The iPhone and Local Search Marketing

After months of hype, the iPhone finally launched, with reviews, blog postings, and commentaries pouring in. The reception for the most part has been glowing, so much so that many believe Apple’s new little wonder raised the bar for wireless devices overall.

I’ve discussed the mobile local search market and the popularity of researching and searching for the iPhone online. This time, I’ll look at what the iPhone does for mobile local search. When a device makes the kind of waves the iPhone has, it could very well make waves for the entire local search industry.

A New Local Search Tool

Let’s start with the iPhone’s user interface. There are 16 links a user can engage with, four primary and 12 secondary. The primary links are for phone, e-mail, Web, and music applications. The secondary are links for such applications as video, photos, SMS (define) text, maps, and a few other utilitarian applications, such as settings, a calculator, and notes.

The map application is essentially a local search tool built on top of Google Maps. It provides an easy means of generating maps and driving directions, as well as searching for local business listings. It truly is unlike any other mobile local search application I’ve ever seen. The size of the phone itself, the layout, and the information flow make it very easy to navigate and use the local content.

Business listings are organized in the same manner as on Google Maps on a desktop browser, though what’s presented to the iPhone user isn’t exactly the same.

The user sees basic listing information, such as business name, address, phone number, and a Web site link, very much like the traditional Google Maps interface. However, when the iPhone presents map information, it doesn’t include overviews, reviews, details, or the photos you get with Google Maps.

IPhone’s Local Search Marketing Potential

There’s currently no local advertising directly associated with the listings presented in iPhone Google Maps results — or any other type of advertising, for that matter. Someday soon, however, there will be local business data associated with this Google Map information. The ease of content navigation on the iPhone makes this something of a no-brainer.

How accurate will the data be? That’s largely up to the merchant. Google draws much of the information it presents to users from other search engines and directories. So if a given business listing is represented at all the search engines, the better the chance it will appear in mobile local search results.

The site link provided with the listing may or may not be the local business’ site. It may be a link to Kudzu or Citysearch, much like Google provides online. Based on the widely accepted estimate that only about 50 percent of local businesses have a Web site, it’s fair to assume for half of their local searches, users are presented with the Web site of the actual business, though for the other half they’ll need to visit another directory. That will work fine as long as users have a Wi-Fi connection, but for the other half, it could lead to a less-than-optimal user experience.

Offer Rich Business Data

What does all this mean to local businesses? It’s becoming important to offer detailed business listings content describing simply and clearly what they do day in, day out. After all, consumers will use these devices to reference information quickly when they’re ready to make a purchase.

According to research conducted by the Yellow Pages Association, 75 percent of the consumers who use an Internet yellow pages (IYP) site make a purchase within a short time. Consumers using mobile search devices, such as the iPhone, will most likely make purchases at the same rate, if not more quickly, than those using an IYP site.

After all, why would you conduct a mobile local search for a local pizza place or bike shop if you weren’t planning to call to place an order, check to see if they’re still open, or carry a specific brand of bike?

To ensure consumers follow through, merchants will want consumers to rapidly find the touring bike or extra-cheese special they were looking for.

The Next Local-Marketing Platform

What do the next versions of the iPhone and similar devices need to build on to deliver the next big thing in mobile local search? They must bring the relevant content to the forefront for the user in much the same manner that and Yahoo Local do online.

Apple and AT&T expect to sell over 10 million of these devices the first year. While 10 million consumers are a relatively small percentage, they’re in the demographic that gets Madison Avenue types salivating. If you’re a local advertiser, you should get excited, too.

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