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.


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.


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.


January 31, 2012

New Research from GMS Local Shows Knowledge Gap

It’s no news that the local online space is fragmented and can be difficult to navigate, especially for those large, national brands that have an extensive local footprint.  Determining best strategies, tactics and practices across the local ecosystem can be a challenge for any national marketer.

GMS Local has launched new research today exploring not only the state of local advertising, but the perception that national brands with more than 500 brick and mortar locations have of the space.  The research reveals, perhaps not surprisingly, that many brands have a skewed perception of the understanding of the local space and what they are doing within it.  According to the study, there is an education gap in the local arena that needs to be filled in order for advertisers to become truly effective in the local marketplace.

The research also offers a three step action plan for any national advertiser with a local presence, including:

  • An online local listings business audit
  • A local storefront diagnosis
  • Education, innovation and experimentation

The full research can be found on the Insights page of GMSLocal.com.  The research can be shared and also imbedded on your site.  Contact GMS Local for more information.