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Looking Back At “The Summer Of Local”
At the start of this summer, I wrote “it seems like Local has been rumored to be “the next big thing” in Search as many times as Cubs fans have said ‘this is the year’…2008 finally could be the year where the prediction, at least for Local, comes true.”
Well, here we are in October. The Cubs’ World Series run is over…again…but, the last four months have been an absolute whirlwind of Local-related news items and innovations in technology and interface.
These advances, and plenty of others I haven’t even listed here for reasons of length, have heralded Local’s arrival as a critical consideration in search marketing campaigns. In fact, in ten or twenty years, web historians may look back on the summer of 2008 as a defining moment in online marketing, much as social historians view 1967’s “Summer of Love” as a defining moment for the Sixties. Except instead of free love and “flowers in your hair” in San Francisco, we have free listings and florists tearing OUT their hair over Mapspam in San Francisco.
As I alluded to last month, it’s tough for search marketers (let alone small business owners!) to keep up with everything happening in Local search these days. In this piece, I thought I would summarize some of the most important developments of the summer–a sort of Cliffs Notes version of the state of Local.
1. Increase in awareness of the need for local search marketing
Though it’s taken some time for the search marketing community to realize the game-changing nature of Google’s 10-pack interface (Danny Sullivan’s keynote at SMX West was an eye-opener for many) – this summer has seen some terrific, high-profile content produced around Local Search.
- The first two comprehensive studies of the local search algorithms were published over the summer by Mike Blumenthal and yours truly. Both studies still have plenty of room for improvement in methodology but provide a great foundation for future research, and raised the profile of Local in the search marketing community.
- Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting conducted two terrific interviews of Google Maps’ Carter Maslan and Yahoo Local’s Frazier Miller and Shailesh Bhat.
- Matt McGee, Miriam Ellis, Mack Collier, and others have done great work in spreading the word about the tremendous benefits of hyperlocal blogging for small businesses focused on particular towns or regions.
- SMX Local/Mobile, held at the end of July, completely wowed me with its depth and breadth of actionable advice for marketers and business owners.
- Even traditional media, often behind the times in its coverage of online marketing, has helped alert small business owners to the need to manage their online reputation with these three stories about customer reviews on the local search portal Yelp.
2. Increased location awareness in mobile (and desktop) search
Location awareness is a HUGE development in Local search, since it allows engines to return local results without any geo-modifiers in the search string, and sometimes leads to results that look nothing like SERPs as we know them.
- The release of the iPhone 3G, and T-Mobile’s G1 Phone, built on the Android platform, signal a trend towards mass adoption of mobile search (whose results are predominantly based on the local algorithms).
- Even on the desktop, Google has started prompting users for their ZIP Code if they’ve performed searches with local intent, but have not included geo-modifiers.
- Future browsers, including the next generation of Google Chrome, may well include “baked-in location awareness.”
3. Launch of major local portals and platforms
There continues to be a tremendous amount of innovation–and as a result, continued fragmentation–in the Local Search marketplace.
- Mapquest entered the local portal arena just last month, fusing search with all kinds of locally-related content, including maps, news, weather, and user reviews.
- Marchex announced its locally-targeted ad platform – AdHere – which publishes ads on its own locally-targeted OpenList network as well as selected other local publishers.
- The venerable Best of the Web Directory launched Best of the Web Local in June and has seen immediate growth in its number of pages indexed and businesses who’ve signed up for listings.
- Jumping on the hyperlocal content bandwagon, ActiveRain launched its Localism “neighborpedia” in an effort to expand beyond the real estate vertical.
- There’s also this announcement from Praized, signaling the coming convergence of Local AND Social Media.
4. Significant developments at Google Maps
Earlier this year, and even earlier this summer, many of us in Local Search had been surprised at the lack of emphasis Google seemed to place on the quality of its Local results, despite promoting them heavily in Universal Search by including the 10-pack. That perception has changed dramatically just in the last two months alone. One can only infer that this means Local results are about to take on even more prominence in Google SERPs in the coming months.
- In July, Google introduced an official public forum to report Mapspam.
- Just in the last three weeks, Google announced Local Quality Guidelines, including an official reinclusion option, and asked for public feedback on the quality of its Maps results.
- It hired new maps guides this summer, presumably to respond to comments left in the locations described above.
- And somewhat quietly, YouTube added Geographic Search– just one more differentiating factor that Google has the luxury of taking into account as it tries to determine the most relevant results for searchers.
This is an exciting time to be involved in Local search – we’re at the intersection of an amazing number of innovations driven by content, technology, and social interaction, as demonstrated by this impressive set of news items from the last four months. It’s a challenge to stay on top of such a rapidly-evolving industry, but you’ll have a leg up on the competition by subscribing to Greg Sterling’s and Mike Blumenthal’s blogs, which do a great job of covering developments in Local Search on a daily basis.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.