Mike Belasco – Local Search Interview

Today we’re talking with Mike Belasco aka Mike the Internet Guy.

Hi Mike thanks for talking with me today, could you tell me a little bit about yourself for my readers who may not know you?

Thanks for interviewing me Michael. I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and appreciate all the knowledge you bestow on the community. I live in Denver, Colorado but I am originally from Houston, Texas. My previous jobs have included working as a programmer developing web applications in Java, Cold Fusion and PHP. I love fly fishing, skiing, pro football, and SEO!

Great, let’s pretend your just ordinary Mike for a minute, what types of local searches do you find yourself doing frequently?

Man, it has been a while since I was ‘ordinary’ Mike, but I guess now most of my personal local searches aren’t so local. That is to say, I am searching for location based information but not necessarily in the area I live (a very common occurrence). For example for my upcoming trip to Austin I found myself looking up information about hotels, airport transportation, restaurants, and night life. In addition I try to go on a few out of the area fishing trips every year. In the planning stages I am searching for river/water information, guides, and of course fish stories! At home I have recently searched for local baby stuff including doulas, baby classes, and more.

I see you spend a lot of time talking about local search on your blog what makes local search exciting for you?

I love helping small local businesses succeed. My mother owns a small business and my father is a partner in a small local business so I guess you could say local business/search is in my blood. With the public shifting from searching the Yellow Pages, to searching online, it is a very exciting time for small local businesses. There is still time to ‘get in the game’ of local search for most small business, and even highly competitive markets such as real estate still have room to compete if you can be creative with your search marketing efforts.

If you were working with someone on a local project that was focusing mostly on local search what would be some key elements you’d want to pay attention to?

Really SEO for local businesses isn’t that much different than SEO for any other website. In some cases it is actually a little easier because of the usually limited competition. Most of the basic SEO principals still apply as with any other kind of website. For example, a local website still needs to have relevant, spider friendly content, and use basic on-page optimization techniques such as title tags. In addition local businesses have a unique strategy they can utilize which is getting listed with business data aggregators and internet yellow page directories. Finally the latest patents from Google (thanks Bill Slawski) are showing just have your business name and address listed on a website can count as a reference or ‘link’ if you will. It is important that local businesses take advantage of these resources they have access to, which differ from that of an online only business.

For local businesses that aren’t getting the results they are happy with what are some, easy things that can make a big difference that most people don’t give enough attention to.

The number one thing a local webmaster can do to make his/her website ‘more local’ is placing the business address and local phone number on every page of the website and placing a location modifier (city, state etc) in the title tag. My recent blog post of the ‘Top 10 Local SEO Blog Posts of 2006’ has links to a bunch of articles which give step by step instructions for optimizing for local search. I agree with every bit of advice listed in these articles and most of it is pretty easy to implement.
The second thing I would encourage small business owners to look at is linking opportunities. Many local businesses are members of the chamber of commerce, networking groups, and other professional organizations. Make sure you get a link back from these websites and try to include some of your keywords in the link if you can. In addition call up other local businesses you refer business to and ask for link. If you don’t feel comfortable getting something for nothing, offer a coupon or discount for their customers in return for the link.

Finally, for one reason or another many local businesses overlook the opportunity paid search provides. While I would recommend getting a professional to establish your campaign and provide monitoring for the first month or so at the very least, paid search can be an affordable and effective way to attract visitors to your website and ultimately land more local business.

Let’s look into the future, where do you see the local search market headed in the next 3-5 years and do you see any big changes coming down the road?

One thing that will probably improve in the next 3-5 years (if not sooner) is the ability for search engines to more accurately understand the nature of local searches. This includes being able to better index where businesses are located and how that relates to the services or products a business provides. For example with a query such as “lawyer in Denver”, the engines need to understand that if someone is looking for a lawyer, proximity is probably not as big of an issue as trust, client reviews, or client ratings.

That brings me to my next point, which is the importance of customer ratings and reviews. While we are already seeing the importance of reviews in categories such as restaurants and hotels, I think this will propagate into other industries including B2B and professional service businesses. Reviews and ratings will most likely be used (and in some cases already are used) to help rank results returned on a local query.

Lastly there is a lot of speculation about the importance of mobile devices in local search. Most of the people that I work with are small business owners who just figured out how to text message (maybe) from their mobile phones. Five years is a long time, so we should all keep our eye on mobile but until interfaces and services improve on mobile devices such as voice querying, it will take a while for the public to adapt and heavily utilize mobile local search. One thing that could enhance the popularity of mobile local search is the availability of real time data. This would include data such as wait times at restaurants, traffic reports, and other things I hope I think of first.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. If you like to learn more about Mike the Internet Guy be sure to stop by his site and subscribe to his blog.


Tags: local+search, , Mike Belasco

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