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The Future of Local

  |  August 26, 2013   |  Comments

All too often we get caught up reacting to the latest changes Google, Yahoo, and Bing throw at marketers as we race to gain advantage for our clients and the brands they represent.

With SES San Francisco right around the corner (September 10 to 13), I started thinking about the panel I will be speaking on, "The Future of Local Search: 5 Layers of Local." All too often we get caught up reacting to the latest changes Google, Yahoo, and Bing throw at marketers as we race to gain advantage for our clients and the brands they represent. So allowing the mind to wander into the near future and pontificate on what may be coming is interesting.

According to the session abstract, "We will see innovation in the 5 layers of local: Data, Algorithm, Interface, Transaction and Delivery," thus composing the topics we will focus on. So I thought it might be interesting to preview some of the thinking on these focus areas.

Data

Ever since I first became involved with the NYNEX/Prodigy project to provide online interactive Yellow Pages over personal computers in January 1995 (and yes, that makes me an Internet dinosaur), we have continued to have the same issues. The foundation data underpinning local search is flawed. There still is no single repository of quality information. This fact forces publishers to aggregate data from a multitude of sources and try to wring out a complete and accurate data source of local business listings. Until this is solved, we will continue to see accuracy rates that reflect less than 80 percent accuracy and completeness of information.

Algorithm

The Holy Grail for local SEOs is an understanding of how to boost their clients' listings into top position, thereby increasing the selection rate of these businesses. Much has been written on the topic, including a couple of articles by myself, which you can find here. As the models for local shift from purely organic representations of local listings to more paid representations of listings and local advertising (something I hinted to in last month's "Where Will Google's Local Carousel Go to Next?"), the algorithm will shift from pure content and citation measures to more monetary or bid-based measures. Did you think the search engines were going to provide local search free of charge forever?

Interface

Certainly this is the most dynamic change facing local markers. With 56 percent of all American adults now smartphone adopters and tablet's explosion onto the local search ecosystem, understanding and leveraging "interface" is the single largest opportunity and pitfall for local marketers.

topactivities
Source: 15miles/Localeze 2013 Local Search Study conducted by comScore.

The evidence is clear. While I was unable to find a recent statistic, it is apparent that well less than 50 percent of marketers have a mobile adaptive or responsive presence and are not ready to leverage the huge opportunity pool that smartphones and tablets offer. I am actually embarrassed that I have not updated tips for mobile marketers presented in "Mobile Website or Please Read the Fine Print?" but they are a starting point, and as of yet, most have not adapted the simple advice in that column.

Another fascinating component to interface is the emergence of "augmented reality" devices and interfaces. Yelp's Monocle was one of the first to market back in 2009, allowing users to focus on a given block and see ratings of the businesses viewed via the iPhone or Android device.

The latest device entrant is the innovative Google Glass. Jayson DeMers recently published a ClickZ column on the possible uses of Google Glass in "How Will Google Glass Change Internet Marketing?" Interestingly, the concept of Google Glass is not a new or original concept. Steve Mann, then working for MIT's Media Lab, had discussed his fourth generation of "Glass" back in 1999.

For those who have not yet seen it, SNL's "Randall Meeks" gives a very humorous look at the features and capabilities of Google Glass (caution: some adult topics are presented).

sergey-brin-google-glass

But seriously, interface will continue to be a fast-evolving component of local and marketers need to keep up with the latest offering and ensure that their listings, promotion, and advertisements leverage the unique characteristics/opportunities of interface.

Transaction

Somewhat ironic, but I was having breakfast in a rural Pennsylvania diner last week where I would say the deep fryer oil has not been replaced since WWII, yet when the bill was presented, it was on an Apple iPad and the waitress swiped my card tableside and asked me if she could email me the receipt so they could remain "paper free." Companies like Square and Intuit GoPayment, as well as a host of others, are providing hardware and software to turn tablets and smartphones into cash registers, accelerating a trend of innovation regarding local transactions.

Delivery

By now we have all heard of "ROBO" - research online, buy offline - but the new trend is "BODO" - bought online, delivered offline (sort of sounds like a character out of "The Lord of the Rings," right?). Certainly this is nothing new, but the past is littered with unsuccessful attempts at delivery of online-purchased goods. Webvan and Kozmo are just two examples of companies that tried to scale to nationwide delivery services. Ironically, Webvan is now owned by Amazon, which has rolled out AmazonFresh in Seattle and LA marketplaces. Look for more local delivery options in the near future as the new insurgents are tackling the challenge of local delivery one market at a time.

The future of local is at an important stage in its development, as large national and international players would love to tap into this large potential revenue pool. The problem with local is…well, it is local, and that is what users expect and demand. Not reskinned, quasi-local national and regional information. If the recent retrenchment of Patch.com is any indication, it looks like the future of local will be an emergence of local properties owned and operated with advertising sold at the local level; what is old is new again.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregg Stewart

Gregg Stewart is founder and president of 3rd Act Marketing, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy, specializing in digital solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 3rd Act supports businesses and agencies of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. With more than 20 years experience, Stewart applies his successful tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital and mobile 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. In 2013, Stewart was recognized with the ClickZ Hall of Fame award.

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