Why Attributes and Identities Matter in Local Search

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Google continues to remind businesses that location data is the foundation of their brands. The question is whether your business is taking advantage of the opportunities Google is creating to use location data to build your brand. Two recent developments from Google, (the Version 3 API update and the launch of Google Assistant) along with an improved version of Apple’s Siri together make a case in point.

Google Version 3 API
One of the most significant developments from the Version 3 API update is that Google gave businesses the ability to add a deeper layer of location information, or attributes. The ability to add attributes is important. Attributes form one half of your location data asset. The other half consists of a more foundational layer of data known as identities. It’s up to you to unleash that asset properly so that people can find you throughout the digital world when they conduct near me searches.

I’ve been immersed in identities and attributes for many years, going back to my days at Neustar Localeze. I most recently discussed them at the SMX West Conference in San Jose.  Here’s how I make the distinction:


Why Identities Matter
As noted in the graphic, identities consist of foundational data: your business name, address, phone number, primary business categorization, and website address. When your attributes are accurate, you send a signal to search engines when people conduct near me searches: I exist. Here’s where to find me. If you don’t get your identities right, you might as well send consumers to your competitors.

Identities assist in two important types of search:

  • Recovery search, a term that John Battelle coined to describe the action of searching for information about a business you already know something about. Having your data formatted accurately for recovery search is especially important to create recurring customer relationships. If you’ve been to the Purple Pig tapas restaurant in Chicago and want to take your friends there, you’re going to look up the address for the Purple Pig instead of searching for “Chicago tapas restaurants near me open for lunch.”
  • Prompted search, a term I created to describe a search that occurs after you’ve heard the name of a business and you want to find it. Prompted search can occur in context of a referral or mention of the brand in an advertisement or via PR. The existence of prompted search is why I always advise businesses that operate brick-and-mortar locations to ensure that they coordinate a strong location data strategy along with a branding campaign, whether through advertising, PR, social media, or all three. When you spread your name through brand awareness, you’re prompting people to naturally look for you. They won’t unless your identities are accurate.

When you think identities, think foundation. The stronger your foundation, the stronger your brand.

Why Attributes Matter
As noted, attributes consist of a deeper layer of descriptive information such as product offerings, business specialties, services a business provides, payment methods accepted, hours of operation, and unique offerings within the business category. Attributes assist in discovery search, a term created by John Battelle to describe a search for answers in the context of a general query — when you don’t have the name of a particular business in mind. The search for “Chicago tapas restaurants near me and open for lunch” that I mentioned is a discovery search. So with the example of the Purple Pig that I described, it’s important that the restaurant include its category and menu in its local listings.

Put another way: attributes help your business appear in a consideration set when a searcher is looking for something to do and wants to know some options. Managing your attributes well improves your chances of appearing in the consideration set. For instance, your business category and specialties you offer qualify you for searches for tapas restaurants. Your hours of operation are an attribute that allows you to be considered for a searcher who seeks a tapas restaurant that is open for lunch.

Attributes are also variable and customizable depending on the context of your business and your customer. For example, during the holiday shopping season, a business needs to update its hours of operation. A movie chain operating in multiple markets needs to constantly update its inventory (names of movies) and its show times as appropriate for each city, including instances when one theater might host a special event not available elsewhere.

Because they are variable, attributes are more difficult to manage. Google’s GMB API update is a huge help for businesses that need to react quickly to update their attributes on their Google My Business Pages, but it’s not the complete answer to manage attributes across all your local pages. Especially if you operate hundreds and thousands of locations, you may need real-time insight into your product inventory and a content platform to make updates continuously.

Google Assistant
But, however difficult the job is to update attributes, the job must be done. And if you paid attention to Google I/O 2016, you got a reminder of why when Google announced Google Assistant. With Google Assistant, a consumer can have a more rich conversation with Google, which includes asking more sophisticated questions that include discovery searches. At I/O 2016, CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated how Google Assistant makes it possible for a consumer to narrow, say, movie choices by variables such as time, name of director, and rating by asking Google questions that go well beyond, “Find movies near me.” With Google Assistant, a user can talk to Google, suggesting attributes such as, “Help me figure out what kind of kid-friendly movies are playing tonight before 10 p.m. for a family of four,” resulting in answers that include not only movie times but ticket prices and seating availability.

Only businesses that keep their attributes updated in real time will win when Google Assistant is here this summer.

A Smarter Siri
At the 2016 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple demonstrated how Siri is also becoming more intelligent, supporting more intuitive discovery across a broad ecosystem ranging from Apple TV to CarPlay to messaging. According to Apple, Siri is providing more context-aware suggestions based on factors such as where you are, recent places you have visited, and your calendar availability. Moreover, Apple has opened up Siri to developers so that users can use to call up commands with third-party apps such as Uber and WeChat. So, with the smarter and more connected Siri, users will be able to say, “Hey Siri, WeChat Nancy that I’m five minutes late” or “Siri, Uber me over to visit Nancy at Starbucks.”

A smarter Siri that is more plugged into the discovery ecosystem underscores why businesses need to manage their attributes and identities properly. Savvy businesses will win when consumers discover things to do and command Siri to follow through on initial discovery.

What You Should Do
Making sure your attributes and identities are managed effectively means creating a location data management strategy that treats your location data as a scalable asset. Among other things, your strategy should:

  • Take stock of all your business locations.
  • Assess the accuracy and completeness of your attributes and identities.
  • Identify a game plan for sharing your attributes and identities with data aggregators and publishers (which collectively are known as data amplifiers) that share your attributes and identities to all the places where people conduct discovery, recovery, and prompted search.

With a strategy in place, you will have built a solid foundation to ensure that location data is the foundation for your brand.

Gib-Olander-150x150Gib Olander is vice president of product at Chicago-based SIM Partners.