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Planning for a Post-Local-Pack Possibility

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Planning for a Post-Local-Pack Possibility

Local SEOs are accustomed to continuous change in the SERPs, but if S.2992, the American Innovation Online Choice Act, becomes law and prevents monopolies like Google from preferencing their own assets, we need to prepare for what could be the largest search overhaul we’ve ever seen. 

This could be bigger than the day we saw 7-packs become 3-packs. It could be bigger than any of the major updates like Possum or Vicinity. We’re talking about major potential change and new opportunity for local businesses. Just how big might it be? That’s exactly what we’ll be looking at today!

Stats and tests

Per Moz’s most recent study by Dr. Peter J. Meyers, when we ran 1,000 search phrases through MozCast, half or which were localized to particular cities, 33% percent of our queries returned a local pack like this one in the SERPs:

A Google search for

If S.2992 should become law, industry experts observe that local packs would likely be one of the widgets Google would be obliged to stop preferencing in their results. And, in April of this year, marketers began spotting a test of a very different layout that could signal what local SERPs might look like, post-S.2992. 

I haven’t been able to replicate the test myself, but Mike Blumenthal of Near Media kindly granted permission for me to share this screenshot from his excellent piece, A Look at Google’s Local Results without ‘Self-Preferencing’:

An example SERP for the query

Instead of three local results grouped into a pack, this test shows a new widget we’re currently terming a “local card”, interleaved within the organic results. As Mike explains, when you click on the card, you’re taken straight to the Google Business Profile instead of to the long-established local finder. But perhaps of even more importance, the organic link to the website is now fully prominent, instead of totally absent as in some packs, or grey and easily-overlooked, as in the Google Business Profile. 

Rand Fishkin predicts that billions of clicks that were absorbed by Google’s widgets would become up-for-grabs by organic and paid advertisers. It’s this possible reality that’s really gotten me thinking about how local businesses could respond to what could be a tremendous opportunity.

Taking website inspiration from Google’s local playbook

Local SERP result for Sloat Garden Center

Google takes a lot from businesses. They take business data and make money from aggregating and displaying it in their local packs, finders, and maps. They take publishers’ content — which is the result of innumerable hours of paid work by human beings — and republish it in zero-click SERPs. Most SEOs learn to work within this system, this “partnership” in which we try not to be overly stressed so long as Google’s operations don’t hinder conversions. In other words, we resolve not to worry whether a sale results from a click on a Google Business Profile or the Contact Us page of a website, so long as transactions keep rolling in.

However, at the same time, there has been an ongoing saga of industry complaints that Google throws its weight around too much without any consultation with the business owners and publishers on whose livelihoods its profits are based. Of late, there has been particular distaste over Google using search as a political tool to protect itself from anti-trust actions like S.2992, threatening SMBs with negative outcomes if Google’s monopoly is regulated. Depending on your perspective, it might feel like Google takes it upon themselves to build a business model on your identity and content, doesn’t offer adequate support when things invariably go wrong with how they represent you, and then insults your intelligence with see-through scare tactics. It’s really no wonder when business owners and marketers grumble.

However you feel about this scenario, though, there is one thing that every local SEO knows by heart: local SERPs exist in a state of constant experimental change geared to maximize public engagement with them for Google’s benefit. They have the data and the engineers to discover exactly what works and what doesn’t. Think of this as a gift to us that we might take in return for all we’ve given, because Google’s SERPs are actually telling us what we should be doing with our websites if local packs go away, local cards take their place, and tons of clicks end up back on our websites instead of the Google Business Profile.

Check out this quick mockup I did of a GBP-inspired website homepage and see how many of the elements you can spot that correspond directly with fields you’ve come to know so well on your Google listing:

Native Plant Nursery webpage

Most important elements

Did you notice how my mockup emphasizes location and contact data, photos, and reviews? I believe that the ongoing iterations of Google’s packs and profiles indicate that these are the three listing elements that matter most to the public when choosing a local business. If more clicks should start going to the website, companies should organize the homepage so that visitors can instantly find the NAP, hours of operation (including whether the business is open right now plus its most and least popular time slots), see tons of relevant photos, and both read and leave reviews. You’ll notice I’ve also included some basic sentiment analysis of the reviews à la Google Place Topics.

Action-oriented elements

This mockup emphasizes all of the actions a visitor might be used to taking via Google Business Profiles. In addition to things like getting directions and interacting with reviews, the homepage should quickly facilitate whichever activities are most relevant to the model and customers, such as calling or texting the company, booking an appointment, asking questions, and, of course, shopping. If there is any actionable field on your GBP that you believe is connecting customers to the business, feature it or link to it on the homepage. This is basic website design of course, but think again about how Google organizes such features in their profiles to test what you should be emphasizing on sites.

Informational elements

Your website’s textual image and video-based content take the place of Google posts, business descriptions, categories, Q&A, and other informational media. Meanwhile, you can boost trust signals for Google’s quality raters and the public by displaying awards, accreditations, and associations. It’s great to think that, with a website, you have all the space you need to showcase a local brand’s community involvement, B2B relationships, customer-centric guarantees, environmental initiatives, and human rights policies. So, while you’re taking cues from GBPs on how to provide a ton of info at a glance for quick decision making, the joy of websites is that they support the architecture for telling a deeper story about why a business is truly the best bet in town for specific needs.

Your choice on UGC

Since the advent of Google Maps, Google has taken an open-source approach to local business data. Anyone, including bad actors, can suggest edits to your core business data, upload photos, leave reviews, and write questions and answers on your GBP. With your own website, the choice is yours on how much space you want to give to user generated content.

I’ve long been an advocate for featuring customers’ words and stories as central to business identity, and I would recommend that marketers and owners carefully plan how to present content like reviews, photos, and videos. There could be a temptation to show only flattering UGC, but be advised that activities like review gating can lead to litigation, and that businesses will already be facing something of a struggle in getting the public to trust website-based review content as much as they might trust the same content on a third-party platform. In seeking to emulate the successful layout of GBPs, do take your community into account, but also, take a breather knowing that S.2992 would return to local business owners some of the reputation and marketing control that they’ve lost to Google over the past 20 years.

Summing up, should the American Innovation Online Choice Act become law, sending more traffic directly to websites, owners and marketers should have a plan in place to revamp website homepages so that they are as informative and actionable as Google Business Profiles. In the case of multi-location brands, you may need to bring a GBP mindset to landing pages rather than homepages. Why not spend some time this week making a more beautiful and useful mockup than mine for some of the businesses you market? Maybe yours will feature bulleted list attributes, or key product and service menus, or direct message/live chat capabilities.

Would local cards and a less dominant Google be good for local businesses and marketers?

Photo of a beige
Image credit: Jo Zimny

To be honest, you’ll have to come up with your own answer to this question based on your philosophy and hands-on experience, should Google become the subject of increased regulation. For my part as a big supporter of localism, I observe that monopolies have an unsustainable negative effect on human happiness and the planet, on innovation and diversification, on commerce and culture. I am personally in favor of very strong antitrust measures and believe they will deliver amazing benefits to independently-owned businesses, the communities they serve, and the environment on which we depend for life.

But as to how something like the local cards might impact us, I think it’s important to note that the test that’s been spotted is unlikely to be the ultimate format we’d see in the SERPs. I’ve seen several peers asserting that they feel the layout is a bit messy, and it would certainly cause some temporary confusion for Internet searchers who have gotten used to former displays. But, time and again, we’ve all adjusted to SERP modifications, and we would simply do so once more. For local search marketers, regulation would signal that it’s time to double down on your organic SEO skills if what emerges is an increased emphasis on organic SERPs.

For owners, customers will still find you, and the great thing would be that more of them would likely be spending more of their time at your house instead of at Google’s. The role of host, then, will be more on your shoulders. It will be your patio, your deck chairs, your BBQ pit, and ramada that welcome and shelter people. And, after all, that’s what you went into business to do: to take care of your own customers. You’ve spent years learning to do that, so don’t worry – with some fine tuning of your website to make it as good as and better than a Google Business Profile, you’ve got some good times ahead!



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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.

1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To
  • 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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