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A Small Gift for Local SEOs and a Big Cheer for Original Images

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The Ultimate Guide for Taking Full Control of Your Google Business Profile and NMX

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

“Localism” – Miriam Ellis

We know that a picture is worth a thousand words and that Google is betting the house on a visual future, yet I’ve often struggled to find the exact image asset I want to illustrate the story of local businesses and local SEO. So, I decided to create my own asset, and today, I would like to offer the above painting to all of my colleagues in local search. Please, feel free to use it in your speaker decks, client pitches, articles, marketing materials, and any place else you would like to instantly convey the thriving spirit of economic localism which underpins the passion we have in common with our audiences and clients.

This impressionist painting is original, hand-done, by me (no AI) and I offer use of it as my valentine to all of my colleagues and to local business owners with affection and tremendous respect for all of your contributions to many communities. I hope it will add vivid storytelling power to your work! If you would like to credit me, my fine art website is at MiriamEllis.com.

According to 3M research, visual aids improve learning by 400% and humans process visual media 60,000 times faster than text. Meanwhile, Time’s Top 100 photos focus on the mighty power of imagery to make an emotional connection. But we’re at a funny moment in time with image content, because we could be on the verge of inundation. I’d like to look at this phenomenon with you today and consider how the local businesses you market can stand out in an increasingly-illustrated world.

Thinking about imagery at this moment in time

Local places matter to us. Petrus Christus knew it when he painted “A Goldsmith in His Shop” six hundred years ago (local SEOs might call it the Barbara Oliver Jewelry of its day!):

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Van Gogh was just one of thousands of painters who have worked to capture the mood of local “cafe society” and – if they had mobile devices – what do you think these people would be writing in their Yelp reviews?

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And Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, set in a Greenwich Village diner, has become one of the most-recognized paintings in American art history. Looking at it 80 years after it was painted, it evokes a feeling in me of the value of local businesses keeping the light on in hard times:

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Point being: local businesses are so vibrant a component of culture that they inspire fine art. They are an integral part of the history of communities, towns, and cities, and they readily lend themselves to impactful visual representation.

It’s a topic for this moment in time, because we are poised between a past littered with bad stock photos and a future that could be made up of assembly line AI graphics. Some may argue that the availability of images for pennies or the capacity to command robots to produce pictures is democratizing, and I can respect that viewpoint, but I have also noticed that mass-produced art lacking in meaningful human intention can quickly become clutter, overlooked by the very people we are trying to reach.

And that’s a problem, because when we look at art that we find beautiful, blood flow to the brain increases by 10%. According to University College London, this is the same lift we get from seeing the face of a loved one, and I have to wonder, then, what it does to us to be subjected to imagery that we find dull, repetitive, and soulless. Andy Warhol may have seen beauty in Campbell’s soup, but how often do you gaze with joy at can labels in the grocery store, when every single tin on the shelves offers a picture?

What will search be like when every query ends up in a kind of supermarket aisle, full of visuals? In 2016, visual elements made up just 2% of mobile search results, but now they make up 36%. Google reps are very transparent about this, stating,

“We’re transforming the SERP into an endless stream of visual ideas.”

As an artist, I’m automatically intrigued by any visual medium, and am keeping both eyes on multisearch, visual search, and all the permutations of image search. Now is the time to consider how visual media will fare if we become oversaturated with it in the next few years.

Standing out amid visual clutter

The art of differentiation is always going to be a relevant question for SEOs and local SEOs. Right now, we know how much of a competitive advantage high quality visuals can give our clients. Google says that shoppers are 90% more likely to purchase from businesses with images in Maps and search. Large, high quality images can have a demonstrable impact on organic rankings and Google’s own documentation cites their impact on local rank. UGC-uploaded photos even impact Google review order. Early adopters will get early benefits, but diminishing returns can result once a practice that was formerly special becomes commonplace.

Right now, we haven’t yet reached peak images in local SEO. Expert and friend, Darren Shaw, recently offered an excellent Twitter thread on the 7 types of visuals every Google Business Profile needs, including brand identity shots, exterior and interior premise shots, staff photos, product/service photos, UGC, and review screenshots. It’s a list long enough to keep any business busy in 2023, and the truth is that so many local businesses haven’t even created listings yet, but I’d like to encourage you to begin thinking beyond the standards before they become givens.

If your plan is to use AI graphics to keep pace with competitors, you may end up looking just like them, and that’s in direct contrast to one of the core reasons independent local businesses are beloved: because they are different! Predictability may be what made fast food chains a success via the McDonaldization phenomenon, but uniqueness of products, services and experiences is the magic ingredient behind 3 in 4 customers shopping small and local. Doesn’t it stand to reason that your digital visual presentation could take its cues from this existing dynamic and dare to be different?

To that end, here are my five outside-the-box suggestions for visually differentiating the local businesses you market online from less creative competitors:

  1. Hire a local artist to paint your business. Imagine how uncommon your Google Business Profile photo deck would look if it included glowing fine art featuring your store, your grounds, your staff, your inventory, and customers coming in for experiences with you. I guarantee that there is a good fine artist near you with the talent of capturing how your business is a vibrant part of the local community. Give your staff and your customers reasons to feel proud of where they work and shop.

  2. Hire a creative professional photographer to make your business look intriguing. Joel Headley has already documented the lift in traffic, calls and other conversion metrics when stock photos are replaced by original images, and you need basic shots of the assets Darren Shaw mentions, but a talented art photographer could take this a step further by photographing aspects of your business in such a way that the public will want to come experience them personally.

  3. Are you working in a vertical people constantly call “boring?” Would it lend itself to humor that could make your listings stand out? Consider hiring a local cartoonist to make your community laugh with you and remember your brand.

  4. Maximize every opportunity for making your premises a green space. Connectivity with nature is increasingly cited as key to mental health. It’s why Trinity College Dublin has torn up its lawns and replacd them with wildflower patches, full of blooms and butterflies. Photograph the planted areas people can experience when they visit you, and be sure to highlight accessibility and areas for sitting and quiet contemplation as a break from shopping.

  5. Consider the role of art at your place of business, be that paintings, photography, sculpture, community projects, music, and more. A grocery store can have a great soundtrack and a retail shop with wall space can double as a gallery or a social media hotspot. The more inviting your premises are, the more likely that customers are to want to photograph themselves there. Because every person is unique, that thing we call UGC can become a major asset, enabling you and your community to see how your business looks through the gaze of many.

My two-point perspective

On the one hand, convenience sells. Why open a cookbook, turn on a light switch, sweep your own floor, work hard on writing something, or mix your own colors for a hand-done painting when a robot can do it all for you? We’re all so fatigued, so why not take it easy? But the thing is…there is something about this perspective that’s really been bothering me lately, and I think I’ve figured out what it is. It sounds like the little voice in my head that would let me be monumentally lazy instead of struggling to do my best despite living with a chronic disability. That insidious voice that wants me to take it too easy instead of doing as much as I’m able to for myself, and that is reinforced by every marketed offer to take every load off my shoulders.

I suppose that because I’ve pushed back against this temptation for years and pushed myself to stay positive and creative in some very hard times, I am wary of this insidious voice being a driving force in society. I don’t think everything should always be as easy as possible, because I don’t believe humans produce great writing, art, music, movements, or anything of lasting value when shortcuts are prioritized over strenuous effort. Yes, we can increasingly choose to let machines do all the work for us, and even think for us, but my other perspective tells me what we may miss if we never do the hard work ourselves.

I’ve entered a number of juried art events over the years, and there is nothing quite like the thrill of walking into a big, buzzing exhibition grounds, searching the crowded walls for your painting, finding a blue ribbon hanging on it and seeing that little “sold” sticker on the accompanying card. You know exactly what you put into that piece, from ideation, to drafting, to completion, and there is such joy in realizing that someone else saw your work and chose it as the best in the show, or even as something to bring home into their personal space.

This is the sense of accomplishment I want local business owners and their marketers to feel when they are chosen because, instead of giving into low standards, they have brought the highest standards to bear in the creative presentation of their companies. When local businesses go the extra mile, it can be deeply felt in the quality of life enjoyed by their whole community. It’s a very good thing.

I hope you may find a use for my painting in your work, even if it’s only as a spark for your own ideas about being seen amid the clutter of an increasingly-automated visual web. Your inventiveness, intentions, and most of all, your uniqueness matter. Some say that life is an artform, so let’s close with a quote from Cézanne today, who said it so well:

“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”

No matter how artificially “intelligent” we make the bots, the emotions are all on our side, ready to connect us with the people we care for and serve.



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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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