We’re just weeks into 2010, and already a host of major tech, online, and mobile companies have made some exciting announcements about their latest plans for local search.
In mid-January, Google’s Mobile division announced that it is upgrading its search engine on Android-powered devices and the iPhone to present results reflective of the current or last locations of it users, while Twitter began testing a local trends tool which allows users to see trends in their local countries and cities in addition to those for the entire site.
According to a recent patent submission, Yahoo is in the process of developing a mobile local search application that will take into account a user’s location, the time of day, information in the user’s calendar, past behaviors, weather, social networking data, information about the proximity of a social contact, and other data when providing results.
AT&T told Forbes about its plans to launch buzz.com, a new local social search site that will reportedly let users poll their friends and ask experts for advice about different nearby businesses.
And Apple announced its new iPad tablet, which incorporates iPhone apps, Google Maps, a built-in compass, WiFi, and wireless data capabilities – allowing users to access location-based information from wherever they are.
With so much change, I think it’s important to take some time to reflect on how these new technologies and services will affect our industry. There are three key features of interest that are being baked into most of these new apps and devices.
Location-based. The ability for consumers to search for local business information on-the-go is a win for companies seeking visibility in competitive markets. For example, a small business in the suburbs will now have an easier time reaching out to local consumers, without having to compete with stronger online presences from larger businesses in the city.
But with increased exposure comes additional dangers. While consumer complaints on message boards and Twitter might have gone unnoticed before, new local features may make comments on these platforms easier for users to find.
Businesses will need guidance on how to properly promote their services, without opening themselves up to unwanted scrutiny. Additionally, businesses will need to make sure their addresses and contact information are up-to-date so that users searching within small distances will be able to easily find and reach them.
Social-centric. An increased emphasis on social networking connections in local search results means that businesses will need to develop stronger user followings in order to influence their search rankings among a wide consumer base.
Companies that devote resources to social media opportunities on sites such as Twitter and Facebook will benefit from the added visibility that those channels provide. Specifically, businesses will need to determine strategies for reaching online influencers—those who help drive the online conversation in the social circles of their target consumers.
Those businesses that create long-term, authentic relationships with popular online users will have the most success influencing results in many of these new search tools.
Behaviorally-targeted. User behavior has always played an important role in search, but new technologies are continuously changing what is required of businesses to keep up.
To keep up, companies will need to constantly expand and refine their digital presence so that they’re able to reach as many potential customers as possible. That means taking advantage of every potential platform users might use to search (online, mobile, tablet), the services they might turn to (Google, Twitter, Facebook, iPhone app, etc.), and the search terms they’re likely to enter—which also includes comparable terms in other languages (for example, Spanish). Businesses should also find ways to take advantage of new search engine algorithms that incorporate users’ demographics, last used search terms, past online purchases, and a host of other factors in their results.
As local search continues to evolve at a rapid pace, businesses will need to stay on top of the latest digital and mobile trends in order to ensure their listings reach their target consumers.
There’s no doubt that as media continues to fragment, and marketing tools become more complicated and sophisticated, many opportunities and challenges lies ahead for the small business owner.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.