What’s happened to Local Search? Where did we go wrong?

UntitledLocal is mainstream. You’re no longer cutting edge or ahead of the curve when you use buzz words like “local search”, “hyper-local” or even the super cool acronym, “SoLoMo” (which seems like more of an emerging neighborhood than a search term to me). Look at the agendas for upcoming trade show conferences such as SMX, where entire days are structured around local

25% of every search on Google is a local query and that number jumps to nearly 45% when you combine mobile with desktop. 56% of mobile usage is search, and half of all mobile-search is local.

Digital media has become consumed with local. Especially search. Not just for SMB, but for national brands. Having multiple locations and information about each of those locations are recognized assets across the industry. For example, local pages can provide credibility to an enterprise advertiser looking to compete on the local level. Syndication of local information to search engines, directories and social networks can elevate competitive local advantage.

Media technology vendors have been bombarding the marketer and agency promises of strategic advantages that will result from the use of their location information. From directory listing management providers (seems like everyone does that now) to other media technology vendors such as display, mobile, video, PPC, SEO and email; they all have some form of local targeting solution that offer benefits from location information when the information is available.

There are varying ways and reasons for valuing the location information of a large advertiser. For example, the strategy of promoting local pages establishes “page of record” status and can capture significant SERP positioning if optimized correctly. Ironically, this strategy has slipped from the top of the priority list for many active advertisers.

Syndication of content to third party web sites can have dual value and purpose. If you have unique landing pages for each location, you can add credibility to the content that you promote and also help the search engines validate your local pages. Then in a concerted effort to optimize local pages, an enterprise advertiser should syndicate content to add continuity to their local pages from the ecosystem. Content syndicated to the search engines, directories and social networks is very effective at improving the value of these local landing pages.

Oddly enough, this is not the overwhelming strategy of advertisers today. It was, but has changed. Directory listing management providers shifted their go-to-market language a short while ago, from complementing local page rank to promoting directory page rank. I remember advising customers to out-compete directories from stealing brand traffic.  Now these advertisers are content with leveraging the traffic that directories are receiving.

As an example, look below at the local search results for “Lowe’s” at the top of the page.  This is not a non-branded search for “home improvement” in Charlotte. This is a branded search for Lowe’s in Charlotte (where the corporate headquarters are located). With the exception of Lowes.com, each listing/result on the page is a directory, which links to local Lowe’s page and many display a Sears or Home Depot ad. This is happening across industries for multi-location advertisers for both branded and non-branded keywords with geo-modified searches.

What’s happening here? First, directories are beating the brands in local search with the brand’s OWN equity. Most directories have more content than brands offer on their own local page of which multi-location advertisers have few or none at all.

When an executive conducts a search like this and sees all of these directories owning page-1, it raises an alarm. When you dive into these pages, you find an overwhelming amount of inaccurate content. I’m talking about deep, unique, compelling information about the location in addition to NAP information and inaccurate mapping.

Take home message: pages that are stack ranking on page-1 are misinforming consumers and directing them to either a competitive advertiser or the wrong location!

This is why the directory listing business is booming. This is why so many different kinds of technology vendors have converged on this space.  Marketers have shifted their spend to correct this situation. Yext, Localeze and an entire group of other Merry Pranksters are capitalizing on this opportunity and reinforcing the concern of the marketer.  They have very compelling evidence right there on page-1 of Google.

Advertisers are committing dollars with vendors of all shapes and sizes for fees that range from $30 to $400 per location per year, to clean up the directory ecosystem. Some providers cascade the information through aggregators, others to specific directories through APIs. Some claim to proactively update information down-stream within the ecosystem where there is lack of continuity, and then there are those that actually do it.

Oddly (and very curiously) enough though, no matter how much an advertiser pays, and no matter how much the vendor promises, this is a no win situation. Why? What’s actually happening?  Let’s say it together: Dirty Data. That’s right, the advertiser has bad information. No matter how much the vendor strives to make it all right, it will be wrong.

But the marketers’ expectations have been set very high. The C-suite has been convinced of value in this recognized asset and that some great new things are going to happen as a result of allocating spend this way. The clock is ticking. The agencies that have sold clients on these initiatives know it. The vendors that have made big promises based on using the data that the marketers possess, know it. IT tickets were written and feeds and files were generated.  But the inherent nature of the content itself is flawed. And we all know it: no matter whether it is the advertiser or the vendor who is at fault, when it comes time to deal review, the vendor is wrong. Sh-t always rolls down hill.

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