Interview: Chris Silver Smith

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ChrisAsh: How and when did you get into Local Search? What is your current role in your business? Tell us a little about the typical challenges you face in your work.

I first got into local search while in 1996-97 working for Verizon’s (actually, this was before Verizon — it was GTE Directories Corporation back then), when I was asked by one of our business development people to look into ways to increase the site’s organic search traffic. I was the site’s Analyst back then, and I noticed that people didn’t just arrive on the site’s homepage, but that they also could arrive via other site pages which got indexed in search engines. It didn’t take long to figure that if we built pages targeting consumers’ keyword phrases, such as “boston seafood restaurants” or “hotels, miami, fl”, we might be able to get more traffic than just trying to target “yellow pages”. So, I put together a pilot test involving some dozens of pages engineered to target business categories or geographic areas or combinations of both, and the limited research experiment showed a clear advantage.

This small research project eventually paved the way to some simply huge local SEO projects, since multiplying around 15k of business categories by around 33k cities and towns produced massive numbers of combined pages!

For my current role, I have just launched my own search engine marketing agency here in 2012, called Argent Media. I’m doing strategic SEO consulting, online reputation management, and, of course, some local search optimization. I’m also considering producing a few apps or resources which would be useful for other local search marketing agencies. I do some business and SEO advisory work on behalf of Universal Business Listing and FindLaw as well.

I’d say that I face all the same challenges that anyone in local search is facing right now: you can do all the right things in disclosing a local listing to Google Places and still have them leave your listing in a neverending “pending review” mode for no clear reason. Part of being a local online marketer right now is to have a very Zen attitude about it all — stay calm, and accept that you cannot necessarily control the universe — wait patiently, or try various tweaks over time to resolve the listing limbo. It’s unfortunately a difficult thing to teach to clients, however.

Ash: Who were your early mentors and who are the ones these days?

Truthfully, each of my supervisors at Superpages over the years taught me a lot and helped sand down some of my sharper edges so that I could become more professional to work with and a better person: Brad Sims, Kelly Ingrum, and Doug Heatherly. Also, my employers since then have really been friends from whom I learned a lot about the search marketing industry as well: Stephan Spencer and Christine Churchill.

Ash: Which search achievement gave you the greatest satisfaction? Tell us a little about the challenge, the diagnosis and the execution.

I actually did a little barter job for a young doctor in my area the year before last — he was struggling to get enough patients for his new practice, and he was up against more established, older doctors who had been around a long time. What was also interesting was that this guy had taught himself how to program his own website (and, when I mean “program”, I mean he could do some actual coding, not just HTML markup!), and had clearly tried to incorporate some good SEO construction.

So, I gave him a handful of optimization recommendations which I knew he could incorporate, and he slowly added these into the mix as he had time. Most of these were very straightforward tips, such as improvements to title tags and link text within his site — classic SEO stuff. Within about six months, I could see that he ranked in the local results under Place Search and in Google Maps!

Helping that small business find success so rapidly really gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Ash: What do you think Google and Microsoft will do next (re Local) to keep you on your toes?

I feel as though there’s something like a storm brewing in Google, since I continue to expect some sort of merging of Google Place pages with Google Plus. This could be a virtually cosmetic change, or it could be more integral — and, this is going to introduce some level of chaos, I predict. These sorts of sea changes keep us all on our feet.

Ash: If a young person wants to enter the Local Search profession today, what would you advise them?

Take some time to read up on general SEO and social media as well as articles from many different experts on aspects of local search and local online marketing. Also, carefully observe the date of the article as well as the bio information of the person writing it. Avoid sites which do not clearly disclose who is writing the articles, since that can lead you down a rat-hole.

Also, read up on mapping and wireless technology, and try to keep up with current developments among local online marketing companies.

Finally, it’s very worthwhile to work for a company in the online business information idustry — there are many to choose from — or a local search marketing agent. Getting training and experience, even as an intern, could provide a rapid and valuable education in the business.

Ash: What aspect of the local search or IYP industry irks you the most?

I don’t know if I’m irked so much as disappointed that IYPs continue to lose ground in the online world here in 2012. Even if it was predictable that they’d face intense challenges in the marketplace, it’s disappointing to see what were incredible amounts of investment capital, knowledge, and potential — eroding. It may be that the “market correction” that has been going on could still slow down, and those IYPs which have vision and leadership could invest in new ideas and research and could still find ways to compete against Google, so there remains hope.

Ash: Have you written any books (SEO or otherwise)?

I contributed some information and feedback for “The Art of SEO” by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin, and Jessie Stricchiola. I’ve also had an SEO strategy book on the drawing boards for some time, but have been too busy to devote time to make it happen yet.

Also, unrelated to search marketing, I have a hobby project writing, designing and hand-binding an extensive bibliography of the works of two of my favorite authors. The book is called “A Comprehensive Dual Bibliography of James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers”, and will be published in collectible, limited edition format by Argent Leaf Press. They are Fantasy authors whose works I’ve read ever since high school. They were both friends — if not protégés — of Sci-Fi writer Philip K. Dick, and the title and themes from one of Powers’ books was licensed for use in the “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” film.

Ash: Do you write for any magazines, blogs or newspapers?

I guest-blog occasionally at Natural Search Blog and SEM Clubhouse, I blog at Nodal Bits, and I write on local search stuff at Search Engine Land.

Ash: Which websites or newsletters are your most reliable sources of SEO knowledge?

I may be biased, but I have a lot of preference for Search Engine Land! Also, a try to keep up with what gets mentioned on Net Magellan!

Ash: Please share some little-known non-business fact about yourself, such as a cause you support, a hobby, etc.

I used to be able to solve Rubik’s Cubes in 40 seconds, back when I was in high school. Yeah, we used to have very nerdy competitions like that! I was 2nd-fastest in my high school, but I maintain that the other guy cheated because he would always grease his cube with vegetable oil — I was far too grossed-out by the grease to do that! Besides, it ruined the original integrity of the cube, and would eventually de-laminate the colored stickers off of the faces if you did that.


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