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Local U Advanced Minneapolis

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MinneapolisYesterday I attended my third Local U Advanced conference in Minneapolis, and like the previous sessions, it was an awesome event. I was happy to depart the 100-degree heat in Charlotte for a few days of bone-chilling 80-degree weather in Minneapolis.

While I was up there, I also attended the Mn Search Summit the day before in St. Paul. Kudos to James Svoboda and the folks at MnSearch for putting on a kickass conference.

OK, now to the good stuff- Local U Advanced. The meeting started off with Bing’s Duane Forrester’s Keynote about Local & Mobile. This was the first time I had the opportunity to hear Duane present and he didn’t disappoint. He’s a trip. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as comfortable on stage as him.

Interesting points:

  • Millennials value crowd-sourced reviews over recommendations from family and friends.
  • Mobile is here. There are more mobile searches than desktop searches. And it will never go back.

Next up was Mike Blumenthal, aka Professor Maps, to speak about the current state of Google and local search. The local algo (that’s short for algorithm for you non-nerds) consists of on-page signals and inbound links from location prominent sites.

Regarding Google Local pages (listings, Places pages, or whatever you want to call it), avoid using logos as the profile pic. According to Mike, Google doesn’t feel that it’s good representation of the business. Later at the happy hour that evening, I asked Mike about using headshots for profile pics. He said that while it’s not as bad as a logo, it’s probably the second least preferred image that Google would like.

As a dental Internet marketing agency, I can’t think of a more appropriate image than either a logo or a doctor’s headshot. What else would suffice, a pic of the exterior office? What about a closeup of a patient’s mouth after a restoration? I’d think a logo or headshot would be better.

It’s also important to start looking at local news media for possible PR opportunities for dentists.

Next up was Mary Bowling from Ignitor Digital to speak about onsite optimization. Local keyword theming is a better strategy than trying to go after exact match keywords. Each page should have its own keyword theme. Don’t try to optimize each page for all of your keywords.

If you’re not using sitemaps, now is the time. Mary recommends that you include three types of sitemaps:

  • XML
  • KML
  • HTML

Dana DiTomaso from Kick Point spoke next about local landing pages. It was good to hear that Dana shares the same opinion as mine: ditch the stock photography. It’s a waste of space and doesn’t do anything. She also is a big proponent of testing. “Test everything”, she says. Test photos, content, and call to actions. During the Q and A with the attendees, I asked Dana about the challenge of responsive design and if hiding content via CSS is a good practice. She said it’s best to avoid hiding content (display: none;) in responsive breaks. The page will require scrolling on a mobile device, which is why it’s important to use javascript or plugins that will scroll the user back to the top of the page.

Jade Wang of Google spoke next, and at the request Google, she asked that the attendees refrain from retweeting, posting, taking pics, or blogging about her presentation. All I’ll say is that she’s a valuable asset to Local U and it was great to gain some insight of how things work behind the curtain in Google.

Up next was Aaron Weiche of Spyder Trap, who was the event host for the meeting, presented about mobile seo and usability. Proximity from searcher is big in 2015. What used to be 5 miles from the searcher is more like 2 miles. So if someone is searching for a dentist on their iPhone, more than likely local results will include mostly dentists in a 2 mile radius. If there aren’t any dentists in a 2 mile radius, Google will broaden the radius until there are enough results to serve up.

Aaron mentioned a couple of great websites for design ideas: Teehan Lax Design Principles and The Approach of Atomic Design – A Methodology At the time I wrote this, I haven’t had a chance to dig in and check out the websites.

Make sure your mobile users don’t have any challenges submitting forms on your website. Be sure your forms alleviate any chance of “fat-finger syndrome”. In other words, make the form fields big enough so that users don’t mistakenly go to other fields.

Aaron pointed out that with mobile search, you might not be able to ignore paid advertising. The screen real estate is limited and local results have been pushed down below the fold. A marketing strategy should include Google AdWords, especially for mobile users.

Mobile Testing Tools

Darren Shaw, founder of whitespark, spoke about effective citation strategies. Good news is that it seems Google is normalizing NAP data now. In the past, it was critical that your NAP (business name, address, phone) be consistent. For example, “Ave.” and “Avenue” were considered different. Now it’s not as important to worry about these variations. Darren gave some killer citation ideas, which I’m not going to include here… but I will be sure to use these for our clients!

The next session covered effective review strategies including ideas to monitor your reviews with tools:

If you want to display your Google reviews on your website, check out

Dana DiTomaso was back up to talk about the convergence of local and social. One of the big takeaways is don’t bother with boosting posts on Facebook. It’s a waste of money. When running ads on Facebook, it’s best to build custom audiences. For Twitter, chill out with the hashtags; and for the love of God, don’t auto-post from one network to another.

The final session of the day focused on competitive analysis. Darren Shaw provided tips on how to research local and organic competition. For example, adding &tbm=lcl to a search query will show you local results (

If viewing purely organic results is your objective, add &start=1 to the search query. When conducting citation research pay attention to high-value citation sources.

Darren went deeper with more examples of how to find every possible piece of data from competitors, but I’m not going to give away the good stuff!

At the end of the day there was a panel discussion and then we wrapped things up and headed over to happy hour.

I can’t say enough good things about these people. Local U is an awesome group. For those who are considering attending an event, I highly recommend you do so. There’s no selling of services or products. They genuinely care about the attendees and how they can help them.

Every time I comeback from a Local U Advanced meeting, I’m recharged and ready to implement the new strategies.

2 Responses to "Local U Advanced Minneapolis"
  1. It was great meeting you in MPLS Chris. Great name, btw. Also, great recap on the conference. Are you going to DFW SOS?

    • Chris says:

      Hi Chris,

      Sorry for the late reply; your message was in my spam folder. It was great meeting you as well.

      I’m not attending the DFW event. I’m thinking about PUBCON, but it’s probably not gonna happen.


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