Darren Shaw is the Founder and President of Whitespark a digital marketing and tools provider that focuses on local businesses. Probably most well known for the awesome Local Citation Finder tool, Darren is one of the leading experts in local search and someone who I have learned quite a bit from. His talk at SearchLove West last year was an excellent “how to” on the citation cleanup process.
An important side note, Darren is Canadian but we won’t hold that against him.
For people who are reading that aren’t familiar with your background, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you first get involved about internet marketing?
I dropped out of high school when I was 16, then went back to adult high school when I was 19. I finished just the core high school courses I needed to apply to university and didn’t get a high school diploma. I spent 6 years trying to get a computing science degree, but I was a terrible student who failed calculus 4 time (seriously) and eventually settled on an anthropology degree, which I ended up loving. My first job out of university was working on an archaeology research project. I built their website and developed web based tools for analyzing the data they were collecting from ancient grave sites in Siberia.
I started doing freelance web development for a handful of people I knew in 1996, and in 2001 I built an e-commerce store for my sister’s company. I wanted to get her more sales so I did some research on how to get the site ranked in search engines – Altavista and HotBot at the time :). In 2003 the focus shifted to Google and my freelance web development clients were always asking me how they could rank better, so I just kind of fell into SEO.
What lead you to create all the tools that Whitespark offers?
The idea for the Local Citation Finder was sparked by a blog post that Garrett French wrote. I read the post and realized we could turn the process into a great tool. We launched a simple free version of the tool in 3 days, and a few months later we beefed it up and put a subscription model on it. From that point on I was hooked and have been obsessed with thinking up new tools since.
As I just mentioned, your company has several online tools it offers. How much time do you spend in the SEO trenches these days vs. overseeing development?
I’d estimate that I spend about 20% of my time working on SEO client work. The rest is overseeing the business, directing tool development, research projects, writing, sales, support, and sending a ton of email.
When did you discover your passion for local search?
I was doing basic local SEO for clients as early as 2008, but didn’t get passionate about it until we launched the LCF in 2010. Now of course, local search is all I think about (work wise).
What is the main piece of advice you would give to a search marketer that wants to learn about local SEO?
Start by reading the local search ranking factors.
Attend the next Local U event.
Linda Buquet offers some great local search training here.
Join this local search forum.
Join this community on Google+.
Read everything Mike Blumenthal publishes.)
How about for a business owner?
What do you think are some of the biggest hurdles facing local search?
NAP consistency is a challenging problem for most businesses. It’s difficult to find all your incorrect citations, know which ones are the most important to fix, and work through the tedious process of trying to fix them all. My slide deck from my talk at SearchLove San Diego can help with this, but it also makes you realize what a royal pain in the neck this work is.
Second, Google keeps changing their local product, and there is so much conflicting, outdated, and confusing information out there. It can be tough to know what to do and where to go for help. Fortunately, they have really improved their support. You can actually get them on the phone these days. Follow these steps to get an actual human support person at Google on the phone:
Make sure you’re signed into your Google account.
Go here: https://support.google.com/places/contact/c2c_places
Fill in the form
Click the “call me” button.
How have citations changed since you have been involved in local search?
They haven’t changed much. They still seem to still account for the same percentage of the local search algorithm (about 25%), and the methods for discovering and building citations are the same as well. Those are:
Make sure you have an accurate listing on the major data aggregators, InfoGroup, Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual. Make sure you hunt down and remove old outdated listings as well.
Use the Local Citation Finder to analyze your competitions citations, compare them with your own, generate a list of citation opportunities, then build them.
Business listings are not enough. See this amazing post for ideas on some unstructured citations you should be getting.
What do you think the rest of 2013 and 2014 holds for local search?
I don’t like to make predictions. PoweredBySearch recently published an excellent post where they surveyed many local experts for predictions. Check it out here.
What is the one web marketing tool that you can’t live without and why? Other then any of your own that is.
Probably Moz’s Open Site Explorer. I use it all the time to assess the link profiles of my clients, client prospects, and the competition. I particularly like to use it to check for spammy link profiles before I take on a new client. If they have a mess of spammy links, I’d rather not take them on. I make a quick judgement by looking at how over-optimized their anchor text is.
I imagine running your own company keeps you pretty busy, what do you do for fun in your spare time?
I try to keep my work hours to 40 hours per week or less so I can spend as much time with my family as possible. With a 3 year old daughter, I spend a lot of time at places like Treehouse, Telus World of Science, Jon Janzen Nature Centre, and the museum. I love every minute of it. I’m also in a book club with a group of friends (we’re currently reading A Confederacy of Dunces), and I like to get together with friends for beer and conversation, but admittedly I don’t make as much time for that as I should. I tend to be a bit reclusive and need my wife to push me out the door sometimes.