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Similarities Between SEO & Brick & Mortar Retail

Episode Overview: Although online SEO visibility and brick and mortar retail stores obtain customers in various different ways, they share one key concept – Location. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ CEO Matt Colebourne about some of the surprising similarities in obtaining visibility between SEO and brick and mortar retail.


  • Much like how brick and mortar retail spaces strategically open stores based on highly-trafficked locations, SEO works similarly for how digital stores appear online and where visitors digitally encounter them.
  • Locating high end traffic online is determined by the specific keywords people use to search. To meet that traffic you need to ensure your content is placing you in that high-traffic area.
  • A great site structure and optimizing contextually correct keywords are critical to ensuring you’re reaching the right audience and placing your site in the right space (or location) to receive that traffic.


Ben:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to talk about the similarities between brick and mortar retail and SEO.

Ben:                 Joining us is Matt Colebourne, who is the CEO at Searchmetrics, which is an enterprise-grade SEO and content marketing platform that helps marketers make better and more data driven decisions. And today Matt and I are going to discuss why location matters so much for your digital storefront. Okay. Here’s my conversation with Matt Colebourne, the man in charge, the CEO at Searchmetrics. Matt, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Matt:               Thanks very much. It’s been great to be back.

Ben:                Matt, it’s great to reconnect and hear from you again. I want to talk to you a little bit about an article that you posted on LinkedIn the other day, about some of the similarities between SEO and brick and mortar businesses. Two types of businesses I think would be pretty drastically different.

Ben:                Before we start talking about your theory that there are some obvious similarities between what makes brick and mortar retail and SEO businesses thrive, talk to me a little bit about why you came up with this analogy?

Matt:              Quite simply it was just to make it clear and easily digestible for people who, once clearly, very familiar with official ecommerce. We’re struggling a little bit to understand, well, what is this SEO and content marketing thing? Explain to me what does that do for my business? Why should I care? Don’t I just get traffic and users coming to my site anyway, and when I want more I buy advertisements?

Matt:              Really, a way for me to explain to that audience, okay, here’s what you need to think about in just the same way as you need to think about vocation for brick and mortar store.

Ben:               So the idea here is that you created a way to communicate with the other CEOs, the chief operating officers, even the marketers who don’t really understand or think about the priority of SEO, a way to communicate with them, in a fashion, that’s a medium that everybody seems to understand. Brick and mortar retail, we all kind of understand the principles that make brick and mortar businesses successful because they’ve been around so long. So talk to me about what you see as some of the similarities between brick and mortar retail and SEO.

Matt:              Yeah, sure. For me, following on from what I just said, if you start from the premise that people say, “Well, hold on, I have my website, traffic arises at that website from search engines and other sources. That’s something I just get anyway. Isn’t it?” And my response to that is to say, “Well, hold on a second, let’s look at your flagship store or your major store in a large city. For example, what’s the first thing you thought about when you decided where to put it?”

Ben:                My guess is location, location, and location.

Matt:              Exactly. And funny enough, I was involved some years ago using artificial neural networks to build a model to predict what location would give the best revenue per square foot.

Matt:              So it’s something that the brick and mortar retail space has thought about for a long time. But it’s a great way, again, what we’re essentially saying is your flagship store and everything that’s in it and the way that it looks, it still matters where you put it. So my analogy to that is, this is exactly the same for your digital store. It’s exactly the same. If you put your digital store where people are looking to bargain, then you will get more traffic, you’ll get more engagement. So just as if you’re a tailor, you’d put your store on German Street in London, for example, because that’s where people will go to buy bespoke tailoring. If what you’re doing is trying to sell exact same product or service online, you need to get the words right, so that essentially your digital location matches to where people are looking to buy goods and services that you sell.

Ben:              I think there’s some real marketing wisdom beyond just SEO there. Thinking about the match between your business and the location. And you mentioned, if you’re a tailor, you want to be in a district where people are buying and looking to repair their clothes. If you are a car dealership, you probably want to be relatively close to other car dealerships, because most people are doing comparison shopping. If you are a commerce business, you’re a restaurant, you probably want to be at a place that has high foot traffic during the times when you’re serving food, right? Different locations are better suited for different types of businesses.

Ben:              So help me play that out in the digital sphere. If I have a high end luxury product, how do I avoid being in the low rent digital mall?

Matt:           And that’s exactly the point. I’m making sure that you’ve understood where it is that high end traffic is. And in this case, the location of the high end traffic is determined by the very specific keywords that those people will use. And that’s a large part of the trick here. What you’ve got to do is to make sure that your content is locating you in that area.

Matt:            So for example, you’ve got to make sure that if the current way of explaining is high-performance ski wear, and instead you’re saying ski wear premium, you’re in the wrong location. You’re not going to get the traffic that you should because you’re not digitally located in the right space where people are looking.

Ben:             Now, this metaphor works for the advertising part of digital marketing as well. Talk to me about what businesses that can’t afford or can’t find a great location do? And how is that similar to what happens in the digital sphere?

Matt:            So typically you usually can be close to the best location. So I don’t want to stretch the analogy too far, because then we wander off into a somewhat fantasy there, but let’s think about your worth. If the prime location you tend to go to is private retailers who can afford that location, they will reap the benefits. So what happens to the other retailers? So what they’ll do is they will be further down the street. So stretching the analogy a little bit but hopefully not too far, what we’re saying is ideally you want to be first or second on the street, but if you can’t be, at least you want to be as high as possible. You want to be in the middle of the street. So yeah, sure, people are going to walk into your competitors stores one or two before they get to you. But hopefully by that point they haven’t actually purchased and you’ve still got a chance you’re improving your performance.

Matt:            And fundamentally, if you’re right at the end of the street, then you’re missing out. But let’s put this in the real digital world, the beauty is, by being smart, you can actually do better than the supposed leaders. So in the real world, it’s kind of hard. You can’t afford the price of prime real estate, then your store won’t be located in [inaudible] location. But in the digital world, if you’re smarter, if you are prepared to put the effort in, if you use the right tools and services and support, actually you can steal a bit of the market. You can jump further up that street and actually be near the top.

Ben:              I think that the metaphor, or the way that I would stretch it, is a little bit like, if you can’t get on the main street, if you’re close, you can put up a big sign where people can see you on main street. And I think the comp there is you do a little partnership, right? You start to work with some of the brands that are getting the traffic that you want, and you try to build credibility through partnerships and some integrations into places that you know have great traffic.

Ben:              Now, if your location, if you’re already saddled with the location, that’s off the beaten path, “Hey, we’re running a restaurant, we’ve got this great spot, but it’s on an island.” Well, you need to start doing some advertising to get people to come to your destination. And to me, that’s the comp for your PPC campaigns is, if you can’t drive your organic traffic, if you don’t have the right location, and you’re not even close, then you’re reliant on paying to have people come to your storefront. Am I stretching it too far?

Matt:             No, I think that’s a perfectly valid point. I’ve always advocated, and we as a company, absolutely advocate the right marketing mix. And I think you said something quite interesting and really quite important, which is when you look at those keywords, let’s say, the reality is it may well be, by doing what you were talking about, what you get earlier in the funnel. It’s a stretch. To go back to our analogy, you might not get the people who are walking down the street today saying, “I need to buy a suit.” You might get the people walking down the street today saying, “I wonder if I should buy a new stitch,” or starting to think about it. So it can be possible for you to get that early stage research comparison stages of the purchase journey.

Ben:               Yeah, you’re building your awareness.

Matt:             It’s building your awareness, exactly. Slightly mixing our metaphors, but let’s go back to the reality of where this is all about awareness and consideration. We all know if you’ve got good awareness and consideration. That will drive conversion so that your advertising, your click and marketing mix then becomes much more effective because if you’ve got good awareness, consideration, you tend to get higher click rates. So your cost acquisition of sorts.

Ben:              So the idea behind this metaphor that your SEO is like your digital storefront and you’d want as much foot traffic as you can, so you need to pay attention to where your location is, what your keywords are, or you’re going to have to put up signage, do some digital advertising to try to drive traffic.

Ben:              And the whole idea behind that metaphor is it’s a way for you to communicate with other executives with marketers who don’t understand the value prop behind SEO. How big of a problem do you find this is for the SEO communities or even the CMOs that are listening to this podcast? Why do you need a metaphor to describe the value of SEO and what don’t people understand about it?

Matt:           Well, I think the concept is simple. If you say to somebody, what you want to do is have yourself rank higher in a search when somebody is looking for the goods and services that you offer, that’s fairly easy to explain.

Ben:              It seems pretty logical.

Matt:            That’s not hard. It’s when you go into the details. It’s when you sort of when you then discuss and start saying, “Well, what you need to do is digital merchandising.” So what’s digital merchandising? Digital merchandising is making sure that you’re displaying the right things in your store front to encourage people to come and engage with you and potentially purchase. So you start to have to explain to people, “Well, yes, I know you’re number one in this particular market, but actually the words that you’re using in your digital store are not the words that the customers are using. And that means essentially you’re in the wrong place.” And getting yourself in the right place has a huge impact on your revenue. It has a huge impact on the number of people becoming engaged with you.

Matt:            Whereas it’s quite easy to say to somebody, “Okay, I just imagine money, you’ll get this many clicks. This many visits to your site.” What we’re trying to explain to people is, not only do you need to get people to come to your site without having to pay for it, because if a majority of your traffic is not paid for, and unless you’ve got very deep pockets, you probably can’t support the traffic that you’d need. But you need to make sure that when they do get there, they go to the right place. Because if you take them to the wrong place, if what you’ve done is create structure in your site, or the words that you used in your site don’t mean that when they click on that in search engine, that they arrive at the right place to buy that product or service. Again, your conversion rate style is going to be much lower.

Matt:             So once you start explaining this, you can almost watch people’s eyes glaze over, which is when I sort of back off and say, “Look, digital location is making sure that you’re in the right place digitally to catch the passing traffic. And then contact marketing is essentially making sure that your shop window has got the right products and services in it to attract that passing trade, to come in and engage with you.”

Ben:             So it seems like that’s really the purpose of your job here. You’re running a SEO and content marketing platform and are talking to executives and marketing leadership about why SEO is so important. And it seems like this is a metaphor that helps you sort of get the point across and have them understand why it should be prioritized. You’re using a parallel universe that they’re all familiar with.

Matt:          Yeah. It’s literally just explaining the world that we’re all very familiar with to people who are less familiar with it, that are deeply immersed in the realities of brick and mortar costs. And once people start to think of it in that sense, obviously you speak to somebody senior within the retail space, location, location, location, it’s funny, you say it straight away. I suspect probably half the population would say that location, location, location. So it’s just a very quick way to get people to think about what we’re doing to make it simple to understand. Basically saying, “Look, if you’re in the right place, you get more traffic.” More traffic equals more sales, more engagement.

Ben:           Okay, Matt, I appreciate you coming on the show and I appreciate you walking not only the SEOs that are listening to this podcast, giving them ways to talk to their leadership about the purpose of SEOs, but also for the chief marketing officers that are listening to this, how can they talk to their executive teams and some of the other organizations that they work with about the purpose of SEO and where it fits into the marketing mix and at the end of the day, location, location, location. That’s what really matters.

Matt:          Absolutely. Thank you very much, Ben.

Ben:            All right. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Matt Colebourne, the CEO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Matt, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His Twitter handle is Searchmetrics, S-E-A-R-C-H-M-E-T-R-I-C-S. Or you can visit his company’s website, which is

Ben:           Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, just head over to, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topics suggestions, your SEO questions, you can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:            Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter. And my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit that subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.

Matthew Colebourne

Matthew Colebourne

Matt Colebourne is the CEO of Searchmetrics. Matt has an extensive track record of building technology businesses and has over 20 years’ experience in various senior leadership roles in the digital marketing arena. He is an avid cyclist, motorbike rider and volleyball player.

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