Building the Essential Digital Marketing Bundle for Local Businesses

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In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, hope you are staying warm out in Western New York — I hear it gets a little chilly out there this time of year!

Last time we identified our essential digital bundle for small businesses: website, citations, email, reviews, and Facebook/Instagram ads for right around $150 per month. This week I thought we might tackle how agencies and media companies might go about building and selling that bundle — and why there seem to be so few who are actually doing it.

Mike: Warm and Western New York do not belong in the same sentence between November and March. Although by the same token, Buffalo has more sunny days between April and October than many major league baseball cities. Go figure.

That’s an interesting question. I think it might come down to the tools and the availability of the appropriate skill sets available to agencies both big and small. Web development tools have often been very limited without good management or they were way too complicated (or limited) to do well at scale.

Historically it has been hard to manage these sorts of bundles. If an small agency had WordPress sites there were often an infinite number of updates that would have been needed to be made.

David: That’s a good point. I certainly remember as a solo web developer/marketer the immense hassle of updating even a dozen WordPress installs and associated plugins. Today, though, companies like Flywheel and GoDaddy are making things dramatically easier in this regard for agencies and resellers that choose WordPress. And there are plenty of other viable platforms today like Squarespace or Shopify that weren’t mature enough a couple years ago.

But picking the right platform is critical. Partnering with Wix right now relative to the other more search-friendly options would not be the best use of energy or dollars. So there needs to be some due diligence on the part of the agency as to where to make these investments, and perhaps the domain expertise to make these decisions was previously lacking among some of the larger resellers in the local industry.

Mike: So let’s imagine we had the perfect platform: expandable, secure and easy to keep up-to-date cost-effectively at scale. An agency of whatever size still needs to be able to produce a website that is great at conversion and provides a real return in the local market. So it takes time and people for that domain expertise to be developed.

David: That’s true for smaller agencies. But it’s a major (largely untapped) advantage for some of the larger resellers — the ability to A/B test and optimize for conversions across hundreds or thousands of clients in the same industry. It would take years for most small businesses to accrue the kind of traffic that would allow for a statistically-significant UX (or even SEO/keyword) decision to be made.

Mike: And that probably means that it makes the most sense to develop that domain expertise and understanding of user needs within vertical markets so that there are some constraints on what needs to be implemented and tested. Maybe that explains why we are now just starting to see this happening. You need a solid foundation, solid skills, solid UX, and solid data to succeed. All have been hard to come by in one package.

David: That’s right.

OK, so we have the website component figured out.

With respect to citations, there’s obviously no shortage of quality platforms that scale just fine. I guess the key here would be the integration of location attributes and changes made on the small business’s website into their local profiles. Haven’t seen too many products that do this as part of a complete CMS (i.e. not an enterprise store locator).

Mike: Something like Gravity Forms? Where you input all of the (local) variables into a single location and then use short codes around the site to display NAP/schema etc and API to inform the aggregators?

David: Or even one level below the aggregators — citation services that have ready-to-use APIs like Moz Local or Yext.

I’m sort of shocked we haven’t seen this released as a plugin for major platforms like WordPress and Squarespace already by at least a larger reseller (like a Dex or YP) or even a development shop like Yoast.

Mike: So we have identified why this has been so slow to come to fruition in web and citation space–does the same logic apply to email marketing?

David: I mean, yes, integrations are hard. But the Mailchimp (Mandrill) API is pretty well-supported, and plenty of Mailchimp plugins already exist for the major small business CMS’s.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious, the website-email connection is likely where Endurance is headed with their acquisition of Constant Contact. So as a large reseller it may put you at a competitive disadvantage in a year not to have this integration.

On to reviews — a space you know well!

Mike: The exact same issues occur in reviews. A business has to stop what they are doing and implement a new process in addition to whatever they are already doing. Review management in the ideal world would tap into the POS (and the salesperson’s brain) directly, and directly into this ideal marketing platform that we are describing.

I guess that is why it’s more likely to come to fruition first in verticals because they are able to hone in on tasks that are directly related to the running of the business where most of the marketing we talk about is perceived as tangential.

David: But there must be commercially-available APIs for feedback and review management — I know GetFiveStars has one but surely, and others do, too.

Jumping ahead, the Facebook/Instagram ad component is perfectly achievable through an API integration as well, with similar benefits of scale in particular verticals, just as we identified with website conversion and UX.

I guess we’ve arrived at the crux of why so few of these solutions exist: the pain of integration.

Mike: And ease of use.

We are describing a world of marketing and advertising plugins that can elegantly integrate, like an operating system. In this scenario even the website is just another set of data points (ala AMP) that can serve the marketing needs of the location-based business.  

Maybe something like Fog Creek Software and Anil Dash are developing with GoMix but with a marketing focus.

David: It feels like we are approaching a tipping point where this “brave new world” becomes not just possible but essential for survival. Agencies’ core competency will be stack integration and stack optimization as opposed to building creative, coding HTML, sending email blasts, or placing ads.

How many existing players will be able to adapt to this environment is an open question, but we’ve done our best to give them the blueprint!

Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either [email protected] or [email protected], or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike Blumenthal, he’s a co-founder of Local University. Mike Blumenthal is the co-founder and analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews and local search. Mike has been involved in local search and local marketing strategy for almost 20 years. He explores the online to offline local ecosystem and helps businesses understand it and benefit from it through writing, speaking and education.