Finding the Balance Between Relevance and Reach in SMB Content

It’s simple enough to say that creating great content or a great platform should be enough to bring users to your door; but if they have no idea you exist, getting the word out effectively is both a matter of reaching your intended user base and staying within the confines of an algorithmically defined concept of quality content. For small and medium-sized businesses, the challenge is to be present and available to customers and potential customers in multiple online venues in a way that conserves effort while remaining effective…

Do Small Businesses Really Need a Website?

The website is the richest online repository of compelling information about a business, but it probably isn’t its primary means of attracting customers. Rather, customers who find you via Google Maps or Facebook may need to refer to your website in the event a third party search doesn’t provide enough information to make a buying decision. The website serves as a last stage effort to win business that hasn’t already been secured via local search…

The Government Shutdown and the Local Data Economy

For the most part, local search appears to demonstrate with flying colors the benefits of getting things done in the private sector. Not only is it a self-sustaining and profitable industry; it exhibits a drive to innovate that brings ever-improving services to our desktops and handheld devices at a dizzying pace. Imagine if local directories and apps were run by the same bureaucracy that manages the Postal Service, the IRS, and the Census Bureau. We’d probably still be using phone books. Yet at a fundamental level, governmental authorities still act as objective reference points when it comes to information of interest to the public…

Calculating the ROI of Local Search Campaigns

How can we calculate just how much return a given business can expect on the investment of time, money, or both into a local search campaign? For many business owners, it’s that type of dollars and cents calculation that will drive them to decide whether or not to move forward with a campaign. Other metrics are important but ultimately secondary to the bottom line…

What Will It Take to Bring All Businesses Online?

Many small businesses are claiming their Google and Bing listings, interacting with reviewers on Yelp, and using social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Inside the local bubble, it might seem as though the importance of these activities has been long established. Surely only a business stuck in the stone age would ignore the statistics we all know and love about searches with local intent, the explosion of mobile, and the critical need to be well represented in Google search results. How, then, are we to take a report showing that 52% of SMBs still don’t have a website?

How Will Jeff Bezos Redefine the Newspaper?

Amazon has always been a virtual marketplace, where the location of the buyer has very little to do with a transaction. Bringing the Bezos vision to bear on a community-oriented portal could mean any number of things, but it certainly means the potential for services that bear some resemblance to traditional journalism but are remediated into a form that takes advantage of digital commerce and social media, while maintaining a sense of local community…

How Local Search Looks to the Rest of Us

It seems like many recent conversations, webinars, articles, and studies have pointed to the same conclusion: local search as an industry is insufficiently aware of how its products are actually used by consumers and small businesses. Many of the solutions put forward by consumer-facing local publishers and by business-facing services overestimate our appetite for new products and the amount of time and energy we want to spend using online tools…

The Good and Bad of Local Discovery on Our Summer Road Trip

Greetings from a summer road trip in the Pacific Northwest. Amid games of twenty questions and alphabet animals, we have faced the typical needs of the traveler: shelter, food, gas, and fun. Naturally, we’ve turned to local search, just like the other 31% of leisure travelers (up from 18% in 2010). I’ve written mainly about local search on the homefront and travel is another kind of use case entirely, one that in many ways has been “solved” by existing services — but has it? In our experience, you often have to be creative to get what you need…

The Local Search Shadow Economy

We know that there exist a great number of businesses in our local communities that service a variety of needs at their clients’ homes or business locations. Aside from specialized services like Angie’s List and Service Magic, there are few local search outlets that serve potential clients or service providers well in terms of their ability to connect a need with the appropriate provider…

Looking Up: Local Data and the Real World

Google Glass may be overpriced or simply too odd for many consumers, but it still represents a manner of thinking about the interconnectedness of the internet and the world that is an inevitable outcome of current trends. With smartphones as our constant companions, we already spend a vast amount of our time looking down to look things up.

Local Search for Events: The Great Missed Opportunity

My jumping off point for this week’s column is a recent post from Greg Sterling, where he observes that despite all the impressive innovation around local search in recent years, no one has launched a truly useful local events service. I have had this feeling for years and wasn’t sure if it was just me. But if Greg doesn’t know about a local events service that truly works, I think it’s fair to say one doesn’t exist. So pay attention, developers and entrepreneurs: local events need a killer app…

Managing Local Presence on Mobile Devices: A Developing Challenge

The continued strong growth of mobile local search combined with the high value of mobile customers indicates a shift in attention is required on the part of local search publishers, in order to make it easier for businesses to manage their listing content on the devices consumers are turning to in ever increasing numbers.

Overlaying Local: Do We Want Listings in Context?

Maponics is working on an initiative that includes overlays of demographics and what they call “lifestyle data” on top of maps. The idea is to create a value-added component to traditional maps that may help to bring primary mapping information into a meaningful context for users…

How to Create a Great Vertical Directory

It’s tough for a start-up to break into the top echelon of local search players and become a one-size-fits-all solution like Google or YP. The great opportunity that exists in the space lies in serving special interests or special use cases better than anyone has before. Foursquare and Yelp are highly visible examples of this, but other very successful, vertically oriented directories exist, flying mostly under our radar…

Big Data and Local Search: The Netflix Precedent

We’ve entered an era when product decisions can be made not by analysis of demographics or user testing but by extremely fine-tuned measurements of current user activities. For local search, the question becomes just how many of our passive online activities can be converted into data points to be examined for purposes of marketing and product development?

The Local Conundrum: Rich Content or Accurate Information?

Google may have thought that situating local within Google+ would somehow obviate the need to fix it, but the presence of engaging content does nothing to modify the basic requirement that information services provide useful information. Perversely, information services spend too much time pretending they are content services but offer none of the openness of those services where it’s really needed…

The Big Implications for Local in Facebook’s New Graph Search

Given that Facebook is using multiple individualized cues to return search results that are customized for you, traditional SEO — already threatened by Google’s moves toward personalization — will be close to meaningless in the new context of Graph Search…

Fragmentation in the Device Landscape and What It Might Mean for Local

We know that the great mobile shift has arrived. This does not mean the end of the laptop era entirely, as any user of processor-intensive software like Photoshop knows. But it does mean that we are using our devices in ways that have become heavily context dependent…

Social Isn’t Search: Why Apple Should Think Twice About Foursquare

Though the cachet of the Foursquare name might make this idea sound appealing, my sense is that it could only be executed successfully if handled very carefully by Apple. With the prominence already given to socially driven results from Yelp, Apple would risk becoming a search service dominated by social content…

Facebook Nearby and the Mobilization of Local

At long last, Facebook has made a serious move in the local space, and Nearby now recommends local businesses based on your friends’ likes and check-ins as well as your proximity to general business listings. I can’t think of a better or a more timely summation of what’s happened in local search during the past year…