This is an article I have been planning for very, very long time. Although there are a few great lists of local SEO specialists I frequently refer to (David Mihm’s, Mike Ramsey’s, Matthew Hunt’s), there is no single resource which gives more insights into who the people behind the names and the websites actually are. In fact, this is a problem not just with local SEO in particular, but with the online marketing industry as a whole. On the one side are the customers, for whom it is often very difficult to determine which SEO to choose. Traditionally, the cornerstones have been testimonials, recommendations from friends, and general awareness of the reputation of the service provider. But in a business where the “seller” and the “buyer” could be as far from each other as tens of thousands of miles (in my case for example), these traditional guides could sometimes be insufficient. And that is why these people staying on the other side – the local SEO specialists/consultants/providers/ninjas/gourmands, might need some additional “trust push” in order to gain authority and trustworthiness. So here it is: my collection of aspiring local SEOs!
But first, a few notes:
1) This list is in reverse alphabetical order. Why? Because every other list is in old-school alphabetical order, and I’ve always felt a bit discriminated against (there are not really that many other last names that start with Z…).
2) I reached out to all the guys and gals mentioned below, and I got replies from many of them. However, for different reasons some did not get back to me with more information, so I did not include them in the article. Despite this I list them at the bottom, because I believe they are an important part of the local SEO world.
3) For everything to be as fair and square as possible, I decided to use the old “click to see” drop-down trick. Otherwise, it would have been very possible that 99% of the people would have given up before reaching even the middle of the page.
4) As most of the featured specialists are Americans and for accuracy purposes I will use the word “football” to describe the American variation of the sport, and the word “soccer” – for the European one.
And now – happy reading!
Mike says that it was music that dragged him into the world of local search. His first website was focused on local bands, events, and restaurants. He was so passionate about SEO that later on he left his job at Disney to pursue a career at Advanced Access – an Internet marketing company specialized in real estate website design and marketing. It was then that he really started diving deeper into local SEO, experimenting with Google Places, microformats and Geo-data. When he eventually left the company, he used his knowledge to develop a new strategy for the clients of Plastic Surgery Studios, an Internet marketing company focused on medical practices. Currently Mike is the manager of the firm’s Internet Marketing department.
Mike is happily married and a father of two. Besides local SEO, he has passion for gothic culture and Halloween.
Aaron built his first webpage in 1997 and he says he has never looked back since. His real passion sparkled a little later, though, when Yahoo’s directory and DMOZ were the major names in SEO. He became more involved in local SEO around 2006, when he began noticing the tremendous impact it had on small and locally focused businesses. More recently, Aaron has been enjoying his time participating in and presenting at the Local University series, together with a big group of other renowned local search specialists.
Aaron has been happily married for 10 years, and is the lucky father of 3 daughters. In his spare time, he loves playing sports and supporting the University of Nebraska football team.
Larry has been working with small businesses for more than 10 years, but it was only 5-6 years ago when he spotted local search’s great potential and employed it in his SMB marketing strategies. He says that local is now just one piece of the puzzle and it should be used together with mobile and social tactics.
Besides local search, Larry enjoys mobile gaming and runs two websites dedicated to mobile apps – DroidReviewCentral.com and iReviewCentral.com. He is also an avid fan of the New York Mets and the Knicks.
Andrew’s first serious contact with the online world was back in 1994 when he helped launch Showtime Networks’ first website. Soon after that, he managed to help put together the first live chat from a Mike Tyson fight he was hired by NBC and participated in the creation of the first network of local TV station sites, called NBC-IN. In the early 2000s, he met Stu MacFarlane with whom he started InsiderPages, a local-social reviews website. That was when his SEO skills improved as he succeeded in increasing the traffic from 30,000 unique visitors/month to 4 million. After the company was sold to CitySearch in 2006, he went on to become a private consultant; his first client was the head of product at LATimes.com.
Andrew says this about his occupation: “being an SEO is like being a golf pro at a party full of amateur golfers. Everyone you talk to wants a tip for how to improve their swing.” His current hobby is “working on perfecting a recipe for the first shelf-stable, meat-juice-based gourmet hot sauce.”
Darren doesn’t have the background of a typical geeky web developer. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 and decided to spend his time working at a local restaurant. Later on, he changed his mind and went back to high school and eventually got his university degree in anthropology (major) and computer science (minor). During his university years (circa 1996) he developed his first website. It was not until the early 2000s, though, that he became truly passionate about SEO, as he helped his sister promote her e-commerce website (which Darren himself built). He started diving deeper into local search after 2008, and a little later the Local Citation Finder was born.
Darren is happily married and his daughter occupies a lot of his free time. In his spare he likes to do local search the raccoon way.
Will was first hooked up with the Internet and its infinite possibilities by one of his professors while majoring in architecture in Tulane University. He built his first website back in the dark ages of 1994. He claims it was not until 1999 that he abused his first search engine (read: got into SEO). Soon after Will got in close touch with local search for the first time. In 2002, way before Google thought of monopolizing “local”, the company he was working at ventured into building and promoting online Yellow Pages. At first it was easy and it was simply pursuing long-tail keywords (ones that included city name), Will claims, but the real challenge came when Google and the others decided to change the rules and started prioritizing their own products.
Will is the CEO of Search Influence and that is what occupies most of his time. He loves beer, and that is probably why one of his favorite quotes is “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Jim sold his first Internet marketing firm in 1999 when he turned 50 (note: at that time I still hadn’t heard of the Internet, and I had barely seen a PC on TV once or twice). He now handles just about 10 clients personally, just to “keep his hand in.”
He is currently mostly dedicated to his hobbies, primarily wine tasting, and Jim says that if he were 30 years younger and if he’d won the lottery, he would have bought a winery in Napa, CA. He also loves skiing, which he has been practicing for over 55 years. Mr. Rudnick has written 2 books, and is currently working on a 3rd. He enjoys all things “local”, and has been president of the Hamilton Local Chamber of Commerce.
But above all, he is a happy father of 3 and grandfather of 2.
Phil’s first encounter with online marketing was in 2006 when, while still in college (Japanese Language and Literature major at Boston University), he began helping his father manage AdWords campaigns. He built his first website later the same year. Phil gradually grew more and more curious about why “some businesses were on the map and some weren’t.” His explorations were briefly summarized in his first-ever article on local search marketing, which appeared in a local newspaper in the summer of 2008. He likes getting to know his clients more personally and exchanging gifts with them or having long phone conversations, completely unrelated to local search are not uncommon.
While at his PC, Phil likes listening to jazz, Soul, metal, alternative, and the occasional bagpipe tune. When not working, he spends his best hours with his fiancée, Stefanie, and their 4-year-old cat, Peanut. His hobbies include running, camping, gardening, reading, and collecting coins. As these seem to be features typical of a clean-cut guy, it might come as a surprise that at one time Phil had shoulder-length hair and a Civil-War-caliber beard.
Just 7 years ago Yam was working on his family’s farm in a small village in northern Israel. That was when he moved to Tel Aviv and established the online marketing department of a large locksmith corporation. His team of local SEO consultants grew quickly and after only 3 years it consisted of 25 members. In 2010, Yam left the company and started partnering with different SMBs, helping them strengthen their online presence. His latest venture is called kidEbook – a start-up company specialized in creating smart kids apps. Yam enjoys being where things are happening, close to the end user. He says that “you can take the farmer out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the farmer.”
Yam is a happy father of his newborn daughter.
Mike’s first steps into the Internet marketing world were during his college years. For a class project he had to launch a website – HugeIdahoPotatoes.com, and monetize it. Around 2007, already out of college, and having his own clients, Mike started digging into local SEO as he noticed the potential positives it could bring to his customers.
Mike has a lovely wife and is a father of two (and one on the way). His hobbies include theater and guitar playing. Mike was Idaho State Drama champion a few times and has participated in a lot of plays. He currently plays in a bluegrass band that travels to different countries and performs at local folk festivals together with his wife’s folk dance team.
Dave has been involved in SMB operations since the early 1980′s. His first local-search-related activity came during the 1990′s when he had to compile databases of small businesses information as part of his job of releasing commercial space to this kind of companies. He first recognized the importance of local search for SMBs in the early 2000′s. As his company didn’t manage to find anyone who was knowledgeable enough about local SEO, he took on these duties and has been working on them ever since.
His hobbies include watching sports, dining out, and cooking.
David has been inclined to art and design since grad school, where he studied architecture. This naturally led him to using his skills and interest in the online world. His first contact with local was in 2005, when he started helping his clients with claiming their online business listings. What attracted him most was the opportunity to help boost a small business without significant amount of time and investment by the business owner (something, he acknowledges, that is less relevant nowadays).
David has great passion for golf. He is a big fan of The World’s Great Links Courses: his favorites are Portrush, Portstewart, County Down, Ballybunion, Carne, Royal Aberdeen, Nairn, Cruden Bay, Ballyneal, and Old Macdonald and Bandon Dunes. He has combined his two hobbies – architecture and golf, into a website where he shares his accumulated thoughts: EpicGolf.com. In addition to these, David is very much into craft beer (especially Northwest IPA’s and Pale Ales) and craft-roasted coffee.
Matt built his first website in 1995. It was (and still is) dedicated to U2, and since then it has received awards and recognition from the likes of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. His jump into online marketing came a little later, though. It happened around 1999/2000 when one of his clients was struggling to sell through their website. Matt bought a listing at Yahoo Directory and eventually this saved the client’s business. The move to local search came naturally as the search engines started pushing into that market. Matt spotted this early on as one of his very first posts suggests.
Matt’s most time-consuming hobby is managing his U2 site. Besides this he likes spending time reading, taking photos, and being with his wife and kids.
Jackson got enthusiastic about SEO through a friend of his, and started practicing it in 2009. Together they developed a small business (KayLo Marketing) whose primary aim was to help local businesses in the Ottawa region expand their reach through local business marketing. What Jackson liked about online marketing was the continuous stream of new content and perspectives, as well as the opportunity to engage with bright and passionate marketers.
Currently Jackson works as a Web Marketing Analytics / SEO Manager at AdJump Media and Menu.ca. In his spare time he likes doing strength training and playing volleyball. His favorite hobbies are photography and traveling.
Matt’s earlier life career as a theater artist didn’t portend his later involvement in online marketing. However, in 2007, when his first son was born, he had to settle down and work a regular job, so he started selling POS Terminals. He felt his door-to-door sales strategy was not optimal and seeking a solution, he soon discovered the power of the Internet. He got his first website and started advertising via AdWords, which provided a significant boost to his sales.
Matt started educating himself on how to do all of this by himself, and over the next 3 years he spent over $100,000 on learning materials and expert guidance. Along the way, he used his knowledge to build a network of merchant account sites, which has been highly successful to date. In 2009, he decided to completely devote himself to online marketing for small businesses and after successfully helping a number of his friends double and even triple their businesses, he established his own company – Small Business Online Coach. Currently the company has more than 15 employees and Matt’s team has worked with more than 150 clients.
Matt spends most of his spare time with his family, especially, exploring the world with his 3 boys (ages 5, 3, and 1).
Steve got into local search in late 2006 while he was building website for his brother in law’s landscaping business. He had had general experience with affiliate marketing and SEO for about a year prior to that. Although his first attempts with SEO were rather unsuccessful, using his knowledge and observations, he brought quick results to his brother in law’s website. At that time, Google still hadn’t started showing Maps results in the local search SERPs, so it was mostly about targeting organic rankings for location-specific queries.
Prior to diving into SEO, Steve was a forest fire-fighter in British Columbia, as well as a surfer in Nova Scotia. His current passion is wine and he has even started growing his own grapes.
Miriam has been working with her husband on building and optimizing websites since the early 2000′s. Her favorite part of the process is web design and copywriting. Around 2006, she started noticing “local” trickle into the search results and this, paired with reading Mike Blumenthal’s blog (see below) pushed her into getting more involved in local search. What she enjoys most in local SEO is the opportunity to learn about unique local communities throughout North America, as well as developing and “copywriting for civic enhancement.”
When not online, Miriam loves doing organic farming and communicating with nature. Her hobbies include reading, playing chess, studying foreign and ancient languages, sewing, cooking, painting and playing the piano. She strongly believes that a lively, never-ending pursuit of education enables her to bring a bright and creative mind to client projects.
Linda started her first SEO company (InfiniteHits.com) back in 2000. A few years later her current venture – Catalyst eMarketing, was born. She has been doing various types of Internet marketing, including national SEO, ever since. Linda went into local search around 3 years ago and it became her true passion. As a Google Places Top Contributor she spends a significant amount of time in the Google and Your Business forum, as well as in her own forum – Local Search Community Forum.
Linda is a workaholic, so her life is all around local search and helping people succeed online.
Mary and her husband sold their auto repair business in 2000. Mary didn’t enjoy the life of a retiree, so she started working at a ski and bike shop. After a few years, when this job got boring, she got another one at a local agency, which specialized in promoting bed and breakfasts, boutique inns, hotels and vacation rentals. Her new duties forced her to understand how to rank websites for local search, back in 2003 when this activity didn’t even have an established name.
Mary enjoys skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating in the winter, and rafting in Colorado and Utah in the summer. During the rest of the year she bikes, camps, and hikes in the desert and the mountains. A good prerequisite for her hobbies is the place where she lives – Glenwood Springs, Colorado. She moved there more than 30 years ago just for a temporary job and never left.
Before starting his own SEO & Local Search marketing company Michael’s passions were basketball & computers – granted a very weird combination. Born and raised in Minnesota, Michael played basketball from grade school through college. At the same time, Michael’s intellectual thirst led him to technology where he completed a computer science degree at University of St. Thomas. After college Michael worked for a small online company as a computer programmer and as an SEO analyst. This is where Michael got his first taste of online marketing experience. He also continued his passion for basketball through a career as a college basketball referee in his free time.
It was during this period that Michael started his own internet marketing company. After the NBA experience he realized that refereeing was not the career he wanted to follow, so he put his drive and focus into his own company – 51 Blocks. In 2010, he began to notice the shift to local search and the importance Geo-targeted results were going to play in search behavior in the coming years.
Michael has built a number of tools with his computer programming background; these tools help to identify issues with local rankings. He provides these tools free of charge on his site.
Mike says he has been in local search since birth, with the only differences that back then he didn’t have his current beard, and it was not called local search. He worked at the family businesses since he was 8, and at 28 he started a computer sales division, before they closed the retail shop in 2001. At that time the business had over 50 employees and 3 locations. However, Mike and his brother kept the web design and hosting division open as they built their own content management system and proceeded to build websites for local companies. That is when it became clear to him that if these businesses wanted to be found online, they had to be indexed and ranked on Google and Yahoo. At that time, Mike’s own business had to advertise on 8-9 yellow pages directories in order to cover their target area. In 2004, when Google Local was first introduced, Mike literally threw the books away and focused on online advertising. In 2006, when Google Local became part of Google Maps, and its importance increased even further, Mike started looking for authoritative specialists (such as Greg Sterling, Matt McGee, Bill Slawski and David Mihm) to discuss the related issues with, and that is when he started his notorious blog on local search. What pushed him was the fact that no one seemed to be covering the questions he had. Mike’s hobby turned into a new career, and now he is widely known as “Professor Maps”.
Mike got involved in online marketing a long time ago, when he was learning how to build a website for his mother’s business. At that time he was using Prodigy dial-up Internet connection. He decided to jump into local search after he attended an SES conference where local SEO was broadly discussed. He was so interested at the time that he covered the conference on his blog and the article received a lot of attention.
Mike enjoys fishing, playing golf, and watching football in his spare time.
Dev got into the “Make Money Online” niche around 2006. Back then he was promoting products from Commission Junction. However, he soon realized that ranking high for mainstream products was hard, so he switched to other networks such as ClickBank and Neverblue. Dev’s online marketing experience hasn’t always been bright and he has had a lot of “expensive lessons” over the course of his career; for example he once lost $1,500 in 10 days on PPC. However, he is positive that these were invaluable in helping him to become a better marketer. In 2008, he jumped into local search. He was fascinated by the ease with which one could rank above the organic search results, as well as the great opportunity that existed for businesses targeting local prospects.
Dev is fluent in English, French, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. In his leisure time he likes playing folksy songs on his acoustic guitar, or watching action-crime movies.
Other local SEO specialists I reached out to:
Other local SEO specialists, I didn’t reach out to, without whom this article would be incomplete:
Special thanks to Ken Fagan for serving as the editor of the article.