It seems to me that the two most important developments in local search during 2009 both came from Google. I suppose that’s not much of a surprise in the current local environment, is it? Here’s my top two:
Google Shows Local/Map Results on Generic Queries — you wrote about this on your blog, I wrote about it on Search Engine Land, and many others wrote about it, too. I called it a game changer. It’s huge because all of a sudden you have local business listings showing up prominently for thousands of keywords/phrases that they never appeared on before. It excused lazy search behavior. More importantly, it opened up a whole spectrum of exposure opportunity for small businesses. All of a sudden it was possible to rank on generic terms like “insurance agent” and “italian restaurant.” Huge development, and no surprise that both Bing and Yahoo had followed suit by the end of the year.
Google Launches Place Pages — I was in the middle of a two-month travelogue when this hit, and didn’t really appreciate it until much later when I got home and had time to see what it was all about. I think this will become a game changer, too. This idea of a single URL for “every place in the world,” as Google said (with typical hubris), is really compelling. It’s Google doing what the Yelps and Citysearches and IYP sites have been doing, so it’s kinda of a catch-up move in one sense … but Google has so much traffic and so much interest from business owners who want to be found. This can’t help but be big. I mean, Google’s already using place pages to show real estate listings; what else can they use them for?
And I’m shocked that Google isn’t indexing these pages. I suspect they will at some point. The URLs are already fairly SEO-friendly and some of the pages have really good content. Why not index them? So what if they’re already available in the 7-pack listings; why would Google include business listings from Citysearch or Yelp that may have less content and offer a poorer user experience, when it could show a Google place page in the organic search results?
(The flip side of all this Google talk, of course, is the ongoing saga of Google’s terrible support for small/local business owners. Miriam Ellis wrote a marvelous article about that. And no one’s done a better job of writing about Google’s ongoing problems with spam, hijacked listings, and general technical incompetence than you. So Google’s local track record is far from perfect … still.)
Some other things that stand out for me from 2009:
David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors remains the de facto standard for information about local SEO, and I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I’ve suggested a small biz owner read it.
I continue to love and be fascinated by the convergence of local search and social media. Small business owners were especially creative with Twitter last year, and I think that’s just the start of things. Twitter itself has made no secret of its plans to reach out to small businesses with formal services and tools, and they’ve said that local is an important part of their plans, so it should be interesting to see what develops in 2010.
And I think we collectively tend to under-report on Bing Maps and Local. I’ve always received a lot of traffic to my blog from people looking to learn how to get listed on MSN/Bing maps, how to optimize for it, etc. I documented some of that in this post, showing that eight of the top 50 keywords that send traffic to my blog are about Bing/MSN local, and only four of the top 50 are related to Google maps/local. I suspect that means something, though it might just be that you’re getting all the Google traffic.
Matt McGee is the Assignment Editor at Search Engine Land, and offers SEO consulting and training to small business owners (and sometimes big business owners, too). He blogs regularly at Small Business Search Marketing and Hyperlocal Blogger.