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Local Search Talk Series Part 8: David Mihm Interview

I know that it has been a while since our last Local Search Talk Series. But, this interview was well worth the wait. I held this interview in my draft box for a specific reason. You see, in Idaho we do family reunions. Now, these aren’t a get together and have a meal reunion…these are everybody gets a tent, finds a wonderful outdoor place close to a mountain, and cook cobler in a dutch oven reunion.

Last year, I stumbled across David Mihm’s blog the day before we left to our family fun filled weekend. I was getting heavy into local search and was seeing who else had the bug. I asked David what advice he could give me and he sent me a list of pretty much all the people that have taken part in this interview series. I ended up spending a majority of the reunion reading blogs (gotta love the 3g network) and I decided to change the way I was doing business based on what I saw and read.

So, this past weekend was the family reunion again, and I couldn’t help but look back and see all that had transpired in the past year. I have made some great friends in the local search industry thanks to David, learned a ton, and ultimately relized that you can “do” and “be” more by sharing information freely than keeping all the secrets locked away. David Mihm has mastered that idea to it’s fullest. He has been part of creating the ever helpful, Local University, Local Search Glossery, Local Search Ranking Factors, and I hear he even might put out a who’s who of local search swimsuit calender later this year (If Matt McGee is in it with a half body shot I will take a pre-order). I hope you enjoy this interview and my hat goes off to David Mihm for his work in the space of local.

What makes you loco for local?

A couple of things, I’d say.  First off, it’s perhaps the only area of organic search where you can have a REAL impact on someone’s business, using 100% white hat strategies and tactics, without a huge amount of time or financial investment by the business owner. Obviously as every space becomes more competitive this is less true, but compared to a linkbuilding or social media campaign, doing a bit of keyword research, helping someone claim their business listings with the right categories, and making sure their information is consistent makes Local a fairly low barrier to entry.

The second reason I love Local is because I think more and more and more results are going to be driven by Local–Universal, Mobile, etc–and it will continue to be important for every business, large and small, to make sure their information is correct, and that they’re ranking well for their important search phrases.

What was your first “aha” moment with a local search listing?

Well, a long-time client actually turned me on to Google Maps for the first time back in about 2005, before I’d even really sunk my teeth into organic SEO.  I started playing around with it then, helping them claim listings for a couple of locations they had.  So that was my first exposure to the whole process of claiming.  But as far as ranking, I think probably back in early Spring 2008, I started to get a better sense for the importance of categories, and especially citations, as I wrote in this article .

Now you have gone from a web designer to “the voice” of local search. At what points did you know you were on the right track in building your business brand.

Well, I’m still not sure I’m on the right track but thanks for saying so!  I think when I discovered that I could double my rates as a Local Search consultant and still receive the same number of phone calls and emails  I knew that from a business standpoint, Local was going to be the way to go.  It’s also the part of search that I’m the most passionate about (by far) for the reasons I stated in my answer to your first question.  I still love to do design work & have done a couple of hobby projects and work for friends over the last year but what limited set of clients I take on these days are exclusively for Local Search.

Can you give us the story behind the start of and Getlisted University.

Sure…in a nutshell, Pat Sexton and I were both planning to do basically the same thing back in the summer of 2008.  We were both frustrated by the number of snake-oil salesmen out there & wanted to create a free tool that would actually help business owners maximize their presence Local Search results. So we teamed up & over several iterations came up with what you see today.  All along, one of our goals was to educate business owners about ways to improve their online visibility & we’ve had this roadshow idea on the backburner for quite awhile.  Then, at SMX East last year, Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling and I were milling around outside one of the sessions and just got to talking about the need for this kind of event–low cost, no sales pitch, solid information.  When Ed Reese heard about it, he was bound-and-determined that Spokane be the first stop and put in a Herculean effort to make sure it happened.  Now we’re headed to Cleavland on June 30th (Note from Mike: And a sweet list of more places here) and are starting to line up several additional sites in the summer and fall as well, based on how well the event was received in Spokane and Minneapolis.

Who has helped you the most in learning local?

Well, I think everyone who participates in the Local Search Ranking Factors has helped me somewhere along the line at one time or another.  More than anyone else, though, Mike Blumenthal aka “Professor Maps” has been an amazing sounding board for some of my theories and if you’re not reading every single blog post he writes, you’re going to miss at least a dozen nuggets that will help your business (or your clients’ business), throughout the year.

I remember reading on your Mihmorandum blog a past interview you did on Matt Mcgee. You asked him about becoming a speaker at search conferences. It seems like the advice he gave was taken to heart as you have become quite the regular speak yourself. What advice would you add to his?

Honestly, I kind of fell into the whole “regular speaker” thing. Greg Sterling called me after I published the first Local Search Ranking Factors a couple of years ago & asked if I would present about that at the upcoming SMX Local in San Francisco that summer.  I definitely enjoyed it, and I guess the response from attendees was positive. My advice based on my experience would be “publish a really amazing piece of research/blog content/strategy etc. and hope that important people in the space see it as valuable.”

What do you do in your free time….if you have any?

This time of year, I watch a lot of college basketball and run an NCAA bracket predictions website . When the weather gets a little nicer, I play golf.  Other than that, I read a few books now and then (just finished The Book of Basketball) and enjoy some British miniseries via Netflix.  That’s about it–I am pretty one-dimensional!

Do you want to work as a local search consultant for the long haul, or move into different responsibilities?
Hard to say at this point.  Right now I’m focusing a ton of time of & doing less-and-less consulting.  But I think it’s important to always have my hand in one or two real-world projects to stay connected to real business owners & make sure that the strategies I’m evangelizing are actually still valid.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing local search?

No question about it–business data.  The Local Search engines have a really hard time trying to pull all of this together. The primary data providers are trying their best as well, but the fact is that their systems are always going to be inadequate to keep up with real-time changes.  Google’s Community Edits idea tries to combat that, but opens up a world of potential for nefarious activity from angry customers and competitors.  The bottom line is that the business owner is always going to need to remain vigilant about his presence on as many of the prominent local search engines as possible.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your golf game?

Way easier answer. Time to play!  I’ve played a total of three times since October, despite the fact it’s been an amazing winter, weather-wise, here in Portland.

Are you spending much time with Bing local? Do you think they have a shot at competing?

Oh, I absolutely do.  I’m rooting hard for Bing Local.  Not AGAINST Google, but I think that a rising tide of awareness of the importance of Local Search is going to lift everyone’s ship.  I love the guys on the Google LBC team, but I don’t think Eric Schmidt has thrown nearly enough resources their way.  They’ve got a ton of improvements they’re dying to make, but not enough engineers or time in the day.  More features and market share at Bing Local would presumably convince Eric to do increase their budget, etc.

I think Google’s Local Business Center still has the lead on Bing’s Local Listing Center, but a real competition between the two is going to make both products better.  Hopefully they can come together on common solutions at some point as well, such as Chris Silver Smith’s idea of a canonical phone number.

Frankly, Bing Maps is a better product than Google Maps at the moment.  Their Bird’s-eye technology is absolutely amazing, and at least in Oregon, their satellite imagery is far more up-to-date.

Can you give us an idea of what you think 2010-2011 hold in store for local search?

While I see the fragmentation continuing to increase with more and more vertical portals eating tiny pieces of market share away from the major players, I also see offerings like Citysearch’s new CityGrid having a real impact on the space on the data side of things.  As I said at SMX West, I also think the Local engines are going to get more and more into real-time and social signals, and away from simplistic ones like “keywords in business title” as ranking factors.

What is the best advice you would give someone that is wanting to learn about local seo?

Read Mike Blumenthal’s blog.  Offer to help businesses in your neighborhood claim their listings (in THEIR accounts, not yours) and see the impact that various strategies Mike and I and Andrew Shotland and the other prominent bloggers in the space talk about.  And come to Local University, of course ;-)!

Thanks a lot David, keep up the fantastic work in the local space!

If you are new to the local search talk series make sure you check out these other great interviews!