At the beginning of 2016, just over 200 million people globally were using ad blocking software. That figure has been on the rise year-over-year, and we can expect the that as we head into 2017 that figure will be significantly larger.
With so many people blocking traditional advertising, a growing proportion of internet users cannot be reached through “classic” search engine marketing. That’s why in the context of ad blocking, SEO is still king. But that doesn’t mean the current system is without its own inherent challenges.
Top results, top of the class
Google search results have a direct impact on the success of a business. Marketers who want to be placed as far up in search results as possible basically have two options: Either work with SEO to optimize their own pages, or place Google Ads for their business. While both of these are cost-intensive, SEO is often seen as a longer-term investment, with potentially longer-lasting benefits. However, SEO is also more labor- and time-intensive than placing ads.
Further challenges for SEO remain: Even if it provided more sustainable, mid-to-long term success, Google-optimized search results still have to compete with up to four Google Ads, with text crafted by marketers. A tough crowd to compete with.
That’s why Google Ads remain a popular advertizing form, and it’s still common for major brands to buy Google advertizing space in search results, even when they’re number one for organic search results, enabling them to benefit from the best of both worlds.
So the question is: How do you rank highly without incurring high costs and without investing so much time and labour into organic search?
The answer: local search
Local search is optimization tied to a place. Local businesses can exploit local search and the local pack from Google to boost their businesses. When a user searches for a goods or services constrained by proximity (i.e. searches which look for goods and services ‘near me’, or in a particular location), local businesses can truly benefit.
While the competition provided by Google Ads should not be underestimated, local search is constrained by space, and therefore limits the reach of the competition when targeting users through ads or non-location based optimization. Therefore, it provides a quick SEO win: pages can be quickly optimized, as location is a defining part of the search, thereby cancelling out the labour-intensive part of the equation.
Furthermore, a great advantage of local search is that unlike Google Ads, businesses can add their business’ location to Google Maps, which gives the user added value to business information: Proximity to the business location, Google My Business Profile customer ratings and opening times.
The biggest advantage, however, is that, unlike Google Ads, local search results cannot be touched by ad blockers. This means one thing: in the local search sphere, local search has more advantages for businesses in the long-term than Google Ads.
Adblockers on the rise
Ok, seriously though: Why should ad blockers be taken into account if most users still don’t use them?
69.8 million Americans use ad blockers, with Millenials the most keen to use the technology. In my native Germany, just under a quarter of all users have ad blockers installed either on their desktops or mobiles.
While most users are concerned primarily with blocking intrusive pop-up advertising, once the blocker is activated it also blocks unobtrusive ads. For mobile users, ad blockers also save data volume and load time.
In Asia, many users have recently adopted the use of blockers, which is why the ad blocking share there in 2015 rose to 38% worldwide. Everywhere you look, this trend seems set to grow.
Local remains unblockable
If you are a retailer or a service provider using local search, you should actually welcome ad blocking.
When blockers are activated, the local pack of search results moves into the most prominent area of the results page and a business’ location comes complete with customer reviews and opening times, thus arousing even more user interest.
Nowadays, over 80% of consumers search for stores nearby. If a local provider does not want to leave anything to chance, then the best option for them is the cost-efficient optimization of the local search-ranking system. Only this links search engine presence with added value to information for the user and is still ad-blocker-resistant. Since you save on both labor and cost, local search is really a quick double-win.
Florian Huebner is co-founder and MD of uberall. He was previously a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, and studied at the universities of Karlsruhe, Southern California and Sydney. He tweets at @flohuebner.