secrets to scale

Secrets To Scale Podcast
011 - Everything You Need To Know About Your Google My Business Listing

011 – Everything You Need To Know About Your Google My Business Listing

Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories of successful entrepreneurs and uncovering their secrets to scaling their businesses. Music for every episode of this podcast was written and produced by Treycen Clausse.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, I have Joyanne Hawkins and she is the founder and CEO of Sterling Sky. Sterling  Sky is an agency out of Toronto, Canada that specializes in local search and Google My Business optimization, Joy and I talk all about Google My Business and touch on everything that should be important to you as a business owner and how to optimize your Google My Business listing. Joy is an expert in Google My Business. So I hope this interview is valuable to you. Let’s just jump right in.

Welcome to show Joy. I’m super excited to have you. Go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Joy:

Sure. My name is Joy Hawkins and I’m the owner of a local search agency called Sterling Sky. Been doing this since 2006, so quite a while. But I also own a free forum called the Local Search Forum where we kind of talk and discuss regularly all things pertaining to local search and then also Local U, which puts on conferences and webinars and kind of just overall general training related to local SEO as well.

Tanner:

Awesome. How’d you get started in marketing? I know, I always like to ask that question to other agency owners.

Joy:

Yeah. So I went to school for advertising, so it’s kind of like up in that alley, but I didn’t know what type of advertising I really wanted to do. So, while I was in school, I got a job doing telemarketing for a company that sold Google ads. This was like back in 2006 and just learned really quickly that this was something I really was interested in and not so much the sales part, but learning how SEO works. So I kind of self-taught myself and then it just kinda went from there.

I think in order to do well in this industry, you really have to like change.

Tanner:

What would you attribute your success to over the years? I mean, to be in business this long in the agency world, I mean, that’s pretty incredible.

Joy:

Yeah. I mean, do you mean like professionally or more personally? Because I know I have kind of different answers for both.

Tanner:

 I think both apply.

Joy:

Okay. Yeah. So some of the professional side, I would say one of the things that maybe attributes to my success would be just having like a good work ethic, but then also just constantly testing things. So, one of the things that I kind of liked about the industry right off the get go was it’s a lot of problem solving, right? It’s a lot of like, Hey, why don’t I rank on Google or why is this problem happening? Which I love. Because I love puzzles, right? I love doing problem solving. So I think in order to do well in this industry, you really have to like change and you have to be one of those types that likes different scenarios and problems being thrown at you. And some people don’t like that. Some people get really stressed out by that. So I think it was a natural fit for my personality in that way.

More so on the personal side, you know, I mean I would attribute my success absolutely to my family. You know, I have a really supportive husband who does a great job at helping with the kids and things and I couldn’t be where I’m at without him. And then also on the personal side, I would say, you know, I attribute all of my success to God as well. So kind of summary of that would be what I would say.

The first thing I did when I started my agency was basically just pushed it out there.

Tanner:

Awesome. So let’s go back to when you first started your agency, how did you get your first few clients and what methods did you use and how has that changed over the years?

Joy:

Yeah, so a really important thing to kind of know is that when I started my agency, I was already kind of well-known in the industry, right? So I wasn’t just starting as like this nobody that no one had ever heard of. I worked at two different agencies for a total of, I think, 11 years before I started Sterling Sky. So while I was working for these other agencies, I did a lot of blogging. I actually started my own blog and I did a lot of speaking and writing and that made it a lot easier. So I think my story is gonna be different than somebody if they’re just starting and local search or SEO and nobody kind of knows who they are yet.

Keeping that in mind, the first thing I did when I started my agency was basically just pushed it out there. I already had thousands of followers on Twitter and I pushed it out there on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever, just saying like, Hey, I’m starting my own company and let me know if you’re looking for help. Kind of right away I already got a few people from my network, sent a few emails. And then it kind of snowballed from there. Like, I mean, we got some referrals, I got more speaking gigs, more writing gigs. I turned my personal blog into what is now the Sterling Sky site. So all of those articles that I was writing years and years and years ago kind of became the site for my agency. So we get leads from that as well.

Tanner:

Awesome. You know, I think that’s a really unique story. I think most agency owners would be very lucky to already have a network together when they decided to launch. I mean, someone like me, I had no business starting an agency. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do or I didn’t even know how to do any of the marketing in the beginning. So, you know, I think that’s probably the smarter way to do it, you know build some authority in the industry and then start an agency.

I’m all about employee retention.

Tanner:

Who is your first hire outside of any partners that you brought on?

Joy:

Yeah. So actually, I was thinking about that, because I can’t remember. There’s two people I hired at the same time and I don’t remember they were within like a week from each other. So I don’t remember which one came first, but one of them is a friend of mine who I worked with back at the agency that I used to work at. She left there long before I did, but we worked there for together for about five years. And I realized right away that I was gonna hire her part-time to run PPC ads because although I knew how to do that, I knew that my time was better spent not doing that. So hired her on part-time she’s still here part-Time and it works really well for her she’s mom, so she never wanted a full-time gig, but yeah.

And then the second one was Yan Gilbert. I think I butcher his last name every time I say it, but he was someone that I actually met through the local search forum and he had contracted a bit for the company that he used to work for. So I kind of knew him there, but I’d never actually worked with him. So I just met up with him cause he was here locally about 20 minutes from me, interviewed him and realized that he had a skill set that I did not have. He was much better with technical SEO, like much better than I was. So I was like, you know, I’m going to have all kinds of people that need assistance with various things that I’m maybe not well suited for. So I’m gonna have him do that. And he started kind of again part-time and it’s also still here.

Tanner:

Wow. That’s amazing. Your first two hires are still with you.

Joy:

We have had two people in the last three years that’s haven’t like worked out in one way or another. So that’s important to me, I’m all about employee retention. And yeah, if someone quits it’s very upsetting. So the only one that has quit was one of those, but it was within a week, it was not working. It was not a good fit. So I really don’t count that one.

Most of what we do, honestly, isn’t inside the Google My Business dashboard.

Tanner:

Yeah. I’d probably wouldn’t count that one either. So, you’re an expert in local SEO and that involves Google My Business optimization. Can you give us an idea of what goes into optimizing a Google My Business listing?

Joy:

Yeah. So I mean, there’s a lot of moving pieces. Most of what we do, honestly, isn’t inside the Google My Business dashboard. Like we do quite a bit in there, we sometimes have one-off projects. Like, you know, somebody’s listing got suspended, so they hire us to help them get it reinstated. That’s all Google My Business. But normally most of what we’re doing to help clients ranking and improve their traffic and leads from Google is more on the like traditional SEO side, like organic stuff, you know, like things on their website, back links, stuff like that. But as far as like, what goes into it, there’s a lot of things with the Google My Business that are kind of one-time things. Like you go in, you add all these features, make sure you have the right categories. The only things that are really ongoing I’d say would be like reviews are obviously ongoing, Google posts. And then just keeping up with Google’s new features. So every time they add a new feature, you know, we got to go in and make sure all our clients have it on their listings, but that’s a small percentage of what we do. The bulk of our time goes into more traditional SEO stuff. But just for local businesses, making sure that they, cause it is a little different, the strategy, but it’s the same concepts.

Tanner:

Yeah. So it’s, it’s my understanding that, you know, a local SEO is more traditional SEO, right. And the Google listing really only comes into play in the map pack listing. Can you give us an idea of like what the difference is between the map pack and the regular organic search results?

Joy:

Hm. It varies based on the industry, right? Like, I mean, both are there. Most local queries contain a map pack, right? And most like queries, even if you don’t specify a location, like if, you know, I just do a search for, for example, Nintendo switch – I will get stores near me that sell a Nintendo Switch. So like there’s more and more types of queries that Google is localizing, which I think is really cool for those of us in local search. But it’s important to be in both. And a lot of what we do, you know, on-site with backlinks, things like that, impact both. So, you build a bunch of really, really good links to your site that helps your ranking both in the organic section and the map pack. A lot of the strategies do work well together. But depending on the industry, we see kind of a variety. Like some of our clients, because we do work in a lot of different industries, we see more calls coming straight off the Google My Business listing. And then we have some, we see more calls coming from organics, but for all cases, they’re both really important.

Tanner:

So I know you and your company Sterling Sky have tested a lot of different factors and how they influenced Google business listings. Can you give us an idea of what you found?

Joy:

Yeah. So like, just as far as like what impacts ranking?

Tanner:

Not what impacts ranking on the organic side, but what parts of the Google listing that actually make a difference in rankings?

Joy:

Okay. Yep. So it’s actually really simple – there’s four. A lot of features inside Google My Business, most are purely for aesthetics, like it’s to make your listing look pretty, get people to call you, which is important. I don’t want to discount that. But most of them do not actually have a direct influence on where you rank. So for example, if you add a product to your listing saying, I sell this type of car – that does not help you rank for that type of car if somebody types in that as a term. The things that do impact ranking: the business name, unfortunately. It was actually the number one ranking factor according to me when I was filling out the local search ranking factor study, just recently. I put that as my number one, I think overall it ended up being number two, but we see time and time again, that is just insanely impactful in a stupid way.

The website field. So the authority of your website, what page on your website you link to that has a drastic impact on ranking.

Categories. And categories, people often think like, Oh, that’s kind of a no brainer, but the cool thing that I like about Google my business categories is they’re constantly changing like literally every month. Google ads and deletes and modifies categories. So they are important to keep track of like internally actually monitor changes and check to see like when new categories are added and stuff.

And then the fourth one would be reviews. I think that reviews are one of those things that have kind of diminishing returns. The more and more you get, like you’re not going to see, for example, like an impact if you jumped between like maybe 50 and 70, but you might see an impact between one and 10. So they, they do impact things, but I hear so many times people are like, Oh, I have the most reviews my area. Why don’t I rank first? It’s never as simple as that.

There’s another side of this industry that their strategy for how to make their client’s phone ring is to create these fake listings.

Tanner:

Right. And going back to what you said about the business name, being the number one factor. Before Google introduced this new, verification process of adding new listings, a lot of businesses were just literally adding several listings in different areas that weren’t even like their real business name, just to get calls and leads. Do you still see anything like that?

Joy:

Oh my, yes. So you should check out some of my tweets from the last few days, like we’re seeing a flood of these in certain industries. So there are those of us that are kind of on the side that I’m on. And then there’s another side of this industry that their strategy for how to make their client’s phone ring is to create these fake listings, create these lead gen listings. You know, they still tactically are giving their customers value, by breaking Google’s guidelines, because they are making their phone ring. But we see a lot of it. So if you’re in, like for example, a garage store company I mean, I was searching yesterday for one of our clients and out of the top 20 listings, more than half were fake. So huge problem there. And then same thing right now with personal injury attorneys. We’re seeing the same thing. Literally one of my coworkers was searching last week and I think out of the top 20, 80 or 90% of them were fake. So it was even worse. So it’s sad, but you know, people are exploiting this and they do it a lot.

Tanner:

Yeah. But I think it’s starting to diminish because Google is aware of the problem. But you know, most of the time, most of the time when I see what I believe to be a fake listing, it seems to be really obvious. Like they don’t have reviews, they don’t have an address. I mean, they don’t have any pictures. It’s like, I don’t know why anyone would even call that business to begin with.

Joy:

I mean, they do. Otherwise I guess they wouldn’t have this whole side of the industry, right? They make a lot of money from it. And it was a really good article in the Wall Street Journal last year that talked about how these listings are created. And someone that does this for a living actually came and was quoted in the article about how it could be 1800 a day and he sells them for, I don’t know how much it sells for each one, but like I did the math in my head and I was like, Whoa, that’s a lot of money. We do see less and less of certain types of spam. So yes, definitely we are seeing less spam for certain things. Like, I don’t see virtual offices for example, the way that I saw them two years ago. So that kind of method isn’t working so much anymore, we see pretty much mostly legit businesses and then these blatant lead spam, like lead gen spam listing.

Tanner:

Yeah, man, it’s really unfortunate, especially for those of us that are really taking a white hat approach and trying to add value in the right way and do the right thing. And then you got people just creating listing farms, come in and just take the rug out from underneath all of us. And, you know, that definitely is a big issue.

I’m kind of impressed to see Google giving so much visibility to these new attributes have been rolling out.

Tanner:

So, I mean, we talk about Google My Business constantly changing. What are some examples that you’ve seen recently? I mean, I know there’s been a lot with the post COVID stuff.

Joy:

Hmm. They’ve been doing a lot with COVID. I’ve been finding that the big thing they’ve been hitting up is like visual attributes. So again, nothing that impacts ranking, but just adding all these things that you can add to your listing to clarify, like, you know, for restaurants, are you doing takeout? Are you doing delivery? Like these are all kind of new things that Google’s been adding since COVID started.

Some of the recent ones they added, I think it was last week, were the health and safety attributes. So now you can clarify in there if you require customers to wear masks, if you require your own staff to wear masks, if you do temperature checks. You know, those are kind of important things for people to know, depending on their opinions on the matter, it could influence whether or not they go to a business. And they do, like, you can put appointments only, you can put online appointments. There’s a lot of features and some of them are very visible in the three pack. So I’m kind of impressed to see Google giving so much visibility to these new attributes have been rolling out.

Tanner:

And then on the political side as well, they have LGBTQ business owners, as well as like black owned businesses, those are attributes now as well. Right?

Joy:

Yeah. The LGBTQ one came out a while ago, but they just did recently make them more visible. So before attributes were kind of “meh” because they didn’t really show up very well. The only way you could see them was on mobile devices and you’d have to like go to the about tab and then you’d see it. Now they actually show up on Google maps on computers. And they’re really visible. And they kind of stand out because they have the ones like the rainbow kind of look and it it’s definitely visible. And then the same thing with the black owned attribute, that one is new this year. And I think it’s like a little heart, but it looks really cool.

Business owners aren’t even looking or responding, so I’d say that’s a big missed opportunity.

Tanner:

Yeah. I think it’s a good opportunity for businesses to kind of further differentiate themselves, you know, based on what their COVID policy is, as well as like who owns a business. So I think that’s really cool that Google’s doing that. What do you see a lot of businesses doing wrong when it comes to Google My Business?

Joy:

A big one would probably be ignoring Q&A.  I think that’s more so with retail than any other industry, but it’s always funny to go and look at Walmart listings and just see some of the trolls that go on there and post questions. And it’s crazy to see that the business owners aren’t even looking or responding to those. So I’d say that that’s a big missed opportunity.

I’ve done audits before, like I remember doing an audit for, I think it was like an eye doctor and one of the things I noticed right off the bat, when you Google them, is that the question that was pinned to their knowledge panel was negative. It was a bad negative comment, which again, people don’t realize you can get those flagged and removed really easily. So just a matter of knowing they’re there, I’d say that continues to be like a missed opportunity.

Tanner:

You know, another thing that I noticed is that businesses don’t respond to their reviews.

Joy:

Yes. I feel like, I don’t have any stats to back this up, but I feel like I’ve seen more responses than I would have seen like two years ago. And Google does email alert to the users. Now if somebody responds to your review, so that’s kind of cool. But yeah, I agree that some people also don’t really know how to respond to negative reviews. So that is something I see a lot of business owners kind of shooting themselves in the foot because they’re just so defensive and not polite and they just add fuel to the fire by responding and they probably would have been better not responding at all.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, they just argue with the person leaving the bad review and they really should just be saying, we’re sorry that this happened to contact us and make it right. And that’s all you have to do. Right.

Joy:

It’s pretty simple. But yeah, it’s kind of a rule here that, when it comes to negative reviews, you know you first, you don’t want to respond if you’re personally connected to it and feel frustrated, like that’s your frustration. You feel frustrated. You should have somebody else respond for you. You’ll be less likely to have an emotional response.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, as a potential customer looking at reviews of a business, if I see behavior like that, I immediately don’t trust them and I don’t want to engage with that business.

Joy:

Yeah, no, I agree. Like, I think it says a lot about them and their ability to own issues. Like nobody’s perfect. Everyone’s going to do something wrong and you know, if a customer calls you out on it, your first line of defense shouldn’t be to try to discredit them.

We don’t even use the word scaling here, growing is more what I’d say we do.

Tanner:

Yeah. I completely agree. What would you say are your secrets to scaling your business?

Joy:

Oh, that’s tough. I guess my agency might be a little different in this aspect because I actually don’t really have a goal to scale the business. Right? Like we are very much a consulting based business. I don’t have any SAS products or anything like that. In order for my agency to grow, I have to hire more people. So my strategy has been, I would say very different than probably a typical agency. We don’t hire people and train them. I usually hire people that are well into their SEO career who require very little training and yes, these people cost more obviously. So that’s maybe a downside, but I’ve found the pros well outweigh the cons.

We’ve only had like two people that we’ve hired here that didn’t come with five plus years of experience. And one of them was the younger brother of one of my existing employees. So it was easy. I was like, Hey, your brother can train you. And the other one was somebody that contracted for us for a bit, so it was kind of a safe bet. That’s kind of been our strategy here is just trying to get the best and brightest and we’re constantly hiring. But we’re really, really picky on who we hire. And that so far has led to like a really good employee retention, really good client retention, which I think are like kind of the common pitfalls I see with most agencies is they have retention problems.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, employees are really the most important thing I think for an agency, if they’re trying to scale. That being said, service-based industries, or companies I should say, can’t really scale like a traditional company, right? Like if you’re not selling a product, scaling is really difficult because you’re dealing with so much human capital and your costs just keep going up. There’s not a way for you to like incrementally lower your costs as you sell more product. There’s no way to become more efficient because the only way to become more efficient would be to either automate something you’re doing or hire talent that costs less, which will ultimately just be a detriment to your business anyways.

Joy:

Yeah. We don’t even use the word scaling here. I know it’s a popular word, but I, you know, growing would be more what I would say we do. We want to grow for sure, but I’m not looking to increase our profit margins insanely by somehow like doing those things that you’re mentioning. Like we don’t automate very much here. All of our work, I think that the value in SEO is smart people. You know what they’re doing is actually using their eyes and brains to try and analyze things. So I do think automation has a place in there for sure. There are some things that can be automated, but I would argue that there’s very little, that can be automated from what we do anyway.

Tanner:

Oh yeah. I completely agree. There’s no way to automate SEO. I mean, I don’t care how good the technology gets. If that ever gets to a point where it’s automated and you can have a robot doing it, then it doesn’t exist anymore because everyone has access to those tools. And there’s really no way to give yourself an edge.

Joy:

Hm. I mean, there are companies out there that I think are doing a pretty decent job at automating some of it. Like building, you know, engines that will essentially use the same template for the site and then they pull in new customers and they build these sites with the same factors. So I do think there’s some parts there that could be good, but that’s not how we’re doing it here. So it’s not our model.

It’s relationships really.

Tanner:

No. And I don’t think I would recommend the model anyway. It’s just no one wants a template site. Right? It’s just, I think there’s some sort of personalization that’s really necessary with SEO and especially when it comes to link building, because you can’t really build a link without some sort of personal interaction with someone. I mean, not to say that’s always the case, but for the really good links it requires a lot of strategy and a lot of communication. And a lot of outreach.

Joy:

Yep. It’s relationships really. The one thing that link builders, they have to like talking to people, right? Like it’s not really a job for a super introverted person that doesn’t like talking to people.

Tanner:

Right. Yeah. I mean, I guess you could do it as an introvert if it was solely email based, but an email, it’s really difficult to get. It’s hard to get in people’s inboxes because everyone’s getting so many emails and you may have good intentions, but a lot of the other people are just spamming inboxes so it’s really difficult to stand out.

Is email outreach, part of your link building strategy?

Joy:

Yep. We have a couple here, so we have two full-time link builders right now. We’re always hiring link builders. So that’s one where I’m like, if I have a really good link builder that applies I would hire them even if I didn’t need them just because they are hard to find. I find the two that I hired so far they’re strategies are a bit different. The first one, he has a lot of like existing relationships with various journalists and stuff. So, you know, when we get on new clients, we can kind of easily get them placed in some really great publications, which is awesome. But the caveat to that is it doesn’t scale. I mean, if I’ve got a client that’s been a client for three years, it’s not like he can just come up with new places to put them. But he’s insanely valuable and just an awesome person to work with.

Then one of the more recent hires we hired was the second link builder and she does a lot more traditional outreach style. You know, the good to that is that we can have a client where we just kind of continually do it forever and continue to get them linked. So that is a really big benefit. But I would say, from a cost perspective, it definitely costs more because there’s a lot of work that goes into it.

Tanner:

Oh yeah, yeah, no question, but I think it’s good that you have a strategy you take right out the gate and build some links right away. Then on the back end you have someone that can continually get more links for that client. So, I think that’s solid.

Well, this has all been amazing Joy. Is there anything that I did not ask you that you think might benefit the audience?

Joy:

Yeah. I mean, if people have questions or need to know where to find me, I would say I’m most active on Twitter. Those tweets are my own, don’t have anybody writing that for me. But it’s @joyaneehawkins on Twitter and then of course our website sterlingsky.ca

Tanner:

Awesome. Well, we’ll link up both of those in the show notes and I really appreciate the time.

Joy:

Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me.

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