Interview: Mike Blumenthal

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mikeMike Blumenthal is a Local Search expert and well respected in our industry. We don’t go to the same conferences, so we haven’t met in person, but we have interacted many times over the past five years. He maintains a popular blog: Understanding Google Places & Local Search – Developing Knowledge about Local Search. He took some time out to share some thoughts with our readers.

Ash: 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 had run a large family retail business. A division of that business involved technology and since 1996 we had build and hosted small websites. In 2000 I wanted to build a website for the business but was frustrated by the tools available to me. As a result my designer found some great lightweight open source software that she modified to function as a small business content management system. I liked it so much that I decided to focus on web development for small and medium businesses in our market.

Running a web company in a very rural town, I quickly realized that very few of my clients and potential clients would ever have a national reach and thus would be unable to take advantage of the “world wide web” other than locally and perhaps regionally. Even in the early years of this decade I realized that it was imperative that they be found on the few local organic searches that were made and I set out to learn about SEO.

In 2004 when Google released what was then known as Google Local, an online local business directory, I had an epiphany. I was able to throw away the 9 Yellow Page books that I needed to prospect in my market. As I studied and played with Google Local and its successor, Google Maps, I realized that it was driven by a different algorithm than was organic search.

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

Living in a rural community, isolation was the default thought mode. I was used to it and it never dawned on me that I could interact with prominent SEOs on the internet in those first years. In 2006 I was reading Matt McGee Bill Slawski and Greg Sterling and when I started writing my blog in the fall of that year, they were always there to answer a question or engage in dialog. Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman were also both very welcoming to me in those early days. Sometime shortly after that I met David Mihm, Mary Bowling and Will Scott. All have become good friends and remain mentors to me.

Other folks that I regularly read, respect their insights and have become friends with include Andrew Shotland, Chris Silver Smith, Linda Buquet, Steve Hatcher and Nyagoslav Zhekov.

Ash: Which search achievement gave you the greatest satisfaction? (It doesn’t need to be a major brand) Tell us a little about the challenge, the diagnosis and the execution.

There are two and they don’t really relate directly to optimization.

Firstly is my blog. It has become a platform for people from around the world to join me in an exploration of local search. These many folks have shared their experiences, opinions. observations and theories with me and have worked daily to understand local. Folks like Miriam Ellis, Dave Oremland, Plamen and a raft of others have helped all of us better understand what we are seeing and why. The collaboration that all have brought to the project has been very motivating for me.

The second is the creation of Getlisted Local University. With David Mihm, Matt McGee, Mary Bowling, Ed Reese, Aaron Weiche, Will Scott and Mike Ramsey we have put together a touring speaker series that travels across the US to give small business owners training local web marketing. Being able to take the information directly to small businesses has been exciting and it allows me to meet up regularly with all the people that have become my friends. That gives them an opportunity to make fun of me for not knowing how to pronounce Bono.

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

I used to guide in the Rocky Mountains. The locals there would often say only fools and easterners predict the weather. I feel much the same about predicting the future of either of these two companies in local. There are certainly large opportunities and avenues for both of them to create new functionality and generate revenues. I have settled into the idea that the only constant is change. My job is to spot it early and understand its value to the small business person.

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

Focus on the needs of the client.

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

The fact that they have become little more than a brand.

Ash: Thanks, Mike.


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