Not to beat a dead horse, but as I said in my last column, I think 2009 was truly a watershed year for local search. Between Google’s introduction of the generic 10-pack, its beta test of local listing ads, dramatic improvements to Bing’s Local Listing Center, and numerous partnerships throughout the industry— all of these developments and more have placed increased focus on local search and its integration into organic search results.
Traditional search marketers far and wide – including some of the absolute best in the industry – have recognized that the 10-pack/7-pack has changed the game for them and have voiced their (mostly negative) opinions. Many of their criticisms, such as weak IP targeting in rural areas and lack of relevancy of certain 7-packs have plenty of merit.
Despite the outcry from marketers, however, I think we’re going to see even more local search results popping up in 2010. There’s still a wide gap between the number of searches with local intent (or possible intent) and the number of local results being returned.
Back in 2008, and probably even earlier, Danny Sullivan predicted we might eventually see organic results for certain phrases displaced entirely by local ones, and the trend towards personalization certainly suggests that we’re headed that way.
But these results may not always take the form of a SMB or Local Business Listing set. There are plenty of other location-sensitive result types that may start to get increased visibility, especially at Google, in the coming months.
For the intelligent newspapers that aren’t actively trying to block the search engines, location-sensitivity is probably going to get them more visibility through search than ever before. Already I’ve noticed on my Yahoo homepage that three or four stories from The Oregonian and other area newspapers are consistently linked from my “Top News” widget by default. Google News shows up for many “Query Deserves Freshness”-type searches already; how long before Google starts to layer in a location-sensitive component to that part of their algorithm?
While blog results don’t typically get the same visibility in Universal Search that news results do, the recent discovery that Google is pulling excerpts and extracting sentiment from HyperLocal blogs seems to signify that Google may be moving in this direction. Outside.in already appears to be an attractive acquisition target, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce a partnership with at least one of the major search engines in 2010, particularly as HyperLocal blogs continue to gain market share at the expense of traditional local news.
Real-Time social recommendations and reviews
Yellow Pages companies have been hit hard by the 10-pack in terms of their organic search referrals. But integration of real-time or social recommendations into personalized search might be one way Google will placate them. The companies that partner with Google to display review content in Place Pages (Citysearch and CityVoter, for example) have already raised awareness of their brands among a lot of Google users, and the successful ones will turn into destination sites in their own right (which Yelp has already done to a large extent.)
For discovery-oriented searches like “Things to do in,” “Places to eat in,” or “Best bar in” it would not be difficult for the major engines to incorporate Twitter streams (or perhaps Facebook, in Microsoft’s case) for those searches already.
Display of accurate local inventory is obviously a huge hurdle for both search engines and businesses to overcome, but the old Research Online, Buy Offline adage suggests the engine that is the first to figure it out will have discovered perhaps the “holy grail” of local search. We’ve already seen product ads tested as a new Adwords type in recent months, and Google’s integration of local inventory with products signals that they’re trying to stay at the front of this curve.
Events and calendars
When creating public calendars, Google has asked for location information for years, as well as offering the ability to map a location (even for private calendars) directly in the “Add Event” interface. Yahoo, of course, has Upcoming.org which also requires location information as part of its submission process. At some point, I think both search engines will display events from public calendars in universal search results, though probably further downstream than a number of other content types on this list.
Photos and videos
Perhaps the most oft-quoted piece of trivia in the search marketing industry is the fact that YouTube is the Internet’s second-largest search engine. Panoramio and Flickr have long offered users the ability to geotag their works. Many of these photos are already linked from Google’s de facto “city portal”- the authoritative OneBox that shows up for non-specific city searches (like this one.) We may soon start to see thumbnails of local videos or images for businesses showing up in Universal via the same interface as generic images and videos do already.
Chris Silver Smith already highlighted the value of optimizing MyMaps, so I won’t rehash his entire article; these MyMaps are already showing up in the sidebars of Place Pages, as well as “city portals” like this one. Google has consistently demonstrated a wiki-like commitment to the wisdom of the community of Google users…it seems to be only a matter of time before MyMaps start to show up in Universal search results.
The MLS’s days are numbered. I’d bet that Google Base 10-packs will be integrated into Universal results for “homes for sale in ____” searches by the end of 2010. This is going to be a game changer for real estate companies just like the 10-pack has been for local businesses. If you’re a small business in the real estate space, I’d start paying very close attention to the performance and optimization of your Google Base listings.
The bottom line for SMB’s
With the exception of the last one (real estate), if you’re a small business owner, most of these are going to be relevant for a wide variety of industries, and have a pretty low barrier to entry with respect to cost. They’re certainly longer-tail optimization strategies right now.
While I’d certainly start by “blocking and tackling” around my Local Search listings, keeping yourself aware of how Google is integrating local content into Universal Search in the coming year should give you a competitive edge in the long run.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.