A long-brewing change is transforming the way local business listings get used, says Mohannad El-Barachi, CEO of search marketing platform SweetIQ.
Web and app-based directories that show where to find stores, restaurants, and other merchants are pretty common nowadays. But unless they take advantage of other services, content, and platforms, they are little more than digitized yellow pages. In this recent interview with Street Fight, El-Barachi says the integration of more features, such as chat or connections to social media, benefits businesses by opening up new ways to bring in customers.
How are local listings changing with the way consumers connect with businesses?
We are starting to see a trend emerge where listings are no longer this very basic offering of just a name, address and phone number on a page. When we launched our smart network a few months ago, one of the key elements was leveraging data we have and all of the analytics to really understand the impact listings have on the bottom line of your business. What is it driving in terms of results?
What we’ve seen so far, with the launch of our smart network, are performance improvements across the board. We have maintained a narrative across our customer base to stop thinking of listings as only foundational building blocks and more about what they are becoming—almost full-fledged websites that allow a hyperlocal consumer who is looking for information to engage with your business.
More advanced features are launching on listings, such as Yelp introducing the chat feature to allow visitors to chat directly with the store owner or manager. I believe Facebook is doing the same thing and I think there is talk of Google doing something like that imminently as well.
There are going to be more introductions of social features as well as the ability to provide additional interactions. We’re going to see more things like what Starbucks has done with its app, where you can order your favorite beverage and pick it up at the store closest by. I think you’re going to be doing that more and more from listings.
More interesting applications will pop up on the notion of reserving a table at a restaurant or shopper assistance at a retail location. We’re seeing Google already integrated with Uber, where you can directly order a car from Google Maps or a Google My Business page. We’re going to see more integrations with sharing economy type platforms like Airbnb and Turo, especially if you want to rent a car to get to your destination or look for a place to stay if you are visiting nearby.
The introduction of the Google lists, where you can create notions of different places to visit on a trip, is gearing more and more towards launching more features that make it seamless. This is attributable to their plans with self-driving cars, where you can get in your car, connect it to your Google account and it will have the list of your destinations, and take you from location to location.
Based on the information with these listings, you may be able to engage with the business while you’re en route — ordering a product or service or reserving a table, or looking for a place to stay.
It’s an exciting time for listings; seeing that usage of listings and mechanisms that connect with the hyperlocal consumer is relevant. We’re going to see a lot of new features emerge over the course of 2017.
Are there particular features you expect to see stand out this year?
We’re going to see chat modules become more prominent across the majority of directories. It just makes sense to leverage that page as an entry point, like a walkie-talkie between the store manager and the consumer. Yelp invested in a company called Nowait, which allows you to see which restaurants have a waitlist that is willing to accommodate you based on the time of day. We’re going to see more functionality that relates to real-time availability of the products and services or tables. Certainly a lot more, tighter integrations of Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and Turo.
The idea of connecting location with the social sphere has been kicked before; what’s different now compared with how it was introduced in the past?
Traditionally social has been used at the branding level, at the top corporate identity level, where you have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram big brand pages. We’re seeing an evolution of that getting localized. A brand that may have 1,000 locations might now look at launching social campaigns at the store level. They’ve come to recognize through listings, the way customers connect at the individual store has a material impact on the brand itself. We’re going to see more active Twitter usage on the individual store-side, with the events and promotions that are there.
Social is transitioning from a brand-level element to a more store-level element in conjunction with the brand.
Are there ways to make these interactions more organic and authentic to make consumers more receptive?
Cater the content on the social channels to the geography the stores are in. If you have 1,000 locations across the width and breadth of the United States, catering to a consumer in New York City is going to require different messaging than for a customer in a small town, or Boise, Idaho, or San Francisco. We’re going to see a localization of content relevant to the geography and time of year and the specific flare of the person managing the store. Instead of two-for-one Big Macs across the board, in New York the deal could be for a specific context in a particular time of year that makes sense for that market.
Do you have a wish list of things you would like to see happen this year and beyond?
The biggest thing, and we’re already seeing some trends in that direction, is access to real-time data for consumers to make decisions. We’ve already seen with Google, they are now showing on a chart how busy a location is based on historical data, so that you would know whether you should go to the point of interest you’re looking at.
There’s enough data sources between Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare and others that have accessibility into where consumers are walking and which stores they’re going to in order to allow other consumers make engaged decisions. Maybe they are looking a slightly busier place for entertainment. Maybe they are looking for a quieter place to shop that doesn’t have as much traffic right now.
João-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.