Lumar’s interview series with SEO and digital marketing experts continues in this discussion between Rachel Ellen, Local Search Strategist at Croud, and Jamie Indigo, Senior Technical SEO on Lumar’s professional services team.
The two discuss the importance of local SEO, speaking at search industry conferences, and the winding paths many of us take on the way to landing a career in SEO.
Listen to the full interview below, or read on for an abridged transcript.
You can also check out Lumar’s full set of SEO and digital marketing expert interviews.
Jaime: With me right now is the wonderful Rachel Ellen, who has freshly bottled the feeling of getting off that stage. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here. You are radiating right now, tell me everything.
Rachel: Well, unlike most speakers, I actually had to speak twice. I’m not quite sure what the criteria for that is, but I spoke last yesterday, and literally just came off from speaking first thing this morning. Obviously, doing it the first time, you kind of have that initial, “Okay, the first one’s out of the way, but I’m not quite over that finish line.”
Jaime: It’s not done. You’re halfway.
Rachel: Yeah, literally if I could bottle this kind of feeling, of part mega buzz and part absolute relief, and sell it, I could leave the industry because I’d be a millionaire.
Jaime: Oh, you’d absolutely be a millionaire.
Local SEO Insights
Jamie: What was the title of your presentation?
Rachel: It was a little Ricky Martin twist. So it was, “Livin’ La Vida Local: The Changing Landscape of Local Search.” And there were some nice Ricky GIFs in there, too.
Jaime: Wow, I need to know more. I need to know more about “livin’ la vida local.”
Rachel: I just kind of think that local search has been a bit of the underdog, it’s been maybe ignored or a bit of an afterthought, or “If we’ve got time or budget, maybe we’ll look at local.”
But it really feels like, certainly for my clients, they’re finally realizing that this is the future. COVID changed a lot of things. People started to pull back and just, “We’re going to support local businesses,” and many of them are staying there, but they’re looking for new options and new inspiration of new things to try. And then obviously we’ve got this movement, kind of competition, but I see it as, we should be collaborating with local and social research. So we’ve got that factor thrown in now, too.
Jaime: First off, let’s take a step back. Tell me about your company.
Rachel: I work for Croud, a digital performance agency. [I’ve not] been long in this industry, I come from a retail background, and then had a massive career change around six years ago. And then four years ago, I joined Croud, came in as a project manager, didn’t actually know a lot about SEO, and then started to develop local search skills because of a big client account that I was there to support. Really enjoyed it. Massive career change.
So now I focus on the local side of search, for still that same big client, that’s starting to now help out other ones, too.
Jaime: Okay. So tell me more about these types of clients. Are they larger chains…?
Rachel: Tend to be larger chains, although I would love to also be able to help smaller businesses as well. But for the moment, I’m very focused on big chains, multiple locations, from hundreds up to three or four thousand.
Jaime: Oh, wow. That is a lot of locations. And this is what your first talk was about. Optimizing for that many?
Rachel: Obviously, twenty minutes isn’t enough time to do it justice. So I tried to give an overview of the fact that local search is—always has been important—but people are recognizing that it’s important, and the landscape is changing, and how are we going to adapt? It’s so fast-paced. What are we going to do to assess the situation? How are we going to keep up? How do we need to optimize? It’s about more than just Google Maps and Google business profiles, kind of like, the bigger picture.
“Local search is—always has been important—but people are recognizing that it’s important, and the landscape is changing. How are we going to adapt?”
Jaime: That’s fantastic. What is one thing you would have loved the audience to walk away, either having learned or being curious about?
Rachel: It was definitely aimed at being inspirational. So I think, even if they’ve got a brick-and-mortar business, or they’re serving customers locally, like visiting them in their houses, for example, just to realize that, if they’re not focused on local—either at all or [as] an afterthought—there’s so much potential that they can tap into there. They’re kind of on the back foot if they’re not allocating some time and budget and energy in that direction.
Jaime: Why was this subject so important to you? To not only do your first talk, but to do your first talk twice?
Rachel: I want to highlight the importance, not only for Croud, but for businesses. But personally, I never expected to end up doing what I’m doing today. And that’s because I find it so fascinating and interesting, being able to help out local businesses and connect them with their communities. And I feel like, with local search, there’s more of a connection to actual people.
You’re helping people find where you are, and then you’re actually, potentially, going to meet them in your store, or face-to-face in your business. Generally with SEO, when you’ve got a big website in the way you don’t see that. That’s the side that appeals to me, because I’m a very people person. That idea, actually meeting the people that are leaving you your reviews, or they picked you over somebody else.
Jaime: I love it. So, what would your walk-on song be?
Rachel: Obviously, for this talk it would have had to be “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” by Ricky Martin. Generally, though, I’m more of a hard rock fan, so it probably would have been AC/DC’s “Thunder,” or something by Metallica or Slayer, or something like that.
Jaime: All fantastic options. I would actually love to see, one year, you walk on with “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” The next year…
Rachel: Yeah, pretty stark contrast. [Laughter.]
Jaime: Keep the audience guessing. What has been your favorite Brighton SEO moment so far?
Rachel: Well, I actually just had a selfie with John Mueller [of Google], so that kind of made my life.
Jaime: He is just a lovely human.
Rachel: So, so encouraging. And I also had Claire Carlile, who’s one of my absolute heroes, who I’ve never met in person before, right there in the front.
Jaime: With a basket full of Welsh cakes and hugs for everyone.
Rachel: I feel like I know her, because I go on so many webinars and read so many of her articles, and you know, it’s nice. It’s a little bit of a fangirl moment.
Jaime: An absolutely joyful and delightful human being who always has the best snacks.
How did you get into SEO as a career?
Jaime: How did you get into SEO as a career?
Rachel: By accident.
Jaime: You were over there in retail…
Rachel: Well, kind of retail, but there was kind of a redundancy. I have young kids and thought, “Okay, I don’t want to go back into the retail world,” although I definitely think having a retail background helps me with this, the local side of search, because have more of that face-to-face customer awareness.
But I came into this industry actually as a project manager, not really knowing that much. I probably knew enough to wing it and get by, but not the detailed stuff. And hey, I’ve still got loads and loads to learn. But yeah, it was pretty much an accident. Just happened to be on a big account with support that was needed for local. They recognized, luckily, the importance that local needed, to be moved more to the forefront.
And I just started helping that, and you know, sometimes when you’re just thrown in the deep end and you learn as you go along, sometimes that’s the best way, and yeah. Migrated off to a different path.
Jaime: That’s fantastic. Where does your role fit in your larger organization?
Rachel: Well, it’s the first of its kind, so it was kind of created for me. There wasn’t really that specific local focus.
My job is kind of two ways. I’m kind of anchored to the big clients that need local support, consultation, and then I’m also trying to help to build Croud’s local proposition to build in its wider, organic service. It’s still in its early days, but I’m really passionate about it, so I think it’s going to be quite a positive trajectory. Just depends how much time that takes to get there.
Dealing with challenges in SEO
Jaime: What are some of the common challenges you see in this newly developed role, internally with the business, for relations with clients, or for clients in the landscape of search?
Rachel: Well it’s kind of what I touched on already. It’s making them realize that this is an area that you should be paying attention to. Depending on how much budget they’ve got, [if] they’re looking at paid. There’s always the battle between paid and organic anyways. And then even the organic share that you are allowed, how much of that are they prepared to siphon off and focus on local?
So I think that’s probably been one of the biggest challenges. But I can definitely see over the last six to twelve months, I think the fanfare around it in the SEO communities, is obviously really helping, stuff like today helps get the message out there. That’s definitely been the challenge, but it’s moving in the right direction.
Jaime: How do you make allies with these folks when you’re like, “Hey, I want to take your budget and just pull it on over here?”
Rachel: It’s showing them what their competitors are doing that they’re not. That’s a great starting point. Talking them through a journey. There was the talk, [which] was actually part of my track as well, John Earnshaw, who was just after me. He spoke about taking users, going with them on a journey of discovery. And that’s kind of what it is. It’s, think of yourself as in your customer’s shoes. What would you be doing? If you want to buy something or you’re looking for a service or somewhere to go out and eat or somewhere to buy a new coat, what would you be doing? You can kind of hear their cogs turning, like, “Okay, I get it. I need to think about my customer, the journey that they want to go on.” And a lot of the time, that’s close to home. So we need to be focusing on just what’s around us locally.
Jaime: It’s a really interesting spot, because you’re combining the scale of search with your local community.
Rachel: Obviously I’m biased, but it’s a really, really vocal and supportive community as well. So if you’re new to SEO, and you’re not quite sure where you want little specialism to be, I would pick this one up all the time. It’s such a supportive community. It really is.
The ROI of Local SEO
Jaime: How do you explain the ROI? Because, appearing in local, you can’t show “and then they bought something,” because that person’s going to physically—
Rachel: It’s harder. Yes, you’re still going to get those clicks through to your website, and you’ll be able to follow that journey there. But yeah, the huge part of it is, you’re driving offline footfall, but there are still ways we can do that.
I mean, you can talk to your customers, find out how they found you, but even just taking actions on profiles, clicking through to make a phone call, clicking through to book an appointment.
Jaime: Tracking those micro-conversions.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly. You know, you can work out your metrics, and let’s say that 70% of the people that phone, they’re probably likely to visit you within the next day. So you have to think a little bit more carefully about it, but you can definitely still track it. You just have to, again, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What are they doing from that click?
The SEO Community
Jaime: What has been pleasantly surprising to you about this world, working in SEO? Something you didn’t think you would necessarily enjoy?
Rachel: I’m not sure I can pinpoint one thing.
Jaime: I mean, you could also just tell me something that’s been super frustrating to you.
Rachel: I’m gonna stick with the positive.
A lot of people in this industry come in quite young. I came in much later in life, without giving away my age. I always felt quite a lot of imposter syndrome over that. But you know what? People have been really, really welcoming, and I’ve had a few career changes in the past. I definitely feel like this community, the SEO community—people want to share their knowledge and their skills and they’ll pick you up.
I mean, this is the best place to feel that. Definitely feel that today.
Jaime: A hundred percent. This is one of my favorite events for the sense of, “How can I help you? Oh, you want to pitch? I will help you.”
Rachel: Exactly. “You’re going to smash this.” And, “You did,” afterwards.
Jaime: And then they show up in the front row cheering for you. It’s quite, quite lovely.
What advice would you give to someone who’s been considering trying to pitch for an event for a while?
Rachel: Definitely give yourself enough time. You need to tell a story with your pitch. And I kind of struggled to find one, because I had so many ideas and even just choosing that idea… give yourself lots of time. Don’t rush it. If it’s not enough time to the next upcoming one, plan for the one ahead, or maybe choose something else or something smaller to see how that goes.
Practice run. Put in as much practice as you can, pitch it to your friends, your family. Even if your family, [if] they don’t know your industry, they’ll still be able to give you cues. And if they don’t understand it, maybe somebody else doesn’t, too. I would definitely say practicing and being prepared well ahead of time.
Jaime: So someone who doesn’t understand the technical details, they’ll still be able to follow the story.
Rachel: Exactly. And you’ve got to cover everybody here. There’s people that are brand new to it and then there’s people that have been in the industry for years. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re appealing to everybody.
Jaime: That’s beautiful. There’s so many skill sets here, so many niches. Any advice for people who are attending Brighton for the first time there? No way are they getting up on that stage, but maybe they’re coming alone.
Rachel: I said that, though, and then here I am. If they’re coming alone, again, I’ll keep saying it: everybody is so friendly—
Jaime: Especially the vibrant hair people.
Rachel: And you know who they are, even at the train station, you know where they’re heading.
Jaime: That is valid. Yes.
Rachel: Even just going to the coffee station, people will just talk. And everybody accepts that we’re all a little bit geeky and nerdy, aren’t we? Everybody, we’re all allowed to be a bit awkward. It’s fine.
Jaime: We are professionally awkward.
Thank you, Rachel. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. And have—now that you are free and elated—the best rest of your day two. For people who would want to follow you on social media, see where you’ll be speaking at next, how could they get in touch?
Rachel: Find me on LinkedIn. I am on Twitter but I’m a bit rubbish with it, so probably LinkedIn’s better. Or you can look up Croud, my lovely face is on there, and you can drop me an email as well.
Jaime: Perfect. Thank you so much. I hope this is a memory to never forget.
Rachel: Definitely. Thank you.
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