Category Archives: Local Search

General information about Local Search techniques, technology and trends

Introducing the Hot New Social Network, PhoneBook

Allows User to Call Friends, Speak to Them

SILICON VALLEY (The Borowitz Report) – A new social network is about to alter the playing field of the social media world, and it’s called PhoneBook.

According to its creators, who invented the network in their dorm room at Berkeley, PhoneBook is the game-changer that will leave Facebook, Twitter and even the much anticipated Google Buzz in a cloud of dust.

“With PhoneBook, you have a book that has a list of all your friends in the city, plus everyone else who lives there,” says Danny Fruber, one of PhoneBook’s creators.

“When you want to chat with a friend, you look them up in PhoneBook, and find their unique PhoneBook number,” Fruber explains.  “Then you enter that number into your phone and it connects you directly to them.”

Another breakout utility of PhoneBook allows the user to arrange face-to-face meetings with his or her friends at restaurants, bars, and other “places,” as Fruber calls them.

“You will be sitting right across from your friend and seeing them in 3-D,” he said.  “It’s like Skype, only without the headset.”

PhoneBook will enable friends to play many games as well, such as charades, cards, and a game Fruber believes will be a breakout: Farm.

“In Farm, you have an actual farm where you raise real crops and livestock,” he says.  “It’s hard work, but it’s more fun than Mafia, where you actually get killed.”

This article is reprinted with permission of Andy Borowitz. For real-time fake news updates, follow Andy Borowitz on Twitter. You may subscribe to his daily Borowitz Report here.

Search & Social Awards – Vote for Your Favorite Blogs

Search & Social Awards
Social & Search is holding a contest to introduce the search marketing & social media community to multiple blogs in various different genres and online marketing disciplines.

Understanding Google Maps and Local Search has been nominated in the Best Local Blog category along with:

The final tally will be taken on May 1st and then winners will be announced on May 3rd, during an awards ceremony at the Search & Social Spring Summit in Tampa, FL.

Newest Getlisted.Org Local U to be in Cleveland June 30th

Getlisted.org Local University is rolling into Cleveland at the end of June! In partnership with the Karcher Group, NEOSA and Anita Campbell, it promises to be a great event.

The Karcher Group, a strong web development & marketing group in the Akron/Canton area, contacted us in January shortly after Spokane was announced. Anita Campbell, an incredible small business consultant and blogger, agreed to help out shortly after and Brad Nellis of NEOSA, North East Ohio’s premier technology promotion group, has also stepped in as a major sponsor. All three have been great in developing this session and it’s incredibly exciting for me to be able to work with them.

Local University: Northeast Ohio (aka neo) will take place on June 30, 2010 at the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, featuring two identical half-day sessions (8am – noon and 1pm – 5pm).

To sign up, head over to the GetListed.org/neo page to reserve your seat. If you use the discount code mbNEO you will only pay $79.

If you’re coming in from out of town, the Holiday Inn of Independence, OH is offering a special rate of $89/night for conference attendees and provides free shuttle service to the venue. Simply mention that you are attending GetListed.org Local University when you make your reservation.

As with our Spokane and upcoming TwinCities events, we are committed to educating the small business community in each city we visit. 10% of all ticket sales for this event will be donated to a local educational charity. If you’d like to nominate one, please email us at neo@getlisted.org.

I hope to see you there.

Which Review Sites Should You Use?

I am frequently asked: Which reviews sites should I send my clients to? Which one should I pick?

My answer: think about your customers needs first (easy, choice), think about your business needs second (leverage) and consider using as many sites as make sense.

I asked this question of David Mihm, Local SEO expert, and his response was:

The syndication value of reviews on well-spidered portals like Citysearch, InsiderPages, and DexKnows appears to me to outweigh any special ranking given to Google’s own reviews (which are of course not syndicated). Additionally, I think Google places extremely high trust in reviews it finds on leading vertical portals like TripAdvisor, Healthgrades, and Avvo.

I strongly agree with David’s premise. Citysearch by virtue of its extensive syndication and still strong visitation puts its reviews almost everywhere (for a list see the end of this article). Citysearch uses Facebook Connect for its login making guaranteeing that most of your clients have a login at the ready and its reviews show up regularly and quickly in Google Maps. By virtue of pervasive syndication, Citysearch reviews have as much as 15% more exposure than a review written in Google Maps.

I would also recommend adding Yahoo Local to David’s list. Many users already have a Yahoo login making it easy for them. More importantly Yahoo Local reviews are the only reviews that show in the Yahoo Universal results. If maximum exposure is the objective then showing in Yahoo Universal (plus Google & Google Maps) results in far greater visibility that even the total exposure to review provided by Citysearch.

Should you use Yelp or Google? Continue reading

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. Ted called me when he read my principles of a review program post to introduce himself and his company. We had a far ranging conversation that covered everything from the economy to parents but always came back to conversation about reviews and their role in the online world.

I was particularly struck by his company’s approach to finding the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review titled: Negative Reviews Increase Sale and the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. I asked him to write a guest blog detailing how he and why he would suggest responding to the negative review :

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So you got a negative review about your business.  Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself.  Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.

Should you Respond and What to Say

As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews.  Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).

Step 1:  Own the issue.

Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.

Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

Step 3:  Offer to fix the issue

Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing.    Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment.   In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.

Guidelines for your Response

Write it with your prospects in mind.  Before writing your response, think about who your audience is.  Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone.  For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction.  Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.

Don’t be defensive.   One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company.  Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.

Take your time.  A negative review most likely made you angry.  Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.

Keep it brief.  Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.”  The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.

Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.

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Another incredible resource in responding to negative reviews is a piece written last year by Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution.

To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

Review Case Study: With More Than One Employee Process Becomes Key

Don Campbell is president of Expand2Web which provides websites and Local SEO for small business owners. North Valley Optometry is owned by Dr. Tarryn Ngo, the wife of Don Campbell’s business partner Randy Hew. It has provided Expand2Web with a great case study on the impact of online reviews. Randy has been responsible for optimizing their web presence as well as implementing their online review process. The firm has 2 employees in addition to Dr. Ngo so process has become a key factor. Here’s Dr. Ngo’s story as told by Randy:

“Before connecting with Don Campbell last year my wife didn’t even have a website and only a couple of reviews (luckily they were good reviews) on Yelp. In July of 2009 we built her a website, optimized it and made it a focus to start asking customers for online reviews. Today she has close to 50 reviews on Google, almost 40 reviews on Yahoo and 6 reviews on Yelp which has taken about 6 months. It’s made a huge impact, the number of net new patients she is now getting on a monthly basis has increased roughly 30% and many of the new patients that come in comment that they have read the reviews online.

From a Local SEO standpoint North Valley Optometry comes up in the 7 pack on several keyword search terms for San Jose and related terms for optometry. What gives us a real competitive advantage is in the 7 pack North Valley Optometry has 40 more reviews than it’s closest competitor which makes it visually compelling for potential customers to click on our local listing.

North Valley Optometry online reviews

The process of asking for a review online is a simple, but getting online reviews is takes time. This is the process we use:

  1. Dr. Ngo (my wife) simply asks the patient some time during their visit to the office if they would be open to giving her business an online review. So far every patient she asks has said “no problem”.
  2. Next the office writes down the name and email address of the patient on a clipboard
  3. At the end of the week one of the girls on her staff types in the patient names and email addresses into a Google spreadsheet that we share.
  4. I copy those email addresses into an email template we created which is a short note asking for an online review with links directly to the Google and Yahoo local listing site.

The follow up email makes it easy for the patient to just click on the links and write a review. Originally the office tried giving the patients a piece of paper with the links on it as a reminder to write a review, but that wasn’t very effective. I think one of the main keys to getting customers to write a review is to make it easy for them.

That’s another reason why we only ask for a review on Google and Yahoo. Most people have a Google and/or Yahoo account so it’s easy for them to write a review. On other directories like Yelp, City Search or Insider Pages most people don’t have accounts already created so it’s asking a lot of a patient to create a new account and than write a review. From a search perspective most customers find North Valley Optometry on Google or Yahoo so it only makes sense to have reviews right there next to our business link in the search results.

Yelp is extremely popular in the silicon valley, but we don’t really bother with it. We found that Yelp will take down the customer reviews if the reviewer isn’t an “active yelper” and consistently reviewing many businesses. And the same problem as the other directories, if the customer isn’t already a Yelper they would have to create an account before giving a review which is a hassle.

Even though everyone has the best intentions to write a review we found that only 10-15% actually write a review. Most likely it’s just one of those “extra” things to do that gets lost in their daily activities of life. The office policy is to only ask the customer once for a review and they don’t give any incentives to a customer for writing one. So when we send the follow up email we want to make sure the request is reasonable and easy for them to follow through.

As you can see the process is pretty simple. At first just remembering to ask the customer for an online review was the biggest challenge. Once the office became committed to asking for a review it became a natural part of the conversation with their patients and implementing the rest of the process has been very easy. Getting a lot of online reviews doesn’t happen over night, but if you’re committed to the process it all adds up over time.

Out of this experience and the experience working with our other customers in local seo Don and I came up with this brainstorm for the myReviewsPage tool to help small business owners like my wife to monitor and build their online reviews.

We’re just starting to implement this free tool at North Valley Optometry. My wife likes the fact that at a click of the button she can monitor all of her reviews on the major directories. The email template is easy enough that they are going to start sending the review email request while the patient is in the office instead of having to go through all those extra steps of writing the patients info on a clipboard and than sending all the email requests at the end of the week or month. I’m hoping the timeliness of sending the emails will also help increase the number of patients that actually leave a review.

Garnering Reviews – A Mom & (no) Pop Shop finally Hops on Reviews

Barbara Oliver and Co. Jewelry, an owner operated jewelry store with one part time employee in Buffalo, NY was referred to me by my sister about a year ago for help with marketing of her “new” website.

Like many small businesses she has trouble integrating new procedures whether from inertia, fear or lack of time. Getting her involved with establishing a review process was a struggle. When I received this email on February 13th of this year I felt like she had finally hit escape velocity (the place where the client no longer needs hand holding):

Hi Mike, this week 6 new customers in the store based on reviews alone.  6 sales, have I mentioned lately how much I love you? If we continue to do this right, I can forego some of the expensive advertising and build up my wallet and our businesses.  WooHoo

Thanks!

Barbara

The review process that we set up has been made so that it is as simple as possible for both her and her clients. She will ask appropriate customers at the time of providing a receipt if they would be willing to leave a review. She qualifies them and with the younger ones that are comfortable leaving reviews at the site of their choice, she just makes the ask. If they are older or less confident she shows them and provides them with a url: www.barbaraoliverandco.com/review on a small slip of paper. The url is set to redirect to the review section of her jeweler testimonial page.

On the bottom portion of this testimonial page the visitor will find a list of review site urls for her business from which to select. Being on her testimonial page, folks seem to get a sense of other comments and confidence from the fact that others have endorsed her. They can choose the site with which they are most comfortable. This allows the customer a certain freedom and avoids forcing the choice. My theory at least is that in the case of an angry customer, seeing other testimonials and reviews might temper any venom.

It was very difficult initially to get her to ask. She was reticent and did not remember. But she started seeing some ranking benefit and vowed to “do better”. I even put a note into her monthly analytics report to automate the “nag”. After a rocky start and 8 months of monthly reminders (automated, verbal & emails) she has integrated the “ask” into her write up routine and has started to get regular reviews at a range of review sites that are now showing up in Google. The reviews are coming in at a steady pace with a nice mix of diverse sources. You can see some of them on her Places Page.

Could you provide a brief overview of your process to garner reviews?….

I simply ask after a sale or service has been concluded if the client would mind reviewing my business, as it does help me grow.  I do find that it is peoples’ nature to want to help you if you have made them happy.

How long have you been actively seeking reviews?

Since last year around January 2009 (Editors note: we started the process in January but she actually started asking reliably in September)

What has been your experience with customer reviews?

I know have 16 very favorable reviews and have watched my presence rise.  The influx of new clients is actually measured as more than any other form of advertising that I have invested in previously.

The internet marketing we have implemented aided my business growth more than I could have imagined.  Although reticent at first to ask clients to post reviews, as they did start to appear, so did new customers. They came in pre-sold on our service and products ready to do business just based on what they read from others.

What process have you implemented to make it easy for your  organization to get reviews and for clients/customers to give them?

We created a spot on my web site to make it a breeze for customers to input their thoughts.  By keeping it simple for even non-computer savvy clients, I get a lot more reviews  from a less limited client base, who might feel overwhelmed by having to search out the method of posting reviews.

What review sites do you recommend to customers? Why?

Google,google,google, then Citysearch, Insiderpages, Yelp (just started) & Yahoo Local just to mix it up a bit.

What were the barriers to getting a smooth process set up?

None, that’s what Mike does, he handles all my web and computer needs,usually before I know I need them. Typically, he gives me new ideas for ways to grow and expose my business.  Then the dinosaur in me fights the idea as I am change resistant.  Then we do it his way and it always works.

Do you incent clients in any way to provide reviews?

So far, a handwritten thank you note and a diamond made of chocolate. Happy customers genuinely want to help you grow.

I always tell them or show them to make it easier.

How do you handle negative reviews?

Have not had to deal with that yet. So far so good.

How has the world of online reviews impacted your business?

I truly have seen a big increase in new faces that are buying.  Usually the client starts the introduction with “I googled jewelers and I loved your reviews”. I have spent a fortune on TV, radio, print and yellow pages.  I honestly can say that the increase in reviews has given me an immediate satisfaction with a venue of clients I know was not reaching before. The importance of reading someone else’s opinion is so very strong.  I am having my web site redone now to mirror the strength of the ratings. I am now able to reduce my advertising budget and put the money into more inventory with the 7 to 8 new faces I see each week.

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Oh…and if you need some advice on buying jewelry …call Barbara Olive and Co Jewelry at (716) 204-1297! She does a great job matching the man (and woman) to the right jewelry. Tell her I sent you. :)

Principles for a Review Plan: Considerations in encouraging customer reviews

Asking for feedback & testimonials from customers has been a long term practice in the business world. The practice has morphed to some degree by new exposure that on-line review platforms have provided to this information. The rewards are much greater and the affect of running afoul of the community standards can be severe. Yelp may think that “soliciting reviews” is somehow inappropriate but it is a practice that has been going on forever in one form or another. Whether Yelp wants to use those reviews is their business decision. However from where I sit, facilitating a clients ability to provide feedback was and is an appropriate activity for a business to engage in.

That being said, engaging customers in the review process can be much like sex…it can go from the sublime to the immoral in 6 seconds flat. Sometimes the difference between right and wrong is just not that great and some folks seem to miss the distinction all together.

Here are some guiding ideas that I use when considering and analyzing plans to ask for reviews. These are posited more as principless than best practices, things to think about when designing your review policy.

There are a number of different ways to structure a review program. How each business specifically sets it up will depend on the comfort level of the owners, their level of tech savviness, the tools at their disposal and their understanding of their clients. These principles can function to guide your plan’s specifics.

So rather than providing you with a specific formula for your review process I am taking a step back and offering up a framework of “principles” to help you think about the program that you do implement. This framework has proven incrediblty helpful as I work with different business owners establishing a truly functional review program and process that works for them.

Customer Considerations

 
Easy Whatever system you implement for the customer, it should be so dead simple that they just don’t have to struggle. The least number of clicks, the straighest path, the least to remember should all be ideals of whatever system you put in place.
Choice This correlates to the above. You want to provide your customers/clients with a range of sites so as to be compatible their online behaviors. It is hard to know if they prefer leaving reviews at one place or another. The more comfort they have with your suggestions the more likely they are to leave the review. You need to be where your customers are. In setting up your program asking them what they prefer is a good idea.
Ethical Whatever review process you choose, it should be open, transparent and beyond reproach. An unhappy customer is bad enough but one that thinks you are scamming the review world will be relentless.
Business Considerations  
Integrated into Business Processes For a business, saying you will do something versus actually doing it, is a matter of the process being easy for employees and a required part of the internal procedures. This may require employee training and perhaps new procedures to be sure that the ask for reviews happens.
Regularity Reviews are like traditional testimonials. If they all occurred last year or the year before both potential clients and the search engines are going to wonder what’s up.
Diversity of review sites Putting your eggs in one basket is never a good strategy. For example Google has been known to periodically loose reviews from one source or another.

It is also difficult to predict next year’s review site winner and the looser. Being in a range of places protects against both eventualities.

Leverage If one review can be seen in 4 review site instead of just one then all other things being equal, a review placed there is more valuable. For example even though CitySearch is declining in popularity, they still have 25 million uniques AND share their reviews with Google, Yahoo, MC and more giving you an opportunity to have the review seen 100 million times
Plan for the Bad Review Even if you run the best business in the world, you will sooner or later, get a bad review. Decide ahead of time how it will be handled and who will handle it. Ending up in argument on the front steps of the customer is a no win situation and some thought put it in how you are going to respond will avoid the worst outcomes.

What broad principals for a review program would you add to or subtract from the list?

They are flexible to handle most situations but structured enough to provide guidance so that if the clients meets these standards their efforts are likely to meet with success. It allows the business to prioritize the principals so that if compromises need to be need it will be clear what the trade off is.
Continue reading

Loci2009: Lisa Barone – Articles from 2009 that Caused Pause for Though

Here are some of the links that made me think this year:

* If I Were Launching a New Small Biz Website Today – Matt McGee
* Why Local SEO Is Important to Non-Local SEO – Patrick Sexton
* Google Place Pages SEO = Yellow Pages SOS & SOL? – Local SEO Guide
* How to Launch That Small Business Website – Outspoken Media
* Do-It-Yourself SEO Advice For SMBs – David Mihm
* Twitter Buys Into Geolocation – ITNews
* Google Local Research Data – Released – Distiled

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.