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Google Algorithm Updates and Their Impact on Local Marketing

In Conversation with Ben Fisher

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Ben Fisher, the Founder of Steady Demand, located in Austin, Texas. He provides a deep dive into the intricacies of local SEO, with a particular focus on the optimization of Google Business Profiles. Fisher expertly dissects the evolving landscape of online reviews, shedding light on advanced strategies for reputation management. Furthermore, he dissects the role of AI in digital marketing, offering insights into its potential impact on the industry.

Watch the episode now for more insights!

Respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, and make your responses unique.

Ben Fisher
Founder of Steady Demand
Professional Ben Fisher

Hey, hi everyone. Welcome to your show E-Coffee with Experts. My name is Ranmay and today we have Ben Fisher with us, who is the Founder of Steady Demand. Welcome, Ben, to our show.

Hey, Ranmay, thanks for having me. Basically, yes, Steady Demand, we’re a 10-year-old agency. We built ourselves to be very scalable from day one and focused on local SEO. Initially, primarily only the aspect of Google My Business back in the day, a year, which is now Google Business Profile. Our team is comprised basically of GBP product experts, which I can get into later and tell you a little bit about what that’s about, and also SEOs as well as professional journalists and writers from the United States. And we offer local SEO services, of course, with a heavy emphasis on GBP.

Absolutely. Then with all the 30 years of experience in online marketing, you have seen enough Summers and Winters and enough Google algorithm updates as well. How have these changes impacted the way businesses approach local marketing in particular? And what key lessons have you learned or you probably want the audience to understand?

That’s a loaded question. Fundamentals of SEO haven’t changed much in the last 30 years, believe it or not. The biggest change that we might have is what’s coming right now with the search generative experience. That might put things on the edge a little bit, maybe. There’s a big maybe to that. Nobody knows where it’s going at the moment. When you started back in the earlier days of 1994 and 96, a couple of years before Google even came onto the scene. It was about building good content, and it was about getting links from places that were going to send you visitors, not SEO users, visitors that might convert into sales. And so you had content and you had links. What do we do today? Today, we still build content. We still get links. Those things are very true. While there are over 250 different signals that Google looks at, and maybe about 30 of those signals are local type of signals, it just really hasn’t changed that much. How we as marketers approach SEO and marketing, has changed drastically. Of course, every time an algorithm update comes out, somebody tries to figure out how we’re going to go ahead and scam the system and beat Google at their own game.

Then you’ve got the marketers who try to sell whatever they can sell, and they look at something and they’ll say, Oh, yeah, EXIF data or geotagging images is going to work great for local SEO. No, it doesn’t work great for local SEO. Works great for your monthly budget. That’s about it. Anyway, I guess that’s the thing that there also has to be an understanding of the difference between the organic algorithm and the local algorithm. The way that I like to explain that is that you’ve got your organic algorithm. This is the core of your activity I should say. And this is comprised, again, of up to over 200-250 signals. And then what you have is you have a local algorithm, which is on top of the organic algorithm. And that local algorithm is impacted by anything that you do on the organic side. But organic is not going to be impacted by local. So it’s not a two-way system. When we were talking in the green room about the importance of links, and this is that anything that you do from the organic side is going to improve your local site.

The conundrum with Google is that something can rank locally without having any organic presence. That’s true too, by the way. So just a little bit of a bump. How’s that an answer to your question, everybody?

You are a moz Local Ranking Factor contributor, and you are featured as an author on various prominent platforms. It would be great if we could shed some more light on the most critical ranking factors for local businesses and today’s SEO landscape.

Darren Shaw over at Whitespark, actually took over the ranking factors. Gosh, I want to say that was probably three years ago, something like that, and has about 30 people from the industry that contribute to that great opinion piece as far as what the ranking factors are. When it comes to local SEO, again, you have to split them into organic and local. We look primarily at the GBP side of things, the Google Business Profile. That is because when it comes to GBP, there are only maybe about four levers that you can pull that are going to help you from a local SEO standpoint. That is going to be the name of the business, the categories, and subcategories of the business, reviews to an extent, 10 reviews, 100 reviews, those are major bumps. Anything below or in between or above that is gravy, is more of a conversion factor. Keywords and reviews and responses and things like that don’t help, by the way. Just don’t do it. It’s silly. Don’t put keywords in anything except for one area. And that’s going to be in the business name. I’m sorry to you, the business name and then the services area of your GBP.

Those can impact the ranking of custom services and also the services that are suggested by Google accepting those. And you can get a ranking bump within 72 hours, and it stays. If you remove it, it goes away. It’s interesting. It’s one of the things that you can play with. Then the URL that you are linking to as a website URL, is also going to impact your ranking as well. From the organic side, so that’s ranking in the three pack, that’s ranking in maps. That’s one side of the equation. That’s a different type of intent. That’s I am looking for something near me type of intent, usually, or where near where I’m going to be. On the organic side, that’s going to be down to the blue links. That’s your standard organic search. When it comes to that, local intent could still be met, and that could be met with service pages, service area pages are usually the ones that you want to show up here. If I’m looking for, say, a personal injury lawyer in San Diego, then that page better be titled, Personal injury lawyer in San Diego, accident lawyer.

If that comes up in local search, that means it’s on more of an informational versus transactional state. And that’s what I want, is I want information. So that’s why I’m going to be searching out a query about something. And then if you have a blog post or if you have a FAQ embedded in your pages, whatever the case may be, that’s where it’s going to show up in the organic search. Again, when I’m in an informational stage, not a transactional stage.

And then we also spoke about citation quite briefly before we got onto this. Well, citation building is a key aspect of local SEO. I would like to understand what are some of the common mistakes businesses make while building those citations, and what is your advice to those businesses.

So let’s start with some pretty good quote-unquote facts. That is citations are not as important to SEO as you think. They used to be about 10 years ago, they were extremely important. Google pushed nap consistency a lot. However, what we’ve noticed over the years, is shown in the Local Ranking Factor Survey, by the way. If you look at the chart, it’ll show how people feel about citations. It’s gone down year after year. Last year, the previous year actually, was the worst that people in the industry saw citations. It was literally like a 2% effect, I think. It has gone up a little bit based on some testing, but not a huge amount. So while citations are important from an SEO perspective, local SEO perspective as a structured citation, the fact of the matter is that Google and the other search engines are very smart about understanding unstructured citations. For instance, your name is on a blog post but not linked to your website, as they are with structured citations. Now, what I normally suggest is to take care of the big ones first: Facebook, Yelp, and things like that, where your customers are going to be.

If you’re a lawyer, you want to be an Avo, of course. What I found out is that local directories from a local standpoint are going to influence your local rankings to a point. It’s a good way of getting links. It’s number one. But is it going to move the needle? Not a huge amount. Now, if you get a good Chamber of Commerce link or an EDU link or a link from somebody, a bakery in San Diego, whatever the case may be, yeah, that’s good. It’s local and it’s relevant. So it’s going to help you from that perspective. The biggest mistake that people make is when they allow a source like MaaS or Yext to become the source of truth for your Google business profile. Why is this a problem? The platforms want you to be them to be the source of truth in that way you are hooked on their service. You have no reason to leave their service. And more than likely, if it’s somebody like Yext, as soon as you stop, you don’t own your profiles. Therefore, your profiles can go away very well over about a year. Because guess what?

X is no longer paying them to keep you in their directories. So that’s the biggest mistake I see, is that people go on a citation campaign. They will allow the platform to own the profile. They will hook it up into their system, their GBP. Now, any update that is made to the platform is reflected in your GBP, which by the way, can get you suspended. And also, more importantly, is that when you’re done paying, you’re done with your citations. They own them, so they go away, which means you have to pay for them again and do them again, which can cause duplicates, which can cause all sorts of problems. But yeah, I would say that’s the biggest issue.

All right, great. Talk us through your expertise about preview management and response, and then what are the best practices that businesses should follow for reputation management or for reviews for that matter?

Sure. So when it comes to reviews, I say respond to all the reviews. You want to respond to your positive reviews, you want to respond to your negative reviews, even you want to respond to those pesky, no-only-rating reviews. And I say pesky because I even hear from my team when we respond to reviews, sometimes they get a little bit irritated. They have to respond to a five-star, no-content review because we enforce unique content. And so how many times different ways can you write thank you? It just so happens when you expand it out to 60 characters, you can say thank you in a lot of different ways. That’s the first thing I would recommend is that you put a mandate on your staff, on yourself to when you respond to a review, at least at the minimum, you’re applying with 60 characters that’ll force you to go ahead and respond to a review thoughtfully. Number two, we already said this, but I’ll say respond again to all reviews equally. You want to respond to your negative reviews first, okay? Sure. Because again, it doesn’t care. You may turn around that person’s experience, by the way, and I’ll get to that in a second.

Without a review, how to respond? But the thing is that if I’m coming and I’m thinking of it like a line. You just had user A come in, they had a bad experience, and they left. Okay, but I can’t hear what they said. All I see is that they’re an angry customer, but now I’m in the back of them. So what am I going to do is I’m going to do whatever any human being would normally do. I’m curious. Okay, negative review. Wow! Five minutes ago. I’m going to read that five days ago. It was the last review or the last series of reviews, and one of them is negative. I’m going to read that because I want to see how you’re handling that response. Are you going to tell that person to go get a hug? Is it their fault? Or are you going to own up to it? Maybe, except for the fact that it might have been your fault, come on. No business is perfect. Everybody has a good day. And are you going to learn from that? And are you going to offer some type of way of making up for it? Because it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, by the way.

What matters is the perceived intent or the perceived experience, that’s what matters. So you have to address that as if you’re addressing it to me, not to that person. What do you want me to see? And dwelling on negative reviews here, by the way, because I get so many questions about these. So yeah, there’s that. And again, we talked about this, but make your responses unique. I know I won’t encourage this, but if you have to, head to ChatGPT or something like that. Get some inspiration. And I’m guilty of this, by the way. I don’t do it a lot, but I’m guilty of it. I’ve experimented with it a lot. That is, you can make a very simple prompt. That prompt is to act like a business owner, I want you to respond to a review from Ranmay Rath. Here are the contents of the review. It was a five-star review. Write this in a human response. No humor, be professional. Make this under 60 characters. Period. And then hit Enter. It’ll come back and it’ll respond. It’ll be under 60 characters. You’ll be with a human tone. If you don’t say don’t be funny, by the way, it’ll be funny.

So for some reason, you’ll see human tones as being funny, whatever. Okay, science felt great. You’re human. But anyway, that’s a way you can get some inspiration for writing a review response if you get stuck.

Again, don’t stick in keywords, Please.

I can complain late to the fact when you said no business is perfect. Everyone will have a bad day someday or another. It is more about owning up versus actually having all five-star reviews, let’s say you have a three-star and you go back, respond, fix up whatever the issue was, and then get a good review. Then probably me as a new consumer to your website or whatever to your this thing shows that even if this business is not perfect or goes through a rough day, they’re going to come back and fix my issue. So I’m in good hands versus having those five-star reviews without any experience mentioned there, I’m going to go to a 4.5 starter.

If i see that there have been experiences which are not really that great for consumers before me, but they’ve gone back and fixed that issue and now the consumer is happy. That way, I’m more thought in terms of having any transaction with that particular business.

Hopefully, they’ll update their review, by the way. You can’t specifically ask for them to update their review. You can hint that it would be nice to let other users know about your new experience. With Google, there are a lot of rules when it comes to reviews, but basically, there are two tenants to think about, and that is, again, no solicitation. Number one, you can’t give somebody something to leave a review, period. Full stop. If you have proof, report it. They’ll get the reviews removed, which actually will affect their ranking, by the way, if you can get them down below a certain point. Anyway, that’s a different story.

You also mentioned ChatGPT, which brings us to our next topic, which is about so much extensive experience in online marketing in the digital space. How do you see this AI and machine learning thing playing in the future of local SEO and digital marketing strategies overall for that matter?

Good question. I was just on, excuse me, a webinar with Birds Eye talking about speaking about AI a lot this year. To back up, in 2013, Google released the Hummingbird algorithm, and this freaked everybody out. They didn’t understand what the Hummingbird was all about. At its core, Hummingbird was all about large language models, semantic search, and trying to derive meaning from either your search or from an entity. So basically, any semantic SEO rules are applied. The problem is that there are hardly any semantic SEO people out there. You mentioned that you interviewed a good old friend of mine who is no longer with us, Bill Solowski. Bill studied patents inside and out, but he was also a nice semantic SEO expert as well. And there’s still not a lot of them out there. We understand meaning to a certain point, but not very far. Now you have to become an expert and you don’t have a choice. So basically, anyway, semantic SEO has been around for a very long time. Ai has been around for a long time. What we currently have today is not AI, by the way.

We do not have a true generative search. That is a learning, human learning, by the way, language model, which we don’t have. Google has it. Yes, they do. With DeepMind, it’s about seven years old, I think, is how they say it. Right now, yes, it can be people to go and play games and all sorts of stuff like that. But it’s not a true AI model. The closest we got to it was Sydney with me. That was interesting. Anyway, how is this all going to affect the local SEO? As far as today goes, it’s not. Period. It just isn’t. Right now, users have to opt in for the beta with Google, so they have to know they can opt-in number one. Number two, they have to be interested enough to opt in Number three, they would have to have their entire way of habits of searching disrupted, not happening. What we’re seeing is that the adopters of this right now, and this is true by the way of any real big update that happens in technology, marketers. In this case, very interestingly, 18 to 24-year-old males. Those are the people that are using the generative search from Google.

Bing lost their market share. That’s who cares? They had a little bit of Upswell. And then you’ve got the sideline tools like ChatGPT and Anthropic. Now, those are more assistants than they are used for search. And that’s the big thing that people were concerned about was that with AI, this was going to disrupt how people search. As of today, it’s not going to. Now, what’s going to happen in five years, 10 years? That’s what you need to think about. Because the way this product rollout is going to happen is going to happen how Google does things. They’re putting it out in a beta test right now. They’re going to gather a ton of feedback. They still have their roadmap, by the way. They’re going to listen to your feedback, though, so give feedback. But the way that ultimately it’s going to play out is they’ll start doing slow rollouts to multiple countries. They just launched in India and Japan, I think it is. This just happened a couple of weeks ago. Now that it’s hitting India, that’s a good sign because India is a test bed for a lot of Google’s tests.

I don’t know if you knew that or not, but they use India for very specific reasons. That’s a good thing. That means it’s getting rolled out a little bit more of it as far as acceptance. The problem is the way that Google does things. As we know, there’s a Google graveyard. Lots of starts, lots of stops. The AI integration may end up there, by the way. Because again, how they do things, which I’m about to get into, and that is that they usually will roll out the beta, then they’ll do a rollout, slow rollout. They’ll monitor what’s going on. The problem is you have product managers who are very invested in this product. So what they’ll do is they will position it in such a way as to give them the numbers and the results they need to further promote that piece or that feature of the product, in this case, generative AI. When it gets rolled out, they’re going to be looking at it like, Oh, yeah, success. Even if nobody uses it, it’s probably going to be here to stay. How is it going to affect locals? But it’s got a five-pack is what there is.

It’s a five-pack with rated reviews, ratings, and citation sources, which by the way, are not always accurate. So that’s another big thing. They test it without there being a five-pack. So currently, things are just in flux. But I don’t think it’s going to affect local in the way you think it’s going to affect local because there is no one answer when it comes to local. You can get one answer, How do I make a cake? A birthday cake with ice cream? Okay, great. No problem. You can lead me down that thought ladder. But when you’re looking for a personal injury attorney out of San Diego, what are you going to do? Write a prompt. Personal injury lawyer out of San Diego who handles cases that deal with broken hips where an accident happened on the I-4, or I-15, and by the way, they must have a review, you’re not going to do that. You’re just not going to. Again, I don’t think there’s a problem today. Five years? Yes. Do I think that as marketers and as agencies, we need to pay attention to it? Yes, absolutely. You pay attention to it or you die.

Great idea, Ben. Finally, for us, firing digital marketers and SEO professionals, what advice would you give to those looking to build a successful career in this ever-evolving field, considering the experience that you have in this particular space?

So the biggest thing I would recommend is this, and I know you have a pretty wide audience. You’ve got everything probably from your solopreneurs who are just starting an agency to multi-location franchises and enterprises. At the end of the day, the answer is still the same, by the way. A lot of agencies, they like to take the approach of, I’m going to do it all. And my wife self laughs when I see an agency and I go to their website and I go to the About page and it is one person. And then I go to the menu of their services and it’s this big grid of services that they offer. Seo, email marketing, PPC and they break it down into all these different categories. The reason why I laugh is because I already know that’s doomed to failure. One person cannot be an expert in 30 categories, period. You’re a generalist which means that your business is a hobby, which means it’s not going to scale, which means it’s a lifestyle business. You’re not going to grow. That’s fine if that’s what you want. Most entrepreneurs don’t want this.

So my first tip, I guess you could say, is to find good partners to work with that complement your skills. If you’re good at technical SEO, find a good friend and guy. Find somebody who’s good with local and farm that out. White-label it out. Get under their white-label program if they have one. We do this, by the way, with agencies. When we started as an agency-first agency, and so we served as a white-label partner for a lot of agencies, and we price ourselves in that market too. What we’ll have a lot of agencies do is they’ll come to us and they’ll either get just our table stakes, our GBP management and optimization, or they’ll look at the program that I was telling you about, which is like the assurance, the insurance basically for a Google business profile. Why? It’s low cost, it’s effective, and they can show results right away. Okay, so what they’ll do is they’ll use that as their lead-in. I just had an agency do this. They have a client who has 70 locations. They’re like, I have no idea how I could handle this alone. They’re like, But I can just offer you a service, right?

And I was like, Yeah, of course you can. The market is up 100 % Yeah, no problem. That’s what they’re doing. They’re going to get that 70-location client. They’re going to be able to do what they do well, and they’re going to be able to make a profit off of being a white-level agent. Anyway, at the end of the day, that’s my biggest tip for an agency is going to be to figure out what you’re good at, an outsource the rest. You can always bring things in-house later if you want to, but if you’re making a profit, why don’t you want to? And be realistic. Anyway, we’ll start there. Let’s just put it that way. There are a lot of different things you can talk to when it comes to agencies and servers.

Great, Ben. Lovely. But before we let you go, I’d like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. All right, your last Google search.

Your last google search. That’s a good one.

You can look at your system. This is an open book. Don’t worry.

It was probably personal injury lawyers in San Diego.

Are you a prospect there then?

More likely. I got a lot of clients in San Diego, but yeah.

Lovely. What did you do with your first paycheck?

First paycheck? God, that’s a great question. What did I do with my first paycheck?

Come on, think through.

Good questions, man. I’m just trying to think. I think I used it as part of a down payment on a car if I remember correctly.

All right. Plans for next vacation. This is an easy one.

Plans for next vacation. I’m going out to Austin to speak. No, it’s probably going to be Caribbean.

No, I got something to do. Google HQ is in London. That is a vacation.

Now, okay, wonderful. Okay, the last one will not grill you any further. Let’s say if we were to make a movie on you on Ben Fisher, what genre would it be?

What genre would it be? Action Hero, of course. Come on.

Right, great. Probably more like a detective, but yes.

Yeah, I can imagine. Detective, yeah, can imagine. With all the insights that you shared today, I can vouch for that. It was lovely speaking with you, and I’m sure our audience would benefit a lot from what they heard from you. We appreciate you taking the time and doing this with us, man.

Yeah, no problems. If you have any questions or if you need anything around Google business profile or Local SEO, hit me up, steady demand.com or the social dude on Twitter. I refuse to call a deck.

Lovely. Thank you so much, Ben.

All right, sounds good. Thanks for having me, Ranmay

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