hi everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Ms. Alexander Watson with us from GTMA. I love the name Good Times Marketing Agency. Welcome Alexander, our show.

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Great. It is a pleasure, Alexandra, before we move on and discuss more about digital marketing in detail, I request you to introduce yourselves to us tonight and we’ll take it off from there.

Great. First I’ll say that GTMA is a full-service digital agency. We began as a creative shop. Our founders had Hollywood production experience both on and off camera and so they brought that into the advertising world and online digital marketing at a time, 12 years ago when that was not the standard.

And so we specialized at that time in multi-family apartment marketing. We’ve since diversified in, in 2019 really, we began to move outside of that sphere and have more and more of our clients in other industries and verticals. So we are a full stack agency. We do branding and web design, award-winning video and visual production, social content, SEO, reputation, marking, PPC, and many other things.

And our focus and the thing that ties our clientele together is that we are working, with a local or hyperlocal strategy. So we prefer to have clients that have a physical, presence, physical products, and services that we can use that hyperlocal approach and have flexible packages for them at multiple budget levels so that we can customize to their needs and their local market.

And I joined G T M A in 2019. I came in as a director with prior agency experience, and I hold a master’s degree in advertising. I have taught advertising at SMU out of Dallas, and both social media marketing and digital marketing. And I’m certified in analytics, SEO, search, and display. I’ve even written a book on strategic digital marketing that’s available on Amazon. So I came in first as the director, just of organic. But I’m currently the director of media and marketing. So everything from SEO and reputation marketing to the social content and the paid side as well.

Great. Thank you. I’ll book my copy tonight for sure.

Thank you.

So you did mention your marketing journey, approved cash rate, and having your book what are, before we move on. So I would like to understand, more about your marketing aspirations as of today. Where do you see yourself moving up the ladder?

You know how, depending on the journey so far, what are your aspirations?

I’ve worked as a freelance consultant for quite a while between agency jobs and considered, developing my agency from that. But I prefer to be at the strategic center and currently, I’m in a director position.

I actually will be accepting a promotion with GTMA to the chief marketing officer in April. And so I will be ahead of everything for media and marketing outside of our creative services department. So I’ll work alongside our CO and our CEO on the executive leadership team. And I think that’s where I function best because I like to help develop and mentor other marketers and have my hand and, it’s strategically with the clients and the big picture of what they’re doing across all of those disciplines.

Many congratulations in advance for that. Oh, thank you. Great. You, Alexandra, you have seen it all. It’s quite some time that you spent in the industry space. Management, how important is it for business? Especially in today’s digital age.

I think it’s extremely important and it is more and more a portion of the SEO signals that we’re looking for as a part of, authority and experience online. And so businesses need to pay attention to their reviews and make it a priority to respond to them promptly because it does not only have they responded, but how quickly they respond and what percentage of reviews they respond to. And so it’s, I think, a common misunderstanding is they’re that, that they’re just answering the reviewer when in reality we know as marketers how much people refer to reviews and trust those as an information source. And so you’re not only talking to the person that left the review, but you’re broadcasting out to your prospects also, which is why it’s extremely important to provide those answers.

also, in terms of how you’re responding to those reviews we see a lot of common answers being sent out for both positive and negative reviews, through software, and all of that. So how you are responding to your negative reviews also plays an important role. Yeah. Yeah, it does play an important role. Absolutely. How do you which online review platforms to focus on for a specific business or industry or, how do you ensure consistent messaging across all platforms?

I think having a centralized team and a centralized dashboard help for that so that you can get the full picture across all of the different channels that people are utilizing. And then really the most important channels are going to depend on you. The industry is vertical and your business needs certain things that would lend themselves to Yelp for a local business. People certainly look to a service like Yelp when they’re looking for restaurants or, local services, handyman services, home services in their area, that kind of thing. But others for instance, like our multi-family Marketing Teams apartments.com and apartment finder.com, are our, niche industry sources that people go to and leave reviews on.
And so it really, you have to look for your particular business needs to see, where are people leaving information and where are they looking for sources of referrals and trusted peer feedback as they see it. Google is always going to be in the mix there because the Google reviews are right into the, feeding into their Google mic, and Google business profile.
But certainly, there are other channels outside of Google to look to as well for reviews.

Absolutely. Talking about local seo small businesses While they’re starting, they have their challenges. And they try to feed in as much information as they can in terms of what services they’re into. Ask them for you ask them for let’s say a quick introduction. They give you, good three, four pages in terms of what you do. After your experience, what are some of the common challenges, That have been faced by local businesses when it comes to you, local SEO, and digital marketing or and how have you helped them in the past in terms of overcoming these challenges?

Yeah, that’s it. It’s an interesting question. I think a lot of small businesses, first of all, if they’re a smaller local business struggle with budget, First off, they don’t even, they don’t know how much to invest in, their marketing, and they oftentimes don’t want to make that investment until they are really at a loss, for-profit or customers. And so I think the first thing is educating them and the need to fill the sales funnel so that they understand that it’s not something that they should just do. Turn on and off when they have a desperate need, but there is value in marketing and filling that funnel even from the time of, oh, just brand awareness and consideration so that they’re developing leads and prospects all the time.

To keep that funnel going and so having that conversation, I think is important upfront so that they understand that this is not going to be or should not be an on-off kind of situation where they’re just right dabbling in marketing now and then. And I think that is important. And then we all know that especially with local businesses as well, that a lot of them faced challenges with the Covid pandemic and they had to adapt and they had to learn.

To operate more nimbly and also be more digital. Even if they have a physical product or service, they had to learn to adapt and be online in ways that they maybe had not ventured into before the pandemic. And so I think that it’s important for us as marketers too, to assist them in that and help them understand, the digital landscape and how it evolves quickly, how the platforms change. And just be nimble for them and help them to understand, how they can bridge that gap between their physical products and services and, Digital marketing online because whether they have a physical product or service to purchase or an e-commerce one, people are still going online to do their research.

Yeah. And to lead up to that purchase behavior, even if they want to purchase in person. And so it’s helping them bridge that gap between the digital world and the physical one.

Absolutely. A very valid point mentioned by you, when you. When you talked about how to educate your customers, there are a lot of clients who walk in thinking, this is an investment, this is the return, but it does not work that way.

As marketers who have been there its ownership is on us to educate them. First of all, if, first of all, if that is the right way to go about it, if they should be investing, in that direction or not. And if yes, What are the kind of results that they can expect?

And what is the timeline for that?

right and putting on that consumer mindset for them. So they’re thinking, what are the touchpoints that people are going to have with your business? And what are your key performance indicators for your metrics? How are we going to measure success for you so that we know what our goals are and we can, track and report around those as well, so that they understand that?

There’s at least a path, to conversion. Even if we if even if they’re in an industry or have a product that is hard to determine in a direct ROI, we can still give them a return on their ad spend essentially, right? And we need to set that up in advance. We need to start with the end in mind with them.

So that helps to put them in that consumer mindset and say let’s walk through the consumer journey.

Absolutely because we are also enrolled in traffic in a volume that is the kinda football that is, that you’re getting onto your website, but what is happening with that kinda traffic? Are they clicking on the exact points where you want them to click? Is the action happening? If not, then that is not much benefit that you’re getting all of that. The particular amount of traffic, even if they’re coming on your website, the purchase is not happening, right?

As you mentioned, we have to, through the consumer journey, understand if there is X traffic landing on your page, how exactly are they? Reacting or, behaving after landing on your website or the landing page so that you gain some amount of traction from that kinda traffic, which is coming onto your page.

Yeah. Analyzing the entire consumer journey with the business makes a lot of sense in terms of driving home that revenue, because the end of the day, after a while, it’s all about revenue in terms of versus what amount of traffic they are getting right.

Yeah. Google business profile, obviously Google, rename this jargon, right? What are some of the best practices for optimizing your Google business profile, keeping in mind how to improve your local search rankings?

Yeah. First I think that they need to understand that.

The Google business profile has a unique place in the market because it is part of their organic search results. And so that’s important for them to know. So they certainly should take a look at that profile as an extension of their organic presence. They need to have one primary category with Google, and that category is an important selection because that will drive what the attributes and available fields are for the rest of their profiles hinges around that primary category. For instance, our multi-family marketing clients are considered a, it’s a product when you’re in an apartment complex. And so we take advantage of that by using their floor plans as theirs. Their actual products are within the platform so that people can see the various layouts and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and that kind of thing.

So you can use that to your advantage if you understand that, oh, as an apartment complex, we’re going to have products, not services, and how can we use those within the profile itself? So they can always add additional categories, but that primary category is really important. And then making sure of course with the NAP information, name, address, and phone number, that they have their basic business information as complete as they possibly can and that it’s consistent not only on the Google profile but on their website and across their digital real estate. Also, they need to have that consistency. Then of course, after that, Make sure their business hours are updated, and continually updated. Especially if they have, closures for holidays or seasonality or that kind of thing. And then adding photos is extremely important as well. It’s also a good conversation with them so they know that they can’t control all of the photos on a business profile because consumers can also put photos on the profile as well, but they can manage the narrative at least by having professional photos available and by refreshing those so that they’re top of the feed and then staying on top of up of updates.

Utilizing Google posts is important as well so that they can. Take advantage of advertising, specials and promotions, and key products and events by using Google posts as part of their social content plan.

Absolutely, having consistency of map across your profiles is also very important.

A lot of small businesses in fact businesses, I would say make that mistake of, having different maps, at least phone numbers or addresses, across multiple forums. So the uniformity there is a very important signal to Google about the genuineness of the business, right? Yeah. And then we did men, we did talk about local reviews, right? And then customer feedback. We, when.

When we look at it from a consumer perspective and buy something for ourselves, we go through that. It’s a very human thing to do that, right? At GMTA, what are the strategies that you use for businesses for your clients to encourage positive reviews?

As you said, Peers look for that. Consumers look for that feedback. They trust it. Inherently trust reviews that they have seen online, which is important for businesses to understand even more than an expert in the field. A lot of times, people will trust an anonymous online review because they see that more as authentic and peer feedback.

And so it, yeah, they view it as more authentic and unfiltered. And so it’s really important to prioritize reviews for that matter. And it certainly, as we said, talks ties into your trustworthiness as an SEO factor, but we often for us, have to caution our clients about trying to solicit reviews because they automatically want to go there to say, oh, if I need reviews, Then I’m gonna offer a promotion or incentivize people in some way, which is not the right thing to do.

Yelp in particular, has Yelp users have been burned in the past with that and to the point where now Yelp, hides reviews if the user is unverified or it’s their first review on the platform. Every user has to have an established history of providing reviews before Yelp will even put them back into the mix rather than incentivizing them. We encourage our clients to look from an operational point of view. Where is it natural to ask customers to leave feedback? See it as an opportunity to improve your customer service really and be prepared to take some good with the bad. Also because of the bad with the good I should say that it’s okay if you don’t have a five-star rating at all times. Or if you have, three stars or you have some mix in there, because again, that speaks to the authenticity of the customer experience. Absolutely and so be prepared for that and it is okay. And actually, Users trust that more than they would a completely, pristine, perfect review history because that doesn’t speak to authenticity.

So we take a look again at the operations that you have and say, is it immediately after the order experience or the fulfillment of a maintenance or a warranty request at the renewal of a contract or at the point of unsubscribing or subscribing to a newsletter list? Those are all opportunities to naturally collect feedback.

And so make it easy for consumers to do that and to know where and how to leave the feedback. So if you have preferred channels that you would like them to leave reviews put that on your signage or your front desk, your customer service areas, or in your newsletters or marketing materials so it’s convenient for people to know where to go. And operationally you’re asking for feedback at those natural touchpoints because that will be much easier for the consumer to leave the review and more authentic than if you’re trying to just incentivize them to say something good about you.

Yeah. In fact, more natural about the entire process. Make more, make it more human. You know what, we also generally prefer that, 4.2 to 4.67 ish. The rating is more general. And, if you’re a volume of more volume of reviews versus, just 10 reviews, all of them five stars, and the aspect of it as a consumer, if I buy something, if I get a good product, I feel that it is my right But if I do not get 10 outta 10 services, then I as a human have the habit of complaining about it, right? And I make sure that I go back and I find out where to put in a review and people do that, right?

So this is where, as businesses, we should be ensuring that this looks more natural. Some, there is some mistake from your end and you have gone back and rectified that mistake and that same consumer has left you a positive review versus, all of them positive.

So this gives this kind of, gives as a buyer, as a prospective buyer for me, as an image, even if this XYZ business does commit some mistake, or if something goes wrong, they’re there to fix it. They’re a very strong operational team, which kind of goes back and fixes the problems. Businesses at times tend to ignore and, only focus on good reviews Yeah like we spoke, it does make an important it does play an important role in terms of making that final consumer decision while buying a product or a service.

It’s a demonstration of your customer service, and what do you do when there’s an issue? Do you resolve it? And they want to see that. They want to know if I have a problem, are you going to respond to me? Are you going to make this right? And you’re, again, it’s an opportunity to show how your business responds to those situations. So you’re talking again to those prospects and not just to that single reviewer. So closing that loop for them and having them understand that, you will correct mistakes, that you will follow through if there was a shipping delay or, a damaged product arrived or that kind of thing.

That’s extremely useful to them to know upfront and it gives them more validation about their purchase, you know that to say, oh, okay, if there’s an, if there’s something wrong here, this company will fix it because they follow through.

Absolutely. So I was speaking with one of my automotive clients and mentioned a very nice technology for this which we are all aware of.

It says that it is a very automotive thing, but it says that what I guarantee to my customer is post-sales service. So if that is there, at least my customer is secure, that, I might make mistakes, but I’m there to cover up for that. As you mentioned, a very valid point.

Shipping delays, damaged goods, this can all happen. This is very natural, right? But at least if I as a consumer or a prospective buyer have that confidence, that this particular retailer is gonna fix it for me, so I’ll go ahead and buy it without having that confidence in the retailer.

Often that’s the deciding factor between your business and another one to say, oh, this one stands behind their product, or This one has better follow through or customer service. That’s, that’s a deciding factor for them to say, why not buy from a competitor because you have a better, authentic reputation online of following through and better customer service that can get you the sale right there.

Absolutely and talking about local link building for improving, businesses, and local search results, according to you, what are some of the effective strategies to be able to do that?

So first just to quickly define local link building for people, cultivating and publishing links from other sites to yours, so backlinks.

Mentions of your brand or business information elsewhere it’s helping to build your experience and your authority by others using you as a reference point. So I think local links are extremely important for businesses to understand that it’s a part of their map ranking results and their local search results.

So the key is cultivating local links that are relevant and that are high quality because bad quality links could harm your reputation and your ranking. Start first again with your NAP. Make sure that your name, address, phone number, your basic business information is correct, and that it’s consistent everywhere because that consistency, again, will help.

Then from there, really focus on creating local content. Build a list of citations that could help, and those can be as simple as local directories, listing sites that would add value, or possibly refer traffic. That’s where services like Yex or Moz Local can be useful for businesses also to centralize that in one place.

And then really outside of that, it’s building links from other local businesses and institutions in your service area. So it’s not as complex as people might think. It just takes, it takes time to develop those, but reach out and establish other business relationships, local bloggers, newspapers, and event sites.

Chambers of commerce or downtown directories, even local charities that you might partner with or give back to. Those can also be valuable allies for your business. So think again in terms of your operations. Who do you, and what vendors do, you use? Who do you work with? Who else is in your area?

Other business owners can band together with you and you can get reciprocal links, from those relationships. If you think of that strategically about your Impact in your service area.

A very valid point there. You did also mention Google Posts, what tactics have you found to be most successful while using Google Posts?

Posts, I, as I said, are a part of that search profile, so they return kind of additional organic search results for people. So it is an effective way of. Just extend your online presence and drive more traffic to your site. So we find that it’s.

You want anything you post there, unlike just a normal social media post, you want that to be very business-centric. You don’t even if you have a local partner business or something, you might post about them on social media, but that’s not the place to post them on your Google Post because then you’re promoting their business and not your own.

So make sure it’s very business-centric on your Google posts, but utilize them for specials and promotions, event marketing, and featured products, you can showcase things thereby, adding them to your products and then calling them out in a post to say that if you have special features on a particular addition or a particular model type or floor plan or whatever it might be.

So just proactively do that to feature your products and services. You also can, obviously run a promotion or a special if you have a surplus of inventory or availability on something in particular. So just put that into your calendar and marketing funnel as a means of promoting what you have most available and making sure that you’re utilizing them as one of your channels for special offers because that can be very attractive to somebody when they’re coming across just organic search results to see that, there’s a special or promotion on something that they were already searching for. It’s low-hanging fruit to do that and have it available in your Google posts.

Absolutely. You keep on mentioning the floor plan, right?

That’s the multi-family marketing side. Yeah.

Alexander, it has been really lovely. Picking up your brains on digital marketing SEO, local SEO at large. Before we kinda let you go you like to play a quick rapid fire. I hope you are game for it. Superb. What did you do with your first salary, your first paycheck?

I remember first of all thinking that, this is like the most money I’ve ever made. At one time. That, first of all, yeah, I was like, oh, I’m gonna get, keep getting this amount. And in, in hindsight, it was not that much. But I think honestly I just did very practical things and said that I can pay my rent and my bills and pay down my credit card.

It is just, basic adulting.

We all pay rent as well, out 10 things, which 10 times, which I hear from know clients pay rent, and so that is what we, I did as well. And coming to the second part, your favorite sport.

I honestly am a big fan of the Olympics, so I love watching all of the water sports, and gymnastics.

So that every time the Olympics comes around. That’s the thing. On a more regular basis, we are a bit of a rugby household. So, not the typical American response probably. But we do also watch football teams as well.

Football teams. Okay. Which one?

I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan and we also really enjoy watching the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oh, okay. And then my husband is a very big soccer fan as well. But he could tell you, endless teams. I’m not sure what his favorites are at the moment.

Where do we find you at Friday evening’s post office?

Sadly, usually working too late. After that, usually honestly, just I’m playing games with my family. We like a lot of board games, card games, that kind of thing. So that’s our go-to. If we’re going out, then it’s usually to the movie theater to see what’s like the latest movie release.

Great. We have already asked you a lot of questions to understand you at large. It was lovely having you on our show and we’ll try and get hold of you for another more detailed one and then your future, but great. Yeah, thank you so much for taking out time for this.

I’m sure our audiences would’ve benefitted a lot from picking up your brains on SEO, and digital marketing at large. So, thank you so much.

Thank you. It was great to have this opportunity and be on the show, so I appreciate it.

Thank you so much. Pleasure

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