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Local Search Gets Even More Confusing

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When a recent article by a noted industry search marketing journalist is titled, “New Data Show What a Complex Mess Local Is,” you know that those of us trying to sell local search services to our clients are in for a bumpy ride. Truth be told, though, trying to explain and sell the value of local search work has always been tough. Most folks don’t really get how local results differ from pure organic results  and — when you start blathering on about the importance of internet yellow page sites, 3rd party review sites, citations, etc — you get a whole lot of shoulder shrugging going on.

However confusing local might be though, it’s not going away. In fact, its getting more popular. In a report that’s getting a lot of airtime this week, the Local Search Association published a report with many notable findings, all suggesting the continued pull of local search. For instance:

  • Internet Yellow Pages sites and other local portals showed, overall, a 15% increase in volume in 2010, over the previous year.
  • Local searches from mobile devices increased a significant 34%. All the trends here clearly indicate a critical relationship between local search and mobile.
  • Local search content makes up 13% of all generalized queries across the major search engines. In a related commentary, Greg Sterling notes those figures translate to 2.2 billion queries a month on Google alone.
Yet, despite the increasing importance of local search and its unquestionable relevance to local businesses, the landscape of local is constantly shifting. Consider Google and Bing, for instance. Just a few months back Bing announced the complete revamping of its local pages, now called Bing Business Portal. Bing sees an opportunity to capitalize on some of the peculiarities and shortcomings of Google Place. Google, on the other hand, just this week announced a pretty significant overhaul to the layout of Place pages, including the following: (note that these findings are courtesy of either the Google Local Blog itself or Mike Bluementhal’s local search blog…)

  • The revised Place page layout decreases the emphasis placed on the 3rd Party review sites. Basically, this seems to be an effort to streamline SERPs and page layouts but it also, conveniently, allows Google to place greater emphasis on its own social reviews at the expense of everyone else’s.
  • Google has added a very prominent red button to its Place pages, encouraging visitors to review the business in question and, additionally, has eliminated non-Google review snippets.
  • Finally, 3rd party review numbers are also no longer aggregated into a “total number of reviews” figure in search results.

All of this adds up to a recurring fundamental paradox about local search and the average small business’ need for it…

That paradox is: It is really tough to explain to a client why they should see value in spending money on a coordinated local search strategy while – at the same time –  the constantly shifting and messed-up landscape of local search means clients need those services more than ever.

From this mess of trends and changes, here are a few takeaway thoughts about the challenges and changes happening in the local landscape:

  1. Don’t put your faith in Google alone. This week’s changes alone should convince folks that the wizards behind the curtains at Google have some sort of grand plan to increase market share in local search. (Surprise, surprise…) But Google’s ambition is not necessarily their customers’ gain. The sometimes haphazard changes to Places and its well-documented glitchiness might spell perilous times for those who take an approach which is too Google centric. Plus…
  2. There are plenty of other reasons to pursue a multifaceted approach to local search. One of the most interesting findings in the LSA study is that search queries conducted through Internet Yellow Pages –  though making up a lower percentage of total local search volume – nevertheless seem to represent better lead prospects, i.e., prospects who are more focused and likely to buy soon.  Add to this to the aggregated value that citations from 3rd Party directories have for local search pages, as well as the influence of onsite optimization efforts and other factors, and you have a very compelling argument to conduct a multifaceted approach towards your local search efforts.

If anyone out there has any other thoughts about all of this, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you…

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