Episode 3: David Mihm explains why Google My Business is now more important for Local SEO than a website

Google has been investing a significant amount of resources into Google My Business (GMB) but not a lot of businesses are fully taking advantage of it yet. David discusses why he thinks that’s about to change and why GMB is becoming more important than ever for Local SEO.

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Jon Henshaw: Welcome to the third episode of the Coywolf Digital Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Jon Henshaw, and in this episode, I’m sharing an excerpt from my recent interview with David Mihm.

JH: If you’re not familiar with David, he’s the founder of GetListed, which was sold to Moz in 2012, and eventually evolved into what is now known as Moz Local.

JH: Today, he’s the founder of Tidings, which is a brilliant email based communication tool that helps businesses connect with their customers. He’s also the VP of product strategy at ThriveHive, where he helps businesses perform better on Google through expert guidance and proprietary tools.

JH: We had a very interesting conversation that lasted just over 50 minutes, where we talked about how he started GetListed, what led to him selling it to Moz, some of his marketing mishaps and the things he learned, and also the future of Local SEO.

JH: You can listen to the full interview at coywolf.io/mihm, M-I-H-M.

JH: The excerpt I’m sharing with you today was something I found particularly interesting from the interview. It starts with David describing how much Google has been investing in their business tools, but how little businesses are taking advantage of them. Then he explains why Google My Business is much more important than investing all your time and resources into a website.

David Mihm: Google has released probably close to a dozen new features within Google My Business, or at least attached to the knowledge panel, attached to the business profile, in the last two years, and many of these features have the potential to be really impactful to businesses who are taking advantage of them. But from what I’ve seen, just as a casual searcher over the last few years, hardly anyone’s using them. ThriveHive as a company, we are placing a big bet on Google My Business as, increasingly, the starting point for an SEO campaign for a local business. We’re not saying, I am not saying either, that website are going away. But certainly their position in the search results has diminished over time, over the last few years, and Google seems to be … They’ve just invested in Google My Business in their small business facing product in a way that I have not seen since I started out in this space in the mid-2000s.

DM: Mike Blumenthal and I have been following this space for a long time, and Mike’s been … He’s a, I forget what they’re called now, but like a Google product expert, or something like that. He’s been a little closer to the ground in terms of when these features come out, and Google’s intent behind them, and that sort of thing. He and I have been bantering back and forth for the last couple years about Google’s commitment to this stuff. My opinion has been, up until the last year to 18 months, that Google was primarily focused on driving ad revenue at all costs, including user experience, and including small business engagement. I think maybe what’s shifted is that they’ve felt businesses, and I certainly hear this from businesses who are feeling the pinch from Facebook’s organic newsfeed changes, and Google I think sees an opportunity to convert some of the activity that businesses had been putting into Facebook into Google, and thereby bringing them potentially along as advertisers over time.

DM: I still feel pretty strongly that Google’s going to monetize more and more and more of the SERP, and that ads remain their primary focus, but their path to getting small business advertisers is considerably different than I had foreseen a few years ago.

JH: Do you, or would you, recommend for a small business to first get their own house in order? Meaning, do your website, and do all these things, or would you recommend that if they have to make a choice, they should actually just go to Google and make sure all their information is correct, versus worrying about having a site-

DM: Yep.

JH: Or having their site setup correctly? What are your thoughts?

DM: I would look at it in this way, I would say every small business needs its own website. But if you’re just getting started, think of your initial website as a starter home. It something that is not intended to be a long term presence, but it’s something that you can put a stake in the ground that’s yours, that you own, that you can build on over time.

DM: But from there, you need it as a baseline presence, but in terms of where to focus your optimization efforts, I think starting out everybody should be looking at GMB first. It’s easier to update. You don’t have to hire a web designer to figure out how to implement schema, or to update a title tag, or whatever. It’s you posting your top questions and answers, or you responding to reviews, or asking your customers for reviews. It’s you uploading better photos, so that people are more likely to engage with your listing on a phone, as opposed to your competitor. Those kinds of things are so much easier for a business to accomplish. They tend to take a little bit less time. They’re certainly less technical, and so I think GMB is a starting point for an SEO campaign. I don’t think it’s the starting point for a fundamental digital presence.

DM: I think everybody should have a website, but that website doesn’t need to be a 50-page website, built on WordPress, with a customer $5,000 theme. Not every business needs that, and I wouldn’t advise most businesses to start there.

JH: What I hear you saying is, “If I am a small business with a limited budget, limited resources, to get the most out of visibility and traffic from Google, the very first thing I should do is I should focus on my presence on Google My Business.”

DM: Yep.

JH: And then everything else is secondary to that.

DM: Yep. I think, so that you’re going to get a bigger bang for your buck focusing on GMB than on your website, in terms of SEO. The line that I’ve been using … Well, two lines that I’ve been using over the last couple years are, “Your website is no longer a destination for consumers. It’s a data source.” That’s an exaggeration, of course. You’re still getting some traffic, but Mike Blumenthal actually did a case study with his favorite client, Barbara Oliver, who is a jeweler in New York, in Buffalo. She gets 75% of her new customers come in directly through GMB, not even touching her website, and I don’t think that that’s that atypical. She obviously has a really well optimized GMB profile, thanks to Mike. But I think that that, directionally, rings true with what I’ve seen from other local businesses as well.

DM: So your website is no longer a destination. It’s a data source. The second comment that I make is that I really feel, in the age of voice, in the age of mobile, in the age of knowledge panels, and structured data, that Google’s ideal website, at least for a local business, is an XML file. They basically want to know who you are, what products you sell, what services you offer, when you’re open. This is all stuff that doesn’t need a beautiful, fancy wrapper. They just need that data. They need it as quickly as possible, as cleanly as possible. That’s kind of the shift, I think, that a lot of … I think that the market, the digital marketing industry, has conditioned businesses to think around, “Hey! You need a drag and drop editor, and you need 5200 possible themes to choose from, and you need to be able to move this widget here, and all of these things.” That’s how a lot of these websites are sold by Wix, and even Squarespace, ConstantContact. Their tagline for a long time, for small businesses, was, “Be a marketer.”

DM: I don’t think that that’s really necessary, or the right lens that most businesses should view their website through. It really is something much more stripped down and functional is going to perform a lot better for them in search results.

JH: It’s funny. As you were saying that, I was just thinking, even before you mentioned Wix, I was just thinking about how there’s a bunch of services and agencies right now that do not like what you’re saying.

DM: Yeah.

JH: They’re like, “No!”

DM: I think it’s a good place to make a margin. The margin on web design services is substantial, and if you can sell the right client on it, great. But I think in terms of … You asked me, from a small business perspective where are they going to get the biggest bang for the buck. I don’t think it’s a custom $5,000 or $10,000 website. I think it’s paying attention to GMB. Hopefully, getting started with ThriveHive’s greater. Maybe it’s adding on a product like Gather Up from Mike Blumenthal, in terms of getting reviews, and it’s a very functional, basic website that Google can read, and that loads quickly for your customers. I think those are much better building blocks to start with than a fancy, expensive, custom website.

JH: You can listen to the full 50-minute interview on Coywolf at coywolf.io/mihm.

JH: Thanks for listening.

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Jon Henshaw

Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @[email protected]