Mastering Local SEO: Insights from Greg Gifford, COO at SearchLab Digital

Mastering Local SEO: Insights from Greg Gifford, COO at SearchLab Digital

Welcome to Marketer Interview, where we bring insights from some of the most fascinating minds in the marketing industry.

In today’s interview, we enjoyed speaking with Greg Gifford, Chief Operating Officer at SearchLab Digital.

With a wealth of experience in Local SEO and a specialization in the automotive industry, Greg has established himself as an expert in his field. His beautiful movie-themed slide decks have made him a sought-after speaker at conferences worldwide.

Today, we delve into Greg’s journey into marketing, the intricacies of his career, and his expertise in local SEO, link building, Google Business Profiles, and agency processes.

Can you share with us how you initially discovered your passion for marketing and what drew you to the field?

Honestly, I kind of fell into it by accident…

I started a Flash website design agency and started making websites. As we realized the content didn’t show up in Google, I started to learn more about how to get sites to show in Google results. Then I started learning about marketing as a parallel to the Google stuff, and I just fell in love and stayed in marketing after that.

As the Chief Operating Officer at SearchLab Digital, what does a typical day in your role look like?

I oversee operations, so my job revolves around people and processes. I’m the guy who figures out how to make everything work.

The CEO’s job is to develop ideas, and my job is to figure out all the steps necessary to make the ideas happen. I live in spreadsheets, crunching numbers and outlining specific steps in the processes I create or document.

I’m also supposed to spend some time “figuring cool shit out” – one of the more incredible things I’ve learned is working in VR. I’m answering these questions in VR right now!!!

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Local SEO is a rapidly evolving field. How do you stay up to date with the latest trends and developments?

I’m lucky enough to get to speak at many different conferences worldwide, so at least every month or two, I’m together with the top minds in SEO.

Plus, over the years, I’ve become close friends with most of them… So basically, I just chat with my friends. I’m also in a few pretty exclusive Slack groups, and I still use Twitter to stay updated on new things happening.

Continuous learning is critical: Google is constantly updating the algorithm, so staying updated on optimizing a site properly is essential. Things that worked well a few years ago won’t even move the needle now – or worse, might cause a penalty.

Could you provide some insights into your experience and strategies for link-building in the context of local SEO?

Link building for Local SEO is almost entirely different from traditional link building. It’s on a much smaller scale, and I think it’s significantly easier.

Link authority scores are total BS anyway, but they’re mainly BS in Local. The most valuable links are links from local websites/businesses – but those are typically small sites that don’t do much (if any) SEO… So their link authority numbers are horrible.

We also don’t care if a link has the nofollow designation since it’s been proven repeatedly that nofollow links still matter to the local algo.

To get strong local links, you just have to do old-school marketing – the sorts of things businesses used to do to get noticed locally before the internet was invented.

I’ve got a video from my weekly series that covers several tactics for building local links:

Google Business Profiles play a crucial role in local search visibility. What best practices do you recommend for optimizing and managing these profiles effectively?

We could talk about this one all day.

Most importantly, you need to fill out everything you can – except the “Areas served” field, that one does nothing.

Use your actual business name, check your address and map pin placement, and enter the correct hours of operation.

Include UTM tracking on website links to get better data in Analytics, choose every appropriate category, and be strategic with which category you select as the primary category.

Upload lots of awesome photos, seed questions in the Q&A section, and monitor that section to be sure you answer new questions and use Posts regularly.

Some things I just mentioned don’t influence ranking or visibility, but they do influence conversions. Make sure you’re creating the most attractive GBP you can create so you rock a fantastic first impression.

Given your expertise in the automotive industry, could you share some specific challenges or opportunities that marketers in this sector face and how you navigate them?

Honestly, it’s not that much different from other verticals.

The only real difference is that dealers are pretty much locked into getting their website from one of the significant automotive website providers – so they can’t just build their own WordPress site and be done with it.

There are also some rules in GBP that are specific to car dealers, like the ability to set up separate department GBPs for parts and services and listing their live inventory on their GBP with the Vehicles for Sale feature.

Can you walk us through the critical components of a successful agency process in local SEO?

A successful process lets you get results, care for your team members, and scale your agency without hiccups or growing pains. It’s really that simple.

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions or myths about local SEO, and how do you debunk them?

There are soooooo many. Linking to your GBP, geotagging photos when you upload to GBP, all sorts of myths that have been disproven time and again… but they just won’t die.

Mostly, it’s common sense – if it sounds like a hacky thing that Google indeed wouldn’t allow… then it’s probably a hacky thing that Google won’t allow.

Don’t listen to the BS hype online. Don’t listen to the gurus. Pay attention to the legitimate experts and read their content – you’ll quickly sort out the crap and know what works.

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What essential tools and software do you rely on to carry out your job effectively, and how do they support your work?

I couldn’t do my job without Excel or Google Sheets – but that’s the process and math nerd side.

From an SEO standpoint, you need a solid SEO toolset that allows you to crawl sites, monitor link profiles, analyze websites, and monitor reviews. There are many options, but I like Places Scout, Whitespark, Bright Local, Ahrefs, and SEMrush.

As a renowned conference speaker, what advice do you have for marketers looking to improve their public speaking skills and create captivating presentations?

Watch other speakers and then practice until you’re blue in the face.

It’s helpful to watch other speakers, especially those who speak at many conferences.

You don’t need to copy them, but pay attention to the craft. What do their slides look like? Do they speak loudly? Do they vary vocal inflection so people pay more attention?

Pick the little things that make them stand out, and incorporate those elements into your work.

And most importantly, practice, practice, practice. It’s not a simple “Get on the stage and talk” situation – a ridiculous amount of work goes into being a top-tier presenter… even if you’re just starting.

You need to know your presentation backward and forwards – and don’t rely on the speaker notes in presentation mode cause most conferences don’t have a confidence monitor that shows the notes… You should be able to rock your presentation without any notes, and you should be able to finish on time every time you practice.

Finally, are there any other marketing professionals in the industry whom you admire or have learned from, and would you recommend them for a future interview with Marketer Interview?

Oh geez – so many. Darren Shaw. Mike King. Wil Reynolds. Rank Fishkin. Ian Lurie. Joy Hawkins. Ben Fisher. Jono Alderson. Luke Carthy. Aleyda Solis.

I could go on and on – it’s all the top-tier speakers you keep seeing at every big conference… I’ve learned something from every single one of them!

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