7 Takeaways From The Local Search Association Annual Conference
Over several days, attendees engaged in informative discussions about the numerous opportunities and challenges facing our industry, ranging from the growing importance of original digital content to the rise of mobile and social media.
In this month’s column, I will highlight my key takeaways from the LSA conference, which are focused on both the strides I believe local marketers should take to better serve our clients, as well as the steps that businesses should pursue as the local advertising space continues to evolve.
Takeaway #1: Content, Content, Content
Jean-Pierre Remy, CEO and president of Solocal (the French Yellow Pages publisher and a leader in digital and mobile search in France), emphasized the importance of investing in unique digital content as a means of driving value for advertisers as well as consumers. He said the ability to showcase original content is a defining factor in differentiating local businesses in the online space. Remy noted that advertisers with video content receive two-and-a-half times more traffic than those without.
Local search companies should work closely with businesses to create compelling digital content that will help them stand out among their peers and generate new leads. A steady stream of content — whether images, videos, or tweets about the business’ products and services — will help local businesses build engagement with consumers, a critical component to ensuring that businesses have a strong presence in search.
Takeaway #2: Mobile As A Disrupter
Paul Plant, founder and principal at Radicle Consulting, stated that we are currently in the most concentrated period of disruptive change that the world has ever known.
Mobile, in particular, is redefining local search in unprecedented ways. As LSA noted in our Local Mobile Search report released last month, page hits to online directories and other local resources from non-PC devices more than quadrupled in 2012, reaching a 27 percent share of total Web traffic in December 2012 from a 6 percent share in December 2011.
With such considerable shifts in consumer behavior, local advertisers are increasingly asking for mobile solutions, according to Michael Rubin, executive director of Business Development, Mobile at YP.
Local search marketers should continue to pursue cutting-edge opportunities for businesses to generate targeted exposure in mobile as part of an integrated advertising strategy. Local businesses should recognize that their competitors are already or will soon be following consumers into the mobile space; and so, they should look for partners who can help them seamlessly add mobile to their existing approach.
Takeaway #3: Mobile ROI Is More Than Just Clicks
Tae Kim, head of Channel Partnerships (Multi-Segment), North America at Google, said that mobile has a measurement perception issue, and that our industry needs to change it.
What’s the problem? Tae and other members of his expert panel from Moasis, xAd, and YP agreed that there is a tendency to measure mobile performance simply based on click-through rates, when other factors — like what consumers do after the click — are equally, if not more, important.
Dan Hight, vice president of Strategic Partnerships at xAd, talked about the value of measuring offline conversion in addition to clicks. “Advertisers that are focused on offline types of conversions are working very well,” he said.
Local search companies should educate neighborhood businesses to think beyond the click-through to the way consumers are actually responding to mobile advertising offline. Local businesses should ask their advertising partners to provide them with analytics and anecdotes that demonstrate that their mobile activities are not just generating interest, but also getting customers to make a purchase.
Takeaway #4: Lines Between Devices Blur, Context Gains Prominence
Google’s Tae Kim said local advertising solutions must adapt as the lines between devices are increasingly blurring. Kim noted that as “phones are getting bigger and tablets are getting smaller,” the ability to pinpoint specific devices with specific content is becoming more complex. “Mobile advertising,” Kim said, “should now be seen as part of a holistic advertising strategy, not a separate one.”
Our Local Mobile Search study found that more than one in three (37.3%) of all U.S. smartphone users also owned other connected devices at the end of 2012, including tablets (28.8%), eReaders (10.0%) and other handhelds like portable gaming devices (4.1%), demonstrating that there are numerous options available for consumers to access the Internet and search for local businesses.
Kim stressed that advertisers should pursue integrated campaigns that look beyond the type of device to also reflect other factors, such as a consumer’s location and the time of day.
For example, Google’s AdWords Enhanced Campaigns allow businesses to increase AdWords buys for prospective customers within a certain distance of the store, while decreasing AdWords buys during hours the store is closed. In doing so, advertisers will be able to reach their most valuable customers wherever and whenever they’re searching with the best possible rate of return for businesses.
As local search marketers, we should continue to evolve this concept to deliver more innovative and targeted campaigns that enable improved ROI for our clients. In turn, local businesses should look for partners who can offer integrated solutions that provide them with the flexibility to adjust their advertising to best reflect the context of the searches taking place.
Takeaway #5: Vertical Specialties On The Rise
Jason Finger, CEO of CityGrid Media, spoke about the increasing shift to verticals in the local space.
“People are taking a broad approach, but the world is moving toward specialization,” said Finger, who was a co-founder and former CEO of Seamless, the popular restaurant ordering website. “One of the challenges [CityGrid] faced is we tried to be all things to all people. We’re trying to orient our business … so when people go to Citysearch, the page people see is agnostic across verticals. We want to be comprehensive and focused in a handful of verticals.”
Finger pointed to Seamless, OpenTable, and ZocDoc as destinations that own their categories by staying focused in their core vertical. He said that future verticals will not necessarily be dictated by industry, but rather by the tools clients need. For example, industries like restaurants and doctors might be grouped together because both require reservations/appointments. This will further shift our industry’s focus away from generating traffic to providing valued utility to businesses.
Solocal’s Jean-Pierre Remy echoed the verticals approach and is transforming Solocal’s sales team from generalists to specialists in just two verticals. He said the effort so far “has been a huge success,” as lost business in several key verticals is now returning to the company.
I think all local marketers should consider the value of a verticals approach and the benefits it can have for their clients. As verticals gain further ground in the local space, businesses should look for advertising partners who are leading in their specific industries, or offer the types of tools (e.g., appointment scheduling) that they need most. In doing so, they can leverage their partner’s success to generate new business of their own.
Takeaway #6: Social Media Meets Local Search
Dan Levy, director of small business at Facebook, talked about the importance of local search for social network users. He pointed out that there are 645 million page views of local pages in the average week in the U.S. and that 70% of users in North America are connected to at least one local business.
Levy counseled small businesses to use Facebook’s free product, Pages, to create a presence and begin interacting with customers. For those businesses that want to go beyond Pages, he suggested targeting potential customers via core demographics or leveraging sponsored stories to take things customers are already saying or doing and promoting them.
“We hear small businesses say, ‘We are trying to grow our business … we are trying to find new customers,'” said Levy. “We know that businesses, since the beginning of time, have relied on word of mouth to drive sales. That’s what we’re trying to do — provide them with a word of mouth megaphone.”
Levy said Facebook isn’t really a new approach to marketing — it’s rooted simply in how businesses and customers have interacted for years. “A lot of people think about social media as a new property. [Facebook doesn’t think about it that way at all,” said Levy. “Ask [small businesses] what’s worked in the past. If it’s coupons, maybe you should do Offers. At a minimum, set up a Page.”
Similarly to our mobile experts, Levy stressed the importance of not focusing solely on metrics, but also customer actions. Rather than just measuring the number of click-throughs or “likes” on a Page, businesses should spend time asking customers how they found them as a way to gauge effectiveness.
There are significant opportunities for local search marketers to leverage their ongoing relationships with small businesses to add social media management to their portfolios. When necessary, local businesses should take advantage of offerings to outsource their social media management so they can benefit from expert counsel and spend more time focusing on what they do best.
Takeaway #7: Investment In Sales Teams
Bob Sanders, president and COO of AXIOM Sales Force Development, talked about the need for local search companies to invest in their own salespeople. Sanders said that developing and teaching sales teams to adapt to the evolving landscape and better engage with small business owners is equally important to the pursuit of new products and innovation. He cited a recent survey that found that 53% of small business owners say that conversations with their local salesperson have more impact on their buying decisions than products, brand and price.
Sanders also said that local marketing companies should create a common selling process and integrate that process into CRM systems in order to continuously reinforce desired sales behaviors from their clients. He believes this will help salespeople to effectively and efficiently sell local search services to small businesses and enable them to differentiate product offerings from competitors.
I think that as the local space shifts toward more defined verticals, sales teams will be better positioned to serve as experts on the industries they’re working with and offer common selling processes that deliver the best return on investment for their clients. Local businesses should continue to look for partners they feel understand their business and can provide the tools needed to drive new customers in the door.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.