Loci2009: Greg Sterling: An Explosion of Interest in “Local” in 2009

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.

Link: Google creates a new simplified ad unit for local business

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.

Link: Google Maps now showing local 10 pack on broad non geo phrase searches/

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.

Link: Location Location Location

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

Link: Local search ranking factors

Link: 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.

Link: Google replaces TeleAtlas data in US with Google data

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.”

Link: Brave new world for Yellow Pages – Google nabs marketshare & strangles local directories

Link: What can save Yellow Pages industry

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.”

Link: Marchex releases powerful SMB reputation management tool with search inside

Link: The local product suite now in focus

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.

Link: Google visual search – Augemented Reality 1.5 and beyond

Link: Augmented reality is also a form of search

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.

Link: Morgan: Mobile Internet to Be 2X the PC Internet

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.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Loci2009: Greg Sterling: An Explosion of Interest in “Local” in 2009 by

7 thoughts on “Loci2009: Greg Sterling: An Explosion of Interest in “Local” in 2009”

  1. Wonderful review of major topics. Thanks, Greg.

    On one issue, the telemaps being dropped by Google issue; I was recently speaking w/ an acquaintance who had large responsibility for developing print street maps for decades. He worked at one of the largest venders w/in the US. He had many teams responsible for providing the maps and quality controls.

    We have spoken on the issue quite a number of times. His perspective is interesting. For several years he has spoken to the disparity between quality controls between the production of print maps and web maps…from all the providers. He maintains that none of the maps providers have ever provided the manpower that was requisite to ensure significant accuracy. He has stayed in touch w/ his ex employees who performed the same tasks for web maps makers that they did for the print providers. His claim is that the web providers don’t provide sufficient resources to ensure quality.

    Could be true. Certainly the history of web maps products is replete with errors.

    Now his perspective is that with the switch from teleatlas to inhouse google resources…there are no resources to ensure quality. Google is depending on the commentary from the user base to make changes…and is “hoping/praying” that changes will be accurate.

    Its an interesting point of view. Is this an example where our dependency on internet resources will ultimately produce a far inferior product? I don’t know, but it is fascinating to get commentary from someone on the inside.

  2. Hi Mike, thanks for this comprehensive overview about the local trends. Always helpful to have a look on the US market since it will eventually come over to Europe .

  3. @Dirk

    I am glad that you are enjoying the series. I am sorry that I have not been able offer a European perspective on 2009.

  4. There is no doubt that local will be massive, totally massive, even non-tech savy people from work (I would go as far as to say board members!) are talking about this and asking me to investigate how to rank for a selection of terms.

    I am not sure of the actual use it gets in terms of driving business just yet, I think that it might be a little ahead of itself. I can see the potential but I still think that google is not the 1st place most people will look when they are in search of something “local”

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