Are Big Brands Lost in Local Search?

Advertisers differ in their goals, objectives, and metrics for search. Some merely want to drive traffic to their Web sites; others want to meet specific ROI (define) targets. Still others view their search campaigns as vehicles for building or strengthening their brands. Search brand value has drawn a great deal of attention with the release of several studies sponsored, in part, by the major search engines. Why? High search volume and even higher budgets.

Fueled by the release of numerous products from major search engines, along with seemingly endless media hype, the buzz surrounding local search’s anticipated scope and potential is building in the marketing world. It’s finally begun to register on the radar of corporate CMOs and other decision makers.

Recent research from The Kelsey Group indicates local search revenues could exceed $20 billion, or about 20 percent of all Web search activity, by 2009. Well, maybe. To date, growth within the local space has been slow, accounting for just $500 million of a total $7 billion search pie so far this year. Why so slow? One reason could be big brands’ reluctance to play in the local search arena.

Thanks to some strong PR, email flies from CMO laptops to company marketing directors and managers: “What exactly is local search at this point? How can we move our brand into the local search space? What does local search mean to a prominent brand like ours?” Panic and confusion set in.

A thorough exploration of your options and some very creative marketing tactics are in order.

PPC (define) search has benefited immensely in recent years from big-brand budgets. The offering is clear, and users are searching en masse. But how do big-brand advertisers leverage local search to their advantage?

If you’re an advertiser with a brick-and-mortar presence in a community, local search can be a bonanza, bringing customers flocking to your doorstep and making your phone ring off the hook. It’s a business requisite. But where’s the benefit of playing in the local space for large, ubiquitous national or global brands? How can the maps, directions, phone numbers, and user reviews that are local search’s bread and butter help them tell their story?

To begin with, local search has tremendous potential to serve as a branding vehicle for large advertisers, even those without retail brick-and-mortar outlets. A manufacturer can encourage retail outlets to list “authorized [brand name] dealer” in their Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) business profiles or to otherwise suggest their connection with the global brand. This strategy can lend legitimacy and luster to the smaller retailer while making its giant supplier’s brand even more ubiquitous.

For big-name advertisers with their own offline locations, local search can be an even greater customer magnet, facilitating customer access at the precise moment when people are to ready to purchase.

Studies show a significant percentage of online research drives offline conversion. Consider the lengthy research clickstream and the considerable latency between a user’s first research clicks and the final purchase, particularly with high-dollar purchases that consumers typically find greater comfort performing offline. A recent Yahoo-sponsored study shows 52 percent of respondents who purchased offline at several major consumer electronics stores first researched purchases online.

Online marketing budgets and metrics may not even take an offline conversion component into account. It’s even more likely to lack support in marketers’ strategies.

Don’t forget the simple steps. Enhance the probability of success by ensuring company sites include what might seem like mundane minutiae: ensure store locations and feature descriptions are current and easily accessible. Don’t assume prospective customers will comb through your site to find them.

The local search waters can be murky at best. Over the coming weeks, I hope to provide a clear overview of the latest developments, challenges, and opportunities to be had by businesses in local search:

  • New features to target local searchers, local search product development, and integration from the major search engines
  • Dedicated local search engines and smaller vertical search engines with local features
  • The effect of new technologies and platforms, such as mobile, on local search
  • Specific challenges facing various local search marketers

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with feedback or suggestions.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Phil is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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