Photo: Andrew Shotland, Local SEO LegendWe’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. SEO is not easy. And when small businesses look to agencies to help guide them through the process of implementing successful SEO initiatives, they need a trustworthy company that understands their challenges and will provide results.  Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide has proven time and time again that SEO takes thoughtful strategy balanced with a solid foundation.  Over the years, we’ve gotten to know Andrew well as he’s consulted on the UpCity platform and helped us evolve our task engine to meet the ever changing SEO landscape. We were excited to sit down with Andrew again and interview him about his success, approach, and the latest news in the SEO world.

UpCity:  Tell us a little bit about how you got started in SEO?

Andrew: After working for Showtime networks and in the early days of the Internet, I began working for InsiderPages where I was first introduced to the concept of SEO.  I unfortunately had to learn it the hard way, by doing my own research and by trial and error.  The time I spent learning about SEO made me realize one very important thing; that SEO was both an awful, yet amazing marketing channel.  If done correctly, websites can rank well and experience solid results, however, the search engines can change the algorithm and alter those results rather quickly. I was intrigued by the dynamics of SEO and really wanted to help businesses leverage this channel well to see results.

UpCity:  Yes, SEO is a complicated and complex marketing channel to learn.  So, how and when did you decide to start your own agency?

Andrew:  When I worked for InsiderPages, I developed an SEO Program that attracted over 3 million monthly unique visitors almost solely via SEO. When InsiderPages was acquired by CitySearch, I decided to branch out on my own and build my own company.  In the beginning I focused on marketing with a tech focus and clients were able to relate to that strategy.  I had a lot of clients pretty quickly because the demand was so high for SEO consultants and I had such a strong network of contacts that it was a natural transition.  After my first year of consulting, I finally put up a blog and LocalSEOGuide was born in 2007.

UpCity:  Did you find it difficult to compete with large agencies in the beginning days of LocalSEOGuide?

Andrew:  Surprisingly, I did not.  What I found was that I was constantly winning against large agencies due to having a better price point and deeper industry experience.  The companies and businesses that I worked with were looking for a personalized approach, different from the cookie cutter solutions that the larger agencies were offering at the time and I capitalized on that with new, fresher perspectives on SEO and marketing instead of the same in-the-box solutions.

UpCity:  Tell us a little bit about the growth of your company.  Also what is it about your culture that sets it apart?

Andrew:  During the first 5 years I worked solo as an independent consultant, which I really enjoyed.  It was an ideal way to define my goals and focus on how I wanted my company to operate.  Within the next two years my business grew and I needed to add talent to help with the various SEO programs.  I added 8 employees that worked remotely from their homes and we transitioned from a small shop into an agency.  This talented group made us a unique virtual company. I enjoy working remotely with clients and the same goes for my team.  They have the freedom to work from their own backyards and this allows us to provide the best talent there is to our customers, regardless of location.

UpCity:  After you ramped up your headcount, did you decide to shift focus on the services you provided since you had more hands on deck?

Andrew:  We kept the same strategy and continued to concentrate on both enterprise and local customers with the most emphasis on the local side.  The local segment is where we saw the most growth and we became experts in managing clients with multiple locations, and optimizing for Google My Business and Apple Maps.

UpCity:  What do you think sets you apart from other agencies that have similar company structures?

Andrew:  What sets us apart is that our philosophy is focused around empathy for our clients.  We understand that SEO is frustrating and confusing.  We also understand that talking to SEO companies can be daunting and even more confusing.  That’s why we try to be as empathetic as possible towards our clients and what they are going through.  Clients don’t come to you because things are going well.  They come to you because things are not going well and they need help.  Being honest, transparent and empathetic can ease client’s minds and make them feel that they are in good hands to guide them through something as confusing as SEO.

UpCity:  When you are an expert in the field of SEO, keeping up with the trends and staying on your toes is a necessity.  Google’s recent Snack Pack shake up is an example of this.  What is your take on the Google change?

Andrew:  I actually don’t view it as a significant change.  At first glance, we noticed a drop in organic traffic right after the update.  This drop did look a bit dramatic and likely caused panic among clients, however after investigation we found that it wasn’t as big of a change.  What the update did was to correct the way companies were tracking their traffic.  To really understand the impact of the Snack Pack, we recommend that businesses take a look at their traffic in totality.  

Totality of traffic =   GA Organic Google Referrals + Existing GMB Clicks + non-click GMB traffic in GMB (GMB insights)

Note: GMB is Google My Business

Companies should look at all of these numbers to see if the trending data shows a loss.  There may be some overlap but directionally this holistic view should help businesses understand whether or not the Snack Pack change altered their business metrics in a significant way.  After we took a deeper look at the numbers, we realized that we are not seeing a huge loss in traffic consistently across our customers’ sites.

UpCity:  Do you feel this tips Google’s hand to potential future changes?

Andrew:  It’s hard to tell….it’s like reading tea leaves.  Our suspicion is that people really weren’t engaging in results 4-7 which is why they have limited it to just 3 in the pack.  We do know that Google is in the process of developing a home services ad unit that will display 3 ads.  Another one of our hunches is that Google may be using the Snack Pack as a way to get people familiar with a three listing ad unit.  What I think is that Google is continuing to move to a more historical Yellow Pages type of business model (pay to play), to bring in the most revenue and provide users with the best results possible.

UpCity:  What advice would you give to local marketers on how to react to this change?

Andrew:  My recommendation would be to focus on the foundation and make sure you’ve addressed the following:

  • Websites have their standard optimization completed.
  • Websites are technically accessible.
  • A strong KW strategy has been identified and acted upon.
  • Name Address Phone (NAP) data is correct and marked up on the site.
  • Schema is used accurately.
  • Citations are consistent and there aren’t any issues throughout the ecosystem.

Some simple things that can positively impact rank include:

  • Good customer reviews to incentivize clicks.  If enough people click on your listing that can help with ranking.
  • Fixing duplicate citation listings will help significantly.  
  • Make sure your business is categorized correctly.
  • Review the  business content and edit content that could rank for more mid-long tail stuff.

UpCity:  That’s great advice on how to positively impact rankings.  What do you think is the most important thing for local marketers to focus on to stay on the map and improve visibility?

Andrew:  All companies should focus on marketing their business online in a way that gets natural links.  Most local businesses don’t focus on marketing their business online and sometimes the ones that do, approach the Internet with a fairly narrow view of marketing.  They stay with their trusted channels and don’t venture too far out of their comfort zone.  But what they don’t realize is that marketing and SEO go hand in hand and good marketing is a huge benefit to SEO.  For example, an easy tactic that small businesses can employ is to find local charities in their area that are relevant to their business and sponsor an event.  Even making a donation is a great way to get out there in the community and start building your brand.

UpCity:  You’ve managed hundreds of local marketing campaigns over the years.  How has your practice changed the most in the past 5 years?

Andrew:  We have definitely become more process driven over the years.  When I first started I spent most of my time customizing approaches for clients.  But now that we’ve grown we’ve had to standardize the offering a bit.  We still do customized campaigns for our clients but it’s now built on top of an existing foundation that has taken years to build.  By taking a collaborative and scientific approach to developing tactics and processes for our programs, we are able to work effectively and proficiently.   

UpCity:  How do you see your company changing in the next 5 years?

Andrew:  While we will always be evolving and staying on top of industry trends, I continue to see us as a service company.  We view ourselves as being the “someone” who stands between businesses and algorithms, making SEO simple for clients and delivering successful results.  One problem that local businesses seem to be experiencing is that there are so many service providers that they have a hard time differentiating between agencies and figuring out which provider to choose.  Our goal is to approach every client with a mindset of how we can help them in order to simplify their decision and earn their trust.  

UpCity:  What do you think the future of local business marketing will be?

Andrew:  Mobile. The key to staying ahead of the curve for local businesses will be to figure out a mobile strategy and optimize their websites for mobile usage.  Mobile is huge and businesses need to consider how people are using their mobile devices in order to reach that market and create the best user experience possible.

UpCity:  With the ever-changing landscape, what resources do you use to stay current?

Andrew:  By staying ahead of industry trends we can provide the best service to our clients.  Every new iOS device and update that comes out will have an impact on the industry as a whole, so we need to be ahead of the pack on knowing how to help clients be visible on the platforms and apps that come out.  We are a part of a number of private groups where we are constantly sharing information that is vital and helpful to our business.  We also do our own testing and feel very strongly that there is no substitute for that.  We are only as good as what we can do and we will not execute a tactic unless we feel confident it is the right choice.

UpCity:  Are there any resources you would like to recommend?

Andrew:  There are a number of trade publications in the SEO industry and the key is to find the right ones that provide the right information.  For the latest and greatest on local, particularly Google My Business, I look to both Mike Blumenthal and Linda Buquett for the most up to date perspectives.

UpCity:  Thank you so much for sharing those with us.  To end on an inspiring note, what has been your favorite project to date and why?

Andrew:  Definitely was my favorite purely because I really liked the product.  They were an early client, and were one of the first on demand subscription streaming services.  I helped grow their traffic from a small base to a large number of visitors (in the millions) in less than a year.  Eventually was sold to Beats Music, which ultimately turned into Apple Music.  I consider that a huge win.

UpCity:  We can certainly see why you would consider that a huge win.  Thank you so much for your insights and thoughts.