I’ve been watching what we now call the “local online market” or “local search market” for about a decade. And finally in the past year we’ve seen an explosion of interest in “local.”
Strangely, the mobile handset arms race and growth of the mobile Internet this year have made the concept of local more accessible to people. It’s always been empirically clear that people use the Internet for research but mostly buy offline. I always say, “Local is where the money changes hands.” But mobile is now providing a more transparent connection between the digital and the real worlds that helps illustrate the power of place for people.
There’s a ton of great writing about local SEO and search marketing, as well as the future direction of the local market. Much of it happens on Mike’s blog. He brings a kind of passion and near-relentless attention to a host of practical issues that are critical for small businesses and local search marketers to understand.
Mike asked me to collect my favorite or “top posts” pertaining to local this year. That’s very hard to do. Instead, I’ve selected several articles and posts that capture what I think are important issues or developments in the local space from the past 12 months.
I don’t present them in order of importance; this is more like stream of consciousness:
Local Listing Ads: A New, Simplified Ad Unit For Local Business
Google has tried for a long time to find a way to sell directly into the small business market. In the recent past it has relied on a reseller strategy. Now it’s making a bigger direct push with Local Listing Ads and Place Pages. These flat-fee, no keyword ads could be a breakthrough product for Google with SMBs. We don’t know yet.
Local Results without a Geo-Modifier
In March, 2009 Google started showing local results (map + 10, then) in categories where there was no geographic modifier. This move was a reflection of what Google had been observing for several years: consumers often don’t include a geo-modifier in a query when they have a “local intent.” Yahoo later followed suit.
Location Everywhere: the Twitter GeoAPI
Twitter released deeper support for geo in August with an API that will enable developers to associate any Tweet with a lat-long. Twitter later bought MixerLabs, which had its own GeoAPI. Facebook has also been working on something more elaborate with location around status updates. It may also be preparing to release its own location API. The larger point is that most content and almost all user-generated content will soon be associated with location, unlocking many interesting possibilities for the PC and, more specifically, mobile users.
Local Search Ranking Factors Part II
I didn’t participate in this survey but many of the best local SEO folks did, including Mike. The David Mihm coordinated project is a must read guide for any practitioner trying to figure out how to get maximum exposure in Google local results.
Another important post from David Mihm, which led to an extensive debate on a couple of blogs was his Be Wary Of Call Tracking Numbers In Local Search
TeleAtlas Gets the Boot; Google Goes It Alone
Deciding that mapping was so strategic that it wanted to own the entire value chain, Google fired its mapping data provider TeleAtlas and now uses its own internal resources for Maps data. This is a big, if obscure, story and Mike wrote a good post about it last year.
RX for the Yellow Pages
Chris Silver Smith wrote two significant posts about the yellow pages. One discussed how yellow pages directories and other local publishers were getting squeezed off the first page of Google SERPs because of the greater frequency of the Map’s appearance. He also offered 10 prescriptions to “save the yellow pages.”
SMBs and the ‘New Local Product Suite’
Marchex unveiled a powerful reputation management tool for SMBs this year (the first of more to come), reflecting the growing importance of social media and the challenges of dealing with it at the local/SMB level. Related to reputation management is a broader portfolio of tools and services that address the cluster of local business needs in the local space. I called this the “new local product suite.”
Mobile & Local
I end as I began with mobile. Any number of posts and articles could go in this category. Mobile is an absolutely huge story, only getting bigger. And local is central to the entire mobile user experience. Google has been remarkable is adapting to the changing marketplace and the advent of the smartphone camera as a search tool. Google Goggles and “augmented reality” are examples of new ways that “local search” on mobile devices is evolving away from the PC model.
Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker got everyone’s attention late last year when she proclaimed (as others had before her) that the mobile Internet would be at least 2X the PC Internet. Since that time Gartner has said that the mobile Internet will be larger than the PC Internet, on a global basis, by as soon as 2013.
No doubt there are omissions here, maybe even significant ones. Seb Provencher, for example, has written quite a bit about the convergence of local and social and I agree with him. The so-called real-time Web will also have its local angle.
Regardless, I think this year we saw a lot more people wake up to the importance of location and the connection between the Internet and the offline world.