Moz Local Search Analytics and industry trends: Q&A with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci

Moz is known and loved by many in the SEO community not only for their tools, but also for the ways they’ve contributed to SEO education via their blog, Whiteboard Fridays, Search Ranking Factors study, and more.

We caught up with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci to learn about what they’ve been working on and trends they’re seeing in SEO. Sarah is CEO of Moz and has been at the company since joining as the eighth employee in 2007. She’s helped grow the company from a few hundred customers to now more than 37,000. Sarah holds a J.D. and previously worked as an attorney before getting into the startup space.

2018 Sarah Bird Moz CEO headshot

Rob is VP of R&D at Moz. He previously was CEO of STAT Search Analytics, which he helped build since 2011 and which was acquired by Moz in October 2018. 

rob bucci VP R&D moz

Their company is headquartered in Seattle, where Sarah is based, and they also have a large office in Vancouver, where Rob is based.

In this conversation, we focus mostly on Moz’s interest in and work on local search, as well as better understanding queries the way that Google understands them.

SEW: Tell us about what you’ve been working on lately around local search?

Sarah: We’re really excited — we think this is the golden age of search. More people are searching than ever before, and they have more devices and opportunities to use when searching. That’s come also with changes at Google of not wanting to just be a portal or a gateway to websites, but to actually allow users to transact and interact right there on Google property. Google is more of a destination now and not just a gateway.

What we’ve noticed is that while we may have more searches than ever before, not all those searches are created equal. Some searches are simply not commercizable anymore for anyone but Google. But we think you still have some great opportunities, particularly in the local space.

Research coming out from Google, others, and our own internal research is really showing that local intent searches lead to a purchase much more quickly.

And it’s hyper-local. You can get a different search result on one street corner, then walk four blocks and get a different search result on that corner. It means that more people can actually play the search game. There’s much more SEO opportunity in local.l

A big theme at Moz right now is focusing on making local search more understood and easier to do for SEOs.

Rob: In today’s Google, there’s really, for the vast majority of queries, no such thing as a national SERP anymore. Everything is local. Google gets a lot of local signals, especially from mobile devices. And the mobile device doesn’t say “I’m searching from the U.S.,” it says “I’m searching from the corner of 5th avenue and Tucker Street.” Google takes that information and uses it to create a SERP that has all sorts of content relevant to that specific local area. 

We’ve been helping our users adapt to that reality by building out a set of functionality that we call Local Market Analytics. It allows users to get actual, on-the-ground reality that a searcher would see in the area where they’re searching.

Part of how we do that is by sampling within a given market. Let’s say a market is Toronto, San Francisco, or Seattle. Local Market Analytics would sample from several different zip codes within that market to pull out an average rank or average appearance on that SERP. So truly, this is the actual appearance in that market.

We have studies that have shown that even for sites that don’t have brick-and-mortar locations, their performance varies dramatically depending on where their searcher or their customer is searching from. 

We hope that this functionality better allows our users to adapt to this new reality and make sure they can have the right data to build the foundation of their strategies.

Moz Local vs Local Market Analytics

Sarah: We at Moz are dedicated to local search because we know it’s so commercializable and because we know there’s so much organic opportunity. Because it’s so hyper-local and focused, there are some really interesting ways of thinking when you view local search.

We’ve relaunched our Moz Local product. The new Moz Local allows you to do even more than the prior version. We’re enabling, even more, review management which is super important for search right now, as well as more Google posts and more subtle GMB management. Moz Local is separate from Local Market Analytics, and there’s a good reason for that.

With the new Moz Local, you really need to have a physical location in order for it to be valuable.

But Local Market Analytics doesn’t require you to have a physical location. It just requires that the kind of queries that you care about will vary by location.

Rob: For local SEOs, the spectrum of things that they care about is varied. On one hand, they’ll care about the appearance of their business’s local listings — the accuracy of that data, review management, and having the right distribution partners for those listings. Moz Local, especially the new version that we’ve launched, handles that side of the equation very well.

Where we believe the market has been traditionally underserved has to do with the performance of a website itself in organic search results. As those organic search results get increasingly hyper-local, we’ve found that local SEOs have been underserved with the quality of data they’ve had in order to build their local strategies.

Local Market Analytics seeks to solve that part of the problem: performance of their websites in hyper-local organic search.

What kind of feedback have you gotten about the tool so far?

Rob: There’s a ton of excitement. We talked about this at MozCon, and it really resonated with people: this idea that “Yes, I search from my phone all the time and see a lot of local results, even when I’m not looking for a local business, and I see my search change.” Or agencies that have customers in three different areas and they’re asking why the rankings they’re sending aren’t the same as what their clients are seeing, because they’re impacted by local.

I think a lot of people intuitively understand that this is where Google is. Google is by nature right now intensely hyper-local. So there’s a great hunger for this kind of data. Historically, people have thought they just couldn’t get it.

A lot of times people get accustomed to the idea that we can’t get what we need from Google — that the data just isn’t available. 

So when we’re able to show them that the data actually is available, and that we’ve built functionality around it, there’s a lot of excitement.

Local Search Volume: New functionality

We also rolled out our new Local Search Volume functionality. It’s a brand-new data point that people traditionally haven’t been able to get. 

Most products on the market can tell you “search volume in the U.S. is X and in Germany it’s Y.” That’s very broad — nationwide. But when we care about tracking the market of Toronto or San Fran or Memphis, we want to know what our search volume is in that city. People have traditionally thought that they couldn’t get that data, but we’ve now made it available, and we’re really excited about that.

Right now, we’re doing it on a city basis, and we’ve rolled it out to states. I don’t want to over-promise. I would love to have it be more specific, and that’s certainly something that we’re thinking about.

What’s going to be really cool is when we can get to a place where we help people understand demand per capita in their markets. 

Let’s take an example. We might think that Brooklyn is the epicenter of pizza. But when we actually look at New Hampshire and the number of searches there versus how many people are in that market, we might find that the demand per capita for pizza is greater in New Hampshire than in Brooklyn.

Being able to show people if there’s a big untapped opportunity — I’m really looking forward to empowering that kind of analysis.

Sarah: This ties into what I alluded to before – we need to understand queries and types of search results like Google does. Search results vary dramatically nowadays, with all kinds of SERP features. All of this impacts whether there’s a click at all, and certainly the clickthrough rate.

We are doing a bunch of R&D right now to make sure that we can help our audience of SEOs understand queries like Google, and also understand what a search result might look like for a kind of query, and what impact that could have on CTR. This stuff is more in the R&D territory. Local Search Volume is part of that interest and investment on our part.

When it comes to the distribution of clicks between organic, paid, and no-click searches, some people see the rise of paid and no-click searches as disheartening. You sound optimistic. What’s your response to those trends?

Sarah: Absolutely for some part of searches happening, if you’re not Google you can’t take advantage of it. The value stays with Google — that is absolutely true. But the overall number of searches continues to rise — that’s also a trend. 

And I believe very strongly that just because there isn’t a click doesn’t mean there isn’t some value created. 

We have these old ways of thinking about whether or not you’re successful in SEO. Those ways are deeply entrenched, but we need to let go of them a bit. Traffic to your website is no longer an accurate measure of the value you’re getting from search. It might be a minimum — that’s at least the value you’re getting. But it’s nowhere near the maximum. 

I think that brand marketers, who come from different disciplines, have always known that visibility — how you show up and how compelling it is — that those things matter, even if you can’t measure it like old-school SEO or PPC.

There’s a danger in equating an increase in no-click searches with a decrease in the value of SEO. 

We should shift our attention to not just “am I showing up” and “am I getting traffic,” but “how am I showing up in search results?” 

What does it look like when someone lands on your search result? Are they getting a phone number? Are they getting what they want, the answer they need? Is your search result compelling? 

That’s part of what’s driving our interest in thinking more holistically about what a search result looks like and feels like, and how users interact with it. We want to know more about how you’re showing up and how Google thinks about queries.

Those two concepts: How does Google understand queries, and what does a search result look like, feel like, and how does the searcher experience it — those are related.

Rob: There’s still a ton of value out there, especially just for building a sense of credibility and brand authority. 

We live in a world, right now at least, where we’ll continue to see Google chipping away at these opportunities. They’re a business and they’re trying to maximize shareholder value. They have a natural inclination to grab as much as they can. 

We shouldn’t get despondent because of that. There’s still a lot of value there. Even with no-click SEO, you can still deliver a lot of brand authority. 

What are other trends that SEOs should be paying attention to?

Rob: One of the other areas we’re thinking about is how do we better help our customers think about queries in the same way Google thinks about queries? 

Google goes a lot deeper than just understanding which words mean what. They look at the intent of the searcher — what are they trying to solve? We’re really interested in helping people think about queries in that way.

We have some really interesting R&D work right now around intent and understanding what Google thinks an intent is. How can our users use that information to adapt their content strategies? That’s an area that’s really ripe and that people in the industry should be paying attention to. It’s not going anywhere. I’m really excited about that.

How do you go about understanding how Google understands intent?

Rob: Without getting too deep into it, there’s a number of ways that one could do it. One might be inclined to look at the NLP (natural language processing) approach — what might these words mean when used together and what might they say about the state of mind of the searcher? That’s a viable approach rooted in NLP and ML (machine learning).

Another approach might be to look at the SERP itself. Google has already decided what it is. I can look at what Google’s decided the signals are to what the intent is. Both of these are approaches one might use.

SEO is an ever-changing industry. What skills should people be focused on developing or learning about in the next few months?

Sarah: From a skills perspective, this is what I’ve always loved about SEO and what makes it challenging to be great at, but something that’s critical nonetheless — it’s a great blend of art and science. 

You have to be technical, but you also have to be able to put your mind into the user. Or rather, you have to be able to think about what Google will think about what the user thinks. 

What could the ultimate user be trying to accomplish, and how will Google follow that? 

You also have to have a strong technical foundation, so you know how to go out and execute. But those aren’t necessarily new skills.

Rob: I think people always look for what’s new, but sometimes we overlook the basic fundamentals which never go out of style. It’s about reaffirming what’s really important. 

There are two basic skills I think all SEOs need:

  1. You need to be able to interpret data. You need to be able to look at a bunch of disparate data points and weave them together into a narrative. What is it telling you? In doing that, people need to get really good at overcoming their own self-serving biases about interpreting data in a way that’s convenient or how they think the world should line up. The ability to interpret data is critical to an SEO who’s going to succeed at finding new opportunities that no one else has spotted.
  2. Understanding how to talk to people in a way that will get them to do what you want them to do. That really comes down to understanding how your content should be optimized and what you should be saying on your pages. What problem are you trying to solve for them and how are you trying to solve it?

Those are good fundamental skills I think people should continue to focus on, rather than thinking about, “I need to learn Python.” That’s a lot of distraction and it’s very specialized. 

Learning Python or R might seem sexy because technical SEO is having a renaissance right now. But at the end of the day, it’s not a basic skill you need to succeed in SEO.

SEO is a broad career and discipline. If you find yourself in a role that requires you to know that stuff, great. But I wouldn’t make that sweeping advice to the entire SEO industry because I think it’s a bit of a distraction.

Thanks so much to Sarah and Rob for talking with us!

Ps — They’re running a pilot program for their Local Market Analytics tool. It’s invite-only but anyone can register interest to be selected. They’re quite excited about it and would love feedback from the industry.

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Interview with Tony Uphoff: Digital Marketing for B2B Manufacturing Industry

Most of my clients are from B2B industrial manufacturing. I have many challenges with this industry because my clients’ products and services are very specific, niche websites.

I have developed new B2B SEO and PPC strategies in my everyday hands-on experience by managing multiple projects. In addition, there is another challenge that the industry is facing, the adaption to digital transformation.

Tony Uphoff interview on B2B SEOI decided to talk about B2B with Tony Uphoff, the CEO of Thomas. Thomas is a leading resource for product sourcing and supplier selection. Tony is the video host of the popular, “Thomas Index Report” on industrial sourcing trends, and he is a regular Forbes.com contributor who writes about the industrial marketplace.

I was curious to know what Tony thinks about the challenges that B2B manufacturing companies are facing when adapting to digital transformation and data-driven culture. I know that my fellow B2B marketers who are dealing with the same challenges will find a lot of value for themselves as well as B2B manufacturer business owners. We also spoke about SEO, KPIs, and lead generation in B2B. Here is my interview with Tony.

Karina: How do manufacturing and B2B advertising differ from wholesale and B2C advertising?

Tony: There are some key differences, but also some similarities that many people overlook. One difference is that B2B purchasing often involves a longer sales cycle. Buying a piece of capital equipment or choosing a new supplier is not something to be taken lightly. A lot of research and vetting goes into the process as there is a material risk for the buyer, both, personally and professionally.

Another key difference is that B2B buyers aren’t typically completing a one-off purchase. They’re looking to find a supplier they can partner with for the long-term. As for the similarities, a B2B purchase is more personal for the buyer than many people understand. While B2C purchases are often very personal, consumers identify with certain brands that they want to be associated with. But with B2B, purchases are often personal similarly because the buyer that makes the decision on the purchase has a lot on the line.

Karina: Manufacturers have long relied on trade shows and other physical events for marketing and sales. Do you see this trend changing?

Tony: Yes. Many businesses understand that the digital transformation of industrial marketing and sales is here to stay, and they’re trending away from traditional methods such as trade shows and word-of-mouth exposure. There are still several well-attended mega-trade shows, as well as smaller ones, hosted every year, but we’re seeing that those types of events are typically taking up a smaller percentage of the marketing and sales budgets of the customers we work with.

Karina: Are U.S. manufacturers finding a greater need to make their marketing more data-driven?

Tony: Yes, because the buyer is in control of the sales process in today’s industrial world. Today’s buyers have unprecedented levels of information at their fingertips. Buyers are as much as 70 percent of the way through their buying process before they engage with a sales rep. This is a massive shift in the way businesses need to reach, engage and sell to industrial buyers thanks to the digital transformation of marketing and sales. Companies that still rely on old-school marketing tactics to try to drive growth and retain customers are going to find it increasingly difficult to stay relevant in today’s market.

Karina: How long do you think will it take for B2B to fully adapt to data-driven, analytics, and digital marketing?

Tony: The industry is still in the early stages of the digital transformation of marketing and sales. While we’re seeing a good number of businesses that are aggressively and enthusiastically embracing the transformation, we are also seeing a significant number of businesses that have yet to make a real commitment to a digital strategy. It may be a generational challenge as these incredibly successful industrial and manufacturing businesses were built and grown by Baby Boomers whose expertise is in engineering, product design, and manufacturing. Nearly half of the users of Thomasnet.com are millennial buyers who are helping to accelerate the digital transformation.

Karina: The industrial manufacturer’s market is very niche and faces big challenges in content marketing due to specialization and sometimes very low search volume results. How can content marketers take advantage of this?

Tony: For our customers with niche markets, the niche works to their advantage simply because it’s in the lower competition of their industry. From an SEO perspective, this makes it easier for them to stand out on result pages. There are a huge number of categories in manufacturing that are not at all niche. However, there’s massive competition in areas such as “CNC machining” and “metal stamping”. Whether in a highly competitive category or a niche category, we’ve learned from our customers that the pillar page strategy works well for overarching terms. Then we drive users to niche terms.

Karina: What is the right approach for digital marketers to run successful digital campaigns for the B2B Industrial manufacturer sector?

Tony: Getting their website in order is the foundation for everything else. Is it responsive? Is it secure? Is it easy to use, comprehensive, and informative? It’s also important to implement a program that reaches buyers at every phase of the industrial buying process. Understand that building brand awareness is often just as important as generating leads. In terms of strategy, it’s easy to get caught up in all the tactics and solutions, but while the vehicle is important, the most important thing industrial marketers need to keep in mind is that whatever they’re putting out there. It needs to resonate with a specific persona that has a specific job to do. Marketing and advertising content should be focused on helping your ideal customer(s) solve problems and accomplish important tasks, specific to where that buyer may be in their buying journey.

Karina: What does the future of publishing look like?

Tony: While it’s obvious that much of the publishing world is moving to digital platforms — if they haven’t already — a more relevant question is “What does the future of advertising look like?”. For years advertisers have relied on display networks, buying data on users and employing programmatic advertising. Not only has this proved to be quite costly and relatively ineffective, but privacy laws such as GDPR are making this approach obsolete. The trend today has publishers moving away from those broad ad-serving networks to the “walled garden” approach. A “walled garden” approach is one in which they’re creating their own ad networks and selling advertising directly on their online assets. Interestingly, this approach mirrors the ad sales approach that publishers in the print world have used for over a century.

Karina: What KPIs should B2B businesses focus on in marketing?

Tony: Obviously, lead generation in the form of marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads are a key KPI for digital marketing. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to build brand awareness as well. The reason is simple – when your sales team calls a lead that has never heard of your company, just getting that lead to continue the conversation is a challenge. When the lead is aware of your brand before the salesperson calls, that person is more likely to be receptive to the call. Other important KPIs are the cost of acquisition and average order value – and internally, businesses should also focus on RFI/RFQ response time. We’ve surveyed tens of thousands of industrial buyers, and invariably one of their pet peeves is the lack of responsiveness from suppliers to which they’ve requested information. Today, all the great marketing in the world will have little value if you aren’t following up on incoming RFIs and RFQs within a day – and preferably the same day you receive them.

Karina: How is Thomasnet.com using data and analytics to add services that bring new elements of value to their advertisers?

Tony: The first-party data generated by users on Thomasnet.com®, as well as data that is captured by buyers interacting with customer product information generated by our Thomas Product Data Solutions and our Thomas Marketing Services, gives us incredible insights into in-market buyers of products and services. We’re approaching three petabytes of buyer behavior data that helps us understand what buyers are interested in, how their purchase process works and when, where and how they’re engaging with content as a part of their buying journey.

Using our free Thomas Webtrax™ platform, our customers (as well as other qualifying industrial companies) can see and use that data to turn anonymous web traffic into leads, and create more targeted, meaningful messaging when targeting those leads. We’re also introducing a weekly data feed that businesses can use to determine exactly which buyers are actively in-market within a certain segment or vertical of industry. Our Thomas marketing services team also leverages the buying and sourcing trends from our data to help their customers enhance their organic and paid marketing.

Key takeaways from the interview

  • Clarify the differences and similarities between B2B and B2C
  • Discuss the reasons why B2B is trending away from traditional to digital marketing
  • Understand how B2B marketing is adapting to digital transformation
  • The importance of B2B manufacturers companies to adapt to a data-driven culture
  • The challenges of content marketing in niche B2B businesses
  • The steps to run successful digital marketing campaigns for B2B businesses
  • The KPIs that B2B businesses should focus on

I had a great conversation with Tony where I understood better the transformation of the B2B manufacturer industry. The industry has evolved from hard copy directories like yellow pages to an entirely data-driven culture (happening now). This is a huge opportunity for marketers to generate leads. Then, it is key to fully understand and overcome the challenges.

Note: This interview has been condensed for publishing purposes.

Karina Tama is a contributor for Forbes, Thrive Global and the El Distrito Newspaper. She can be found on Twitter @KarinaTama2.

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