Mike Blumenthal Talks Local Search Marketing, Pigeon Update

pigeon update

It’s not easy to run a small business and excel at online marketing at the same time. In fact, the latter is getting increasingly more difficult, even for seasoned Internet marketing professionals.

Luckily for business owners, web marketing agencies and anyone who wants to get more from local search, hope comes in form of Mike Blumenthal and the team and faculty at Local U (the goal of which is to educate businesses about getting local customers to a local business through online marketing).

A lot has changed since the last time we interviewed Mike in 2013, so we decided to interview Mike again. This time, we will talk more about local Internet marketing holistically, and how it relates to your business. We are certain you will think differently about local search after this interview.

1. Local Internet marketing is getting more complicated, while most small businesses  have to acquire customers using very limited resources. What should every local business know about marketing on the web before spending a dime?

Mike Blumenthal: The first thing is understanding the medium. It offers benefits (and some drawbacks) compared to offline. But understanding it requires education. Every business should learn what the online options are and how they fit into an integrated marketing plan (see Web Equity Graphic).

The great benefit of web marketing is that it is more easily trackable and thus accountable. Whether offline or on, a business should be able to calculate the ROI on their investment. Some online choices, like Yelp, are impression based and end up as expensive as offline media. But if it targets your demographic well (Yelp does a good job of targeting urban 20-35 year olds) and delivers customers it might provide a good return. The trick is to track and be able to really assess the value of each on line option.

2.  Marketing budgets are shifting towards the Web. Some businesses even go as far as to stop all offline marketing spending. Is this a mistake?

Mike Blumenthal: All businesses in every market need to look at their marketing needs holistically. What works in their market? What works with their customers and what works with their targeted age groups.

Example: in the Midwest and particularly in rural markets, the print Yellow Pages are still very effective.

The trick is to understand the value of each marketing choice and attempt to create a mix that provides good exposure and client acquisition at the lowest price.

3. What are some offline marketing activities that should never be discontinued?

Mike Blumenthal: Offline and online are complementary in many ways. The mantra used to be make yourself visible to your customers. Now the mantra needs to be make yourself visible to your customers both off-line and online.

Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry is a good example. She has two demographics; older wealthy women and young, soon to be married young men that need help with picking an engagement ring. She targets one with local television and the other with Internet efforts. But the reality is that the TV ads also drive Internet activity as well, as people see the TV ad and then go to the Internet to look her up. If Google assesses searcher behavior and click throughs to affect rank as we think they do, then the result is very synergistic.

4. Let’s talk about Google. You are a person with a great grasp of Google’s local product strategy, as well as Google’s place in the local search eco-system.  In your opinion,  how much effort and resources should a local business invest in Google For Business?

Mike Blumenthal: I think Google local should be a strong and initial focus of every business that has a strong local focus. While in general search they may have 65% market share, in local search it is much higher. Once the initial 3-6 month effort is made in local search, a business can turn their efforts elsewhere. Often times the effect of a strong local push can last for several years depending on market dynamics

5. Businesses these days are obsessed with reviews, and rightfully so. What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about online reviews?

Mike Blumenthal:  There is a danger that focusing on reviews detracts from focusing on the real questions: customer satisfaction and running a business that truly delights its clients.

Reviews have a very small effect on rank, but a huge effect on conversions. And thus their role should be in the context of the bigger picture of ongoing improvement at a business rather than a goal in and of itself. If you do a great job of running your business AND follow up with your clients, you will get your fair share of reviews with a simple ask.

6. Google has recently made a big change in how it handles local queries. Can you help us understand how will this update impact an average local business?  

Mike Blumenthal: The Pigeon Update, as it is known, fits into the bigger picture of changes at Google. They have been reducing the number of images and visual distractions in the main search results with efforts like removing author photos, dramatically reducing the number of video snippets and, with the Pigeon Update, the reduction of the number of results that show the Local Pack results. (“Local pack” refers to a part of the Google search result page that shows the business’s name, address, phone number and a map.)

They have also, in many cases, reduced the radius of the search area used to display results.

There were winners and losers with Pigeon. Regardless, it means that it has become more difficult to show in the Local Pack results for many business, particularly those in the suburbs.

7. Is there anything that local businesses should avoid as a result of this update?

Mike Blumenthal: It is probably time to review your local strategy; which categories are you in, which things are you focusing on organically vs. local categories. It might mean that a business needs to focus on longer tail local phrases to regain their visibility in the pack.

It really doesn’t change a business’s overall strategy – which should include a mix of Local, Organic, PPC and offline marketing efforts.

8. What is the best way for a small business owner to learn about local Internet marketing?

Mike Blumenthal: Obviously, as a founder of Local U, I am a big believer in education. Whether the business decides to do it themselves or hire someone, they need to understand the many online options, how they work, how they work together and they need to know enough to choose between one and the other. When should they do local search marketing? SEO? Facebook ads? It all depends and the business needs to know in a broad sense what they do and when they are most appropriate.

9. If you were to hire a local Internet marketing company today, what would be important to you?

Mike Blumenthal: Accountability and transparency. There is a lot of snake oil and it is important:

1) to know what is being done in your name, and

2) to be able to measure the results that you are paying for.

10. Do you see any trends in consumer behavior online that every local business owner should know about?

Mike Blumenthal: The Internet is all about scale. And about the network effect. As a result, most users tend to end up at the same sites, but the specifics of that are very age and demographic dependent, much like offline. The business needs to know who their customers are and the best way to reach their particular age and interest group.

Computer Photo via Shutterstock


Vedran Tomic Vedran Tomic is the Founder of Local Ants, LLC, an local Internet marketing agency focused on helping businesses acquire more customers for less using the web.

5 Reactions
  1. Staying on top of any area of internet marketing is basically a full time job. Mike Blumenthal and the Local U team do a great job educating SMB owners so they can focus on their business.

  2. Enviro-Equipment, Inc.

    “Once the initial 3-6 month effort is made in local search, a business can turn their efforts elsewhere.”

    I’d really like to know what Michael Blumenthal is referring to here it is as there really isn’t much of a ‘ local search effort’ a business can do other than get there company properly listed in Google Places for business and other local based online directories outside of pay per click. What am I missing?

  3. Vedran,

    Great job interviewing Mike.

    I met him at an event here in Cleveland with Anita. he’s a smart guy. He really knows the local search game.

    Good tips here.

    The Franchise King®