Where Is Search Heading? Check the Map

Nothing excites a crowd in the digital space quite like maps. Remarkably, after spending more than a decade in the search space, people are still awed by the visual evolution of a once-flat environment. Case in point – Apple announced earlier this week that the company was releasing its own 3D mapping capability and, in the process, removing Google as the default provider. This is news for two reasons. Obviously anything Apple does, especially if it has a material impact on a rival like Google, is going to be a story. Given the Android vs. iOS battle, it’s only surprising that the move has taken this long.

The longer term piece is not breaking news as much as it’s validation of many stories from the past year. Apple is clearly doubling down on the importance of local. On the heels of the Zagat integration and shift to the Google+ Local approach, the role local is going to play in determining brand viability and success cannot be understated. At the outset of 2012, GMS Local (a service of my company) research showed a surprising number of brands with significant local footprint under-investing in the local space.

For brands to be successful in search within a mobile-first world, there can be no greater priority than a well-curated local presence. Reviews, be it from Zagat or Yelp, will become a linchpin of business. A new onus will be put on businesses to empower in-store staff to solicit on-the-spot feedback via tablets vs. automated toll-free phone systems. Beyond reviews, the great visualization, and all other local elements, is a single item that strikes me as being the next great game-changer that people must consider when they think about search optimization in an Apple-centric world: Siri.

For years, the search industry has pontificated on what Apple search would and should look like. The answer was never going to materialize as 10 blue links, and I think we can now see that it, by and large, will not include many of the traditional elements we have come to think of as search. Apple is pushing “cards” of information off pins users have placed, or results for a given search, but that’s a short-term position. Long term, the answer of discovery on Apple devices is spoken or possibly just understood based on proximity and preference.

Foursquare, a company I’ve long thought would look better inside Apple than as a standalone, is trying to move this way with its newest app upgrade. Search established the importance of consumer intent for brands. Now proximity and past behavior can be layered onto the equation, giving brands a greater opportunity for more relevant responses and consumer engagements. For brands to realize this they have to start asking the question of what assets are needed and how will they be organized in a Siri world?

Search has always been personal. Everyone suspects it’s becoming more social, but maybe if you turn the map a different way you can see it become more about the moments that matter, and the places and brands that can help facilitate those moments.

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