Interview of Pest Control Guy by SEOinHouse

Jessica Bowman of sent this series of questions to Thomas Ballantyne of Bulwark Exterminating prior to an attempted interview online. The interwebs did not align that day, the recording failed. Not able to find time to do it again Thomas asked Jessica’s permission to take her questions and answer them by blog. Here is the virtual interview conducted by Jessica Bowman and the Pest Control Guy.

Imagine…. Its 8am, Monday morning and you arrive at work to find that SEO traffic has plummeted.  What are the first places you would look to begin diagnosing the problem?

I’d start at my local listings. My business is local search driven. I’d check to see if they were up and running. Then I’d look at my website. Look for errors. Look for bad script. Look at the .htacces, robot permissions, website logs. If that doesn’t solve it, then I’d retrace recent updates to our website. Any glaring mistakes would be fixed immediately. If nothing is glaring then I’d check twitter for SEO chatter on updates.

There are a number of things that can cause your website traffic to drop, or seem to drop. Things like the simple error of removing analytics code, to bigger errors like adding a “NOINDEX” to all of a sites pages. Trace your steps, and the activity of anyone that has access to your site. Look at your own activity and logs before screaming and ranting at the “SEO Demons”.

If you were to guide an enterprise-level SEO on their budget, what would you suggest be in it?

Money. =) … Everything would really depend on the budget and the company. Are they a location based service? Are they a brand that wants an online shopping cart? Do they want more “branding”? You always have to start with an understanding of where they are now and where they want to be. I’d then look at where they are strongest. What service or product are they best at, or best known for? I’d look at what customers most talk about online, both the good and the bad. Then I’d follow with what service or product gives them the best margins. Lastly I’d compare that data to what is easiest to achieve success for online. For example, Nike is best known for shoes. Hypothetically, their Elin Woods Golf Clubs are getting rave reviews. Where do they rank for shoes? Where do they rank for Golf Clubs? Which needle can we get to move the most with the least effort? How much does the effort cost and what is the potential gain?

To put that in a budget bullet point:

  • Online Listening
  • Website Performance Tracking
  • Site Maintenance/Upgrades
  • Content Creation
  • Content Promotion
  • Paid Search

The amount for each of these will vary based on the sophistication of the site and company. Enterprise companies may also have silos between SEO and Paid Search. Break that down. That data needs to be shared. Paid search is an SEO data mine for the digging. The SEO team and website maintenance may also exist in different departments. Restructure that. If the company is not running all of these areas in sync then add that reformation to my budget.

What SEO metrics do you report on to upper management that other in-house SEOs should use as well?

My CEO and I have a close relationship. It really helps to have a CEO understand the value of SEO. That understanding is actually the burden of the SEO, more so than the CEO. Learn to speak in numbers and dollars then your CEO will understand your SEO.

I report on internet marketing costs and how the cost is trending.

I report on the cost per acquisition.

I report on the trending cost per acquisition.

I report on if internet sales are above or below our target cost per acquisition.

I report on total sales marked as “internet” this month compared to like month of the past year.

What metrics do you follow within the SEO team that every enterprise-level in-house SEO should monitor?

Total cost for the team. Total revenues generated by the team. Is it profitable?

Here is the real meat and potatoes, no matter what your boss says is your budget, you won’t have a job if your budget does not produce profits. Granted you have to please the boss. Some bosses aren’t willing to share, or don’t really know. Figure it out. If your average online sale is $10 and it takes $10 to produce that sale you are loosing. If it takes $1 to produce that sale but the margin is only 10% then you are likely loosing.

The other trends are nice to know (website traffic, time on site, pages indexed, bounce rates) but they are all secondary to the big question of “Are we profitable?” That is the real number to know. That is the only number that ultimately counts. “Are your efforts profitable?” You must know this number. You live or die by this number. If you choose to ignore this or if you run from this number then you are running from your job. Tie all of your efforts as closely as possible to profits.


What do you wish someone had told you when you started as an in-house SEO that would have propelled your SEO program to the next level faster?

Make friends and keep learning. Early on in one’s SEO career it is easy to find a single way to win. There are so many ways to win. But believing just because you are winning now that you’ve got it down is a mistake of arrogant ignorance. Humble down a bit and realize that there are others that are winning and in ways you have not yet discovered. Make friends. Keep learning. Keep winning.

What is some of the great advice you learned from other in-housers? How important is it to interact with other in-house SEOs?

I don’t know that I can name any one particular thing that I have learned, there have been so many along the way. Each specific to challenges from different SEO eras. But here goes…

Keep secrets. I personally try keep all the good stuff to myself and I don’t ever share my golden nuggets… STOP. I’m Kidding…like a pest control guy has golden nuggets…

But really, share golden advice in confidence. I can share what I have experienced at Bulwark Exterminating, but I won’t share my friends enlightenment on what Shopzilla, Ebay, or Home Depot experiences. So know who you can trust, and make yourself trustworthy. Because of this, it’s hard to pinpoint some of those golden nuggets that I’ve pick up. Actually they may not even be nuggets they may be gold flakes. But collect enough gold flakes in the friend stream and you can be richer than the guy looking for a gold bar in the public stream.

So yes, sharing with other in-house SEOs is priceless. Tthe ability to reach out and get a general consensus from your SEO peers is a great asset. The collective knowledge of who you know and who you share with is by far one of the best sources of info you will ever find. I rely more on those insiders than I do on any given SEO blog.

(…if any of my SEO friends read this, Thank You. Sincerly, I thank you for yet another great year)

What is one site you envy and would put in the SEO Hall of Fame? Why?

Facebook. Because they beat the SEO game the day they said “screw you” to the search engines. Any website that can learn to exist without search traffic has won the SEO game. In fact, that is my next game.

Perhaps that is a dodge on that question. There are a lot of great websites out there that win at SEO. I don’t know that I have a particular favorite. Usually the ones that I notice or watch are the ones that I see winning in new ways. I thoroughly enjoy picking through any website that is consistently beating the machines. I learn a lot by simply paying attention as I surf the web.

And I should give credit to Mat Siltala with He has opened my eyes to the possibilities of referral traffic and social media. Having shared with me the percentage of traffic his site gets from search versus social and referral. I am indeed awed on how well diversified his traffic is. It truly is my goal to be able to exist online without search traffic.


About Thos003
Pest Control Guy - Thomas Ballantyne

-Thomas Ballantyne
Director of Marketing for Bulwark Exterminating
Follow me on Twitter —> @Thos003

Thomas Ballantyne works with Bulwark Exterminating. He developed their first site and has moved Bulwark from ranking as a small Phoenix Pest Control company to competing nationally for pest control. He’s spoken at both SMX and Pubcon conferences, as well as other smaller SEO events. He’s also a fan of Avalaunch Media and has used them for some pesty infographics.


Update: Google Local Mixed Results Hit the Blender

Well there have been a bunch of busy bees in the Google local search hive. Local has been under the knife a few times. From reset data, to cool visual effects. These are today’s changes in Google’s local blended results.

Gray Google Map MarkerThe New Gray Google Map Marker

Less intrusive, less eye catching, more interactive.

Rolling over the this gray marker will change it blue for pay per click (PPC)  ads on the right, or red for organic listings on the left. Scrolling over markers in the google map section highlights the respective listing markers in the PPC and organic section. You will also get a nice snippet for the local organic listings. No snippets for PPC. It’s also interesting to note that the listings have moved the once red-pins-now-gray-pin to the right of the blended results. Google also removed the triangle pointer they once displayed for the top listing.

Example of Snippet and red corresponding markers for search term Phoenix Pest Control.

Blumenthal alludes to the fact that the move from grey to red might be happening because Google is losing revenues on the local results. So this could decrease traffic to the local listings. But at this point we don’t know how much this will effect traffic to the local listings.

The Local One Box Left-Foot-Shuffle

The One Box moved it’s map to the right, the area usually occupied by PPC ads. … Just a new look?

Searched Bulwark Houston


 Changes to Listing Preview

In the past a listing preview would show a screenshot of the website for both local search results and regular search listings. Now the local search results show a smaller screen shot accompanied by a map, images found in google places, quick glance of categories, business hours, review sites with review count, and a feedback link.


Bulwark Exterminating - Phoenix Pest Control Results
Full Disclosure - I am a pest control guy for Bulwark Exterminating

The feedback link takes you directly to the “Report a problem” screen of google maps.

If the red pin change was due to a decrease in revenues then it might be interesting to note that this preview is pushing Google’s property a little more. Further, the other review sites are now only visible in the extended view. In the past those sites were found under the place page listing.

Local Bug Report

In the image below the cursor was over the map and it was highlighting the first PPC ad for Bulwark Exterminating and not the correct ad for scorpion control. Just a minor scripting error.

Script Error - Mesa Pest Control Search

This happened again in a Houston search. The marker with no number indicates “not on the map”, the marker with the 1 in it on the map belongs to a different Houston pest control company.

Bulwark Exterminating | 10900 Brittmoore Park Drive Houston, TX 77041
Bulwark Exterminating | 10900 Brittmoore Park Drive

With all the recent updates Google has been moving the local map rankings around. And sadly Bulwark Exterminating dropped out of the Houston pest control local pack. Clearly something is wrong. Needless to say, we have found a few bugs here as well. Not simply because Bulwark wasn’t listed, but because Google was listing a cash parked page from Godaddy that’s for sale. Apparently on-site SEO has little to no relevancy in Google’s Local Listing algorithm.

Yesterday's screen shot for Houston Pest Control

Just a few minor bugs google may want to check into. Overall, Google has done a good job with their local search section. Overall, they still have a lot of problems to fix.

But Don’t mind me, Just a pest control guy… and that is the Search Pest Report.

Pest Control Guy - Thomas Ballantyne

-Thomas Ballantyne III
Director of Marketing for Bulwark Exterminating
Follow me on Twitter —> @Thos003