the zip local marketing podcast ep 1
We’ve launched a podcast on all things local marketing. Every Wednesday, I’ll share an interview with a marketer or business person I admire, asking for tips on local marketing.
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M: Hi Garrett. So this is Megan Hannay, and today I have Garrett French. This is our first episode of The Zip, a local marketing podcast created by ZipSprout. For our inaugural episode I’ll be speaking with my ZipSprout co-founder and link building expert Garrett French on local link building. So Garrett, can you tell me about your very first local oriented link building project. How it went, what you were trying to do it and how was it.
G: You know, one that comes to mind, and this was before we, or maybe simultaneously to ZipSprout, but we wanted to do our standard kind of informational style link building. You know, educational, high utility content and then asking people to link to it, and that’s sort of where we learned that it’s really tough and the\e’s not many local links and resource page linkers. So this is sort of a brutal lesson, and this is one of those lessons that sort of forced us into a position of having to innovate or figure things out. It’s never pleasant to have these kinds of failures and incidentally it’s also when I learned about how to restructure contracts because we hadn’t charged for any of the content. We just thought we would charge for the links earned, and so we ended up losing quite a bit of money on the project too because we built the cost of content into the link service as opposed to charging for content separately. It was a very painful lesson but we learned it. That’s the earliest one I remember. I’m sure that there were earlier ones but nothing that was quite so stark as signing up to build somebody twenty local links and getting one. It was brutal.
M: I guess I should back up a step, because obviously link building is a branch of marketing. It’s a branch of SEO. But it’s a very particular tactic. When might local link building be needed? When should a marketer look and say, “Oh I need local link building for this project” as opposed to other SEO or other marketing tactics.
G: Okay. Links impact rankings. They impact Google’s trust in your website and Google’s opinion or belief about your website or what topics its about, what it is an authority on. We definitely see links having an impact at the local level. It’s a little different than how links impact at the national levels. There’s different kinds of lenses or filters on the local data that Google’s adding into the search. There’s a lot more location specificity going on. You’ll see Mac’s pop up – the 3-pack or whatever pack it is these days. There’s a lot more experimentation going on at the local level on Google’s part in terms of how they’re displaying data and a lot of how they’re displaying that data impacts where you end up ranking and how effective link building will actually be. You know you need local link building when you’re not ranking for terms in a region that you’d like to rank for. That could either be the open term rank, like just the term of application qualifying. And then whatever your term is like “rocking chairs” in Raleigh-Durham. If you used to have a rocking chair store in Raleigh you want to rank for rocking chairs. When people are searching in Raleigh, you also want to rank.. In both of those cases, you probably need some links. Not a ton because there’s probably not a lot of competition for selling rocking chairs. Maybe there’s more than I think. Probably not a whole lot. And I would always be looking for how do you get links that also can bring you potential sales to your website as well and potentially interested customers. When are people interested in rocking chairs and what sites locally are appealing to people who might be interested in the rocking chair? I don’t know the answer, but that’s where you kind of start thinking. I think a Farmer’s Market as a rocking chair kind of place, like it kind of makes sense to have rocking chairs there. Having a little section of rocking chairs, take a load off and sit in one of our rocking chairs at the Farmer’s Market. You have then the potential to get in front of some customers but also the Farmer’s Market happens to link to your website too. The Farmer’s Market is local, so Google has associated local information to that website and that gets transferred to you as well. In that sense that’s what I think happens. I made up a phrase called geo-relevance, and I don’t know if that is a technical thing, but there is geographical signals that Google picks up when a website that is local and Google doesn’t know if that site is local or not or how local it is or if it’s local trusted and so it’s sort of a vote for getting you into being associated with the local queries in the local area.
M: So that makes a lot of sense and I think the rocking chair is a great example if you’re a small local business but what if you’re a large national brand that makes rocking chairs and has franchise rocking chair stores? How can an enterprise-level business be on the lookout for local link building needs in all of their markets and decide if they do need link building in particular areas?
G: You’re going to use, in these cases use rank tracking, I presume, to know what cities you’re light in or where you’d like to make a difference. You’re going to be breaking a little bit of that paid search budget on a monthly basis. Well, you don’t have to stop doing paid search but that’s usually where most of the money is. Use some of that for some local links and you’re going to be doing this in that city for probably six months or so and trying to consistently build links there. I would do a mixture of tactics. I would look for maybe getting some rocking chair reviews or be looking to do some rocking chair donations, trying to make them prizes for raffles if you can find them, maybe giveaways for schools where they’re trying to raise some money with the PTA. Can we donate them as prizes possibly for races and 5K’s, that sort of thing? So I would be looking at when you have a physical product at doing lots of in-kind, like, “How do we get this product in front of audiences, and the brand in front of audiences?” Scaling it is obviously the tricky thing and it’s not necessarily particularly easy in a single city to find all the different opportunities that exist for a brand or a product to kind of engage with a collective audience but that’s what you’d have to do. Now Megan, if you could share some of – you’ve done a lot of thinking about structuring a sponsorship campaign. I think the work you’ve done could be useful to somebody who’s trying to scale on a multi-city basis. You have queries to run, like prospecting queries in your articles I think?
G: So, if someone could run the queries from Megan’s articles, they’ll be able to find some opportunities and just start poking around and just seeing what’s out there, seeing what kinds of opportunities exist for engaging with these local communities, local clusters.
M: We can definitely add those queries to the article that will accompany this audio post. So let’s say you’re a marketer and you’re thinking about starting link building, I’m curios from your perspective as a professional link builder, both local and national, how do you feel like a link builder’s brain works? How do you think that your brain is different from regular SEO people’s brains? How do you brainstorm particular tactics and campaigns for your clients?
G: Sure, that’s an interesting question. I think in a lot of SEOs there’s quite a lot of literalness in their thinking about what is or isn’t an opportunity, about what my topic is. I think the first approach I would recommend is really thinking more about trying to – this sounds very “Yoda” but – trying to see the web as it is instead of trying to make it fit your key words, whatever your keywords is. So what I’m saying is, if I’m the rocking chair store example, well you could say, “Okay, I only want local web sites that are about rocking chairs.” Well guess what? You have the only one. Or there is maybe three but they’re your competitors. This is where I think a lot of people hit brick walls. Link builders hit brick walls. You start to take these steps back and say, “Okay, where does a rocking chair live?” Well, it’s furniture. It’s wood. It’s for relaxation. It’s a little bit for communities. We talk about having rocking chairs on our front porches. You start to think about what is this thing made of? How do we connect its material into potential local pages? How do we connect its utility into local pages, into local websites that may or may not exist? You start looking around and there’s a lot of – for me, at the beginning of a campaign, when I’m designing a campaign, there’s a lot of “what if’s” and “maybes” and “what is the approximate topic are we’re working in?” I do a lot of thinking in that manner. I feel like that’s something that’s pretty different. I feel like when a lot of SEOs approach link building they’re thinking in terms of keywords that they want to rank. That’s correct. They know where the money is. But sometimes you can’t go directly to that term to build links because that term isn’t going to lead you to linking opportunities, it’s going to lead you to competitors. You have to think about what terms are lined up with audiences. For some reason that’s a little tricky and it’s not necessarily a place where I think a lot of SEOs go but being able to think in terms of audience-defining keywords is really a big deal. Being able to break your product or service out of its market confines, thinking about where and how your target keyword fits in academic sense or how it fits sociologically. You know, its component materials; the academic schools from which it arose. Rocking chairs for example, there’s a lot of different ways to think about that product and where potential pages could be that it would make sense for you to try and sponsor or websites for you to potentially contribute content to. That’s where, for me, I search and try to crack things open. I think it’s trying to crack open the keyword that is so kind of tricky for a lot of SEOs and people who are trained in paid search it’s even tougher where you’re used to paid search where you know how much it costs to rank for this keyword and you know how much you make and it’s just a real cut and dry scenario.
M: It’s a different world.
G: It really ends up stifling this initial way of taking a step back from a keyword and really asking, “What is it made of? What are its components? Its conceptual components.”
M: In an interesting way it sounds like you’re saying that literal link building is also metaphorical link building because you’re building links between certain keywords and other entities online.
G: Sure. I don’t know that that’s how Google thinks necessarily but it’s how you have to think in order to find the most relevant or relevant-as-possible opportunities at the local level because they’re few and far between. They really are. It’s a real desert. Except in some areas like blogs – some cities have a large number of bloggers. There can be a little more flexibility and willingness to engage when you find bloggers. Again, not in every city. Not a one-size-fits-all situation.
M: Speaking of particular cities and going back to when you were speaking of how enterprise companies usually will use tools to track rankings, what tools are your favorites to track local ranks and local rankings and what are some of your most recommended tools to use?
G: Sure. I don’t actually track local rankings so I don’t know. There are a handful of tools, I know Darren Shaw has one.
M: Yeah, Whitespark is a great one.
G: Tracking local links we have in house tools to check and see if the page on which we requested a link has actually added a link. You can also look in Ahrefs or Majestic to find their latest, most recently-added links as well to the page you targeted. The other interesting sort of side note is that local, in itself, as long as you’re not trying to target a single location, isn’t necessarily difficult and often by nature many, many websites are local.
M: Right. Because everyone lives somewhere.
G: Being deliberate about where you’re building links from. We get links from Australian websites pretty frequently but when we try to go out to just Australian website link building it really changes, it’s much more difficult. Anyhow, just a note that if we’re talking about local link building, many, many websites are operated by an organization that’s in a particular city. There not necessarily always related to that city but often they are. Many times they are. It’s a fine line between link building and local link building, but local link building with deliberate intent, or a particular city targeted, starts to become tricky if you’re trying to get links from websites that are overly associated with that particular city.
M: Ok. That makes a lot of sense. I feel like a lot of times its easy to share success stories – although I love that at the beginning you talk about a fail story – but are there any local link building or just general link building fails that you’ve observed even if you haven’t been a part of it, and if it’s someone else how would you recommend that they fix that fail?
G: Sure sure sure. I’m thinking back. I’m going back to another sort of early fail. I think for us on the local side, our expectation was that content, you know what we would call linger value content, would be just as linkable in the city as it is just as, sort of, topically. So that if we made a resource for city seniors – there was a guide for local seniors – that it would be just as linkable as a guide, a non-city specific guide for seniors. And it really didn’t prove to be the case for us.
M: So like “Tallahassee Seniors” isn’t more likable than just seniors in general.
G: Right, right. We had to kind of remake our approach and create new departments for our company to be able to figure out how to consistently get in front a very targeted city. I think the keys are like chamber of commerce stuff and then getting into local blogs and local events, local sponsorship, local donations, even – I know it’s not the SEO’s department, but there are places where you can buy ads and try to test out some beta ads and we probably should be testing out some of these – so if you find a website that isn’t associated with an ad network, a local ad network, then you are finding an opportunity that really only the locals probably know about.
M: That wouldn’t help your local rank though, right?
G: Correct. But it could be an opportunity that’s worth exploring. If you’re an SEO, you’re like, “Garrett, I’m not getting graded on whether I can drive.” But if you’re a single operator, if you’re an enterprise SEO you tune that part out, but if you’re a local, solo operator and you can show your client this opportunity that they maybe have been passing up but it just so happens that a couple of your competitors are advertising consistently on this website, well maybe there’s something to it. Maybe you should try and advertise there too. Break off a little budget to test it out. So Megan, this is the part where I think link builders and SEOs in general are especially adept at, but aren’t often called on, which is non-link or non-SEO opportunity discovery. You’re out there, you’re investigating.
M: Another world.
G: Yeah. You stumble upon these things that are probably good deals or at least wortb testing. And so that’s where I think there’s a lot of unexplored value for SEOs and it’s really, I think, I think link building itself, the act of link building, of finding opportunities, qualifying them, creating a pitch for them, whether that’s a great piece of content, an infographic, an interview, or what have you, a survey, and then trying to get them to link also. It really positions you to discover new types of opportunities out on the internet.
G: And this is where when you are doing a lot of link building you realize that so often so many SEOs are trying to bend the internet to fit something that they want, as opposed to seeing what the internet is really, and trying to work with what exists, as opposed to bending what exists to their vision of what should. Because there rarely is what someone wants it to be. I know for ZipSprout, we might carve into a city hoping to find X number of little league opportunities, but maybe this just happens to be a city where people don’t play that much baseball.
M: They play football, yeah.
G: Or they play football instead, or they play hockey, and guess what? It just isn’t there. This is the funniest thing to me but a lot of SEOs expect there to be their exact kind of site that they’re targeting on the exact key word that they’re targeting but it’s pretty rare and usually if it exists it’s a competitor.
M: That makes a lot of sense. So last question. If you could grab lunch with any marketer, whose brain would you want to pick?
G: Wow. Probably Jeff Bezos. I know he’s not a marketer but he does a lot and be interesting to talk to. Elon Musk too is like – I’m a fan boy of both of theirs.
M: So what about them, what would you want to learn from them?
G: I would try to see if they were hiring.
G: What would I want to learn from them? Gosh. Probably they would be really bored. I don’t know. What would I want to learn from them? I don’t really know.
M: Just absorb the essence that is Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
G: The more I think about it, I would need to do a lot preparation and I think they would be very bored. I’m just intrigued by their – how they think and how they approach business and just how scrappy – so that would be kind of a fan boy thing.
M: Well both of them have the traits that I think you admire in link builders which is that they’re certainly out of the box thinkers. They’ve also kind of made connections where other people have missed them. Certainly Elon Musk has done that.
G: Thank you for helping. Now I feel like I’ve got something to talk about. Oh, I could bring up with Jeff Bezos that I know Eric Ward. Eric did marketing for Amazon, link building for Amazon, back before Google. So who could I really have a good conversation with?
G: Gosh. I don’t know Megan. I know that’s weird but it’s just nobody’s coming to mind.
M: Well if you think of someone we’ll put it in the notes so that they find in the Google alerts that come up for their name.
G: My favorite people to talk to – I really enjoy sales clients.
M: Potential clients.
G: I’d love to have a conversation with an enterprise company that’s trying to get ranking in every city across the United States. That I would really enjoy. That would be a really – I would pass up a conversation to talk to somebody in the enterprise because ultimately my company would probably get more value from trying to make a sale than fawning over Musk or Bezos. Really more than anything those two guys I enjoy reading about them and kind of watching their moves as opposed to – so I admire them, and my next up would be a sales call.
M: Alright, well, hey, priorities! Well Garrett, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you. I think we’ve learned a lot.
G: Thank you Megan.