Local Legends: Greg Gifford on Pay-to-Play, Real-world Signals and What’s Next for Local Search

In our latest edition of Local Legends, we’re excited to present a conversation between Greg Gifford, VP of Search at Wikimotive and BrightLocal CEO, Myles Anderson.

Greg visited the BrightLocal UK office just ahead of the Brighton SEO conference to share his thoughts on, well, pretty much everything local!

We ended up with a  interview that was so full of insights that it was impossible to trim down. I had so much trouble fitting everything that Greg and Myles discussed into the title of this piece that I’m just going to hit you with a list here:

  • Local SEO training and how it has evolved
  • Tactics for Google Posts and Q&A tactics
  • Fake listings and review spam
  • The death of organic social for local businesses
  • Avoiding the big, buzzy things in SEO
  • The now-infamous Google My Business survey
  • Clever Facebook ad targeting examples for local businesses
  • Traditional advertising and community relationships
  • Real-world signals and Google’s algorithm

Check out the epic 30+ minute video here or read on for the full transcript.

Myles Anderson, CEO, BrightLocal: Hi there, everyone. Thanks for watching this little video. I’m delighted today to be joined by the one and only, “The Giff”, Greg Gifford, who happens to be in Brighton for Brighton SEO, where he is running the local SEO training as well as doing one of the keynote speeches at the conference itself. So Greg, you’ve been to Brighton many, many times. Are you happy to be back or is the cold weather annoying you?

Greg Gifford, VP of Search, Wikimotive: It’s funny that you say that it’s cold weather actually, because I’m walking down from the train station, and everybody’s bundled up, and I’m walking around in this and I’m almost sweating and I’m like “this is great” because it was, like, 42, 43, when I left today.

MA: It’s quite muggy this time of year.

GG: I’m always happy to be back. Brighton’s my favorite conference. As long as they’ll keep having me back, I’ll keep coming.

MA: Well I’m sure they’ll keep having you back. We’re very passionate about it as well because we’re based in Brighton. How many times have you done the local SEO training here now?

GG: I broke my streak because I couldn’t do it in April of this year so I think this is my ninth one. I’ve been coming for five years.

MA: Okay, so how does your training that you’re going to be running tomorrow… how does it differ to the training you did two years ago, in terms of…

GG: It’s exactly the same, I don’t update it at all.

[Laughter]

GG: No, actually, so I have my outline of “here’s what I need to talk about” and then I’ve got sections talking about link building, I’m talking about Google My Business, talking about whatever, and so I have it set up so that I can go in and remove things that have become outdated or put new things in.

Typically, if you guys have seen me present, I have the movie backgrounds on my slides and every slide is a different movie but for this training, just because it’s all-day training, I’ll do a movie and then I’ll change the text but the background doesn’t change. So if I’m talking about basic Google My Business optimization it’s just the same movie in the background, so that lets me be able to go in and shorten it, lengthen it, without having to go “now I have to go find five more movies that fit my theme”.

MA: What about in terms of the focus of the course, to try and mirror how much local search has changed in the last three or four years?

GG: Much, much much heavier on Google My Business than it used to be.

MA: What’s got lost in the way? What’s become less and less?

GG: I used to talk a bit about keyword research and how to do local keyword research. I’ve kind of just dropped that altogether.

MA: But that’s not because it’s not important?

GG: Not because it’s not important, more just in the interest of time. So something that I added in probably two years ago… So the way the training’s scheduled, it’s like you come in the morning and then you have a tea break and then you go for a bit more, then you have lunch and then you go for a bit and have a break and then end up at, like, four.

So it’s four sections but I used to just do one big massive deck and we would stop whenever we needed to stop. But now I’ve added a second deck at the end and cut some out of the first one so that three quarters of the course is local SEO… what’s important, what do you need to know, what’s changed since last year, what’s the important things you need to do.

And then the last little section is more agency side, so the first part’s “here’s how to do it,” the second part is “here’s how to run your agency and do local SEO as an agency” or, if you’re in-house, “how to do things in-house, how to sell to potential customers and explain the differences in local”

There’s a whole section that I do in that agency focus part: “here’s who to follow on Twitter that are local SEO experts” so that even if you don’t use Twitter, go make a Twitter list and just look at it once a week and this will tell you what’s going on. [Editor’s Note: We’ve actually just published our own list of local SEO experts on Twitter.] There’s a big section in there about “here’s all the tools that I like to use”… not saying that you guys have to use them but these are the tools that I think of as the best tools to use.

I’ll go through each one and say “Here’s the tool, here’s the things that it does, there’s a lot of overlap between tools but here’s the one thing I really like about this tool that’s really cool”. So I know having that in at the end and taking out some of that keyword research stuff says “Hey, look, keyword research is important but I feel like these other things are more important for you to know for success”.

MA: What’s the biggest thing that you’ve you’ve added in terms of GMB in the last year?

GG: Definitely a whole lot about Google Posts and Google Q&A. So I probably spend a half hour at least just talking about Posts and Q&A, so there’s a lot to it: breaking down the different types of Posts, breaking down how there’s a whole weird issue where cropping is super-wonky and not consistent and not even center-cropped and showing the different ways that things get cropped, and the difference between mobile and desktop, and talking about how most people don’t think about it like AdWords and you need to optimize for that thumbnail and not worry about what it is that people see when it pops up because you’ve got to get them to click it to even see it popped up.

So talking a lot about that, showing the different Post types and why you would need one over another, depending on what your specific goal is. “Here’s the kind of posts that you might need to use instead of this
other one that’s got a date range. You could be lazy and leave it up all month but you’re better off doing a ‘what’s new’ post once a week.”

So it’s pretty detailed and practical, and that’s kind of why I took the keyword research bit out because I felt like that was a little bit more high-level stuff and I don’t like it to be… I go really fast. I mean the three-quarters part that’s like the tactical and local SEO stuff is 389 slides.

MA: Wow, okay.

GG: And then the other one is a hundred slides. I see too many talks, because I go to so many conferences, that are just really high-level, like “Hey, local SEO’s important because now that Mobile’s out everything matters…” and they don’t really tell you: “Okay, here’s what to do” and the people that are paying you, they’re paying £600 to take this class; they’re not taking this class to go, “Hey, local SEO is important, rah, rah,” they’re taking this class to go “What the hell do I actually do?” so I just try to load it with “here’s exactly what your playbook is: go do this, go do this, go do this, go do this…” and then I always give everybody my personal email address and I say “Hey, look, if you need something really specific, just email me and I’ll help you”. I’m not going to charge you for consulting. You took the class; I’ll help you.

MA: Do you think, in the four or five years you’ve been doing it, has it got harder to be successful in local search and what you’re training people on?

GG: Depends on where your location is. In the States? 1,000% Over here? [Editor’s Note: in the UK] I don’t think it’s any harder than it was three or four years ago.

MA: Because we’re not making use of all the available opportunities to us and the bar is lower?

GG: 100%. In the US I feel like it’s a lot more competitive and a lot more businesses are kind of hip to the game and have been hip to the game for a long time.

So you’ve got some verticals, like legal, where just anything I talk about really isn’t gonna work anymore because everybody’s already doing it. But over here in the UK and even the conferences I’ve done Europe… I used to say it was because you guys are behind us. I don’t think that you’re behind us, because there’s a lot of really smart people doing really smart things over here, and the algorithm is the same. I just think that general public knowledge isn’t there. A lot of people just don’t know what local SEO is so simple stuff like geo term optimization… you do that in the States and there’s a couple of articles where it still slays because nobody else is doing it, but most people have kind of figured that out.

You can come and do that over here and like you’re making massive, massive changes in how you’re showing up in searches in 24 hours.

MA: Just because it’s not so widespread in terms of the application of these tactics for UK businesses?

GG: Sure, yeah, and I don’t think that the spam is is bad over here either. Spam is just out of control in the states.

MA: It’s getting better, though, isn’t it?

GG: No, no, no.

MA: Are you talking about listings spam or review spam?

GG: Both. There are so many services you can go buy fake reviews from. I even saw one the other day… I don’t ever talk about this in conferences because you don’t want to suggest that this might work because it does work but you don’t want to tell people to cheat: there was a service that was doing Google reviews, and I don’t remember what the cost was but it was a lot more expensive than other services, but they actually had Android devices that they would go to the place of business and have the device there for ten to fifteen minutes and then leave and 20 minutes later from that device would leave that review for you.

So Google has the real-world signal that “Hey this this device was at that location and 20 minutes later left and left a review”. Yeah, you paid for that review and it’s a fake review, but Google’s never going to figure that out. And name spam; just spamming the heck out of keywords in Google My Business: you’ll see lawyers that have, like, five lines of their name because they’re, like, “Jim Bob and Associates Dog Bite Lawyer” or “Fall Down Slip and Fall Lawyer,” you know? All these stupid things? And unfortunately that works.

MA: But I thought that they’d tightened up on that, with the Wall Street Journal piece about it?

GG: No, they make a show of it, but it’s so bad. I mean, Joy Hawkins does tons of business just fighting spam. I have a lot of friends that do stuff in legal and they get a lot of results just by going in and knocking out all of the competitors that are spamming their names and getting the guys bumped down.

Lawyers are really bad about using WeWork or Regus or fake offices and you go report those and get those taken down and then now your guy bumps up because he’s the only one there.

I had a lot of experience, I was in auto dealerships for years and years and years before I switched gigs, and now I can do anything. But, you know, car dealers didn’t really cheat with the name, they would cheat really bad with reviews, then there was a sting… I haven’t read anything about it this year but usually there’s a sting every year by the FTC, the US Federal Trade Commission, because fake reviews is against federal law in the US, and last year there was a group of ten dealerships in California that got caught leaving fake reviews. Like their own staff was putting fake reviews. They got fined $3.6 million.

MA: Do you think the FTC does that to find someone to punish so that everyone else around them goes, “I don’t want that to happen to me, I’m going to back away from it”?

GG: 100% that’s why they do it. And they usually go after car dealers because car dealers are pretty notorious for being the worst for fake reviews. Attorneys are pretty bad about it too but car dealers are really bad.

MA: Car dealers can’t fake an address, though.

GG: Yeah, but there’s so many services out there that specifically cater to automotive for fake reviews, so it’s just because of the fact that I think everybody’s hip to the game, everybody kind of gets the local thing, everybody does geo term optimization, local link building, city pages and the things that you should do that are best practice, so how do you differentiate yourself? You start cheating. And that makes it where the cheaters show up better and then you have to go fight the cheaters.

Google’s made it easier, they’ve got the form to go report fake listings now, which is great, but I think over here, outside of the States, I mean even in Canada it’s not so bad, so I think outside of the US… it’s not that everybody’s behind it’s just that you don’t have as many people that know about it.

MA: How much of your course is centered around Google as opposed to other, non-Google, acquisition channels for businesses? How much of it is just educating people around how to get traffic or get something from Google?

GG: When I do a training class here, it’s all Google. I mention Bing, I’m like, “Hey if you want to worry about Bing, okay, cool: do your Bing Places and you’re done”. Because the signal weight is different in the two algorithms but if you’re gonna do everything that you’re doing for Google, it’s gonna count for Bing and Yahoo.

I do talk a little bit about barnacle SEO and in certain cases, depending on your vertical, you may have a bunch of aggregate sites like Yelp, or something like that, that are gonna show up. Just due to the power of their domain they’re gonna outrank you in these local searches and they’ve got good SEOs doing that.

So, okay, cool you can’t show up number one, but Yelp shows up number one so you go make sure that you show up well in Yelp so that you’re still going to get that visibility.

MA: Do you think, as a secondary question to that, that we’re becoming more and more over-reliant on Google as our sole source of business opportunity?

GG: 100%.

MA: So what does the future look like for them, in like three or four years time? Are we at the thin end of a wedge where we’re going to become so beholden to Google that all those other channels just don’t get a look in?

GG: I think we’re already there. I think we’ve been there for a few years. The thing that scares me that got a lot of buzz earlier this year and kind of died off was that questionnaire that Google sent out about paid features that I don’t think went through the proper channels because…

MA: It was rubbish.

GG: Yeah, yeah. I have asked a million people, all year long. Everyone I’ve talked to at conferences, I’ve asked if they got the survey and if they filled it out. The only people I’ve talked to that filled out the survey completely were other local SEOs…

MA: …who were trying to work out what it was all about?

GG: Yes. Because I don’t think business owners could make it through. It was just so incredibly long and not well put together, and if you know anything about surveys, the answers that they got and the data they got would have been complete garbage, so it wouldn’t help them anyway.

But the fact that they are already at least internally thinking about “how can we monetize all of these elements?” I think it makes it scary. We’ve seen the tests where potentially you’re gonna have competitor ads running in your Knowledge Panel for your business and your GMB listing. You’ll have competitor ads unless you want to maybe pay Google to not have those show up.

I mean, I think it’s gross and dirty but for the general business owner out there if they can throw in 50 bucks a month to potentially have their ads show up on competitors’ listings, why would you not do that?

MA: Why would you not? And obviously there’s a retaliation thing happens where I want my ads to show up on my competitors and suddenly everyone is paying and the status quo has been established.

GG: Right but then also, why would you… if you’re smart enough to know about that and you have somebody that does local SEO why would you not also chip in 50 or 60 or 75 or whatever it’s gonna be to block ads from showing up on your own?

MA: If they release that feature.

GG: If they release that feature. Or, you know, making, potentially, Google Posts a paid feature… I’d pay for that all day long, though, because we get great success from posts.

MA: Do you?

GG: Yeah.

MA: What sorts of posts work best for you?

GG: Promotional posts, 100%. It’s got to be promotional. I’ve talked to way too many people that are like “Yeah, every time I do a blog post I put it on a Google post”… like, who cares? Because another one of the things that I’ve been talking a lot about this year, the “Big Buzz”, is zero click search.

Rand [Fishkin, of SparkToro] puts out a lot of stuff about it and all the big SEO tool companies are “zero-click search!” and everybody’s thing is “Oh, it’s because of Rich Snippets”. Well, no it’s not. I think the vast majority of zero-click searches, because local is so prevalent now, especially with people searching on mobile devices… if I’m looking for a restaurant, I’m not going to click through to the restaurant’s website to get their phone number to call make a reservation. I’m going to click the number in their GMB. That’s zero-click search.

Yeah, I clicked their GMB but I didn’t click through to their website off of that query. Or I maybe dial the phone number directly because I did it on my computer and I just dialed the phone. So I think local is leading to a lot of what’s being attributed as zero-click search I don’t think is zero click, I think it’s just interaction with Google My Business or seeing that information, that top-line information.

For a lot of businesses, you know, if you’re buying a car, sure, you’re going to do research. If I need to go find a tapas place here in Brighton I’m gonna look for tapas and, “Oh this guy’s got great reviews, cool” and I don’t ever go to the guy’s website.

MA: So what does that mean, then, for business websites for different industries? Because I can see why restaurants, for example, where you don’t need to know that much about a tapas restaurant to buy it, but if you’re looking for a cosmetic surgeon you know a lot about that business before you buy.

GG: Exactly. I haven’t done any recently but I used to speak at a lot of automotive conferences and that’s what was really interesting, because you’d have a lot of these SEO vendors trying to sell SEO to car dealers and their whole thing would be to talk about whatever the big buzzy thing is in the SEO industry.

So you’d have guys talking about voice search a year or two ago: “Get ready for voice search for automotive!” Okay, cool, for voice search I might be like: “Hey, Google, order me a pizza,” or “Hey, Alexa buy me some toilet paper”. Nobody’s ever going to go, “Hey Alexa, buy me that new F-150”. So I think certain verticals… you’re not going to go, “Hey Alexa, I need a boob job…” you’re going to go to that plastic surgery website and do your research and find the best surgeon.

Tattoos; if you’re going to get a tattoo you’re going to figure out which kind of tattoo you want to get, you’re going to find the best artist to go to, you’re going to go that guy’s Instagram, that guy’s website, that tattoo parlor’s website, you know?

If you’re, like, a restaurant or a bar, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years a lot of restaurants and bars don’t really have their own websites. It might just all be GMB.

MA: So they’re massive advocates of barnacle SEO, in terms of making sure they’re on TripAdvisor and those sites where traffic is going, to get the reviews, they’ve got all the photos they need, Instagram, you know, as well potentially.

GG: A lot of times over here you have to worry about TripAdvisor a lot more because in the States, Apple Maps only gets review stars from Yelp. But outside of the States it feeds from multiple sources and most of the time restaurants and bars over here in the UK are going to get their stars from TripAdvisor so if you’re getting looked up on Apple Maps, you’ve got to have good stars so a lot of people… use it for that purpose. Yeah, they get a lot of TripAdvisor reviews, whereas in the States, maybe?

MA: In your training, do you touch on social much, and the opportunities to get acquisition from social?

GG: So social is another part that’s really kind of dropped off. I used to talk about it more, I still have it in there. Most of the social now is more “don’t do this, don’t do this,” like the really common mistakes that I see people make. I don’t really talk about paid social. I used to kind of mention that a little bit, like the really cool thing… the targeted Facebook Ads, like “I want to pop this map pin in and advertise in a mile radius”. It’s just I only have so much time so I’ve kind of dropped it.

MA: Is that a reflection on the opportunity of social for local businesses?

GG: For organic social, 100%. Organic social is really dying and I don’t think there’s a whole lot left there. If you want to pay to play in social it could still be amazing but I think organically there’s not much there left. You can do some brand building there but as far as “I’m a local business and I want to show up better to potential customers,” I don’t think organic social is the answer to that anymore.

MA: So what do you use it for? Paid, then? Is it promotion-heavy?

GG: Oh yeah, I mean I think with paid there’s a whole lot of opportunities. We had a client that used to do… if you go to movies over here, do they have the slides that play before the movies that are advertisements?

MA: Yeah.

GG: Okay, so the guy used to pay for those advertisements, there’s one movie theater in his town, it was a smaller town, he would pay for the advertisements and, you know, the the ad was for his business and if you bring the movie ticket in within a week of the date of the movie ticket you get 10 bucks off or something, I don’t know what the special was, but something like “Get 10 bucks off if you bring the movie ticket in within a week of the movie”.

And he noticed, and this was a couple years ago when this specific thing happened, but he noticed that it was really dropping off and he suspected it was because people now go to the movies and if they’re there early, they’re playing on their phone and they’re not watching the ads.

So we said, “Hey, why don’t we try doing a Facebook ad?” So we targeted a Facebook ad at the location of the movie theater and did a mile radius around, because there’s a lot of restaurants there so you can catch the people eating there before the movie, or potentially if they went to a movie and then went and had drinks afterwards. It was a really small town so it’s like a really old kind of ‘town square’ kind of setup, so that one-mile radius hit everything there.

He ran an ad there that was the same thing that would have been on the screen, that was “$10 off with your movie ticket” and just had a boatload of people come in the next week. So he quit paying the movie theater and now all he has to do is spend like 50 bucks a week, which is cheaper than what he was spending with the theater. He drops the Facebook ad there and runs it from 5 o’clock ’til midnight every Friday and Saturday night. Boom. Done.

The same guy also quit advertising in the local high school football program. So you know you go to the high school football game, you have a programme with a full-page ad, a big nice thing. He quit doing that because, again, he didn’t feel like he got anything out of it.

Once he did the movie theater, he’s like “Well, let me try the high school football game,” and they just did a purely brand-building thing, it wasn’t even a promotional thing. It was just brand building, and it got a lot of notice of that.

MA: So the audience are still in those places, but they’re just not consuming the media like the ads on the screen before the movie or in the the programme because they’re basically just looking at their phones.

GG: Yeah. I do some freelance stuff on the side, and I have an adoption agency in Dallas that I do some stuff for and we’ve started running targeted local Facebook ads at pregnancy centers around town and abortion clinics around town, that are basically like, “Hey, look, adoption’s another option.”

There’s a pregnancy… it’s not an adoption clinic, but it’s like a pregnancy center, where, you know, you’re not going to, it’s like, you’re a teenage chick and you don’t want your parents to know, so, you go to the pregnancy center and you get tested and whatnot. And they’ve got info and will recommend you to either adoption places or abortion clinics or whatnot.

So we’ve been running there and we’re getting 1,015 clicks a week off of one of those pregnancy centers so I think there’s still a huge play for targeted paid ads, especially on Facebook with the demographics.

MA: There’s local and contextual, you know: not for everyone but for the right people at the right time.

GG: Yeah, I mean, like, another guy at my agency was speaking at a conference in Atlanta on Monday or Tuesday of this week and we did a targeted Facebook ad, and we ran the mile radius but then we did a bunch of other mile-radius around it as exclusions, so we basically locked it down just to the hotel where the conference was, to just run additional branding that matched the stuff that we had in our booth.

I don’t talk so much about traditional advertising because most of the people we work with, we’re encouraging them to shut down traditional because we’re very data-driven. Any decision we make is very data-driven: “if you want to do this, let’s have the data and make sure it’s the right decision,” because we have data to show.

Traditional advertising is very hard to quantify that you’re really getting any results. One of the things that we do like to do, though, is we make all custom reports for our clients. So every client’s got a different-looking report based on the KPIs that matter to them and what matters to their bottom line.

So, you know, if we have somebody, for instance, that’s running television ads then we’ll get their ad schedule and we can load that into Data Studio and combine it with their Google Analytics views to see if there is a boost in search after a television ad runs. So sometimes we do see that, where we can say, “Hey, look, it’s really tough to quantify that TV’s doing anything for you so let’s try to combine some data sources together and see what happens,” and then we’ll combine it and go, “Hey, look, your midnight ads don’t do squat but your ads that run from 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock, we do see a boost in search. Like every night, 6 to 8 o’clock there’s a boost in search when those ads run.”

Most of the time, though, we’re kind of discouraging and, you know, saying don’t do any traditional stuff.

MA: Because the data’s better purely online and you believe that generates better ROI?

GG: Yeah, but that being said, one of the things that I typically say when I’m speaking at conferences is that local SEO has kind of come full circle and it’s gone back to old-school marketing tactics, so being involved in the community, being an active community member, sponsoring a little league or peewee football team or something like that. Being involved in the
community, you know, Chamber of Commerce meetings, the things that people used to do just to get their business out there.

Those are all really great link-building opportunities now, so if you’re doing those things you’re doing them to show up better in search, but they also have the benefit of being the old-school technique that gets you out there in the real world offline, and I think that those definitely do have an effect. I think that involvement with the real world matters.

I’m sure you saw, it was maybe a month ago that Google got a patent for “quality visit score”… I think it’s called?

MA: I haven’t seen it.

GG: I don’t know if it’s quality visit score, it’s quality visit something, but basically we already know that they’re tracking, at least on Android phones, when you’re visiting locations, so they’re populating the “it’s busy at these times,” but this was a patent for a quality visit metric that would apply to the ranking algorithm that looked at someone in the real world visiting that
location and being able to track that someone in the real world visited that location. So they’re starting to try to figure out ways to attribute offline actions that will influence ranking.

MA: To understand essentially the quality or the authority of a particular business, rather than relying on those other metrics.

GG: Sure. So they’re trying to define behavior metrics. So a thing that I read about, I don’t I don’t know that I necessarily agree with this, because depending on the vertical it would be tough, but it compared it to pogo-sticking off of a search result, so you click on one, you go back and click on the next.

It would be: you go in a business, you’re there for five minutes and you leave, that’s not a quality visit because you need to be there, depending on if it’s a restaurant you’re going to be there at least half an hour to eat. So if you’re there five minutes and you leave, something affected you not staying, if it’s a Tesco or something and you’re in and out really quick, maybe that’s good because that’s supposed to be enough.

MA: It’s quite hard to gauge, isn’t it? Because if it’s a takeaway restaurant, you pick up a takeaway…

GG: I think it’s just a generalization but I think the important key is Google is starting to try to look at those real-world entity signals and figure out a way to put them into the ranking algorithm, because I think, and everybody’s said it for years, but I really do think links are kind of going away. I think it’s just too easy to game. They’re getting really smart with machine learning and AI and I think there’s a lot of smart people trying to figure out ways that they can take that real-world entity interaction and use that as a ranking signal instead of things that can be really easily manipulated like links.

I think links will always be a part of the algorithm but I think the weight is definitely going to drop as they figure out these new ways to say, “Hey, look, there’s 25 coffee shops within a three-block walk of this office but these three get all of the traffic.” Clearly, regardless of if those three have links or not, those are the most popular coffee shops. Those should be the ones that show.

MA: I could certainly see that having a big impact on local. It doesn’t impact ecommerce and all these other non-local sectors, but it makes sense that Google starts to incorporate that data that it’s getting from Android devices and its ability to locate users back into the algorithm.

GG: I saw some discussion on some site where some people were suggesting that it’s probably a good idea to start doing promotions that encourage visits to your location, so, like, “Hey, we’re having a…” you know, like car dealerships do it, you know, local businesses will do it sometimes where it’s “Hey, let’s have a party!” or the BMW dealership in Dallas does it where it’s a ‘Coffee and Cars Saturdays’, where the first Saturday of the month you come out, you have coffee and bring out your cars, everybody shows that. It’s not really a car show because it’s not guys that put tons of money into their cars but it gets everybody at the dealership Saturday morning.

So any kind of event that’s going to get people to your business, whether they’re actually buying from you or not… “Hey, it’s customer appreciation day! Come by and have a free hot dog!” But it gets a lot of people to come by, which, potentially, if you’re doing that once a month or twice a month, then that’s giving those signals that people are coming by, which… I don’t know how reliable that’s going to be, because you’ve got to think: if they’re smart enough to start tracking that offline stuff then they’re going to see these spikes and go “actually, that doesn’t relate to…”

MA: But actually, those types of events are good for good customer relationships anyway.

GG: Old-school marketing.

MA: And Google’s just realizing that and just bringing it in. So actually, yeah, the online benefit is kind of secondary. You should be doing these things anyway, because you want to be building up your relationship.

GG: That’s exactly what I keep saying when I talk about this local SEO stuff all over the world is, I always say, you know, it’s coming full circle: it’s going back to that old-school, guerilla, grassroots marketing because those are real-world entity signals that you should be doing because you don’t want to just sit in your office and do SEO all day and hope you’re going to get business. You should be involved in the community because that brings you more business anyway.

You know, if you’re in the US and you’re a veteran and people are really into supporting veterans, they’re probably going to buy from you because you’re in the community, they know you’re a veteran, versus the other guy they don’t know about. Or if you donate to a certain charity and somebody else likes that charity, they’re gonna come do business because of that. So the more that you can interact with people in the real world outside of Google, the more potential you have to expose yourself and get business.

And I think Google is trying to figure out how to relate that to the algorithm because it makes sense. It’s “let’s figure out how old-school marketing can become ranking.”

MA: But also, I guess in a world where Google is going towards a paid world, you know, with less organic opportunities, you want to be shielding yourself from the potential impact of always having to pay Google. And by establishing yourself in the community, having that offline connection with local customers as well as serving Google’s end, it also protects you from being too dependent on that. Because you’ve just got a natural affinity with the community and those local relationships that are going to serve you long into the future of your business.

GG: And depending on your vertical, because some are extremely competitive and you’re going to have to pay to play because that’s just the nature of the business. But I think for the vast majority of businesses out there, you don’t have to do AdWords to succeed.

Now you may have to do good SEO because there still might be a lot of competition, but I think you’re totally right, I think doing the things that you should do because you’re a conscientious business owner and you want to be out and seen in the community, I think it makes a lot of sense for Google to move in a direction to say, “Hey, this guy’s clearly involved in the community and well-known and well-liked; that should translate into some sort of a rankings boost.”

It makes sense and you should be able to, you know, as much as I hate saying it, I think in the future if it really becomes a situation where restaurants don’t really need websites you should still be able to rank well without a website, where right now maybe you can’t because you don’t have those links or the citations or any of the other things that are related to your website.

And maybe we don’t need that anymore for certain types of businesses, and now everybody out there’s going “Oh my god, did he just say that?” But for certain types of businesses, maybe that kind of makes sense in the future. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have a job, because people are always going to need… whether there’s a website or not, you’re going to need to know, “Hey, if now I’m showing up on Google without a website, how do I do that?”

So I’m going to have to help people with that and then I’m going to need tools that help me figure out what to do so you guys are gonna be safe, too. We pretty much have pretty decent job security.

MA: We’re safe for a while. Greg, I think we’re going to wrap it up there. That was brilliant. Thanks a lot. Enjoy the conference. Enjoy the training. I hope it goes well. We’ve got some of our guys down there tomorrow with you.

GG: If you’re going to Brighton SEO ever in the future, sign up for my training ‘cuz it’s awesome!

MA: Guys, thank you very much.

Need more Greg Gifford in your life?

Who doesn’t? Check out the following InsideLocal webinars, in which Greg has kindly joined us as an expert panelist:

  • Is ‘Pay-to-Play’ the Future of Google My Business?
  • Best Marketing Tactics to Win Customers From Outside Your Local Area
  • Powerful Content Creation Ideas for Local Businesses

The post Local Legends: Greg Gifford on Pay-to-Play, Real-world Signals and What’s Next for Local Search appeared first on BrightLocal.