Search engines need to catch up with how consumers shop and source information.
Dear Google Local Team:
I have been kicking around the local search business for over 20 years now, 17 of them on the digital side. Each month I meet with brands and help them navigate the options for promoting themselves and their retailers via local and mobile online options. In speaking with national brands, there is a great deal of frustration they have with how their brands are currently represented in local search. If you have ever tried to search locally to find a retailer that carried a specific branded product or service, you know their pain. For example, if you search "Sony Danbury," you get a page result that includes local listings for Sony's North American Headquarters in Park Ridge, NJ, but no local place to buy the product.
Because Google generally only cues brands in local search results if the brand name is part of the business name, products that are sold at local independent businesses or big box stores (e.g., Best Buy) are not returned in the local search results. Now, if you happen to be Apple, not such a big problem, as the Apple-owned-and-branded "Apple Store" will be displayed in the local search results. However, if you search in a geography where there is no company-owned store, alas, no local listings to guide consumers to the local purchase point.
What Is Old Is New Again
These problems are relatively easy to solve and have been solved before. Google needs to take a page from the old-school Yellow Pages. To solve the problem of providing consumers with the locations of the closed outlet for a specific brand, the trade name and trademark listings were invented in the late '50s.
From a technological standpoint, this is simply a hierarchical listing with the "Parent" data element being the local independent business listing and the "Child" element beings the brands carried. This enables local businesses to feature many or all of the brands that they represent and improves the consumer experience by directing them by the way they often search; by brand.
One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingy
The second peeve of national brands is how to help direct consumers to the area of the company or store that they are interested in. Google's policy for not allowing multiple listings at a single physical location creates huge issues for businesses like department stores and institutions like hospitals, just to name two. Instead of being able to direct consumers to their desired area of interest (e.g., emergency room), they force all communication and inquiry through a single phone number.
Businesses are then forced to field incoming inquires and route them either via operator or electronically via voice or keyed responses. Again, this problem has been solved before: it's called a "captioned sequence" listing.
Now to be clear, these problems are not exclusive to Google; Bing and Yahoo share many of the same issues. In fact, if you search "Sony Danbury" on Yahoo you get a listing for Icomputerland, which does service Sony laptops, however, you also get two listings for El Rancho Foods (Taco Bell)...TVs...tacos...?
Consumers search online and in many cases purchase online. Estimates of online retail sales range from 5 to 7 percent depending on the source you reference. Logically, that means that over 90 percent of retail sales happen offline.
We all know about how online influences offline purchase. The combination and integration of both on- and offline is vital for brands to tap into. Online and specifically local search are the gateways for brands to increase sales via what is termed a "clicks to bricks" strategy. The problem is, the search engines need to catch up with how consumers shop and source information. Merely replicating the old-school "white pages" online is not a sufficient consumer experience.
I (and a number of representatives of national brands) would love to sit down with you and your team, so that we might work together to help improve your product and increase the utility of the consumer experience for shoppers searching locally for brands on your sites.
Local Search image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
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