The ever-growing local search universe
For those who missed it, Whitespark’s overhaul of the US Local Search Ecosystem interactive tool was recently released, and it does a fantastic job of showing how vast and complex the search industry has become. The ecosystem visualizes the web of search engines, data providers, publishers, directories and other businesses that use local data about businesses to power one simple action that people do every day: search online.
For example, the infographic identifies Infogroup, Acxiom, Neustar/Localeze and Factual as the primary data aggregators, which collect and validate location data from businesses and share that data with publishers such as Apple, Bing, Foursquare and Google. (I refer to data aggregators and large publishers collectively as data amplifiers because they share a business’s location data not just directly with searchers, but also with other apps, tools, websites and businesses that, in turn, reshare that data to people across the digital world.)
In Whitespark’s words, the ecosystem “shows how business information is distributed online, who the primary data providers are, how search engines use the data, and how it flows.” The interactive tool helps you understand the importance of sharing accurate location data and the consequences of maintaining inaccurate data.
For example, because data aggregators influence a web of businesses across the ecosystem, it’s imperative that businesses meet the data formatting requirements of each aggregator. And as you can see, the ecosystem is complex:
Local search expert David Mihm originally developed this infographic in 2009, and over the years, the ecosystem has changed dramatically to reflect the rich palette of destinations that people weave together throughout the process of discovery, as well as the number of companies that influence whether a business’s location data appears as it should when, say, a searcher finds them on Facebook, Yelp or Uber.
A post on the Whitespark blog by Nyagoslav Zhekov dramatizes this evolution, tracing some of the businesses that have joined and departed. For instance, back in 2009, Apple did not even appear on the ecosystem, and Myspace did. In 2017, Apple is one of the principal data amplifiers, and Myspace is not a factor. You can tell by a quick glance of the 2009 version of the infographic how far the industry as grown:
Now, here’s the interesting part: As far-reaching as the new infographic is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The infographic does not come close to identifying all the companies that license business information from data amplifiers or use it as a starting point to build out their own curated business directory. For instance, a quick glance at the following three lists of local citation sources shows dozens of additional places where business information exists:
- The top 100 local citation sources per country, courtesy of Whitespark.
- The top local citations by business category, published by BrightLocal.
- An even more detailed list of top local citations by category, courtesy of Moz and Whitespark.
Many of the businesses that appear on these lists overlap with those on Whitespark’s local search ecosystem, and they have the same role: receiving and sharing location data that influences which locations appear in search results. But many names on the top citations lists didn’t make the cut and are not part of the infographic. Why? Because of two factors that influence each other:
- Consumers are using search in more far-reaching and sophisticated ways. They’re using apps, social media sites, websites, search engines and a host of other touch points to do increasingly refined searches for things to do, places to go, services to use and things to buy. They expect the digital world to provide instant access to restaurants, plumbers, museums, tattoo parlors, places for Magic the Gathering meet-ups, places to find spoken poetry and so on. Because of this behavior, the thousands of mobile app platforms, ad networks, navigation systems, data services, social media companies, search engines, directories and so on currently using business information provided by the data amplifiers would make the infographic difficult to comprehend — similar to the Marketing Technology Landscape.
- At the same time, the ephemeral nature of many of these tools means that the infographic would rapidly be out of date as the various startups or branches of larger organizations either sunset or consolidate into a larger entity. I find it interesting that the fundamental reason the infographic can never be a truly representative look at the scale of the local search ecosystem is the exact reason that focusing your location data management on the data amplifiers is so critical today — something the infographic illustrates well.
The 2017 local search ecosystem is a brilliant foundation to get businesses grounded in the most influential sources of location data. But as the above examples demonstrate, the scope of location data companies far exceeds the Whitespark infographic. Put another way: Consider each wedge on the infographic to be a gateway to even more specialty sites by category.
The scope of location data directories, publishers and aggregators can seem overwhelming. But if you manage multiple brick-and-mortar storefronts, don’t despair. You need not have a presence on every directory on the lists I’ve cited. It’s far more important to focus your efforts on building relationships with data amplifiers. When you share your data with the core aggregators and publishers, you create two advantages for yourself:
- Amplifiers do the heavy lifting for you by disseminating your data among all the places that require it, however obscure, where your data appears.
- You stay up-to-date on the emerging technologies and products that the data amplifiers create. Google alone constantly updates its algorithms and products to improve search. By having a relationship with Google — such as publishing your data on Google My Business — you are on the ground floor when product updates happen and when Google launches new products.
Understand the scope and richness of the location data ecosystem. Make sure you are constantly optimizing your data and content to be found everywhere. And let the data amplifiers help you succeed across the ecosystem.