Location Based Services: Local Search 2.0?

Posted in SMX West

Welcome to aimClear’s coverage of #SMX West 2011! Day 1 is officially over and just like the warm, friendly 60-degree weather here in sunny San Jose, it did not disappoint– brimming with great panel discussions & tip-top presentations– among them, Location Services: The New Local Search.

Gib Olander, director of business development with Localeze; Rodney Hess, account associate with Search Influence; Jason Rupp, director of product management at Ask.com; Chris Travers, president and co-founder of UniversalBusinessListing.org and Ken Norton, senior product manager for Google were at the helm for this one. Each took turns exploring  how location services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and/or mobile apps are changing the local search space indefinitely. aimClear live tweeted this session (via MoCR521)… read on for a full write-up.

Business Identity & Discovery
Gib Olander was the first to take the stage, diving right into how search has evolved over the years and continues to change with the world wide web and new tools like location services.

  • Today, we use Google to look for what we want now, as opposed to where we used to look for information (you know, a library… remember those?).
  • Finding the what & where yesterday (hard copy of a map) vs. finding the what & where today (Google Maps).
  • Finding the what & where with the help of people who are/were (social) there vs. finding the what & where with the context of who.

Now more than ever, the emphasis is on WHEN. Why? Because it can change the relevancy, heightening our search to the what & where with the context of who and when.

Gib defined business identity today as having a Name, Address, Phone (NAP) plus a Category (C). A searchable business identity used to be as simple as having your information in a hard copy of the Yellow Pages. But now, because of online capabilities, consumers are increasingly using more and more sources to find local information & content.

Check out these sources of local business information, and the percentage increase of usage from 2009 to 2010. The state are pretty darn telling, to say the least…

  • Search Engines (+19%)  
  • Print YP or WP Directory (+8%) 
  • IYP Sites (+9%)
  • Local Search Sites (+15%)
  • Local Newspapers/Magazines (-9%)
  • Directory assistance (phone) (-6%)
  • Cell Phone/Wireless Device (+40%)
  • Social Networking Sites (+28%)

Gib then asked, “Are you discoverable?” It is vital to establish your online identity because it will anchor your customer’s experience:

  • People are expected to buy within 1 hour using mobile Internet and 7 days using PC Search
  • By 2011, 80% of mobile devices will have GPS
  • 60% of mobile Internet is spent on social networking

Location check-ins are growing rapidly with outlets like Foursquare and Facebook. Foursquare currently has 6.5 million users, 2 million daily check-ins, 420 million check-ins all together and a 3,400% growth in 2010. With statistics like this it is not surprising that brands (both big & small) are starting to take advantage of location services.

Social and mobile and local are colliding in your customers’ hands!

  • 32% of SMBs said they used Facebook Places to promote their business
  • 12% said they plan to use Facebook Places in the coming months
  • 70% said they used Facebook for promotions, which is up 50% compared to last year and beats Google, which is being used by 66%

Gib’s key takeaways:

  • Mobile, Local and Social are happening NOW!
  • If your identity isn’t established, you do not exist.
  • Enable your client to create and share great discovery content.
  • Have one consistent and pervasive NAP.
  • Recognize your spatial network and be aware of time as a relevancy factor.

Barnacle SEO
Rodney Hess was up next. In a casual-cool manner, he touched on how location services can benefit SEO. “Barnacle SEO”, he explained, was the act of attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current. Attaching your URL and addresses to a strong, trusted site takes very little effort, and can help you rank well for long-tail phrases. Examples of trusted location sites include Yelp, Foursquare, Yahoo! Local, etc.

Two things to keep in mind when thinking about location services: (1) Google and Bing both index venues from Foursquare and Yelp in organic search results, and (2) Google crawls Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare for local citations.

Key findings from an advertiser sentiment survey Rodney conducted include:

Concerning the breakdown of service usage:

  • 61% of advertisers are using Facebook Places
  • 55% use Foursquare
  • 50% use Yelp
  • 3% use Gowalla

When asked why users are leveraging location services:

 

  • 50% said just another social networking addiction
  • 28% said for business promotions
  • 21% want their friends to know about their whereabouts.
  • A mighty 95% said they check in using a mobile device.

When asked if business promotions on these sites inspire them to be a return customer:

  • 70 percent said…”NO”

To sum up, location-based services serve more practical purposes than free advertising and check-in services are still in their infancy. Rodney’s survey findings prove that these services need to show users more value that will make it worth their time. Only then can check-in services can become the new local search.

Mobile = A More Engaged User
Jason Rupp took the stage next, with a presentation that concentrated on engagement. The concept of searching has dramatically changed in regards to mobile; the behavior/expectations of users has changed.

  • 81% of mobile users need info ASAP
  • 66% of mobile users say they are more likely to need info when they are not in front of their computers
  • 40% of mobile users trust peer content more when it is 24 hours old versus one month old

Jason encouraged the audience to seek new “signals” on mobile devices by…

  • firing up an app
  • checking in
  • selecting a location or place of interest
  • sharing locations and/or asking/answering questions about a place.

The Q&A model offers marketers an intent-based signal, which is similar to search.  Location-based questions allow marketers to respond to real user needs that can eventually build brands and drive leads.

Key points from Jason’s presentation:

  • Think about testing location-aware real time offers
  • Provide incentives for checking-in, sharing locations, inviting friends to a location
  • Be creative about branding the check-in experience where possible.
  • Align your mobile marketing strategy with your social media strategy
  • Consistent messaging/branding across multiple touch points
  • Cross platform offers to drive engagement

Businesses: Identification to Reputation
Chris Travers was up next, to take us through a look at the change in location search from identification to reputation. People are going from an address toa map to figuring out what’s nearby, to learning how good the place is, to who is nearby and how worthy is that person and their opinion.

Chris stressed that business profiles can be a vulnerability and you should only create or claim profiles you are prepared to manage long-term or populate the profile with data that is not likely to change. For this, Chris recommended using specialized services that manage listing carefully.

Businesses are being challenged because the key elements of concern are being fragmented over multiple platforms. It’s a delicate and necessary balancing act between managing listings and profiles, monitoring reviews, mentions, ratings, competitors, diligently making updates to postings, keeping up with advertising, offering coupons and tracking related analytics.

First steps…

  • Syndicate listing across the Digital Search Landscape
  • Claim business listings in Google, Bing, Yahoo to protect your identity
  • Add credibility with verification
  • Distribute video profiles
  • Visible analysis and presence reports
  • Monitor listings, reviews and social mentions – remember to react quickly to any negative comments or reviews
  • Claim your brand on social networks – ensure brand consistency, gain broad exposure for your business and protect trademarks

Final Thoughts From the Google
Ken Norton from Google was the last to step up to the podium to briefly share a few comments that succinctly summed up the session and hammer home thoughts that marketers need to keep top of mind… most notably:

“Think about location as a layer that enhances everything users are trying to do online. Everyone has a location… Be sure to think about and not forget the mobile experience.”

The audience walked away with some amazing tips and insight into location services and other factors to be aware of when managing a business’s online presence. Stay tuned for more coverage of #SMX & live-tweet coverage coming atcha from the aimClear team!