The battle to dominate the local search space intensified these past few weeks as Apple and Google both announced new initiatives designed to capitalize on this rapidly growing market.
The headlines – Apple introduces new Maps feature and Google Places becomes Google+ Local – sparked great interest: not only in what the moves mean for the industry, the companies themselves and the consumers who use these offerings everyday, but also in how they will impact local businesses that increasingly count on these tools to drive visibility and ultimately sales.
While many questions remain about how these developments will play out, it does appear that with some foresight and work, local businesses can take some steps now to prepare for the new realities presented by these changes. The tactics for success themselves aren’t new, but they’re essential to the task.
- Ensuring comprehensive and accurate business listings with key distribution channels and websites
- Maximizing the quantity and quality of reviews
- Becoming a more active and “social” business in the online space
Let’s take a look at both announcements and discuss what your local business can be doing to generate the most effective outcomes in this period of change.
Make An Accurate & Positive Debut With Apple Maps
Apple’s introduction of Apple Maps, which will be released with the iOS6 update later this fall, will represent the launch of entirely new local mobile search platform. With the iPhone representing 23% of the global smartphone market as of the first quarter, according to IDC, Apple Maps will be a medium your local business can’t ignore.
Not being among those appearing in Apple Maps, appearing inaccurately, or appearing with a host of negative reviews will not only be a lost opportunity for your business, but one that could hit your bottom line.
In its announcement earlier this month, Apple said that Maps “includes information for over 100 million businesses with info cards that offer Yelp ratings, reviews, available deals and photos.”
Greg Sterling, who has been following this story closely, has pointed out that while Yelp is providing its more than 27 million local reviews to Maps, it likely isn’t providing listings data. An Apple copyright page notes the names of various other vendors that Apple is using to supply listings information, including Localeze, Acxiom, and TomTom.
Until Apple Maps launches – or more information becomes available – we won’t know the exact mix of how listings will be supplied, or, as Greg has noted, what the quality of those business listings looks like.
We’ll also be on the lookout for what tools – if any – Apple will have available for both business owners and consumers to make necessary changes to incomplete or inaccurate listings.
Based on what we know now, however, there are several steps your local business can take to prepare itself for what’s ahead in the coming months:
- Certify that your business is listed (and accurately) with Localeze and Acxiom, since these primary listings providers will likely supply the basic NAP identity (name, address, and phone number) of your business to Apple Maps. Visit Localeze and Axiom’s websites to work through the process. While you’re at it, you’ll also want to update or confirm all of your business’ additional basic info like hours of operation, payment methods and options, and products offered. Along with Yelp’s data, it appears that Localeze and Axiom’s information will form the basis for information appearing in the Apple Maps “Info card.”
- Invest in building out a positive and comprehensive listing for your business on Yelp, which will play a key factor in where and how your business is represented in iOS 6. If you haven’t already, claim and update your listing for free and add attractive photos of your business, which will appear in the Maps “Info card.”
- Familiarize yourself with the do’s and don’ts of responding to reviews – both negative and positive reviews. Let customers know you’re on Yelp and ask those satisfied with your business to share their feelings on the site – the more, the better (more positive reviews will also help lesson the significance of the negative ones you receive). Also note to customers willing to listen that the more descriptive they are about their experiences – e.g., “John is a great carpenter who helped me pick out new carpet, windows and flooring” – the better chance that others will be able to find your business when searching specific terms.
- As we’ve learned with the integration of Yelp into Siri on the iPhone 4S, your business’ ratings and number of reviews play key factors in where you’re listed in iPhone search results. Continue to do the great job that you’re doing serving your customers, but keep in mind that having your work represented well on Yelp – and Apple Maps – will require some additional effort and patience.
- Pay attention over the next several months(and of course at launch) for more information about Apple Maps’ business listings and the factors influencing how your business gets found on the iPhone and iPad. Staying the course is just as important as laying this foundation to ensure your business receives the positive placements it deserves.
Take Advantage Of New Social Opportunities With Launch Of Google+ Local
Late last month, Google kicked off what are reported to be some significant changes to its local offerings by transitioning 80 million business pages on its longtime Google Places platform toGoogle+ Local, effectively merging its local business listings into its Google+ social network.
As you know, Google’s business listings are an influential part of the local search experience because of the prime real estate they receive in Google search, maps and mobile offerings. Google+ Local pages will have even more clout because they will be part of Google+ and be indexed as well– directly influencing Google search results.
The introduction of Google+ Local included the integration of Zagat, which Google acquired last year, into Google’s local business listings.
It’s likely that local businesses will better appreciate Zagat’s more dynamic 30-point “poor to perfect” scores as opposed to the traditional five-star ratings, since they enable local businesses to be more accurately measured.
Reviewers have the option of providing 0-3 ratings for local businesses, which may take some getting used to (restaurant goers can rate food, décor and service; those going to a place like Best Buy can rate quality).
Google+ Local pages, which are much more visually appealing than their predecessor’s, feature reviews exclusively from Google+ members. Reviews made by those in one’s Google+ Circle – friends, family and colleagues – receive increased prominence in a user’s search and can even be filtered as their own category.
That said, the initial impact of Google+ Local on local businesses is relatively minor, although there are some new considerations like the ability to attract followers (+1’s), respond to reviews and message customers.
However, Google has noted that many more significant changes are on the way. Here are some tips to keep in mind as these changes unfold over the next few months:
- If you don’t own your Google+ Local listing or there are inaccuracies that should be fixed, now is the time to get verified to manage and edit your listing on the Google Places for Business dashboard. Business owners can go through the process by clicking on the “Manage this page” button under the “Is this your business” header on the right side of the page. Once signed on, take the opportunity to include a description of your business and load photos in an effort to make your business come more to life.
- If you already created a Google+ page for you business, you might be wondering what that means with the arrival of Google+ Local pages. Do you delete your Google+ page, or keep both? According to Google, the recommendation is to continue managing each page separately. Google was previously accepting applications for early upgrades, but they are no longer accepting volunteers. Sign up for updates from Google so you can hear when changes take place.
- Here’s another reason to keep your Google+ business page going strong. Chris Silver Smith points out that over the long-term, Google may reward businesses with more followers or those who are active in engaging users with better visibility in search results. Additionally, we know that reviews will play an integral role in the placement of local businesses in search and that reviews made by friends and family will also have strong weight.
- To date, Google+ hasn’t really generated enough hype to merit the attention businesses are putting towards Facebook and Twitter. But with new social capabilities and a stronger push on Google’s part, that is quickly changing. It’s time to start to thinking of Google+ as an equal to your other channels and do what you can to maximize your presence on it and integrate it into your digital strategy. Like with your other social media channels, encourage your customers to “+1″ you and post about their positive experiences with your business. The results of your efforts may appear insignificant in the short-term, but could have long-term implications on your SEO presence.
- Google’s growing emphasis on local means that local businesses need to keep up with their latest changes or risk being left behind. Set aside marketing budget over the coming months dedicated to building your presence on Google+/Google+ Local and follow headlines on announcements of where things are headed next.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.