Carolyn Shelby – Local Search Interview

Today we’re talking with Carolyn Shelby who has an SEO and Public Relations blog she runs at cshel.com.

Hi Carolyn thanks for talking with me today, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself for my readers who may not know you?

Well, in addition to my blog, I’ve been running Lafayette-Online.com (Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana — Home of Purdue University — Go Boilermakers!) since July of 1995, and I’ve been developing websites for businesses and not-for-profits since about then as well. I also write press releases and help smallish businesses come up with inexpensive, effective ways to increase brand awareness and visibility online and offline. My turn ons are… oh wait. This isn’t that kind of interview. Nevermind.

Let’s pretend you’re not involved in web publishing for a moment what type of local searches do you find yourself doing?

I search for directions to volleyball tournament venues because my oldest plays club volleyball, so that’s like an every weekend occurrence. Once I know I know how to get to where ever it is we’re going, then I check to see where the nearest Starbucks is, because I have to get up at 5:00am on game day in order to have her there on time and if I don’t get my iced venti americano w/ 2 sweet n lows, I get cranky. If I’m really lucky, there will be a mall nearby or maybe a bookstore with wi-fi, and then someplace that isn’t fast food to get lunch when the tournament is over.

Let’s take a look at one of your websites Lafayette Online which is a regional directory. What made you decide to start that project?

The website for our ISP had a page of local links, mostly clients of ours, but also a few locally relevant sites, and based on the number of requests I was receiving to add new links or locate new websites containing local content, I felt that a site just about the city and the things to do in town would be well received. Keep in mind this was like April/May 1995, so it was back in stone ages and the concept was new and novel. By the time May rolled around, I had pretty much decided I was going to do the site, and the plan was to do it sort of as a public service to the community and use it as an excuse to get some free pub in the local media. I knew Greater Lafayette was a contender for the All-America City Award by that time, so the plan was to time the announcement with the AACA announcement and piggy-back on that.

I started collecting local information from the Chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, libraries, etc. and manually transcribing the info into html and scanned anything I could that I had logos or photos of the area. At one point I also tracked down a little old lady whom the post office identified as being the most likely person in the universe to have a Jupiter Airmail stamp, commemorating the first Airmail flight attempt in US history (took off from Lafayette, landed in Crawfordsville — d’oh). She did have the stamp and graciously loaned it to me so I could scan it.

When we finally launched the site, the press release ran unedited on the front page of the local Gannett paper, on the front page of the Lafayette Business Digest, was mentioned during every news segment on every radio station in town for 4 days, and had segments on our CBS affiliate news for almost an entire week during every broadcast. It was a very good week.

What are some the things you learned from operating it, what were people looking for that really surprised you?

1. There are a TON of people who are really horrible spellers. The quantity and quality of misspellings I find in the search logs are just amazing … like, fix yourself a drink and read the logs recreationally when you need a giggle type of funny.

2. Grad students are horny and too lazy (or too incompetent) to go pick up drunken girls at the bars. 90% of the searches I find for sex related services or escort services, swingers clubs, etc. originate from the grad houses on campus.

3. Not every business understands precisely what’s going on with the web even today. I’ve had more than several occasions where I’ve attempted to get the okay from a business to include their information in the directory (for free), and gotten the brush off because the owner/manager/whatever just didn’t get what I was asking and didn’t even bother to inquire further to understand what he was turning down. (Of course, a few months later I inevitably get an irate phone call demanding to know why they were excluded and threatening to complain to the mayor — who consequently doesn’t care and has no control over the site anyway).

For people who might want to start their own local directory what are some things they should know before hand, both the good and the bad?

If you’re going to use information that was originally compiled by the local CVB or Chamber, whatever, get someone in charge at the organization to sign something that grants you permission to use the info online and indefinitely. Those stupid permission slips have saved me more than once.

Join the local business networking groups. Become a fixture in the offline community. People will take you more seriously if they see your ads on billboards, or on bus benches and see you shaking hands at the Chamber of Commerce mixer every third Thursday at 5.

For people who are looking to monetize local websites what are some things that have worked really well and what are some things to avoid?

Hotel reservations have worked really well for me because of the out of town visitor traffic Purdue brings to Greater Lafayette. In towns where you don’t have a university with a relatively large out of state student population or popular athletic events, I’d try for sponsorships from the local car dealers, banks, etc. Look for the deep pocket organizations and hit them up. Dealerships, as opposed to independent used car dealers, are good to try because they get a monthly stipend for advertising from GM, Ford, Toyota…whomever they’re associated with. That money burns a hole in their pocket, and it isn’t going to hurt their budget to take a smidge away from the newspaper ads and diversify their advertising methods.

Any quick tips or hints for people who want to help the search engines associate them with local searches.

Make sure you include your physical address on your site, including the zip code (and the plus four if you know it — if you don’t know it, go look it up at the post office’s website). If you don’t have a physical presence in the city you want to be associated with, I’d go get a post office box either at the real post office or at one of those places that provides that service. I live 150 miles from Lafayette now, but I still keep my PO Box to maintain the illusion of having a local presence. Oh, and definitely remember to go add your business to local.google.com.

Let’s look into the future, where do you see local search moving in the next few years?

I think the majority of the local searches are going to originate from mobile devices at some point. It’s just so easy and convenient to use your cell. I rarely find patches where I don’t have coverage anymore (even when I’m driving between Chicago and Lafayette… it’s a lot of nowheresville farmland, but I still have cell coverage).

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, if you like to read more from Carolyn stop by her blog CShel.com.

 

Tags: local+search, , Carolyn+Shelby

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