Must-Do Tactics to Improve Your Local Search Rankings Part-1 with Darren Shaw

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In this interview, Joe is joined by Darren Shaw, the founder of Whitespark, to talk about the most effective ways to boost your local search rankings. Darren is a recognized authority on local search. His company, Whitespark, offers software and services to help businesses improve their rankings and conversions from Google’s local results. He also conducts an acclaimed annual survey with the top SEO experts from around the world to determine what is truly effective in driving rankings and conversions in local search.In part one of this interview, Darren discusses what Whitespark is all about, and debunks the top myths in local SEO.

Topics Discussed

  • What Whitespark is all about and how the company came together
  • The Annual Local Ranking Search Factors Survey
  • data aggregators vs. manual citation builders
  • The biggest myths in SEO
  • Why data aggregators are not a great cleanup solution

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Joe 0:29
Hey, everybody, and welcome back to show me the nuggets. I'm super excited today to have on somebody that's been in this industry, and honestly, I've been following for probably like going on 1011 years, I would bet. Let's see how long ago Darren actually founded this business. But today's guest is Darren Shaw from white spark. And again, if you've been in this industry for any real amount of time, I'm sure the white spark brand or name rings about but welcome officially to the shoulder.

Darren 1:20
Hey, thanks for having me, Joe. It's great to be here. I founded the business in 2005. So it's it's been a minute. I didn't shift until to, you know, being solely focused on local SEO until about 2010. Prior to that, we were web development agency. So we started building websites for local businesses, getting them ranked. And then in 2010, we built that local citation finder software, and just said, Hey, this SAS thing looks pretty good. Let's do that.

Joe 1:52
It seems like that was like a hit right? I remember when that like dropped on the scene, so to speak. And I feel like you guys just came out of like left field, like out of the middle of nowhere. And you went from like, I didn't know who you were to like a dominant name in the space, at least my perception of it. Like, what was it in reality was it wasn't kind of like that, or was it very different?

Darren 2:11
It was kind of like that. It was like, like, we're I'm in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, that's where our company is based out of and we were just a web development company. Our whole focus in the world was our city, Edmonton. So that's all we cared about. And then, and then that local citation finder, we're like, oh, this is a cool idea. Let's build this thing. And then some of the big heavy hitters and local SEO caught wind of it. David Mann, Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, and they'd written posts about and he shared it.

Like, I remember getting a message on Skype. That's what we were using at the time. David Mihm wants to have a chat with you. And I was like, Oh, my God, David man wants to talk to me. And so that was it. Yeah, totally put us on the map. And then it built connections and relationships. And I was able to sort of just kind of get involved in the local SEO community through that. And it's been my obsession since 2010. And I just love everything about local SEO and, and so yeah, but that is what happened. It really just like, Oh, we're now a global company providing SEO.

Joe 3:21
Yeah, that's awesome. So if somebody's not familiar with white Spark, could you give like kind of a top high level view of kind of your your main product services and how you guys help when it comes to local SEO?

Darren 3:35
Yeah, for sure. So there's sort of five main products and services. We are listing service, like are the local citation finder. Let's just go chronologically. So we started with the local citation finder. That was our like, sort of first SaaS software, there's a free version, and there's plans for more. And what that software does is that it it finds all the places your business is listed online, and then finds all the places your top competitors are listed online and says, Hey, your top competitors have all these citations.

You might want to get those ones too. And so it kind of guides you and and every week, it doesn't have a crawl and shows you new opportunities. So there's that software, and that's the one that put us on the map. And then we realized that lots of people don't actually want to build their own citations. So let's build the service. So we made a service I hired citation savant, absolute expert, he was the man who still is the man of course, but he had his own thing going on Yaga, Slavs, jackoff. And so he was this absolute genius in terms of citations. And you know, him and I started chatting, and then there was an opportunity for us to work together and so very fortunate for him to join the company, and he built our entire citation team in Bulgaria.

So we have a team of 20 some people over there, and they do all of our listings work and so we have the list. same service. So that's like cleaning up your listings for inconsistencies, building out new citations, the whole team does that. Then we built the white spark global rank tracker to like, it's, it's been a labor of love since 2012, which is when we started building it. Now, I believe it has evolved into the best local Rank Tracker in the industry. It's absolutely phenomenal. We've got some great new feature that we just just added, finds Google duplicates, it looks beautiful, it's easy to use. So we have that really obvious choice for agencies to check out.

We have our reputation builder software. So that's review generation software helps you ask for reviews via email, text, embed reviews on your website, monitor, respond to reviews, all that stuff. So that application, then we also have, we have our own basically agency arm now. So we have it started off as only Google, at the time was Google My Business Management. So we would just manage your listing, you know, keep it up to date with Google posts. You know, manage it, manage your reviews, respond to reviews, do some spam fight, and we just did everything on your Google listing. But now it's expanded because those clients come in and they're like, Oh, can you do our website? Sure. Can you do link building?

Sure. So now we actually basically have a full SEO agency arm in our SEO services. And that's, that's fully white label of will to for agencies we work with about half of our client base are probably agencies that just white label that off to us. So that's, that's the full gamut of what we do away. Spark was a bit long, sorry.

Joe 6:34
No, no, very, very good. So you mentioned like, obviously, the citation finder, then the evolution was like, Okay, great. Nobody wants to build their own citations. Right. It's like a super tedious process. Especially when you start talking about accuracy of the listings and verification and, and Dan, Dan, right, like it, it gets pretty monotonous. So like, I can see why you'd expand there, but also see, like, why you like, want to run the other way. Right? Like and like, I don't know if we can even go about this. Like, I'm curious as a founder, like, what made you decide to embrace that and take it head on? Was it that relationship that was like, Alright, great. If, if this guy can really help take this on? Because he's an expert, we can do it? And if not, no, right, because it's it's a big, hairy, audacious project, if you will, right. It's it's not software development. And, you know, it's not super spelled out. It's not super repeatable, the things are always changing. I'm curious, your mindset there in that process there.

Darren 7:36
Yeah. So it's 100% I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for neon slab. So you know, yeah, I guess love are already had, he actually had already built his own team. And he was doing it. He was more interested in the operation side than the business marketing side. And so the synergy worked really well there. And so, you know, our brand name was was was gaining reputation. And it was it was just a great, a great partnership. And so having the August love join, was 100%. The reason why I was able to do it and being able to partner with him and build a team under his direction, I wouldn't have had time to do it. So just having having him available to do it was was the reason why it made perfect sense.

Joe 8:22
Yeah, that's awesome. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts of of using a service where you use the data aggregators, right? Or use Yext, right, versus the manual citation building that you guys do? I think is a topic that is a topic that SEOs are always talking about asking about what's best practice why? And I think we'd be remissed. If we didn't, you know, talk about that.

Darren 8:47
Oh, for sure. Yeah, I think that there is a use case, for Yext and, and overall and the likes of those kinds of platforms where you put your locations in it, and then they sync to the sites. There's a case for that. And in my mind, that case is you have 100 plus locations, you have 100 plus locations, you kind of you have a lot of flux, you got locations, closing opening, changing hours, you need a centralized place that you can just update at once and it's going to push. Yep.

The problem with those automated systems is they don't do a great job like so often what happens is, if you have, let's say, you already had a listing on Bing, but it's claimed personally by a human, then that listing is kind of locked. It's like UX is locked out. So what does UX do? They pretend it doesn't exist, and they make a new listing. And then they think that that one so when you log into your UX dashboard all looks great. Oh, great. Oh, my listings are saying they've got like, a litter of duplicate inconsistent listings that were unable to sync and so they just pretend they don't exist. So that's it.

It's just not a great job. First of all, but If you've got 1000 locations, you're kind of like, you don't really have an option. We could do it manually. But then when you come to us was like, oh, yeah, we can definitely do that job, it's gonna take us six months, if you're like, wait a minute, I need this done tomorrow. So it doesn't doesn't usually go so well. But if we were talking about an agency that has, you know, let's say you got 50 clients, so you got 200 clients, oh, my God, it's painful for me to see you spending that money month after month, year after year for these recurring services.

Because in my mind, citations are a once and done thing for most, like single location business up to 10 location businesses up to 50 location businesses, there's not so much change that you need to manage it all the time. And so we have, that's the massive value proposition is you pay once and you check citations off your to do list, this time, you don't have to do in a month to month three, or whatever, when you're working with a client month one, if you like, get the citations done, and just call them done, you don't have to keep spending this recurring fee.

And so from an agency perspective, this is a huge value proposition, at least 70% of our orders coming in on our listing service, or from agency, we do 1000s per month. And so it's just such an easy outsource to us for that. And I don't want this to be a sales pitch, I'm trying to tell you about how, like why it's just like for the same cost, you could just get it done once rather than pay that same amount every year. And so that's kind of how I feel about it. data aggregators are interesting.

You mentioned that. So I want to just quickly touch on that. Did it aggregators, they want, people need to know that they don't push data to the site in their distribution network, the sites in their distribution network are buying data from the aggregator. So it's more of like a poll. And different sites pull that data at different rates of speed. And so sometimes, let's say a site like, might pull a feed from data axle, once a month. And so you make you make an updated data axle. And you might see that go live in yellow pages in a month.

Darren 12:11
Another site, like let's say, merchant circle, is a classic example. They pull a feed maybe once a quarter, and they don't even validate the data, they just keep pumping new listings, so you have like, 14 duplicates, on Merchantcircle. And so it's just the hassle of citations. Let me tell you something super important. People think citation consistency is really valuable and important. That is a long standing SEO myth, I, I run a service where we get paid to go and clean up people's listings.

And so I'm telling you, is this straight from the horse's mouth, there's not really a strong SEO benefit to investing in that you don't need to waste your energy, your time, your money on citation consistency, it's just not. It doesn't have an impact. It's like a, there's so many more valuable things for you to invest in, in your agency for your clients. And so I just feel like this thing happened in the early days, citation consistency was a big deal. It was like if I don't have my citations, correct, I won't get credit for them. It was like, it was almost like imagine this, you have all these links on the internet, but they're pointing to a different website, you want those links to point to your website. And so that was the idea.

But Google has become much more sophisticated, particularly since they switched to the Knowledge Graph. Before it was like imagine a static database, and all these data points had to match in order for you to get credit. Now they can do partial matches, and they're like, oh, yeah, this one is, you know, the likelihood that this is a mention of that business is, you know, 30% threshold, so that one maybe doesn't count. But you know, partial matches do work. So this whole idea of consistency is is just not really an SEO thing. So for me consistency on the site, where humans see your data, that's what's important.

You want to have the right phone number you want have the right address, you want people to go to the right address. So that's Apple Maps being Google, obviously. So it's just the sites that have a core visibility. And I think it's important to have it updated in the aggregators as well because of that distribution effect. But beyond that, you don't I could care less if my has the wrong phone number doesn't matter.

Joe 14:19
I completely agree. And no, no harm no foul in, in you pitching us so to speak. It really wasn't a pitch, I threw you a softball, I didn't even throw it. I loved it. Because I know we have the same philosophy on on citations. One and done is much better, in my opinion, as well for most businesses. And I think you gave some really good examples there. And thanks for clarifying with the about the data aggregators and the push versus pull. I think that's really important. I think a lot of people don't understand that. They think, Hey, I go list with the data aggregator and then magically everywhere my citations are going to be and they're going to be correct. And, you know, we know that's not really true

Darren 14:58
data aggregators, and Got a great cleanup solution, that's for sure. Because it's all at the mercy of what the sites do with the data that they're taking in. So one site might take the data, match it and then push an update another site might say, Yeah, this doesn't look like the same listing. So they make a new one. And so it really, it doesn't do a great cleanup job. But I would also say something like, yeah, extra Uber all doesn't also do a great cleanup job, which is another benefit of going the manual approach.

Because our team, first step is not variation discovery. So variation of your variation, or discovery of your different names, addresses, phone numbers out there. So we do have a deep search. And we kind of find all Yeah, we're they're known by these three names, I found these three different phone numbers, I found these two different addresses. And then we go to each site, we search those, so we actually do a real comprehensive audit. And then we, we, we remove the duplicates, claim the best listing, get an accurate or recreate a listing if you don't have one. So it's just that manual approach makes sure that it's done properly.

Joe 16:00
Yeah. And I think that like that should always be done for a client one time, but I agree with you like it doesn't need to be kept up over time, especially if you go out with the data aggregators, and you make sure it's up to date there. And then also kind of the top three to five, you know, for each of those businesses, I think is plenty. So you've, you've brought up that, that the consistency isn't as big of a ranking factor as as a lot of people believe it's kind of an SEO myth. So like, I think that's the perfect segue to talking about the local search ranking survey that you guys, you took over. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Darren 16:35
Yeah. So the local search ranking factors is a survey of the top experts and local SEO? Yeah, I'm sure there's some great experts out there that I've missed. But, you know, people that are known that are publishing, speaking about local SEO. And so when you aggregate, I asked this question, I asked a series of questions, and then I aggregate all their data. And then they kind of sort the factors like this is my most important factor down to my least important to pick a top 20. So when you do that, across 40, some people, the ones that are really valuable tend to surface to the top right. And so it really helps to understand what drives rankings and local search.

And then I do have a section in there about myths, which is I think you were you were heading to and so the survey was created by David Mann way back in 2008. And in 2017, he passed the reins to me, so I'm really lucky to run it. It's a lot of work. So I guess I understand why he passed it. But it's a wonderful survey. It's a an amazing resource for local search practitioners. If you haven't seen it, of course you go check it out. But yeah, do you want to talk about some some of the one of the MCS questions?

Joe 17:43
Yeah, I'd love to talk about kind of some of the top myths besides the NA P consistency.

Darren 17:49
Yeah, sure. I actually don't even have that one in there as one of them. Yeah. All right. Where's where's my myths? If you wanted that section? Oh, yeah. So I asked the question, What factors do you think absolutely do not impact rankings. So these are, these are the mythbusting. So here's my favorite one top of the list. This is the one that comes up all the time. And there's a lot of snake oil in industry about this particular myth. geo tagging your photos before uploading them to GMB. Oh, my God is sold by the software companies.

And you see on the landing pages of agencies, or we're going to geotag your photos. Oh my god. So that's, that's another thing. What happens is, when you upload a photo to Google, it strips all that data. So it's like, there's absolutely no value in doing that. Don't bother. Don't waste your time on geo tagging photos. And this has been tested by a number of practitioners, they geotag the photos. So no ranking benefits are no no benefit whatsoever. So geo tagging photos, number one topic list. Another one that people think it or do you want to say anything about God, I

Joe 18:56
just love that. I think like back in the day when it was still Google Places, right? Like I remember definitely geo tagging images. But I can't remember man, how long how many years? It's been since that, that kind of went away in my own practices. But yeah, I think that's definitely a big one for sure.

Darren 19:13
I'm with you on that. Actually, back in the day, I was so excited when I discovered that I could stuff keywords into the EXIF data of images. And then I was like, This is it. It's my ticket to rankings, but has no impact. So another big one that people are not aware of a lot of people aren't aware of this. Is that putting keywords in your description in your Google business profile, no impact on rank. And the reason is Google does not factor in the Description field into the ranking algorithm. It's completely ignored. And I suppose it's like, you know, you can try and tell us what you do. The category is huge, right? That's has a massive impact on ranking and keywords in the business name. I just did a video on that. That one's that one's a spams Ville, USA because it works. so well, but keywords in description, no nothing keywords in your products no has no impact on my keywords in the services.

No. So there's no sense in stuffing those, write them like you're writing ad copy, you want to, you want it to be compelling. And you're writing it for conversions not for rankings. So that's an important one I think people need to be aware of is that the only place the only fields in your your Google profile that have an impact on ranking is keywords in the business name. Don't spam it, you should actually change your name. You could potentially get penalized, but Google doesn't police very well. Keywords are your primary category. Huge. It's like number one, I think last year was the number ranking factor. Your secondary categories, add any additional categories that you can think of that that your business is related to because it's like, okay, now I can rank for that term too. But anywhere else on your listing doesn't really impact ranking.

Joe 21:00
So you talked about the the naming, right and keyword stuffing the name, right? So it used to be that like, only the black hats did that, right? Like only the gray hats, the black hats like that was I was classic spam 101. But it worked. So well. You saw why they did it. Yeah, I feel like today, it's kind of a confusing thing for a lot of actual SEOs. Can I do this? Is it best practice to do this? Is it? Is it me being gray hat or black hat? If I use this? I don't feel like anybody really knows where the line is right now. What's your thoughts in terms of that?

Darren 21:37
Yeah. So this question is so great, because I have just been, I just wrote my script for the video. I'm going to record today on answering that question. It's amazing, because I just released a video last week, because after the vicinity update that happened in December, the vicinity local algorithm update, it was identified that it seemed like keywords in the business name had less of an impact. Local SEO is rejoice. It's a great Google finally solved the spam problem. But I didn't really, I didn't know if it had been like completely wiped out. Some people actually thought that keywords in the business, they might hurt your ranking. So they're like, oh, I should take the keywords out.

My rankings dropped. Oh, no. Should I take keywords out of my business name. And so my advice was to not take it on. I wanted to test this. So I was like, okay, post vicinity, I'm going to add some keywords to my my business name. What happens and so I'm measuring this in our Whitesburg local Rank Tracker. And it's like, oh, 2020 position jump overnight, it still works like a charm. It has a massive impact on ranking. So yes, keywords in the business name still very impactful for rankings. Now that your question is, Should I do it? The answer that question is, it's really related to your risk tolerance. If you do it, you will get the ranking benefit. Will how risky is it?

How likely is it your listing will get suspended? It's fairly unlikely. It's good to know that because it's like the most likely thing that will happen is in the case that someone doing spam fighting reports you. Google will be like, Thanks for the report. And then they take the keywords out of your business name and life goes on. It's like, Alright, cool. Moving along, no problem. If you get reported multiple times, multiple infractions, and then a Google product expert escalates it and says, Dude, you got to suspend this guy, he just keeps infraction after infraction after infraction, then Google's support team, their arm will finally be twisted, and you'll maybe get suspended. It's hard to get suspended. It's hard to suspend someone, anyone that does spam fighting knows how hard it is to get this damn stuff taken off from Google.

So that should give you a sense of how risky is it to put the keywords in a business name. So now you got to say, well, am I going to make 10 million more dollars a year because I now ranked number one with the keyword in the business name, some businesses might see that benefit, right? And so take the risk, but there is it there is a surefire way to put keywords in your business name, and not incur any risk whatsoever. And that is to rebrand. We did a rebrand for a business that before it was just like, you know, nondescript business brand name. A

nd then we're like, you, if you get these keywords in your name, I'm telling you, it's gonna have a huge impact. So we worked with them to actually change their name with the Secretary of State, we worked with them to change it on their logo, their website, their signage, their T shirts, like their business cards, their utility company, so like, you know, a lot of people overlook this. Then, of course, we do a citation update. So we worked with them, of course, through our listing service to update all their citations. That the amazing thing is you can't get to Spend it if it's actually business name. There you go. That's your risk free way to reap the rewards of how strong of a ranking factor this

Joe 25:09
is. Yeah, definitely a very strong ranking factor. Thanks for the clarity. I love the client example, too. I have a friend that does marketing local SEO specifically for dentists. And he only works with like a dozen dentists. But he requires them to change their business name and helps them through the process.

Darren 25:29
It's like if you want to rank, you better change your name. That's part of our it's just like you got to do it.

Joe 25:34
Here's my track record, like 90% of my clients have gotten on page one for their primary keyword phrase. Totally. Like so. It definitely works, obviously very big commitment, though. On the flip side,

Darren 25:46
I will say one other thing about it. It works now. So if you did this full rebrand, you might find that okay. Oh, man, the August 2022, Google Local algorithm update hit. And Google decided we're going to stop giving any credit to keywords in the business name. So now you've you've renamed your your business to Denver dentists near me. Now you've got a stupid looking brand name. So that that is that is something to consider?

Joe 26:14
Yeah, that's too funny.

Darren 26:16
Yeah, super quick. Basically, if you're interested in any of the white spark products or services that I mentioned earlier, thanks for asking me about that. Then you can find them at White And anyone on this listening to this podcast can get 15% off of our Rank Tracker, our listing service. If you wanted to white label or SEO services that are very reasonably priced, then I think the promo code I came up with was nuggets. So if you show us your nuggets, when you sign up, you get 50%.


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