September 19, 2012

Five Local Search Pitfalls to Avoid

Companies large and small are aware of the importance of local search and many have taken advantage of the opportunities available in the local online space.  As more consumers become armed with smartphones, the number of local searches continues to skyrocket.  Depending on which firm or search engine you ask, desktop local search accounts for 25% to 35% of all searches.  On mobile that number is much higher; Google says 40% of all mobile searches have local intent while Bing pegs the percentage to be more than 50%.  Regardless of the exact figure today, local search will continue to grow as mobile consumers demand more locally relevant information to fuel their purchase decisions, 80% of which are made within a 15 mile radius of their homes.

With the highly fragmented nature of the online local space, harnessing the full, complete power of the space can be incredibly difficult, especially for those national retailers with hundreds or thousands of locations nationwide.  Following are a few major pitfalls to avoid when engaging in local online search.

Google Is Not Everything

While Google dominates in “regular” search, that domination does not translate into the local realm. Google does have the largest share of the market, around 45%.  While claiming and optimizing a Google+ Local page is an essential step in mastering your local online presence, it is not the only step.  It is just as important to have a robust profile on sites such as Bing, Yahoo, Superpages.com, Yellowpages.com and others along with providing location data to the major data aggregators and navigation services.  This not only assures a wider distribution of your data but each site, Google included, utilizes citations found on other digital properties in their local search ranking algorithm.  Missing or incomplete information on other local directories not only makes you less visible to consumers, but can harm the work a business has done on Google.

Stopping At The Basics

Many businesses, especially large, national brands, limit their local listings management to only include name and address information.  While information is essential, it is not enough to gain a high ranking in local search results.  Google, Bing and other local directories have many other data points businesses should include, such as business categories, branded messaging opportunities, photos, videos, links to websites and other social site links.  Including all of these elements in a local listing not only affects relevancy and ranking, but makes the listing more appealing to searchers trying to find a local business.

A Boring Listing Means Less Clicks

It has long been known that a top ranking in Google, in paid or organic search, translates directly into increased clicks, therefore increased site visits and conversions.  The same holds true for local listings, except direct consumer contact (via calls or visits) is the end result.  An eye-tracking and click-mapping study from Mediative last year showed that with local maps results in Google a number one ranking garnered considerably more attention and clicks than listings further down the page.  However, social signals have a considerable influence as well.  Listings with ratings indicators, reviews and/or text snippets of those reviews, even in spots below position three, received more attention than those listings above them lacking this content.  Similar results have been seen in local listings on mobile devices; reviews and social signals are the number one influencer of consumer attention, especially in results outside of the top three.  Asking customers to post reviews of your business will have a direct benefit to your listing’s ranking and actions consumers take with them.

Ignoring Reviews and Ratings

Word of mouth is nothing new and it has helped or hurt many local businesses.  Many things in local marketing have changed, but this one fact has remained consistent.  This year’s  Local Consumer Review Survey showed that 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 52% said that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business.  While businesses can’t control the reviews that consumers place on their local listings, it is vitally important to not only be aware of those reviews, but to respond to them quickly.  The only thing more damaging to a local business than a bad review is a bad review that is ignored.  For national brands, initiating a program of location-based review monitoring will not only give brands insight into how their locations stack up against each other and the competition, but provides a direct route to immediately respond to negative, or positive, consumer commentary.

Local online search is one of the few areas where small, local businesses have an advantage over large, national brands in that managing a local presence is much easier for five locations than 5,000.  However, with the proper knowledge and an experienced team in place, national brands can achieve outstanding results and draw the searching and mobile consumer into their locations.

August 23, 2012

Major Retailers Find Themselves Turned Into Showrooms

Last weekend, the main television in my house was on the fritz, so it was time to upgrade.  Like many modern consumers, I turned to my laptop to research alternatives, and made a short list of television models to consider.  I then pulled out my iPhone, did a search to locate the closest retailer and headed out to make my purchase.

After arriving at the store, I headed back to the TV department and, again using my smartphone, pulled up my list and checked out my choices.  In the not too distant past I would have been the only one checking their phone while looking at product choices, but today, I was one of six different people  in this area of the store doing so.

Then it hit me: we were all showrooming.

Showrooming is the new term to describe customers, like me, who go to brick and mortar stores as a part of their purchase process, check out products in person and then use mobile devices to find the best prices, many times leaving the store to complete their purchases.

I found myself paying close attention to what these other consumers were doing.  Walking around, looking over shoulders (and getting some odd looks in response), I found that the majority of my fellow “showroomers” were doing some comparison shopping, although two of them were also checking reviews.  More importantly, all of these would-be-purchasers were ignoring or waving off the staff who attempted to assist in closing the sale.  For the most part, these young workers seemed at a loss for how to address these mobile-armed shoppers and drifted off to help other customers.

As I watched, two of the customers made purchases on their phones and left; apparently they found a better bargain than was to be had in the store.

New research from GroupM Next shows that showrooming is increasingly becoming a phenomenon, with almost 44% of consumers using mobile to shop in-store.  Not only are consumers using mobile devices to check products, they are comparing prices and those comparisons are pulling them out of the store.  According to the research, even a price saving of just 2.5% will pull 45% of customers out of the store, a 5% savings will pull out 60% of customers and a 20% discount will draw 87% of customers out of the doors.

After the first two customers in my “group” left the store, an enterprising young sales associate, fully armed with an iPad, approached my fellow showroomers in a different fashion.  He engaged them with information on the models they were standing near, pulled up reviews and even (gasp!) pulled up comparison price sites along the store site.  In each case this associate came down on the shelf price of the TV to within a few points of the lowest online price or offered some other value-add that the customer could not get from the online competitor.

I was amazed at this salesman’s initiative, as were the other “showroomers” who each stayed around long enough for this associate to speak with them.  In each case, the customer made their purchase in-store instead of online.

This employee represented exactly how retailers need to approach the local showrooming trend.  While shopping is still a predominantly local experience, it is no longer limited to local merchants.  Local retailers have to be cognizant not only of what  their fellow local merchants, but they must also raise their awareness level of online competition.  For retailers to succeed in a showrooming world, they must have a strategy and offer in place to combat the potential of customers leaving the store strictly on the basis of price.

As for me…well, when the associate got around to speaking to me, I had already made my purchase.  The store’s online site was running an “online only” special on the model that I wanted.  While in the aisle, I completed the purchase, scheduled  in-store pickup and was able to walk out with my new television within 15 minutes.

 

I wonder how that counts – as an in-store or online purchase?

Categories: Uncategorized
August 9, 2012

Foursquare Evolves Beyond the Check-In

When you are married with three kids a date night becomes a luxury for which you seldom have time. I, therefore, always take advantage of opportunities when they are presented, like last weekend.  Given its rave reviews, we decided to see “The Dark Knight Rises.” When we got to the theater, I pulled out my iPhone and checked-in using Foursquare, as I always do. Fast forward – the movie was excellent and I highly recommend it. As we exited the theatre, I pulled out my phone again to check out nearby places to eat, once again turning to Foursquare.  This time, however, as I opened the explore tab, I was greeted by something new.

A local restaurant, just two blocks away, apparently discovered that I was in the area and let me know that two of my friends had eaten there recently and liked it. In addition, they notified me of a current special they were running.  This combination of social recommendations and an offer were enough to get us in the door, allowing us to have an excellent meal after our excellent movie.

Welcome to the world of Foursquare and its local updates and promoted updates.

Since its launch three years ago, Foursquare now has more than 20 million active monthly users, 1 million verified merchants and over 2 billion check-ins.  Foursquare has amassed a bank of consumer data that has few rivals. For years merchants have had access to that wealth of information including granular data such as male/female demographic breakdown, frequent customers, time since check-in, etc., but have had no viable avenue for utilizing it with the exception of large, blanket promotions.

Foursquare is changing that and giving merchants two new extremely powerful tools.  On July 18, Foursquare announced Local Updates which allowed business to contact their customers directly, offering deals and incentives to those who have expressed interest in the business through check-ins or other comments.  A week later, the company announced Promoted Updates, which allows businesses to push out recommendations to potential customers that are essentially advertisements to a mobile consumer base.

Foursquare is positioning this as a Google search-type tool.  When conducting a “regular” search a person inputs a query, showing their intent, which is replied to with relevant search results.  In similar fashion, a Foursquare user is expressing intent by opening the app and going to the “Explore” tab to find information relevant to what is around them.  This is a large step forward in contextual marketing that uses social data to customize communications to consumers.

Both of these update tools show that Foursquare is serious about monetizing its platform and is very well positioned to do so.  Brands and consumers can expect to see further moves from the app-centered around consumer targeting.

The age of hyper-local consumer targeting is here and Foursquare is among the leaders of the pack in providing customized communications options for businesses.

Here are a few things brands, especially national retailers with large local footprints, should consider:

  • Customizing communications to consumers on this level will drive foot traffic to local stores
  • Offering specials and discounts through Foursquare limits losses that can be experienced through “normal” couponing/discounting sites
  • Engaging on the Foursquare platform opens door to a wealth of social data surrounding brands and their locations

Foursquare has shown that it is a viable platform for reaching consumers and engaging them on a local level.  National brands need to enter into that field through localized, contextual offers and communications or risk losing consumers to the businesses that do.

Categories: Mobile social media
July 25, 2012

Has Online Digital Streaming Hit Its Stride?

My family and I recently embarked on the annual summer vacation.  This year, the kids chose Charleston, SC, which meant – ROAD TRIP! In my youth, long road trips meant many periods of static on the radio as we traveled between accessible radio signals. All options on the dial were “terrestrial” based, meaning traditional AM or FM radio stations.  During this trip, we had in-dashboard options such as Pandora and Sirius XM and other streaming services as well as iPods, iPads and iPhones that could be plugged into the radio.  Because of our plethora of options, I spent several hours of our journey exploring and switching between the myriad of stations available for our listening pleasure.  Or, as my wife put it, I spent the whole time simply playing with the radio.

This experience got me thinking about radio, both traditional “terrestrial” radio and the growing ecosystem of options currently available to consumers.  Traditional radio is truly the oldest medium for reaching a mass audience. According to Arbitron, it currently reaches more than  93 percent of the US population and accounts for more than 80 percent of all music listening.  However, Arbitron also reveals that while traditional radio seems to have peaked, it has not seen true growth in listenership in several years.

On the other hand, online digital streaming is undergoing tremendous growth and the ecosystem is expanding at a rapid pace.  Arbitron reports more than 18 percent year-over-year growth in consumers who listen to music (including streaming radio) exclusively online.  Consumers spend the vast majority of their waking hours away from home; both terrestrial and online music and radio is with those consumers during the hours they are commuting, on the go or at work.

This growth is not only in online music or streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify or Slacker.  Most “terrestrial” stations currently stream their broadcasts directly, or belong to a network or “co-op” of local stations streaming through a central point, such as Clear Channel’s iHeart Radio.  These digital streams contain the same content as the “regular” broadcasts, but with varied advertising opportunities.

There is a true market shift beginning to take place in the “radio” space.  Brands need to not only be aware of this shift, but recognize the unique opportunities available for reaching consumers.  Brands need to consider and address such questions as:

  • Who are the major players in the new digital audio universe and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
  • Is advertising on streaming music services such as Pandora and Spotify more valuable than direct advertising with choice local streaming services?
  • Should advertising dollars be shifted from “terrestrial” radio to streaming radio and music?
  • Where is the industry headed in the next year, two years and five years?

Brands that can successfully answer these questions will be well positioned when the digital audio shift hits the point of critical mass, placing them in prime position for optimal consumer engagement.

Categories: Uncategorized
June 28, 2012

Are Brands Overwhelming Consumers with Choice and Communication?

Last weekend, I was given the duty of visiting our local Wal-Mart to purchase household necessities.  A list was provided, and out the door I went, believing this would not be a problem.  One of the first things on my list was “toothpaste,” so I visited that aisle, which is where my problems started.  There appeared to be hundreds of choices – from mint, gel, blue, green, whitening, extra-whitening, tartar control and on and on.

That said, my list simply read “toothpaste.”

Needless to say, I was dumbfounded not only by the amount of the choices, but by which one I was supposed to purchase.  After several minutes of consideration and indecisiveness I almost gave up, but finally grabbed one that looked right and went on my way.  Naturally, this process (sans toothpaste) was repeated several times over during my trip.

Later in the day, I came across several articles in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) discussing this same type of situation and the number of brands that are inundating consumers with a vast amount of choices. In many cases, this is considered “choice overload.” The HBR conducted a survey of 7,000 consumers and found that a large majority of them had abandoned the traditional “purchase funnel” altogether, embarking on new types of purchase paths.  One of the main reasons for this is a “cognitive overload” due, in large part, to marketer’s overwhelming efforts to engage with them.

Most consumers today are shying away from the over-abundance of choices and instead are looking for simplicity and ease of decision-making.  With the hectic life most consumers lead, the last thing they want to do is spend multiple minutes on each product choice (in my case, spending fifteen minutes in a toothpaste aisle to make a choice was ridiculous).

This same type of over-engagement is happening on a local level and in the social sphere.  According to the Harvard study, most marketers still believe that the best way to keep customers is by engaging them, interacting as much as possible in order to create relationships.  However, this is rarely the case, especially with social media.  The study found that contrary to popular belief, the majority of consumers (77%) do not want to have a “relationship” with a brand.  Relationships are reserved for family and friends, not businesses.  Of those who did say they had a brand relationship, the main reason was because of shared values (64%), infrequent engagement or interaction.  For example, consumers may share the value with Pedigree that all dogs deserve a loving home and identify with Pedigree for that reason, not because Pedigree sends multiple emails or has several lines of “touch points” with the consumer.  What consumers really want from brands, especially when engaging them on a social site, is to get coupons and discounts, not posts and messages.

The over-engagement by brands and the increasing level of choices and options may very well be doing more damage than help to a brand.  Does this mean brands should immediately cut the quantity of communications with consumers?  Not necessarily, but following are nuggets all brands should consider:

  • What percent of consumers are “relationship-oriented” and which are not?  Each group should be marketed to differently based on these parameters.
  • What shared value might consumers have?  Many brands (like Pedigree and Southwest) market heavily upon these shared values, helping make their consumers more loyal.
  • Is current social engagement beneficial?  Posting on social sites should be more than just talking.
    Both types of consumers should be engaged by posting shared values and giving monetary rewards to fans and friends.

In the end, it is not the brand with the most communication that will win with consumers, but the brand that communicates smartly and effectively by knowing who they are talking to and what that person wants to hear.

Categories: Uncategorized
June 13, 2012

Has Apple Put Google in the Crosshairs?

Sunday evening, while flipping through the channels searching for something decent to watch, I came across what must have been the 1 millionth screening of War Games.  As you’d imagine, I paused to watch this 1983 gem of bad moviemaking, centered around nuclear war.  With Apple’s developers conference starting the next day, the movie reminded me of a quote from Steve Job’s biography where he said, “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

On Monday at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company made many announcements about new MacBooks, operating systems and expanded Siri capabilities and their version of a mobile payment system called Passbook.  Scott Forstall, the SVP for iPhone software, also ran through some features of the upcoming iOS 6, many of which seem to be targeted directly at Google and perhaps signaling the first shots in Steve Job’s aforementioned “war.”

Most significant to search — and Google — was the announcement of the new Maps app, Apple’s mapping product that will be part of the iOS 6 update this fall.  Apple’s press release about the product detailed features of the Maps app, including turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic information and local search information for businesses, including Yelp ratings and reviews.  Most iPhone users currently default to Google Maps for local search information, but this new app could completely change that by greatly diminishing Google’s current dominance of mobile search.

Furthermore, according to Apple, the Maps app will be available on iPhones, iPads and iPods.  The prediction by eMarketer that iPad users will grow to 53.2 million this year, and that by 2015 more than one-third of internet users will have such a device, makes the Apple announcement even more significant.

Apple is even shutting Google out of the loop when it comes to providing local data, including business and crowd-sourcing information.  According to an Apple copyright page, sources for information include:

  • TomTom
  • Acxiom
  • LeadDog
  • Localeze
  • Wave
  • Yelp

While the buzz surrounding these changes is based on statements and demos, it appears that the new Apple Maps app offers competition for the products Google has in place.  Furthermore, Maps paired with a smarter Siri signal that Apple is moving forcefully into the search business.  Considering Apple’s strong track record with consumer adoption, this could very well be the beginning of significant changes in search and trouble for Google.

May 18, 2012

Playing in the Google Zoo – National Brands & Google Updates

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A panda, a penguin and an SEO expert walk into a conference…

OK, so that’s not really a joke but it certainly could be.  Within the past few months, Google has made several well-publicized updates to their search algorithm aimed at different aspects of the search results.  On April 24, Google launched Penguin, one of the few updates aimed specifically at local search.  Once more the buzz, worry and speculation began around the possible effects this update would have on SERPs.

For years now, in the local SEO space, many small agencies and “SEO advisors” have targeted small businesses with “guarantees” of top placement on Google in a short amount of time.  Any person involved in SEO knew such claims were achievable, but only by utilizing tactics Google has long-labeled as “black hat” or “illegal.”

Penguin is Google’s long-awaited move to address and cleanup sites utilizing unapproved tactics that have previously been ignored because they are at such a small, local level.  Google has stated that this update should only effect 3% of search traffic, but since that traffic is all local-specific it may appear much more far-reaching.

Initial results in the first several days of the implementation have shown results that are expected based on Google’s commentary.  For years, Google has stressed that for long-term success, websites should optimize based on consumer experience instead of optimizing for search engines.  Post-Penguin searches are showing that those sites previously relying on keyword stuffing, an over-abundance of backlinks and other “questionable” tactics are suffering while those “playing by the rules” are seeing minimal negative effects.

We’ve discussed on this blog before how the business listings portion of the search results garner the most consumer attention and for now this section appears to be a local “safe haven,” free from adverse effects of the Penguin update.  Even those local businesses with websites impacted by the update appear to be safe within the local business listings.

The Penguin update, while not a direct “threat” to national brands in the local space, does bring to light a few important points for brands to consider:

  • Even in local, a Google-only approach can be precarious as one simple change in their algorithm can send a business completely off a consumer’s radar.
  • Cultivating a multi-pronged local strategy involving both local sites and business listings across the local ecosystem will yield maximum consumer exposure, thus increasing in-store traffic.
  • Incorporating social media on a local level will create and additional layer of consumer contact and interaction, promoting the brand and increases consumer awareness, purchase and advocacy.

If there is one thing certain in search, it is that Google will continue to push updates to their algorithm and those in the SEO world will continue to scramble to adapt websites to those changes.  By lessening dependency on Google, focusing on optimizing listings and local-social content, national brands with a large local footprint will find themselves more prepared to ride the waves when another Google algorithm tsunami hits the web.

April 26, 2012

Do Brands Really Need To Localize Everywhere?

My wife loves Jamba Juice –possibly more than me.  There isn’t a location in our home state, so wherever we travel, she actively seeks out a Jamba Juice – sometimes a couple of times a day.  One of her favorite things about Jamba Juice is they always look the same, making it easy for her to identify a location regardless of the city.  Jamba Juice gives her a great, consistent consumer experience.

When asked by national brands if it is really necessary to localize digitally everywhere, across all of their locations, I always think of my wife and Jamba Juice.  I typically reply to this question with a question: Do you (insert brand name here) attempt to localize your brick and mortar locations?  Do you want to create a consistent brand experience across your physical locations?

Of course the answer is always a resounding – yes.  Naturally, the next question is: Why?  The answer: Because all brands want consumers who contact them to have that consistent brand experience.

It’s easy to see where these two questions are leading. If brands want consumers to have a certain type of experience in physical stores, now that those consumers have gone digital, wouldn’t they want them to have that same type of experience? Consistency is key.

There is no doubt that we are now well into the digital consumer age, with the majority of consumers turning to the internet and search engines first when trying to find a local business.  According to Google, on desktop search, more than 25 percent of searches are local in nature. For mobile, the percentage is considerably higher.

Whether at home, at work or on the go, today’s consumer is turning to digital platforms to find the information they want and need. This includes weather, driving directions, business information, keeping contact with friends, and much more.

When it comes to local, there is one main rule any brand needs to keep in mind – if you do it locally for your physical stores, you must to do it online for your digital storefronts.  Location information, operating hours, photos, promotions – all of these things and more can and should be included in a digital localization plan.

It is imperative for brands to rethink and refocus not only on their physical stores, but put energy and effort towards their digital appearance as well.  Reaching consumers where they spend their time necessitates a focus in the local digital realm.

What steps should national brands take to ensure this type of digital consistency?  A simple three-step plan can be initiated by all brands to achieve digital consistency.

First, conduct an audit of all local listings across the local, digital ecosystem to determine accuracy and consistency level.

Second, implement a plan for listing overhaul, optimization and management across all engines, directories and local sites.

Third, track improvements and monthly activity with the local listings, using these reported metrics to drive changes and further improvements to the local digital storefronts.

April 16, 2012

Harnessing the Power of Facebook for Local

A few days ago, my family and I were discussing the need to open our pool soon and the subsequent need, due to my general lack of mechanical skills, to find a company to perform this task for us.  My wife was on Facebook at the time, so she decided to utilize the platform to search for a local pool company.  This surprised me because everyone uses Google to perform a search, right?

Apparently not.  In fact, according to the latest stats, Facebook has passed Ask.com and AOL.com in search market share, currently garnering 1.44% of the market.  According to comScore, in the recent “Local Search Usage Study,” the use of social networking sites for local business searches has increased 67% since 2010.

Facebook has been a driving force in news over the past several weeks. From various discussions regarding the impending IPO to the latest news of the purchase of Instagram, Facebook is everywhere. And in the realm of local search, Facebook continues to be a very large factor.

How much does Facebook influence local online and local search?  The short answer – a lot.  Depending on the study and source, statistics say that 70-90% of local small businesses use Facebook for local marketing.  eMarketer estimates that the largest category of Facebook fan pages are for local businesses, which is almost triple the amount of large “brand” pages for national companies.  Additionally, other research has shown that local business Facebook pages garner five times more reach percentage and eight times more engagement than brand or corporate pages.

Once again we see that local, even with Facebook, is the great leveler between national brands and local businesses.  In fact, with Facebook, local businesses have a distinct advantage as it is much easier to create and maintain a Facebook page for one location vs. several thousand.  Those local businesses that are utilizing Facebook as a part of their local strategies are wielding that powerful advantage over their national brand counterparts.

There are, however, some national brands that are uncovering ways to leverage the power of Facebook on a local level.  Starbucks, for instance, has utilized the Facebook parent-child option to tie together all of the pages of their local stores under the main Starbucks brand page.  When a person visits that main page, they are able to click on the “Locations” icon which takes them to a page listing all of the Starbucks close to the location specified on their profile page.

While this is an advantage in one aspect, if those local pages lack content, fans and interaction, these pages may do more harm than good.

Like politics, all marketing is truly local and national brands have to think and act locally in order to catch up with the local businesses. So what are major national brands to do to utilize the huge consumer power that Facebook has over the local arena?

 

  1. Tie together all of the existing locations on Facebook to the main Facebook brand page using the parent-child feature.
  2. If they do not exist, create Facebook pages for all retail locations.  This enables the brand to speak to consumers at their level and achieve a much higher reach and level of engagement.
  3. Engage a system to actively manage all locations from a corporate level, allowing for brand image maintenance and consistency.
  4. Engage with local consumers in the way that they want, with active replies to posts, offers and communication.

These tactics may seem daunting at first as they sometimes require more resources than a brand wants to commit.  However, there are several systems available to all brands that can create concise and seamless streams of information and automation which make this mountain not only manageable, but achievable at economies of scale.  Brands that choose this route and engage local customers on their social doorstep will benefit by increasing their local brand advocates, fans and sales.

Categories: Uncategorized
March 8, 2012

How Google+ May Shape Local Business Strategies

Last week, while watching “American Idol” with my wife and daughter – don’t make fun – a commercial came on for Google+.  It was about a person who had 100s of baby pictures on their phone and lost it, but thanks to Google+, every picture had been instantly saved to their Google+ account.  At the end of the commercial, both my daughter and my wife pulled out their phones and downloaded the Google+ app.  Before the night was over, they both had set up Google+ accounts and were adding whoever they could find to their Circles…and uploading photos they didn’t want to lose.  At different points in the evening they asked me why, with this being my field of expertise, I hadn’t told them about this before.  My reply:  I didn’t think they would want to know.

Similarly, shortly after Google announced the release of Google+ Pages, the feature targeting businesses and brands, I had a friend who owns a local business ask me why I hadn’t told him about it.  My answer was the same: I didn’t think he would want to know.  After all, how many businesses, large or small, have the extra time to devote to creating and maintaining another social presence?

Then Google announced Google+ Search plus Your World, turning their social platform into a necessity for brands and retailers.  Google+ membership is roughly 12 percent of Facebook’s and current activity levels on Google+ are just a fraction of the activity on Facebook, but with Search plus Your World, Google+ offers something to brands Facebook cannot match:  longevity and search relevance.

On Facebook, comments and posts can have a short lifespan as they are continually pushed down the page.  With the advent of Google’s Search Plus your World, Google is showing that social commentary lives beyond the social page by actually showing up in search results.  Many searchers have already seen these types of commentary showing up beside “regular” organic content in the search engine results pages.  Search plus social results is the latest evolution in search and is not going away.

Does this mean that national retailers with a heavy local presence (or any other local retailers for that matter) should jump right out and create Google+ profiles for each of their locations?  No, but brands don’t want to ignore Google+ and what it will mean in the long term for local strategies.

As such, brands need to consider  the following top three points when developing a local strategy for Google+ Pages:

  1. Google local results are based on relevance, prominence and distance.  Location-based web pages (either new or sub-pages of brand site) can give a location a digital boost more than almost any other online tactic.  Coupling those pages with a Google+ Places profile will make the business even more prominent in Google’s eyes.
  2. Business listing rankings are based on relevance and citation signal strength.  Engaging in Google+ Pages will add a very strong citation signal to boost listings rankings.
  3. Facebook created a link between Facebook Pages and Facebook Places; there is every reason to believe Google+ will institute a similar link.  The ranking power of the two services (+Pages and Google Places) will certainly outweigh the power of each, individually.

As with any new platform, those retailers who move first in the space will be able to help mold and direct the evolution of the platform.  Multi-location retailers would be wise to seriously consider a move onto Google+ Pages as it presents a unique opportunity in the online space and could very well represent the next large step forward in the social revolution.