Loci2009 – Martijn Beijk – A European Perspective on Changes in Local Search

With Martijn Beijk, we are closing out our Loci2009 series reflecting on important events, trends and developments in Local Search last year. It is a dynamic space and one where as many or more changes look to be on the horizon for 2010.

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2009 was a year of change. For me personally because I moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona, Spain to work at the headquarters office of Onetomarket, the Netherlands as an SEO consultant. Specializing on Local Search it has given me the opportunity to start my international speaking career- presenting a local search business case at SMX Stockholm.

Looking back on 2009 I must say that the Local Search game changed. Competition is gaining, spam is raising, guidelines are sharpening, Google is proactively advertising the local business center as a service – probably to grow independent of 3rd party suppliers.

All-in-all it is a great year to look back to and although I had intentions of publishing a lot more than I actually did I do believe that 2010 will be even better.

I have always had a keen interesting in the semantic web and context-awareness and location based services and I trully think that 2009 has set things off with a blast. Services like Layar, Yelp checkins, Gowalla and foursquare are really great examples of how we use the local search space – and how fast we adapt to all these changes.

I have selected a few posts, not all of them local related. In general I think we should really thank David Mihm for his relentless effort in supporting the space. One thing I always enjoy reading are his small is beautiful column’s on Search Engine Land and of course the annual Local Search Ranking Factors

bullet: Further more I wouldn’t have expected at first that my post about tracking local with Google Analytics was received with great enthusiasm and got nominated for a Semmy.

bullet: Although it hasn’t yet received the attention it actually deserves there was the launch of Geositemapgenerator.com. Using the wishes of local business owners with many storefronts and using the building blocks of my article the definitive guide to KML and SEO it has already shown to be a great tool of which we will hear a lot more in the year of 2010! I believe it is a great development that more and more projects are kicking off in Europe, and one of them is this awesome tool of Arjan Snaterse.

bullet: (Self promo) Anyone interested in KML and sitemaps should listen to this radio show on Webmasterradio.fm on SEO 1on1 where I was the invited to discuss the subject.

bullet:Miriam Ellis always amazes me with her perspective on local search stories and I have found this specific post on reputation management regarding reviews very interesting: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution

bullet: Google has been introducing rich snippets based on RDF in the year 2009, these are the first buildstones of the semantic web and I am very happy that Google is finally openly stating they are using them and encourage others to do so.

bullet: Aniceto Lopez who I consider to be my Obi-Wan Kenobi of the SEO space, now living in Vancouver, CA has written an excellent article on his research about how context influences ranking. In this particular article he describes the actions taken for his migration from Barcelona Spain to Vancouver Canada and how this affected ranking positions. This is web citations in true action!

bullet: Mike’s article on Location Prominence, it is a must read if you consider to take Local Search seriously.

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

Nexus One- The Second Coming Part 2

As I pointed out yesterday, the Nexus One is a great phone. Given its limited distribution and status of an iPhone-near-equal, it is not an iPhone killer. That being said, it certainly demonstrates Google’s path to the near future.

Google is, like Apple several years ago, trying to break into an exclusive club…the oligopoly of cell phone service providers that controls access to the mobile internet. For Google, gaining this access is a down payment on their long term need to guarantee their future ability to deliver ads.

But Google is entering a smartphone market that is different than Apple found and it is one that is more and more being defined by Apple. For both Google and Apple, success in the US market will be assured when both are represented at the two major carriers. This is no mean task as the market leaders (ATT & Verizon) really have little interest in ceding any more control of their networks than they already have. Google needs a different path than Apple but their need is no less compelling than Apple’s to “break in” to an internet world that could offer two times the size of the desktop internet.

Apple was able to use the iPhone to break into the ranks of the major cell service provides and in doing so gave ATT the power to attract new customers at a rate faster than Verizon. Verizon, I think, hoped that RIM, MS or Nokia might provide an alternative to the iPhone on their terms but none did.

Verizon needed to stop the bleeding. In a mature phone market with few new customers coming in, nothing is worse than losing customers coming off contract and they were loosing them to ATT & the iPhone. The recently introduced Droid, while not quite the equal of the iPhone, gave Verizon a credible story to stop the bleeding. And it gave Google a needed entree into one half of the the big leagues.

Google still needs to convince the AT&T that it is in the carrier’s interest to play ball in a way that Google wants and needs. I would imagine that for Google to make their Android OS a success, the process of dealing with the likes of Verizon & ATT is part compromise, part bravado and part engineering brilliance.

Google, by creating a phone that is directly compared to the iPhone and being the first company to deliver a phone that is widely considered a contender in this game, has proven that they can offer big cell companies an alternative. Big cell phone companies can’t abide by wannabes. They need winners to attract new sign ups. And Google needed a winner to even sit at the table. Like the iPhone before it, Google doesn’t need to have dominant market share for the phone to be considered a success. At least now, Google has their attention and has successfully positioned themselves as an alternative for ATT.

Apple though, is not a static entity in this complex dance. They can, and will likely soon, add new hardware features that will surpass the Nexus. They can and likely soon will add new hardware that makes their iPhone compatible with the Verizon’s CDMA network. Apple wants and needs additional distribution to keep growing. It is estimated that the iPhone market share could double once they are available on the Verizon network.

Once Apple has in fact delivered a Verizon compatible iPhone, AT&T will have lost its exclusivity. It need to fill the gap and compete with the Verizon that has both an iPhone and the exclusive Droid. In that scenario, the Nexus One becomes a reference platform that can provide Google a place at the table with AT&T. For AT&T, Google is demonstrating that they can create, build, market and support(?) a phone that just might offset any gains that Verizon will get from its own iPhone

Assuming that Google and Apple are successful in meeting their own needs and the needs of the big carriers in this intricate kabuki, we will see a different cell landscape going forward. It is as much a landscape that is more hostile to the other manufacturers of cell phone hardware/os as it is a landscape where Apple and Google can be more successful. It portends a further loss of smartphone sales & market share for Palm, Nokia and Microsoft. It could even portend the demise or merger of Palm and a more difficult road for RIM. Once the Nexus (or its equivalent) makes it to ATT and the iPhone to Verizon, it is these other brands of smart phones that will suffer the most, not the iPhone and not the Nexus.

If iPhone/Android do in fact become the smart phones of choice at both major cell providers, it also foreshadows a market where the cell carriers look to control the pipe rather than the platform. They need to control something. After all, they like being in an oligopoly. There is nothing like super profits and minimal competition with few government regulations to keep them and their stockholders happy.

So in the Nexus we see a phone that shows Googles as a near-equal of Apple as a software/hardware provider, capable of satisfying the needs of the Verizons and possibly the AT&Ts of the world, able to deliver on a single, sustainable and attractive platform that positions them well into the future.

While there is a battle brewing between Google and Apple, and there may be a time when talk of an iPhone killer is appropriate, that time is not now, and the Nexus One is not that phone.

Note: A special thanks goes out to Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design who has provided me with incredible editing and feedback over the years and on this article. I would strongly recommend her as both an editor and copywriter. All too often, my writing has both spelling and grammatical errors as well as issues of clarity. Miriam helps on all fronts and has been a godsend when I really want to get the story right!

Nexus One: The Second Coming but Not An iPhone Killer – Part 1

I have a had few days to play with the Nexus. Its an incredible phone, not so incredible that it will shake the iPhone from my grasp but incredible enough that it will have a huge impact on the cell phone industry.

Compared to the iPhone, my Nexus* has a beautiful screen, incredible speed, much better integration of online social networking tools and a better Maps experience.

By the same token it is more complicated to configure and operate and functions best in the cloud. It is missing the simplicity of single button control, tight iTunes integration, doesn’t work well with Exchange and is still missing some basic features that Apple has defined as the new standard for smartphones like copy & paste and multi-touch. With but one upgrade of hardware and software by Apple, most of the Nexus’s current advantages will be gone.

It is a gorgeous phone, with a beautiful implementation that doesn’t quite match up the iPhone’s overall usability. So is the Nexus One Google’s “iPhone killer”?

While it may be a TeleAtlas killer, an iPhone killer it is not. Not just because of the hardware though.

The telling fact is that the Nexus really only runs well on one second tier cell provider in the US. T-Mobile is, at the end of the day a minor player, with but a fraction of ATTs or Verizon’s subscriber base and roughly an 8% market share. While the phone does run on the ATT network, very few will pay $600 to run it at the slower Edge speeds to which it is limited on their network. It is difficult to kill the iPhone let alone conquer the world from the diminishing market share of T-Mobile.

Something much more subtle and nuanced and simultaneously bold is going on here.

The iPhone when first introduced was viewed by market pundits as a long shot. In a few years, it has become the de facto standard and in doing so has threatened not just Microsoft, Palm and Nokia but RIM as well. It has taken the hardware market a long time to catch up. Microsoft didn’t do it, RIM didn’t do it, Nokia didn’t do it. Palm came close but nobody believed that they had the staying power nor presence to make a difference.

It took two years and a non-traditional player in the phone business but Google seems to have finally matched the iPhone with quality, features, panache and staying power. In succeeding where others have yet to succeed, the Nexus One is, in some sense, the second coming of the iPhone. It’s the first iPhone that isn’t an iPhone.

It may not be the iPhone killer that the press seems to want for but more importantly it could very well be Google’s admission ticket to a relationship with AT&T and the big leagues of the cell wars.

*Note I was given a Nexus by Google so please take any positive comments that I make with a grain of salt and as a potential conflict of interest.

Google: Recruiting Volunteers to Provide Nexus Support with Free Phones

A common strategy amongst successful corporations is to “externalize” costs. By that I mean that companies will, when able, off load costs to maximize profits. This can be done for example by pushing environmental costs to offshore producers or using subcontractors to avoid labor regulations.

Google for example, often has forum participants provide support to other users in an effort to keep their support costs as low as possible. For many, many of the support areas of Google this has worked quite well. It has caused problems in the Maps area, where businesses expect, require and demand personal attention and apparently it has caused problems with Nexus support.

I guess, if you drop $600 on a phone, there is a reasonable expectation that there might be someone at the other end of the transaction to provide support. I don’t know what Google is doing to improve internal, company provided support but they have come up with a way of actively encouraging folks to help out with support in the forum area.

Google has offered a free Nexus to the their top forum contributors (of which I am one) in the markets where the Nexus is currently being sold. I, and a number of other top contributors, received this email on Monday and within 72 hours had shiny new phones:

Hi there,

It is with great pleasure that I write to you today. As you may have seen in the clubhouse, many Top Contributors have asked about the possibility of getting a Nexus One phone.

We have been working to make this a reality for some of you as a thanks for all that you’ve done. I would like to offer Top Contributors located in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore and Hong Kong the opportunity to get an unlocked Nexus One phone for free.

Please note, this offer is for an unlocked Nexus One phone. It does not include any type of service plan. Adding service to the phone will be your responsibility.

By giving you a phone for personal use, our hope is that you will be able to learn more about the Nexus One and Android operating system first hand and share your knowledge with others. If you meet the geographical criteria for receiving a Nexus One, but you don’t think you’ll be using it, we ask that you do not request a phone at this time. This will allow us to distribute more phones to a wider audience. We’re happy to send you another gift of appreciation instead.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer, please fill out my form located at: XXXX

I know many of you have recently submitted your mailing addresses, but for this promotion, I will be asking for it yet again, to ensure accuracy. Please note, you can add a different delivery address, but we ask that this address be consistent with your country of residence. Thanks for your cooperation.

Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Cheers,
Frankie
on behalf of everyone at Google

John Mu also pointed out in the forums that Google “wanted to say thanks for your work as a Top Contributor and provide feedback on what you like/dislike about the Nexus One”. He made it clear that there was no quid pro quo in the arrangement and that even links back to Google when writing about the program should be no-follow to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

It is actually quite brilliant if you think about it. Bizarre as a support strategy but brilliant. I have no idea whether it will work to have volunteers as the first line of support in their competition with Apple and other cell phone manufacturers but if it does it will provide Google with significant savings. Continue reading Google: Recruiting Volunteers to Provide Nexus Support with Free Phones

Guide to Choosing a Smart Phone for Local

In early January, Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design asked the Local Chumps (an email salon whose members vary depending on the weather but that day included myself, Miriam, David Mihm, Matt McGee, Andrew Shotland & Will Scott) what smart phone should she buy. In doing her due diligence, she wanted to know which had the best features, the lowest price, the highest performance, the comparative benenfits etc etc….but mostly wanted something that would browse the internet well. All the reasonable questions that a conscientious consumer would typically ask about buying a piece of technology

Initially, many of our answers were single “phone” answers. The more complete answer, in the end, was that the choice needed to really include considerations about the service provider. The conversation took a “which cell provider sucks least” bent. (“Mine sucks less!” “No mine sucks less!”)

Picking a phone is not a straight forward technology purchase but a complex dance between choosing the service provider, your data and communication needs and picking the right smartphone.

It is impossible to choose a phone in the US without also choosing a provider and a (not so good & expensive) plan. Picking the phone should be the hard part but in reality it is picking the plan that requires a degree in systems design, accounting and social theory.

So with that in mind I have developed this scientific flow chart to help confused consumers in today’s marketplace pick a smart phone that browses the internet well:

I will leave it to Miriam to divulge to the world which phone she purchased (but I will say that she is the proud owner of a shiney new toy). Now, if we could just get her onto Twitter….

Google Maps: Now Adding Reviews from News Sites, Hyperlocal Blogs and Other Non Traditional Review Sources

What’s New in Reviews at Google Maps:

With their newly implemented sentiment analysis, Google Maps is apparently now reaching across hyperlocal blogs, local portals and news sites and retrieving blog entries, general editorial reporting and even blog comments for inclusion as reviews on their Places Pages.

This change portends a dramatically changed review landscape where both the volume of reviews for some types of businesses will rise and the dynamics of reputation management will change. It could very well shift  the balance of power away from centralized review sites and could be one more impediment to any recovery of the IYP sites.

With the advent of Places, Google Maps started including more meaningful review snippets on the Places Page and recently they added the ability to parse reviews into finer categories for a better understanding of reviewer’s perspectives about that Place. It appears that this new sentiment analysis capability is now also being applied to general web content to both identify and categorize these new reviews.

Google Confirms this new capability:
Carter Maslan, the Google Maps Product Manager, has confirmed this new capability to add reviews from any web source. He noted in an email conversation that “In this case (noted below), for example, we want to surface posts like this that reference Von Ray at his business”.

The First Example:
The new types of review were first spotted by Michael Cottam, shortly after the first of the year, who noticed this review on his client Von Ray’s V-Shape Fitness Places Page:

Von Ray is awesome. If you live in Portland and you need a trainer, you should call him to talk…

Von Ray is awesome. If you live in Portland and you need a trainer, you should call him to talk about your options: 503 421 5577. In the last year I’ve quit smoking, lost 10 pounds, done a triathlon, and can regularly do 300 push-ups as

This review was retrieved by Google from this blog post on Matt Davis’s Portland blog about his personal trainer. The blog, while very locally focused, is not review focused. Note that with little context other than the language of the post, the business name and phone number Google was able to attach the information as a review to Von Ray’s Place’s Page and highlighted the review like language from the post.

Some Additional Examples: Continue reading Google Maps: Now Adding Reviews from News Sites, Hyperlocal Blogs and Other Non Traditional Review Sources

Google Maps Also Showing Display Ads for LBC

Google Maps has been active both on-line and off promoting the Local Business Center. I noted last week that Google was increasing their trade show presence as well.

This weekend while visiting Sebastien Provencher’s blog I happen to notice this Google Display Ad showing on his site:

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It would be interesting to know the increases in LBC uptake amongst SMB’s since the Places campaign was rolled out last July.

How Often Did a Map Show on Google.com in December? 868 million times?

According to Comscore, in December 2009, Americans conducted 14.7 billion core searches, with Google Sites accounting for 65.7 percent search market share, virtually unchanged from 65.6 percent in November. Thus Google was searched 9.65 billions times in the US.

Google has noted in their official blog that “Proportion of Google result pages that show a map in search results: 1 in 13” ( based on our U.S. weekday traffic).

If we do a little back of the envelope calculation and estimate that 85% of searches never leave the front page, we can estimate that the map showed 1.15 times for every 13 front pages shown which means that is shows roughly 9 times per hundred searches.

If any of this is even remotely correct then a map was shown roughly 868 millions times during the month (9%) of December searches. This number is lower than the usual estimates of local searches and as Greg Sterling points out, many searches that show no local intent in fact are.

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.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search