Zero fluff. Tons of actionable content. –In House Marketer on LocalUOmaha

It’s been a wild and wondrous journey for those of us at The Reader and PioneerMedia as we’ve paired the content and digital expertise of a local alternative newsmonthly with the overwhelming market need for digital services.

From the very earliest days of local search and Google’s dominance, there’s just a handful of individuals who have consistently led the way in freely sharing what they’re learning. Their knowledge and selflessness has not only played a significant role in keeping the search market honest and as transparent as it can be, but their thought leadership has also helped millions of businesses adopt to the digital age.

Many of those stars from the nucleus of the faculty for LocalU — specifically designed to bring digital expertise to everyone, especially small businesses. They include:

Mike Blumenthal — Founder of and the institutional memory for Google’s efforts locally. One of Google’s most prominent critics, see Google Guide Dies of Caffeine Poisoning, Mike leads the charge in educating everyone and holding Google accountable, particularly of late around review spam. “Mike to me has always been one of the most respected people in the SEO space, and a leader and innovative thinker in the local SEO niche. He resembles class, professionalism and wisdom.” Barry Schwartz, founder of Search Engine Roundtable and News Editor at Search Engine Land

Mary Bowling — From the western range of Colorado, Mary has been involved in all aspects of SEO since 2003 and is a regular at the leading conferences around search and digital marketing — from the early Search Engine Strategies meetings to SMX Advanced and of course, PubCon, MozCon and more. A serial entrepreneur, Mary’s been the voice for small businesses trying to navigate how the internet impacts business models that support millions of livelihoods and often form the backbone of local communities. With her business partner Carrie Hill, the two lead Ignitor Digital and keep the LocalU flame burning.

Joel Headley — From studying plant genetics to a short stint as a substitute 7th grade math teacher, Joel landed at Google in 2005 and rose to become Manager of Consumer & Partner Operations for Google’s Geo products (Maps, Earth, later to include Google My Business) and their integration with search. On the leading edge of Google’s community building efforts with users, Joel went to the other side of Google in January 2017 to help lead PatientPop, a leading platform provider to medical practices.

Marissa Nordahl — From an early start in retail and solar energy activism, Marissa started at Google in 2013, working on the frontlines of small businesses trying to contact Google. She became a team lead assisting agencies with a large number of locations to her current role as the Content Strategist and Social Media Manager for Google My Business, leading the most public conversations about GMB’s constant and increasingly rapid evolution.

Joining the faculty for Omaha was a local treasure of digital expertise — Lee Nakamoto of Nerdbot. From a career as a professional football player (soccer to most Americans), Lee started in logistics at Oriental Trading after landing in Omaha and moved to lead e-commerce and international sales for AccuQuilt. Understanding the best practices and uses for social media has traditionally been a challenge for most search-based, results-driven experts, but Lee’s techniques and creativity clarity are cracking that code. He’ll be the first to admit, though, that it took his kids posting videos of their new toys that really taught him there’s always more to learn. He now spends much of his time managing their careers as YouTube stars under the KidToyTesters brand.

Finally, where do you put the presenter with the most pluck? At the end, of course, where Infogroup’s Lindsey Cluck drove the day home with important lessons about online advertising, especially Google’s Adwords, but also online display and social media. Part creative storyteller, part data scientist, with a good mix of high energy, Cluck is part of the digital marketing team at Infogroup.

A good crowd gathered for LocalU at DoSpace, thanks to the combined efforts of local underwriter Infogroup and the assistance of partners including the Omaha Local Independent Business Alliance, Better Business Bureau and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. A particularly wide range of businesses attended — from one of the leading local marketing agencies to MrCarShipper, one of our largest local banks and dry cleaners, to garage storage and a home-based boutique and recording studio. Along with PioneerMedia, Matt Stewart and Paul Eide from Omaha-based Little Guy Design donated their time to help answer questions and lead the site reviews.

Mike kicked it off with Google’s dominance of what’s called the “presentation layer” of the web, i.e. growing to search dominance by its ability and focus on organizing the world’s information.  In a rapid fire timeline of GMB developments, he then introduced Google’s move into the transaction layer, directly helping to facilitate transactions, think airline tickets for instance, instead of sending consumers to websites. This is a fundamental shift that should be a key part of any businesses’ digital strategy.

Marissa followed by further unpacking all the changes in GMB, sharing the story of a family business, a sandwich shop in Oakland (aka Dad), and its journey on GMB, including the sandwich photo contest. She also offered (gasp!) two other ways to reach the Google My Business team — Facebook and Twitter!

If GMB is taking over Google local search, the foundation for information on the web is still the website. In an on-point series of slides, Mary walked through the most important do’s and don’ts for a website, a critical checklist for the very foundation of any business’s online plan. That’s not a website out there that wouldn’t have some of these recommendations to implement.

At the first break the crowd opened up with questions and that wouldn’t stop for the rest of the day. It was a very collegial atmosphere with businesses sharing and learning from not only the experts, but each other.

Joel led after the break as Mr. Metrics, taking the traditional customer purchase journey/funnel and matching it with free tools available to track your customer’s digital journey to buying from your business. There’s more information available from these tools than most business’s will ever even look at, so he broke down the key reports to follow. His tips on 2nd dimensions in Google Analytics, combining behavior and acquisition, were key insights. He also introduced the most forgotten, but one of the most important tools for any website — Google Search Console.

Mike then led on the navigating online reviews, perhaps the most challenging space for traditional mom-and-pop businesses not in the restaurant industry. The ultimate customer experience is an online review or testimonial, but it’s one of the most difficult to secure and Mike’s lessons broke down key steps to take.

Mary finished the morning tying ranking and reputations together with community engagement and barnacle SEO tactics that help take a local brand to the next level.

Following lunch, Joel teed up the fundamental importance of email marketing, particularly its high ROI done well, setting up Lee’s introduction to social media as the tool to build your email list. If there was ever a lesson in staying grounded and being obvious, keeping your message clear and simple, this was it. With its never ending stream of content and engagement, social media is overwhelming for its users, not to mention the business that want to find and grow their audience there. Lee’s presentation was an abbreviated master class in how to get social media to work for your business.

Breaking at 2:15, the questions and one-on-one sessions went on until almost 4 p.m., when our faculty was whisked away for a tour of Infogroup, possibly the leading data aggregator for the local SEO success, according to industry surveys.

Talks have already started about a LocalU Omaha in 2020 . . .