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April 12, 2007

Local Search Marketing: SES New York

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Okay, I’m starting to get my composure back after my total geek out last session. I’m planted in the Local Search Marketing session right looking at moderator Greg Sterling and the pretty, pretty panelists Patricia Hursh (SmartSearch Marketing), Justin Sanger (LocalLaunch!) and Stacy Williams (Prominent Placement, Inc.).

Not surprisingly, the room for this session is pretty packed with the start time just 10 minutes away. Local search is hot, or “nice and rough” as Greg Sterling’s first slide readers, can’t wait to hear what that’s about…

Greg Sterling starts out by giving a marketplace overview. There’s some kind of odd music/song lyric reference using that line from above that I don’t completely understand. Everyone but me is laughing. I feel young, very, very young. (Apparently, it was a Proud Mary reference. Or something. Tina Turner was in Proud Mary? [Are you even from this planet?--Susan] Why are we even talking about this? Can we talk about search now?)

comScore defines local search as search with geo-modifiers, using a local search engine or searching with an Internet yellow pages site. Greg defines it as a process where users seek info online, but the ultimate intention is to complete an offline transaction at a retail store. It’s about the Internet influencing real-world buying decision. I think Greg’s definition makes far more sense than the one provided by comScore.

The local search market is fragmented, invisible, and hard to track. Practically every week a new local search destination is launched. Greg rattles off about 10 local search engines and I haven’t heard of any of them. Local really is invisible.

Local searchers are invisible to search engines because of missing modifiers. Nobody sees the overall purchase cycle, let alone the offline transaction…there’s a cliff from online to offline. Customers appear off-line and no one knows where they came from. They’re just there.

People shop online, but buy offline. Jupiter reports that $400 billion of US offline spending in 2006 was influenced by the Internet. They projects that half of US retail sales will be influenced by online in 2007.

Three emerging local search segments are:

  • World of mouth/social media: Online communities such as Yelp or Lilaguide or even MySpace
  • Verticals: Citysearch, Zillow, TheKnot, ServiceMagic
  • Mobile: WAP-based local search, text, Voice Search/Free DA

I was hoping we’d get into mobile local search a bit, but unfortunately it’s time to move on. Such is life.

Up next is Stacy Williams who reinforces Greg’s statement that local search is extremely fragmented. There are the local results of the big engines, local-only search engines, internet yellow pages, business data providers and local review sites. It’s often difficult for a site owner to know where to start.

Interestingly, we’re told that local search makes up less than 1 percent of each of the three big engines, so right now you’re better off targeting the main search results.

You do this by optimizing your site using geo-targeted search terms (i.e. New York yoga academy) to get in the local/Map results. Tracy suggested adding a physical address at the bottom of every page. This tells the engines you are a brick and mortar business and that you do exist somewhere in the real world.

You can also submit your business profile directly to the main search engines. Basically, you head over and simply fill out a form about your business, giving the address details, phone number, description, etc. If possible, you should also include the year established, operating hours, payment methods accepted, languages spoken, products you carry, services offered, professional associations, specials, awards, etc. You can usually select up to five categories to list your business in, so give some thought to which are best for you.

Most of the sites will publish exactly what is sent to them; however, there are security steps in place. You typically have to enter an email address that will be used to verify the information. The review time to get your listing approved is usually 5-60 days.

Other ways to target local are by using:

Local Only Search Engines: Local,com and TrueLocal.com. TrueLocal will tell you how many impressions and clicks you can expect in your category and zip code.

Internet Yellow Pages: SuperPages.com, YellowPages.com, Dex, YellowBook

Business Data Providers: InfoUSA, Axciom, Localeze (supplies to MSN)

Review sites: InsidePages, Citysearch

Local search is important because it helps your business to be found by local prospects, build links, and dominate the search engines results page by appearing in more than one location. Be sure that the data you enter is accurate and complete.

Patricia Hursh is next to cover local search advertising.

Local search is important. Users are searching locally in increasing numbers (40 percent of searches have a local intent), marketers are raising local search ad budgets, local search ads have proven to be effective, and local search is part of the overall customer experience

To get the most out of local search, Patricia offers 6 great tips:

  • Integrate multiple PPC targeting methods:
    • Craft geo-targeted PPC campaigns to reach a large number of local searchers and improve local relevance.
    • Bid on local keywords to ensure total coverage and to reach a target audience not in a designated area
    • Advertising nationally on your brand to increase visibility and branding
  • Focus on the customer’s decision criteria: Create ads that focus on what your prospects care about. If users are looking for a health club they’re looking for proximity to their home, if they’re looking for an emergency number they want immediate availability, if it’s a search for pizza they want price info. Draw them in by focusing on their needs. Every local search is different. Incorporate that into your ads.
  • Capitalize on the “local speak” advantage: Write culturally relevant ads using local lingo and focusing on the local aspects of your business. This will help you to differentiate yourself from the big national players.
  • Drive in-store visits and phone calls: If your primary goal is to drive foot traffic or phone calls focus on local search ad products that provide maps, driving directions, contact info, reviews and ratings.
  • Research available ad positions: Google Local Business Ads are displayed on Google Maps, while Yahoo Local Listings are displayed on Yahoo Local results. However, we’re seeing a lot of cross-over. For a lot of local-based searches, local listings are showing up on top the organic results.
  • Local search isn’t only for local companies: Big companies can increase their brand and build local relevance by advertising locally.

As you can see, there is more than one way to reach a local searcher and all the ad products are very different. A combination strategy is required to maximize results.

Justin Sanger is up next. He’s a quiet talker; I think I’m in trouble.

We are witnessing a consumer revolution, says quiet Justin. What is happening right now requires perspective. We, the user, are driving this marketplace. It’s the birth of a new savvy consumer. We shouldn’t be surprised; however, local consumption isn’t anything new. In fact, eighty percent of all our purchasing activity is consumed in a five-mile radius of our home. What is new is the Internet and its ability to augment our traditional local activities. Seventy percent of local consumers are using the Web to find products and services locally.

We used to just call our mother for a restaurant recommendation, hit the yellow pages or newspapers, and used word of mouth. Today we have the Internet.

Things are fragmented today, but it’s gong to get better. At least for users.

From here Justin pretty much goes on a tirade about we just don’t understand. The fact of the matter is, he says, local consumption patterns have varying characteristics and user/prospect needs.

There are several constructs of local search behavior: Social networking, special events, life events, health, shopping and business look-up, travel and transportation, work life. What constructs do all the local search engines fill? What is Yelp to users? What is CitySearch? What need do these engines fill? What do you do? How are you different?

Justin says the problem here is that the definition of local search is that includes almost everything we do because our behavior is inherently local. If local is everything we do then it makes it hard to define and target.

The way local is defined is one of its problems. Local connotes geography and search describes an activity. What is missing is the construct. This has led to a proliferation of what we commonly refer to as horizontal local search sites. They want to be everything to everyone.

He believes that local search utilities will segment even further into topical vertical themes. To “win”, the horizontal local search engines must transform themselves into deep and rich vertical aggregators. The change is awesome but is absolutely necessary.

Vertical and local search requires the same thing: structured content. Local search gets content from ad products, UGC local content, syndicated authority content, internet index local content and offline-derived content.

To win in this space you must think beyond your Web site, think atomization, study the SERPs, find vertical authorities beyond the normal, search on Google Maps and look for the reference sites they use, check the backlinks of your competitors.

I think Justin just spoke 10 completely sentences without taking a breath. He’s starting to sound like that guy with the cardboard sign standing on the corner and preaching about how we’re going to hell but no one gets it. No one but him. It’s somewhat…unsettling.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Greg Sterling just interrupted Justin to poll the audience on how many people are now totally confused. Hee! No one raised there hand but I’m pretty it was because they know what I know – that Justin is hiding an AK47 behind the podium.

Justin continues to talk. His pleas are passionate and I’m 100 percent sure he’s exactly right with what he’s saying but it’s somehow getting lost. Greg just called Justin a frustrated college professor, which I think sums things up pretty accurately.

I’m out of here before people start getting hurt. See you at the next session.





One response to “Local Search Marketing: SES New York”

  1. Perry Stevens writes:

    I would agree, local search is fragmented. A bespoke internet marketing campaign strategy is required for every business. For example video would work very well in some markets but not for others.
    The bottom line is if you are not on the first page of SERP’s for your customers search terms or keywords, you’re never going to get any business from Google.
    You can pay for expensive Adwords campaigns or build your own online real estate that ranks high in organic searches for years to come. I know where I’d put my money…



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