Local search is a booming market, but with a slew of networks to keep track of — Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare and more — small- and medium-sized businesses face the challenge of maintaining their online presence in several, decentralized platforms. Beyond worrying about maintaining a positive reputation, businesses must also be on guard that basic NAP (name, address, phone number) information — the anchors of local search — is always correct … everywhere.
Localeze, acquired in October 2011 by Neustar, is a listings identity manager aimed at doing just that, both in its work with local businesses and with search engines. Street Fight spoke recently with Neustar Localeze senior vice president and general manager, Jeff Beard, to discuss the current state of local search and some broader trends in hyperlocal.
How does an SMB operating with a fixed budget and time constraints manage an online identity across Web 2.0′s array of networks?
Managing an online business identity means conveying to local search platforms the business owner is the trusted authority on the identity of their business. That would include the business name of record, the correct address, the accurate contact information and category detail that comprise the business’ online identity. A businesses’ online identity should not be confused with advertising, where parts of the identity may be altered to engage in a PPC (pay-per-click) or other type of online advertising campaign. If that identity is recognized by the search platform to be the anchoring point of all other content, then the business is now in a position to help the search platform connect valuable descriptive content from disparate sources to enhance the consumer’s view of [that] business.
In a perfect world, a business would go to a central place to ensure that every local search platform has their correct identity. An SMB with limited time should start by identifying the local search platforms most important to their business and address them. Major search engines are critical, as well as national internet Yellow Pages. While there are also hundreds of hyperlocal or hyper-vertical sites and mobile apps that can drive significant traffic and results, an SMB doesn’t have the time to manage, verify and protect their identity. That’s where Localeze comes into play and works with the majority of the large search, social, navigational, mapping and mobile platforms, and the more vertical directories.
So is that the current state of search as it relates to local business — overseeing directly relevant digital content the best ways it, legally, can?
Today, local search platforms are flush with rich and descriptive content, a good thing for the whole search market because highly descriptive content makes a consumer’s experience better. But the challenge going forward is not getting more content, but how to anchor that content to the correct business identity or NAP. Reconciling descriptive content from many disparate sources to one widely accepted identity is paramount for maximizing online monetization opportunities, [such as] social advertising [and] hyperlocal targeting.
How has mobile impacted consumers’ appetites toward local search?
Mobile search is local search with a higher grading scale. When the accuracy of local search was judged by results on a stationary desktop, getting a positive customer experience was much easier. Mobile search has raised the bar of what is an acceptable level of accuracy, due to the needed precision and the relative ease in which a user can evaluate search results.
Mobile search is the biggest factor accelerating improvements in local search including mapping, points of interest and business information in order to give the consumer the best possible local search experience. Mobile search is forcing all of the key players in local search to take their games to a higher level.
As for its impact on consumers, advances in technology and the rapid adoption of smartphones has kept consumer demand and usage growing.
Is smartphone penetration and tablet growth the only major reason local search has become such a fixture of consumers’ daily lives?
Advancements in technology, coupled with improvements in local search have kept consumers engaged and increased the number of searches for local businesses online. Also, the SoLoMo (Social-Local-Mobile) connection and consumers’ growing interest in sharing information about local businesses socially is having a positive effect on mobile local search growth.
What does Yelp‘s expansion mean for local businesses?
It means the ability to get your business exposed to more potential customers through local search, which is a great thing for businesses, as reviews have become very important citations in search results. Citations or mentions of a business name or address on other webpages, are becoming more critical in the deluge of content as they help search platforms to have greater confidence in the identity the business and so help in search ranking.
Having said that, review sites also bring challenges. A negative review, legitimate or not, can have an adverse impact on a business’ search ranking. Review sites are starting to be very helpful to businesses trying to address this situation. From our point of view, an equally negative outcome to the popularity of review sites is that many of these reviews are originating their own (and incorrect) versions of a business identity via crowdsourcing, rather than using a widely accepted one that is easier to match for a search platform. So the situation can result in search results where the consumer clearly sees multiple business listings for one business, all with slightly varied business identities — different name, address or phone number details — and differing reviews attached to each. This results in a bad experience for the user as well as for the business.
You predicted about 18 months ago a (sort of) merging of daily deals sites and listings providers — how has that panned out in accordance with your expectations?
It has not. The daily deal space has clearly slowed, but I wouldn’t rule out another push to prominence especially as mobile search matures. And I still stand by my comment with some modification. Connecting daily deals with business listing identities is the best way to optimize monetization efforts. Deals that cannot be linked to local search platform indexes are difficult to monetize in local search. Additionally, coupons and mobile can really bring about a “push solution” for advertisers and mobile search players. A user might not have to be searching for something specifically to find a coupon valuable. Merely coming within a reasonable distance of an establishment can trigger an action and a purchase.
What’s the future of daily deal sites — will they evolve as broader SMB marketers, dive into the loyalty space, etc.?
Deals or coupons have always been valuable for business advertisers irrespective of the media, and the same will eventually take form in the daily deal space. The ability to analyze, learn and refine will be better than ever because there will be so much data to analyze.
What’s next for local — will we continue to see the consolidation of services among deals providers, listings sites, marketing platforms, location-based services, etc. that seems to already be underway?
Yes — most likely around the advancement of mobile strategies. Devices will continue to become more mobile, not less. Hyper-precision will become increasingly important in all aspects of mobile search. The map [will] become the user interface for most functions, whether it’s a consumer doing a search or a business updating their identity. And the focus will start shifting to ensuring that local search platforms can correctly assemble deep and rich content they currently have and are continuing to receive from user-generated content and social sites.