When It Comes to Mobile Local Search and SMBs: Mind the Gap

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MobileDespite all of the excitement around local, a key challenge continues to be selling advertising or technology products to SMBs. They’re time-starved, cash strapped, often tech illiterate, and approached by growing legions of local media sales reps.

Mobile local advertising has made this challenge both better and worse. Mobile is inherently local and thus conducive to location-based, high-intent user engagement. That appeals to many SMBs, but mobile also exacerbates their paradox of choice.

The result is a gap between user behavior and advertiser adoption (something highlighted in Street Fight’s report Hyperlocal Targeting on the Mobile Platform). Mary Meeker’s famous ad share slide illustrates this on a broader scale, but it’s especially pronounced within the resource-constrained SMB sector.

For example, among the roughly 20 billion monthly global mobile searches, 40% to 50% are local. Much of this traffic ends up on Google Map links or Yelp profiles, but a considerable portion links to SMB mobile websites. However only 5% of those sites are mobile optimized.

Another proof point came with the latest installment of the xAd and Telmetrics’ influential Path to Purchase report. The ongoing study tracks commercial search and usage behavior across devices, and is administered semi-monthly by Nielsen.

The  report zeros in on the travel vertical and specifically in the U.K. It’s been covered so I won’t rehash the findings (infographic here). But a conversation last week with Telmetrics President Bill Dinan uncovered more on the “gap” problem.

Specifically, 40% of U.K. travel searchers access mobile web only and 10% use apps (42% use both). The web-only segment is yet another sign of importance for SMB websites. But with 5% optimized, most of these mobile searchers are ending up on sub-optimal pages.

This all plays out in the travel vertical when mobile web users visit branded travel sites like TripAdvisor. They’re in fact twice as likely to do so according to the report. But then all goes awry, says Dinan, when users link to SMB websites for listed local businesses.

“With travel, you’re starting on these well-known sites and then looking for more detail so linking off from there to the SMB’s page,” he explained. “For that 40% of users searching exclusively on the mobile web, the experience falls down at the last step.”

This can be bad for branding if users are left with a bad taste in their mouths from a disjointed mobile website experience. This is notably one reason behind Google’s recent move to further penalize (de-rank) mobile websites that aren’t mobile optimized.

The takeaway: This is one big opportunity for third parties to help SMBs get there. That can be marketing or SEO consultants, but the real opportunity according to Dinan is for the local media organizations with deep roots and existing relationships with SMBs.

Dinan isn’t shy to name names either. He calls out YP companies as well as local search agencies with a U.K. foothold. This comes back to the fact that YP brands — and their recent incarnations like Solocal in France — are very strong in Europe compared to many markets.

“The U.K. is a market where mobile usage and growth is greater than anywhere else in Europe,” said Dinan. “Because of the need for and strength of YP brands in the U.K., the opportunity for Thomson Directories and HIBU, as well as Reach Local, is incredible.”

It spans beyond these players, as the U.K. research has takeaways for other markets with similar dynamics, including the U.S. and Western Europe. “Mind the Gap” is similarly a mantra for local media players to remember, with parallels beyond its underground origins.

speaker_MichaelBolandMike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for ForbesRed HerringBusiness 2.0, and other outlets.


Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at Localogy.com