Year In Review: Local Search & Maps
While analysts and practitioners have been prognosticating the imminent arrival
of local search for the last several years, 2009 was finally the year that proved
us right. A number of innovations
and developments in mobile search, such as the widespread adoption of the
iPhone, the release of Android, and a burgeoning number of location-based apps
like Foursquare have certainly helped fuel local search’s rise. But local has
gained mind share among SEO’s, marketers, business owners, and perhaps most
importantly, searchers, in its own right as well.
Let’s take a look at some of the most significant
developments that have contributed to the evolution of local search in the last
1) Local goes universal — big time.
Per Andrew Shotland’s #1 prediction
for 2009, Google made several moves to increase its already dominant position
in the local search space — none bigger than its release
of the generic 10-pack on March 31. While its earlier release of the "K-Pack"
and later refinement to the 7-pack
were each noteworthy in their own right, the appearance of Local Business Listings
across such a wide variety of phrases opened the eyes of Google users, observers,
and competitors to the local frontier, and really set the tone for the year.
Yahoo followed suit in December with its own introduction
of local results to generic SERPs, while Bing included an "8-pack"
from day one of its June launch.
2) Tough times for the Yellow Pages industry.
Even before the introduction of the generic 10-pack, the ever-prescient Chris
Silver Smith had some
excellent advice for Yellow Pages companies about how to adapt to the changing
local search landscape — advice that still holds 11 months later.
But even for those companies whose properties are
well-optimized for organic search (per studies by Andrew
Shotland and Ash
Nallawalla), the 10-pack has slowed
referral traffic from Google considerably, and even Google
Suggest thinks the end may be near for the industry as we know it.
indexation of Place Pages during their initial release
in October had the potential
to choke Internet Yellow Pages traffic even more before Google rectified
The annual ComScore/15miles
local search study may not portend such a depressed view for the Yellow
Pages as a whole, but certainly forecasts a continued decline for the print
3) Major upgrades to the Local Business Center(s).
Perhaps Google’s most visible upgrade to its Local Business Center, at least
for small business owners, was its release of LBC Analytics in late
May, providing basic traffic statistics, information on coupon views, and
requests for driving directions. While most SEO’s, including Search Engine Land’s
Matt McGee find the data from LBC Analytics borderline
useless, two excellent tutorials on segmenting 10-pack traffic via Google’s
actual Analytics program were published by Martijn
Beijk and Mike
Belasco & Mary Bowling.
Later in the year, Google also made public a long-rumored "whitelisted"
bulk upload feature for larger companies, and announced a beta ad unit that
we are sure to see more of in 2010 — Local
Listing Ads — a flat-fee, no-keyword-research-required offering for small
business owners based on their Local Business Listings.
phone verification to its Local Business Center soon after it launched,
bringing its submission process up to par with Google’s.
4) Continued problems with local data.
All of the local search engines do a "pretty good" job with location
data accuracy, but is that job "good enough?" Perhaps not when it
comes to police departments,
or other emergency
services, whose Authoritative OneBox results all came under increased scrutiny
OneBoxes featuring merged
listing information also raised quite an outcry
among SEO’s and SMB’s numerous times throughout the year, although a Search
Marketing Now webcast
with representatives from the major data providers did an excellent job of clearing
up some of the confusion as to why these data problems exist.
Many are caused by NAP ("Name Address Phone")
inconsistencies or overlaps, as Gib
Olander of Localeze preaches every chance he gets. Despite the measurable promise
held by call-tracking numbers, I’ve also advocated for consistency
of NAP information on multiple
occasions, at least until something akin to a canonical
phone tag is adopted by the major players in the local
And there’s still no solution to the "service area problem"
from any of the search engines or data providers for which Miriam Ellis and Chris Silver Smith,
among others, have been clamoring for years.
Beyond business data, local search also incorporates a geo-spatial element,
of course. Google made a "tectonic
shift" on this front in October to eschew
data from its former provider, TeleAtlas, in favor of its own. Microsoft
continued to update
its own VirtualEarth product with more accurate geo-spatial information.
5) Continued problems with Map Spam and Map Jacking.
What 2009 Year-In-Review would be complete without at least a passing mention
and their penchant for the darker arts of Local SEO? Muckraker extraordinaire
Mike Blumenthal did an excellent job covering
over the course of the spring.
Things got so bad that Matt McGee asked if it was time to send
Google Maps back to the drawing board. Bing
was not immune to the scourge
of the local search industry, either, and even state
attorneys general started to get involved in cracking down on criminal
To Google’s enormous credit, locksmith-infested SERPs have been pretty clean
late summer are now made up almost entirely of legitimate business owners.
Next up in the game of Map Spam Whack-a-mole is likely plastic
Less humorous was the frequency of hijacked
business listings which even reached as high as the LBC
entry for the White House. Google seems to have largely taken care of this
issue system-wide as well.
6) Continued problems with small business advertiser "churn."
Report in early June highlighted a shocking 50% year-over-year "churn rate"
for small business customers who advertise online. Of course, when you consider
how many SMBs are being sold a "bill
of goods" or are falling victim to other predatory
it’s a little less surprising.
But even companies as large as Google continue to struggle with the customer-facing
aspect of serving small business customers. Google began sending
email newsletters in August and sent
stickers to 100,000 businesses named "Favorite Places" in December
as part of a more aggressive outreach campaign than anything we’ve seen to date.
Nonetheless, it has
of Local Business Center support almost monthly by the Local SEO community.
While Miriam Ellis’ hopeful New Year’s Resolution for
Eric Schmidt did not come to fruition in 2009, things are looking up for
7) The rise of local-social interactions.
Without a doubt, 2009 was the year that Twitter became a major player in local
search. Their API added
location awareness in August, and just last week Twitter
bought TownMe, the owner of GeoAPI. Twitter has truly become a
critical component for local online marketing, and released a "101 for Business Owners"
practices and case
Yahoo added a major local social component to its product
suite — Yahoo
Neighbors — and Google began
displaying customer sentiment via reviews much
more prominently on Place Pages, something Bing did several months sooner.
Offerings such as Praized’s
Local Buzz which incorporate online word-of-mouth about local businesses
are sure to pick up even more steam in 2010.
8) Major partnerships and almost-partnerships.
By far the biggest story of the year was the one that didn’t happen — Google’s
$500 million offer to buy Yelp that seems to have fallen
through. As Mike
Blumenthal pointed out, the powerful combination of Google Maps for recovery
searches and Yelp for discovery searches would have sent shockwaves through
the entire local search industry.
Still, some smaller partnerships hold potential for the future as well. Citysearch
has been the most active player, announcing partnerships with Twitter,
in the last nine months. Yellowpages.com also made a nice deal with Microsoft
sponsored results on Bing Local.
9) A groundswell of hyperlocal content.
Despite a continued lack
of respect from traditional media, the future looks extremely bright for
hyperlocal bloggers, thanks to some major distribution deals inked in the second
half of the year. Hyperlocal hotbed Seattle
is blossoming thanks to its community’s collaboration with the Seattle Times.
Nationwide, deals between MSNBC
and Everyblock, as well as Bing’s
Local Lens project show that Microsoft is clearly moving in a local
Scrappy startup Outside.in, after beefing
up its own search capabilities, received a $7 million
investment from CNN, meaning hyperlocal content now has the chance to go
National. And Yahoo’s homepage has been displaying local news stories inline
with national ones for months.
And then there’s Google, which has continued expanding its
definition of local content by incorporating real
estate listings from Google Base into Maps and tieing in local
inventory options to its product search.
What’s coming in 2010?
A few off-the-cuff predictions include:
- more momentum for location-based microformats
- more mergers and content partnerships, especially among the non-Google players
- more mobile-local synergy with initiatives like Favorite
Places / QR codes and Microsoft’s
slick new "Street Side" experience
While 2009 was certainly a thrilling year for the local search industry, 2010
is sure to be every bit as exciting — and then some. Have a safe and Happy
New Year, everyone!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.