Marketing Digest Brings you Marketing Insights Straight from a Leading Local Marketing Service Provider
Marketing Digest doesn’t just deliver the most relevant online marketing news, reports, and analyses, as we also interview some of the most successful online marketers today.
We place these highfliers in the hot seat and ask them the questions everyone’s dying to ask: How did they become successful? What drives them to accomplish so many great things? What are their future plans?
We’ll share their insights so that you can apply their principles and techniques.
Here is our interview with Myles Anderson,
founder and CEO of BrightLocal.com:
Myles Anderson Interview Transcript
Marketing Digest: Everyone, we have a special interview today with Myles Anderson. He’s the BrightLocal founder and CEO. BrightLocal was founded in 2009, it’s entirely self-funded, they have over 10,000 businesses that rely on them for their reporting technologies. Currently, over 45 employees and they are one of the most trusted analytics and reporting companies in the local online marketing industry. So Myles, thanks for coming on and being willing to talk to us over here at Marketing Digest on an interview to share with the entire community. How’re you doing today?
Myles Anderson: I’m good to connected with you again and also, to connect with your audience. Hopefully, we’ve got some of our customers who’ll listen to this. Maybe we can reach out and introduce ourselves to a few new people as well.
MD: Wonderful. So Myles, I’ve got a list of questions I’ve been dying to ask you here. What made you want to start BrightLocal? Because it’s not just the average guy that thinks “Hey you know what? I live to manage a tremendous amount of data and try to figure out how to store it and present it to everyone in a friendly format.” What sparked your interest to take on that mountain?
MA: Well to be very honest, I didn’t realize how big the mountain was going to be when we started off. Had I known quite how many hurdles and obstacles you’d have to get up by, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so bold to do it. So essentially I kinda just stumbled into it; I had a background in working in the UK for some large media companies doing sort of business development and got into the local space by working in the local directory project for the largest commercial radio group here in the UK. That’s where I met my business partner our CTO Ed Elliot. We collaborated on that project and realized we got on very well; him from a kind of development side, me from a kind of product and business side.
About two years down the line, we found ourselves at a bit of a sort of bridging point in our careers, wondering what to do. We sat down talking about what projects interested us, where we wanted to go. At the same time, I had a number of friends who started learning local businesses-be it local pubs or a tile shop. They were clueless about online marketing; they really didn’t have a clue. They knew they need to do it, they didn’t understand what they had to do and they were finding it very hard to get the relevant data. So we kinda started assisting with them and essentially establishing an agency providing local marketing services. But we very quickly realized there was a ceiling above us in terms of our opportunities to grow that kind of business model and also very frustrated that everything was manual; there were very few dedicated tools for local.
So Ed and I realized with our skill sets in business development, product development and web development, we should really go out and build some tools. So we set about building these tools to help us in our current daily jobs. The need came from within us, quickly realized we loved doing what we were doing and that every time we were showing these tools to other agencies or consultants, they liked it and said “Hey, can we use those?” We kinda pivoted our business around that point to be-from an agency perspective-to being a software, data, tools and analytics company. So I wouldn’t say I woke up one day and a light bulb lit in my head and said “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to bring up BrightLocal.” But we kind of listened to our hearts, listened to our heads and sort of followed the advice you got from others. That’s why we’re where we are today.
MD: Well you know I think some of the most successful companies are born out of a need a lot of people have. Commenting on that, you’re able to identify a need businesses have for reporting data and analytics they didn’t otherwise have. Maybe in data in general, or in a different format. What is the most important reason a client should be using BrightLocal reporting technologies and what’s the main need that you fulfill?
MA: A typical customer of ours is a consultant or an agency rather than local business owners. So the majority of our customers come to us with some understanding of what it is they need. So they understand local online marketing, they understand data, what it means to have citations and things like that. So they’re not totally green. They often have two needs: Obviously, as a consultant or agency they have their own clients. They have to work on behalf of their clients so they fall in two camps. One is auditing and tracking- using that data to inform the decisions they make about how best to improve the optimization for one of their clients. So I’d probably say that about half of our customers use this primarily for internal analytics and understanding where our client is, what they need to do next and tracking that.
The other half is that you justify the work they’re doing on behalf of their customers. So as business owners, they are fairly thrifty in terms of the money they put into online marketing. And as with any sort of business, they want to understand the returns they’re getting. Our agency and client consultant customers need to justify the work they’ve done and the fees they’re charging. They do that by providing really accurate and detailed reports- a nice branded PDF or a nice branded online report- that they can present to their customers and say “This is what you’re paying us for, this is the improvements we’re delivering. Put your trust in us and we’ll keep driving up that performance.” Partly, it’s about giving them the day to day look into their jobs and partly it’s about justifying the work they do for their clients so they can justify those fees and retain those clients month after month.
MD: Right. And I think you would agree by saying the data you primarily specialize in is ranking data- where websites are ranking on Google, Yahoo and Bing correct?
MA: I would say that is what we’re very well known for. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a thing we spend most of our time on doing. The reason we sort of focus on that is that’s the first tool we launched. It was the one we saw almost immediate demand for in the marketplace and one that’s become our flagship. People come to us primarily for that and then find out we have a lot of other really useful tools and data points we kind of gather against. In terms of where we put our focus and our attention, we probably spend more time looking at things like citations, listings, reviews. They’re actually on rankings because we think that is probably where the future is going to be in terms of local reporting and necessity for local data as ranking data becomes harder and harder to track naturally.
So yes, we’re very well known for it, but it’s probably not where we actually spend most of our time and effort.
MD: Now what I think a lot of agencies probably do not understand is the depth of the ranking data that you do provide. In my opinion, you guys are the number 1 ranking data provider in the world, but I don’t think people understand you provide ranking data on third party sites as well. Like if you’re mentioned on a press release or on a blog or on a local directory, you can track those rankings and take screenshots of it and you carry that history. I think most people don’t know that. But what made you guys turn in the direction to say “You know what? We not only have to track their website….” And you guys are starting to track, literally, every single portion of a client’s online real estate, which is completely groundbreaking.
MA: Yes, so you can track via mentions of your current URL, you can track multiple URLs, you can track via a mention of your business name or keywords that are related to you. In doing that, we’re able to track rankings within the main search engines, but not just for you website but any of those key online listings you have. Your video channel on YouTube, your Facebook profile etc. Therefore, you get a much more holistic sense of your visibility online.
There are so many touch points for a business on the Internet these days. It’s not just about a website, it’s about all these other important profiles you’ve got on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, even Foursquare, going down to classic local directories or review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, CitySearch etc. Those are all places customers can find you, find about your business and ultimately contact you. So it’s important to know what’s your entire footprint in terms of the kind of visibility you’re having. It’s no longer just purely about your website. So in particular, local businesses can really utilize these other channels.
So that’s where the diversity of opportunities for local marketing is so great for local businesses online. They’re much more significant and greater than a pure web-based business because you’ve got all these other channels which customers can find you. And you can aggregate all the visitor numbers that go through the likes of Yelp, CitySearch and all these other channels. They balance out Google. So you’ve got Google as one source of traffic then you’ve got all of these secondary and tertiary traffic opportunities which if you really make the most of and you optimize where keep your data clear and complete, then you start to add up significant extra customer sources.
MD: I would assume one of the reasons why you’re, to my knowledge, the only company presenting that sort of data in the format that you do is probably difficult. What difficulties do you have in handling and storing that massive amount of data?
MA: We have a lot. In fact, we’re just in the process of rolling out a change that’s part of our database to enable our interfaces to work faster and with less delay. Some of our databases are so enormous; you’ve got a couple of database tables that have an upwards of 300 million rows in them. Once you start getting into that much data, you’ve got to get shrewd and clever about the way you store it, the way you query it, the way you pull it back. We spend a lot of time and effort looking at ways we can future proof ourselves for that kind of growth and volume and scale that we’re getting to now. It’s pretty unglamorous work because it’s very hard to showcase a small, backend change you’ve made to a customer, whereas it means keeping our service on the rails for longer and better job. But it’s hard to point and show them the direct benefit of that, which I always find frustrating. My marketing head was keen to market that the news and the services and the data we provide is very hard to do, but is absolutely essential. We allocate about 30% of our time and resources into those types of projects.
MD: That’s massive. I don’t think most people would realize how difficult it is to handle that amount of data. We’re talking about gigs worth of data that’re just words. Not images, not videos, just words that add up to gigs.
So, not to put you on the spot here, you offer several types of reporting to people. If you had to choose just one of them, which do you think is the most important reporting to say, for an agency to be offering to a local business provider? Maybe it’s a chiropractor or an optometrist or a plumber. Which report would that be that you offer and why?
MA: The most used report is definitely our ranking report. I think what’s interesting when you’re reporting for a local business or local business owners is that online marketing can be a bit of a minefield. There’s all this jargon and confusion around what’s important and what’s this terminology mean. Once you start getting into the nitty-gritty of on-site SEO and content marketing, people can glaze over, particularly if they’re busy and they’ve got a thousand things they need to do. There are certain reporting metrics local resellers can grasp that are more tangible to them. One is rankings because of their uses of Google. When they need to find something, they go to Google, click on a link on page one and they buy it or they can source it. They understand; they can put themselves in the shoes of their own customers. When they see themselves ranking highly, they can understand how that’s going to translate to a business for them. Even if it’s not a great metric and it certainly doesn’t immediately equate to sales and revenue, but they can understand and put themselves in their customers’ shoes.
Similarly, you’ve got things like your online listings. Is your address recorded accurately? Is it all the relevant information? A business owner who has a physical business understands the importance of their address correctly listed. It’s such a basic requirement for bringing customers to a business to make sure they have the right address. When they see things like incorrect address information in citation reports, that immediately irks them because they understand why that’s a bad thing. They’ve been driving their customers into the hands of their competitors. I think it’s about finding things that are tangible to a busy local business owner and understand.
Reputation is another one. Having a good reputation is as old as time and having a bad online review, which can be seen by thousands of people, thousands of potential customers, is again very irking and frustrating for local business owners. They can see those dollars drifting away from them because of that.
So I think our rankings and citation reports are the two that are the most heavily used. We have one tool that is grossly underused by our customer base and that’s our Google local wizard tool. That actually has the highest volume of data and the most aggregation of work in putting those reports together. But it’s a great benchmarking tool. It allows you to see your optimization flow, your Google+ Local or your Google Places page. You also get citations but it benchmarks you against the top ten performing businesses in your city and categories. It could be “chiropractor in Miami” and you could see how you stack up against the top ten in a very easy, side by side view. Agencies who really use us to the fullest use us as a great way of understanding an initial audit situation for a business: how they’re doing, how they’re stacking up against their competitors, which areas we should focus on and then using ongoing reporting through that to track progress.
So for me, there’s simplicity in reporting in our ranking tool, our citation tool gives a lot of end clients what they need. But I actually think our Google+ wizard tool is the most powerful because it has all that data drawn into it and is nicely presented.
MD: Very nice. Yeah, benchmarking rankings is where you’re at and Google+ is definitely vital. Having the capability to show where your clients benchmark that versus other competitors is not easy to do.
MA: A lot of our customers use our reports for lead generation as well. They run a report and they use it as a talking document when they go in and talk to a business. Again, it’s touching on and understanding what’s going to concern or frustrate a local business owner. And often it’s about seeing where basic information is wrong and where their competitor is getting it right. They make some small changes here and there, they can steal their potential clients away from their competitors.
MD: Absolutely. Can you give the listeners any idea or any special project that you may be currently working on? Or any unreleased products or reports that may be there in the near future that you might want to give us a couple of hints to?
MA: Yeah! So we’re adding into our citation tracker reports- in America then to all other countries- the ability to track your name, address, phone number information across the top 50 sites. We actually released that this afternoon into a beta test with about a dozen customers. So that’s something we’ll be rolling out; a really powerful new addition to that particular tool. We’re also looking to strengthen and deepen the data we can get in that area.
We’re also working on a new holistic dashboard. At the moment you have ranking data, ranking report, citation data and citation report. We created a nice little dashboard that draws all that information into one central dashboard that you can see. The full 360 view of your marketing situation. Those are the two big projects that we’re working on now and the next few months. Then we’ve just been planning our product road map for 2015, which looks very exciting. A whole wealth of different projects on there which will currently increase our massive data gathering abilities, but also hopefully improve the presentation of that data and make that data more useful and tangible to our customers.
I’m really excited about what’s coming up next year. This year has probably been a year of consolidation for us and next year is a year of growth and advancement. Which is great because, as a product guy, that’s what I like to see and in doing that, we’re looking to invest more in our team. We’re taking our development team from six up to ten, so we’re always going to be doubling our capacity through doing that. So next year is definitely going to be a great year. It’s going to be a stepping stone year for BrightLocal to go from the service we’re currently providing to a service that is exponentially better than what we’ve got today.
MD: Well I think if all the listeners and many of them might not already be using your reporting technologies if they’re aware of all the different types of reporting formats and services that you offer, they can imagine being pulled into one, 360 view dashboard. That’s going to be an amazing release for you guys and definitely something for everyone to be looking out for.
MA: I think so too.
MD: So Myles. The last question that I have for you here. What is the favorite part about your job?
MA: So my job has changed a lot. We’re entirely self-funded, reinvested the profits we’ve made to grow the business. If you asked me that two years ago, my job had 10 or 12 different parts to it, which involved everything from ordering the tea to getting the milk right up to sales and marketing and everything else. We’ve gradually been able to bring in specialists to certain areas such as marketing, customer service, project management. So I’ve been lucky enough to move away parts my job that are less critical to the service we provide. The three years I’ve enjoyed the most are the product side of it, so defining what our customers need, talking with our customers, and then implementing the developments and changes into the service. The marketing I really enjoy as well. The webinars and the interviews that we get to do. I get to meet and talk with some wonderfully intelligent people and I always end up learning a lot. So I really enjoy that.
I have a lot invested in the BrightLocal brand so I’d like to see BrightLocal grow. We actually don’t do any paid marketing. We do a small amount of PPC, so all the marketing we do is we run content marketing, PR, brand generation type work. A lot of it very much has to come from within the business and in terms of doing things that we know are noteworthy and unique. So I really enjoy that.
But thirdly I also love the customer service side. As we get more and more customers, I find myself more and more being in the bottleneck in terms of customer support. So that’s why now we’ve got dedicated customer support and customer support agents. I simply can’t be available to speak to everyone. I still pick up half a dozen support tickets a day and make sure I’m involved in significant issues just to ensure we keep supporting our larger customer base to the levels they expect it. We’ve had to bring in a couple of people between me and the customer to get that done. But I do enjoy talking to our customers a lot because it keeps real for me what we do. It keeps me understanding who the end user is and why we do what we do.
So I would say product marketing and customer service are the areas that, moving forward, I will focus on. And I think that will be great for me personally but also great for business.
MD: Yeah I would say your favorite interests in being a CEO are definitely in the best interest of those using your technology.
Well Myles I appreciate you being on for the interview and for everyone that’s listening, if you haven’t checked out BrightLocal, go to BrightLocal.com. Certainly go to their site, check them out whether or not you’re a marketing agency looking for enterprise level reporting for your online marketing clients or a local business owner looking for some of the top local online marketing reporting technologies. BrightLocal has them.
Myles, appreciate having you on and hopefully we can have you on again before too long.
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