We’ve heard the projections and we’ve seen the statistics: over 20 billion Google mobile searches with local intent in 2012. Mobile is projected to overtake desktop for local search by 2015. As of September of this year, 72% of SMBs planned to increase mobile spend over the next 12 months, with location-targeted advertising at the forefront.
Heading into the holiday season, things are getting even more mobile: Deloitte has just released a study showing that 68% of smartphone owners plan to use their phones for holiday shopping this year, with 62% looking up store locations, 58% conducting price comparisons, and 50% searching for product information. What’s more, this segment of the market plans to spend 72% more than other consumers, making the local mobile shopper a highly valuable target for businesses.
In local search, the migration to mobile is intensifying. All major local search players maintain their own apps, and Apple’s App Store currently returns 347 results for the phrase “local search,” including lots of new names like FastFood, My Local, Around Town, Poynt, Localscope, Gas It, SaleLocator, and many more. Even the Council for Better Business Bureaus has a BBB local search app. Not all of these apps will win significant market share, but some, like Waze, are following the wake of early entrants like Foursquare to grow a large user base while remaining entirely mobile-focused.
What I’d love to see is a service that aims at comprehensive analysis of SMB presence across the ‘app space’ for Android and Apple.
The time is not far away when businesses will begin to get concerned about the presence, accuracy, and effectiveness of their listings on mobile apps like these. But when a market is so fragmented, it becomes difficult to begin to assess performance, let alone take action to improve it.
Unlike desktop search, an open and cross-platform function that takes place on web pages in browsers, mobile search is less quantifiable, less measurable. An unknown but presumably large portion of mobile search is taking place in the self-contained context of an app. We probably do not have a firm grasp on just how much local search really is mobile today, given that statistics are based largely on browser-linked services like Google and Bing and not on activity across the broad spectrum of apps.
There exists an analytics gap. Analytics on local presence in desktop search are pretty well established, with a range of offerings from free lookup tools to deeper analyses of listing accuracy, reviews, social mentions, and the like. But we have no equivalent today for mobile search, though I imagine there are startups working to solve this problem as we speak. I’ve been paying attention to a few focused offerings that show promise for growth in this space, such as the new Perch app from Closely which lets businesses track the promotional activity of local competitors, as well as MomentFeed, which helps multi-location businesses manage their mobile presence on Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What I’d love to see is a service that aims at comprehensive analysis of SMB presence across the “app space” for Android and Apple.
Performance will be another issue for SMBs on mobile search, at least in the short-term. Aside from certain prominent examples like Google, Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter, most apps are not open to SMB participation and do not support any kind of claiming or direct listing management activity that would help them improve their mobile presence. Instead, SMBs must ensure they are listed accurately in the data files maintained by the providers that power mobile apps, such as Infogroup, Factual, Acxiom, Localeze, and others. For most businesses, these names are obscure and the processes unfamiliar. Granted, this helps create opportunity for companies like ours. At the same time, it makes long-term sense to promote direct participation by SMBs on more local apps, giving businesses a greater level of control and providing opportunities to engage directly with mobile consumers.
We are likely to see a great deal of growth in mobile websites for SMBs, partly because the current low rate of adoption means there’s nowhere to go but up. According to BIA/Kelsey, only 14.7% of SMBs have a mobile site today, with 22% planning to get one in the next year. Accordingly, one hopes to see onsite local optimization as a standard activity among the growing list of mobile website companies that are serving this market.
Damian Rollison is VP of Product and Technology at Universal Business Listing, a company dedicated to promoting online visibility for local businesses. Damian holds degrees from UC Berkeley and the University of Virginia, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. You can connect with him on Twitter.