How Maps Are Transforming Local Search

Recently, I was in the airport where I watched a 10-year-old boy show his dad how to access Google Maps for directions to their hotel. I had to laugh. But then I started pondering how local search and navigation have changed in just a few short years. When had I last used my atlas? It’s pretty outdated – the 1997 edition, and that’s probably around the last time I used it. The point is maps, as simplistic as they may seem at times, are not just for the atlas anymore.

Maps are fairly uncomplicated. You are here, and you want to go there. However, when you throw a word like “Google” or “Bing” in front of maps, you have a much richer experience. Back in 1998 when Google Maps was just starting up, the main purpose of the Web site was to map roads, highways, towns, and cities. Fast forward 12 years, and local search sites of this caliber are now a symbol of all things local search. These sites are a venue for businesses to promote their local relevance to users. They’re a place where consumers can not only find out how to get somewhere, but what will be there when they get there. And all of this started with a map.

What About IYPs?

It’s no news to anyone that the progression of local search started with print yellow pages and has since moved online in the form of Internet yellow pages (IYPs). However, search engines have gotten wise to the fact that consumers are closer to the point of purchase when using IYPs than they are with search engines. That’s why search engines are upping the local search ante, and, as a result, are starting to steal share from the IYPs on both the big search engines and their respective local search sites.

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In terms of unique visitors, Google Maps leads the race and taking share from some IYPs. In the past, many of the IYPs relied heavily on favorable organic SERP (define) placement as a traffic driver to their local sites. Now that Google (and Google Maps) has increased its local search results, users don’t have to click through to the IYP sites.

Some IYPs that have realized this decrease from a lack of SERP placement have regained traffic through increased distribution and promotion of their sites. is a good example of a site that has made a comeback in the traffic wars, and consequently, is now taking share from some of the smaller players.

There Is No Silver Bullet

Local search, however, isn’t just about Google Maps or It still surprises me how advertisers, both local and national, look for one site or tactic to be the magical solution to their lead generation challenges. As I stated in a recent Webcast for ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, silver bullets don’t exist in the local search space. To be successful, advertisers must research local market options and develop a diversified portfolio of sites and ads to capture maximum results.

If all of this sounds complicated, take a breath and relax. With just an address and a phone number, businesses can take control of their local business listings. Businesses that will become trusted and more relevant to a consumer’s search are the ones that will proactively provide accurate information, as well as relevant content that will make them stand out from the competition.

A Look Ahead

There’s a lot going in local search, and it’s almost as hot of a topic as the uprising of Facebook and Twitter. Whether it’s a general search on Google, a question asked on Facebook, or a restaurant you find on your smartphone, local search is all-encompassing. Here’s the evidence:

  • Last year was the first year that local online advertising spend was projected to pass national online advertising spend ($12.34 billion vs. $11.39 billion, respectively), according to eMarketer.
  • National brands are now focusing more on the leads they generate at the local level than the overall branding message they promote at the corporate level.
  • Location-sensitive advertising on mobile is the biggest thing since sliced bread and will only continue to increase as more and more consumers get on smartphones.
  • Bing Maps is implementing augmented reality within its search function so that users can see firsthand what businesses look and feel like.

Small Is the New Big

Local search may have taken awhile to get its foot-hold in the online world, but with all of the current activity and potential for the future, local search will make this world a whole lot smaller. To be successful in local search, marketers should implement programs that target where local usage is today. As for the future of local search? It’s going to take on a whole new meaning in the social realm. Stay tuned for more on that in next month’s column.

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