By David Mihm

How do you stack up?

Perhaps it goes without saying, but digital marketing has become incredibly complicated and increasingly fragmented. Compare today’s environment with that of 20 years ago, when a storefront, some business cards and a Yellow Pages ad were all a local business needed to get the word out to customers. Even 10 years ago, Facebook was just getting off the ground, and a few minutes spent in the local business centers of Google, Yahoo and Yelp was enough to bring in boatloads of customers.

In today’s rapidly-evolving world, Facebook and Google rightly earn the lion’s share of attention, with Apple and Amazon waiting in the wings. At the same time, companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp and Thumbtack are trying to claw their way into the discussion.

But even within those platforms, the number of options to market your local business is overwhelming, not to mention the contexts in which, and devices on which, consumers are utilizing those platforms.

As a local business owner, you’re bombarded with near-daily calls from digital marketing vendors, but only about 6% of you actually want to outsource your marketing.

For the remaining 94 percent of you, I know from my seven years on the Local University faculty, some of your most pressing questions are around what platforms and techniques to prioritize with your marketing, and how those platforms and techniques fit together.

These are important questions, even if you’re hiring a vendor or trying to coordinate multiple vendors.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Diagrams like this famous super graphic from ChiefMarTec illustrate the variety of choices and complexity and fragmentation of digital marketing, but don’t offer a prescriptive to-do-list.

In my research, Adroll’s visualization of its own marketing stack best illustrates the integration of multiple techniques, but it’s most relevant for other software companies, as opposed to local businesses.

The best visual response questions of prioritization and integration to date have been Mike Blumenthal’s Web Equity diagram, which he developed in concert with our mutual Local University series in 2011. It’s still very relevant today.

Mike’s diagram documents the progression from owned to earned to leased to paid quite well, but it misses some of the order-of-operations required to be successful at building this kind of equity. It was after a series of conversations with Mike during the summer and fall of 2016 that I decided to develop this sequential guide. This presentation is significantly inspired by perhaps the most famous geographic data visualization of all-time: the London Underground map.

Use this graphic to inform your decisions

local_marketing_stack score

Overall interpretation Read the graphic from left-to-right and bottom-to-top. Points lower and to the left are more fundamental to the overall success of your business than points higher and to the right in the sequence.

The stops
I’ve identified close to 60 of the most popular digital products, services and tactics in the market today; each is called out by a circle. Some stops are key integration points that contribute to the success of multiple marketing avenues.

For example, Reviews & Testimonials is particularly important for organic marketing (especially SEO and customer conversion), but also represents an important endpoint/outcome of customer service.

Similarly, Social Media activity clearly lies on the presence line, but will not be seen by many customers (especially on Facebook) without some form of paid marketing to accompany it.

The lines
I’ve categorized each of the stops into one (or two; see integrations above) of five major buckets: Operations & Customer Service, Presence, Organic Marketing, Paid Marketing and Attribution.

Most stops lie on the same straight line, but you’ll note there are some spurs. This is because not every stop on these lines is essential to every local business. For example, some local business websites may not need Ecommerce capabilities (or the SSL certificates required to implement them). Community can be an incredibly powerful driver of business for private schools and personal care providers, but probably doesn’t make as much sense for plumbers or locksmiths.

The zones
I’ve also marked six major zones from left to right. For the most part, you should complete each stop that lies to the left of a given zone boundary (for example, Website CMS and Web Analytics are just inside of Zone 1) before moving onto stops in zones that are further out (such as Content and Website UX).


The whole reason I started Tidings is to help small businesses like yours make the most of the time, effort and money you spend on digital media. From that standpoint, I hope you find the Local Marketing Stack a useful decision-making framework to help evaluate your options in 2017.

What’s next?

Throughout the course of the next year, I’ll be building out this framework with more detail, including:

  • Definitions and criteria by which to weigh decisions at each stop
  • Specific vendor recommendations for each stop and integration point
  • An interactive version to help you decide what options are best for your specific business
  • Vendors: I’ll also have some related analysis for you in the coming weeks – so stay tuned!

In the meantime, you might enjoy my 2017 predictions for the digital marketing industry, Parts I. And II.

Please feel free to comment below, or ask any questions  on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter!

About the Author

David Mihm is first and foremost an advocate for sustainable digital marketing techniques for small businesses.  In 2012, he sold his former company to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in the local search engines.  He’s a co-founder of the Local University conference series.

David now runs Tidings and his weekly newsletter, Minutive.  In his spare time, he volunteers with and serves on the Board of MercyCorps Northwest, enjoys travel (to world-class links courses in particular), Oregon-made craft coffee and craft beer, and spectator sports of almost all kinds—go Blazers and Timbers!