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March 13, 2008

6 Questions with The Kelsey Group’s Michael Boland

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Search Engine Strategies New York hits next week and I was lucky enough to be tasked with the “responsibility” (read: really cool opportunity) to chat with some of the new and old faces we’ll see speaking and hanging around the convention center next week. Fun, right?

Totally! And as a result, both today and tomorrow we’ll be able to give you a sneak peak at some of the knowledge transfer that will be taking place all next week during SES NY.

First up is our interview with Mike Boland. Mike acts as Senior Analyst in the Interactive Local Media Program at The Kelsey Group and was kind enough to answer a few questions I had regarding the new opportunities presented by local search.

1. Greetings, Mike. Can you speak a little bit about The Kelsey Group’s upcoming Local Search Track that will be taking place in New York? What can conference goers expect?

SES has invited us to its past few conferences to run a track on issues pertinent to local search. In New York, this will consist of three sessions on Day One, when they’ve decided to put a lot of general tracks that kick the conference off with a broader view of industry issues. This is fitting to TKG because our conferences and written materials generally take a 40,000 foot view of the trends facing online local media. In other words, we usually address industry players rather than advertisers. SES, by comparison, usually has more of a tactical level approach, geared towards search marketers. So we’re hoping we can augment that with the “executive level” view; and with both, SES gains broader appeal to audiences with different focal points.

Specifically, TKG sessions will explore key issues in local search advertising, such as gaining channel partners to reach the fragmented universe of SMBs and local advertisers. Other emerging trends will be looked at, such as the development of mobile local search products and online video advertising at the local level. These are local offshoots of broader online and mobile trends but we are at inflection points in each of them that hold a great deal of opportunity (as well as confusion) for advertisers, as well as companies in the local search space.

2. Tell us a bit about how you’ve seen the local search space change over the past few years and what new trends you’re excited about.

We’re seeing general online trends such as social media and video manifest in unique ways in local. Mobile search is also exploding as hardware and software standards are improving through the iPhone, as well as Apple and Google’s open source developer platforms. Through these, we’ll begin to see an explosion in mobile search products that will finally move the medium beyond the early adoption stage where it has teetered for years due to unappealing products. Mainstream adoption will then lead to more advertiser interest and more ad products and networks that will allow businesses of all sizes to place ads in front of mobile users in targeted or contextually relevant ways. As mobile and local are inherently related, local will see a great deal of the benefit from all of these developments.

3. It’s all kind of exciting, isn’t it? What’s the most important thing small business owners should be doing to take advantage of the opportunities presented by local search?

The majority of SMBs are too busy being doctors, plumbers, restaurateurs and dog washers to also take on the role of search marketer. This has gotten more challenging over time as a dizzying array of local search options now face SMBs. This confusion and the “paradox of choice” drives many SMBs towards sub-optimal local advertising or no advertising at all. This is why the yellow pages industry has traditionally had so much success; its local sales reps knock on every door in town and put easy-to-understand advertising in the laps of SMBs.

But as print revenues and readership are declining, yellow pages publishers are realizing that they need to utilize this unique sales channel to take on more of an agency role to the SMB and be a reseller of a cross platform package of local advertising (print, display, search, video and someday soon, mobile). A small percentage of savvy SMBs will be on top of their SEO and SEM game. But for the majority of SMBs, search marketing will come to them through the trusty yellow pages sales rep that sells them click packages and then hands them off to a third-party SEM affiliate to fulfill the campaign. There will be a learning curve for sales reps though.

4. We hear a lot about how the search engines are handling local search. What local resources are out there that small businesses may not be aware of?

Google’s increasing favorability of local listings in blended search results (the local “10 pack”), puts more opportunity for small businesses and local advertisers to get found in Google local searches. These local-heavy blended results essentially create a larger front door for Google Maps (local traffic – otherwise dependent on direct navigation traffic). So for SMBs, the ball is in their court to provide Google as much information about themselves and SEO-goodness to take advantage of this trend. Many businesses don’t know about Google’s Local Business Center but some do. All SMBs should take the time to claim their Google Maps profile and provide as much information as possible about their businesses. This especially includes the many businesses that don’t even have a Web site, as this offers them a free landing page that has a growing chance of being picked up in Google SERPS when local searches are done. This is also a viable option that is user friendly to the typical tech-illiterate and time-constrained SMB referenced above.

5. How does local tie in with the rest of the expanding verticals and social media?

We’re seeing a lot of verticalization online. Content and ad relevance, audience aggregation, click-through rates, and traffic can all be improved by vertical segmentation. This is especially happening in local where many of the online vertical categories, such as autos, real estate, and shopping, are inherently local. Sites such as Zillow and AutoTrader are having a lot of success in aggregating content, advertising and traffic.

In terms of shopping, 90+ percent of U.S. retail activity happens offline, but a growing amount ($470 million in purchases in 2007) is influenced by online search. Many product models are being developed to take this reality to heart. This includes pulling in retail product feeds to tell users where they can buy a specific model product locally and how many are on the shelf. This is especially valuable in expensive or bulky items that buyers want to see before purchasing, such as flat screen televisions or appliances. These are also highly targeted and qualified leads for advertisers, given that if a user has taken the time to enter in a specific product name and zip code into their search box, they’re typically at the end of the purchase funnel and ready to buy locally. So the key for some of these emerging offline shopping destinations is to develop SEO strategies that catch this upstream traffic from the likes of Google, so that they can effectively drive foot traffic towards their local advertisers.

6. We’ll take the pressure off you for a moment. Any panels or speakers you’re looking forward to during SES NY? What has your eye?

As mentioned above, TKG is generally focused on the executive level view and our audience generally consists of industry players and media companies rather than search marketers themselves. But my knowledge of these larger trends and my ability to communicate directional opportunities to online media companies can be improved with a sharper nuts and bolts-level intimacy with SEM/SEO. Though this isn’t what I “teach”, this knowledge can add perspective and give me a more holistic view of how the local search world spins. So I treat every SES show I go to as a classroom for tactical level search marketing. So you’ll see me in some of the fundamentals sessions as well as some of the more advanced or intermediate tactical sessions. Social media optimization is also a big interest of mine so that track is also circled on my agenda.

Thanks a lot, Mike! You’ve given us a lot of great information here.

[Tomorrow we'll be posting our interview with Analytics lord Avinash Kaushik. You won't want to miss it!]





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