Local or hyper-local digital media is about as HOT as it can get now. Helping small marketers compete on the local level through SEO and SEM is a flooded space. Vendors like Yodle, Yext, and ReachLocal have managed to capture large shares of market with offerings that help small and some mid-size advertisers capture local search traffic.
What about the BIG advertiser? Who is helping the enterprise advertiser compete on the local level? They did move into the neighborhood and setup shop. They did build a huge store, hire local high school graduates and lure the community in with great prices and thousands of SKUs. So what if maybe a few small businesses fell around them, that’s capitalism!
How does the BIG guy, who has become a dominant figure locally, leverage digital media to win on a hyper-local level? Many of my colleagues know of the struggles that enterprise advertisers face on the local level. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond competes against my Great Uncle Art’s Vacuum Store in Queens, NY. But the search algorithms favor the local retailer so Art wins.
While large multi-location advertisers do get some help, however, the glove on the helping hand they grasp is lined with fools-gold.
While I love Uncle Art and root for him every day, I must admit that the predominant guidance given to his competition and their agencies is not wise. Some very well known and trusted blogs advise large advertisers that want to compete in local search to seed the industry with NAP (name, address and phone number) data, claim directory listings, manage directory data accuracy, and upload content to Google Places. While effective, I question the longevity of these tactics as well as the strategy behind them.
When I search for a lawn mower, using a geo-modifier (zip code or a town), I generally find one or two listings for Lowe’s. Most of page one is comprised of directories. The directories have done a stupendous job optimizing for search – branded and non-branded terms – which Lowe’s should be capturing.
So the Local SEO guides tell Lowe’s to manage the customer experience on the directories. Infogroup, Axciom and Localeze attract the advertiser to seed the ecosystem with data and improve the information displayed on the directories. Yext approaches the advertiser to update and improve the content, which improves the directories optimization.
But wait! Have you looked at a directory page recently? Have you looked at what a Yelp, Yellow Pages, Dex or CitySearch displays on the local Lowe’s pages within their listings? The page that was optimized for a local search on lawn mowers includes ads for Home Depot! In fact, the local Lowe’s page on a directory site is full of lots of ads, none of which promote buying a lawn mower at Lowe’s.
Why are we telling large advertisers to optimize for the directories? Is it because the directories are optimized for search? That’s like saying “run that way…because everyone is running that way!”
I have two major issues with this approach. The first is that aggregators are pumping advertiser data into the directory ecosystem, but they can only be as effective as the accuracy of the data that the advertiser provides to them. Most of us know that large advertiser data is, well, shit. There are multiple, disparate data sources that conflict and there then there are basic obstacles to accessing data, even inaccurate data. The second issue is that I believe long-term efforts to maximize directory-based exposure is a waste of time and MONEY. There are smarter ways to invest.
Garbage-in, garbage-out, right? If an advertiser can’t collect and provide good data to a syndicator, than the syndicator can’t really be successful. This is the broad experience right now with directory optimization and with managing Google listings. Yext may charge $400 per location to effectively manage directory listings, but they can only be marginally successful if the content they are working with is inaccurate.
Are you still wondering why you pulled up in front of a flower shop last Saturday, when you were actually aiming for the bakery that sells those amazing pastries only in the afternoons? You followed your GPS right to their front door, didn’t you? The problem is geocoding. That bakery, the flower shop, Target, Lowe’s and the bank you frequent most, are largely all propagating their NAP information with bad geocodes. They are not telling the directories and search engines where to find them on a map. The latitude and longitude information is inaccurate. Other data points are also inaccurate too. The sad thing is that marketers and agencies know they have bad data and they use it anyway. The industry just shrugs their shoulders, accepts it and keeps pushing it out.
So optimizing for directory listings is not a long-term term power play? I certainly don’t think so. Getting accurate and timely information into Google Places is. Be aware that Google is always maneuvering to improve local search. They also maneuver to improve the value of their advertising inventory. Don’t be foolish enough to believe that Google is going to let directories monopolize page one so that they can sell the advertising and give the user a less than stellar experience. That won’t last. You can count on that.
I’ll tell you how to better invest, next time.