Wesley Young – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mon, 18 Jun 2018 19:32:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6.3 How social networks usurp Google’s local search dominance /how-social-networks-usurp-googles-local-search-dominance-300367 Mon, 18 Jun 2018 19:32:00 +0000 /?p=300367 Google may dominate most results, but not local search. Contributor Wesley Young looks at how Facebook and other social networks take a significant share of local search away from Google.

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Google remains at the forefront of developments in many areas that have the potential to disrupt local search.

Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), the internet of things (IoT), voice search and cloud technology are all being increasingly used by consumers and businesses alike.

Yet there is one area where Google doesn’t sit in pole position: social media.

Google is way behind in social

Google has made several attempts to get some traction in social media: Orkut, Dodgeball, Buzz, Latitude. The fact that you likely don’t recognize these names says enough about their success.

The one Google hasn’t given up on is Google+, or more recently, “G+.”  With a major rewrite of the Android app as recently as this past spring, Google has tried hard to boost its usage, even overreaching at times by mandating the creation of a G+ account in order to use certain features of its more popular products.

On the positive side, those who use it seem to like it. Google+ ranked tops amongst social media companies in last year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.

But when you look at the usage numbers, they lag significantly behind.

Google claimed that at the end of 2013, it had 540 million monthly active Google+ users.  According to SmartInights, quoting data from StaticBrain (paywall), in 2017, it was estimated that only 4-6 million were active.

Compare that to almost 1.5 billion daily active Facebook users.

In other words, Google’s social media presence is less than 0.4 percent of Facebook’s.

Why social will win local search market share

A Local Search Association (I am affiliated with this organization) study conducted by Burke in 2016 showed that word of mouth or referrals from friends and family was tied with company websites for second place among resources that consumers used to look up or learn about local products and services.

Eighty-two percent of consumers relied on referrals, while search engines were used the most, at 92 percent.

Yet according to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Trust in Advertising study, consumers trusted recommendations from friends far more than any other source.

In the US, 82 percent of respondents trusted recommendations from people they know. For comparison, 66 percent trusted online consumer opinions (reviews), 61 percent trusted branded websites, 49 percent search ads, 47 percent video ads and 39 percent mobile ads. (I use search ads for comparison because organic Google search is disappearing).

So, why does search engine use outpace friend referrals in local search when it is trusted less? A likely explanation is access. Mobile devices are always on, and search results are immediate.

But social media is making word-of-mouth referrals just as accessible. And if consumers have easier access to local search results that they trust more, that is where they will turn.

Is it more likely for Google to attract social users or for Facebook to adopt search and commerce into its platform? Based on results to date, Google hasn’t been successful in several attempts at social media. Yet Facebook has incorporated maps, reviews, recommendations and search functions into its platform.

Edge: Facebook.

And it seems that the changes are having their desired effect. A recent study by the social media giant found that two in three Facebook users visited the page of a local business or event at least once a week.

How Facebook is combining local search and referrals

Facebook made significant changes that drastically improved the local search experience on its platform. But the changes haven’t just been great location data and indexing of Facebook business pages. Facebook needed to distinguish its search from just being a more limited version of Google search. It needed more than the convenience of not leaving the app.

Facebook introduced Recommendations as a featured newsfeed post that makes it clear to a user’s friends they are seeking referrals. When a business that is in Facebook’s database is recommended by a friend, a profile of the business is shown as part of that friend’s comment. Clicking on the mini-profile opens the business’s FB page.

And Facebook continues to add to the feature’s functionality. Friends can now search for businesses to recommend right from the comment box. Clicking on the icon pulls up a menu similar to a check-in that not only offers a search box but also lists places you’ve checked into or visited that are responsive to the recommendation request.

For example, when a friend asks for recommendations of restaurants in Austin, Texas, Facebook shows me three establishments I’ve checked into that I can simply click to recommend to my friend. It also displays other popular establishments in Austin, making it quick and easy to make a recommendation.

If waiting for responses isn’t fast enough, or if you value a certain friend’s input, Facebook has added an “ask” button so you can ping specific friends. They receive a notification that you are asking for a recommendation that links directly to the post for their comment.

Facebook must be seeing added engagement from these recommendations, as it added a promotional widget encouraging anyone who makes a recommendation to ask their own questions.

And if friends don’t respond fast enough, even when you specifically ask them, Facebook now displays friends who have recommended a business directly in search results for hotels, restaurants, home services and other local search categories. Clicking through to a business Facebook page also shows you a list of friends who have checked into a place.

The focus is local

If there’s any doubt as to the priority Facebook is giving a location with its recommendations, look at these tags listed under search results for restaurants nearby when there is no friend recommendation:

  • Popular with locals.
  • Recommended by 61 locals.
  • Most recommended steakhouse in Plano.
  • Most recommended Burger/Sushi/Chinese Restaurant in Frisco.

While Facebook doesn’t appear to have monetized these promotional tags yet, it seems poised to do so when the time is right.

Nextdoor thrives on local recommendations

Another social media platform that has locals chatting about recommendations and local businesses is Nextdoor.

Users of Nextdoor join a chat feed that can be limited to your immediate neighborhood or broadened to include those in a certain community radius. The broadest radius for my personal Nextdoor account includes 48 neighborhoods within a two-mile radius that include over 12,000 neighbors. Any content I see is from within a tight local circle, and I can customize what I see by selecting any of those 48 neighborhoods individually to include in my feed.

The most common posts on Nextdoor are classified “for sale” posts, community news such as lost dogs and road closures and those making and seeking recommendations.

Nextdoor is built on the premise that consumers trust and seek out opinions from like-minded people. Even though I don’t personally know 99 percent of those who post on the site, I feel that their values and tastes are likely to be fairly similar to mine since we have similar lifestyles and live in close proximity. Nextdoor benefits from being a truly local resource when a location is one of the most important criteria for the vast majority of purchases.

Users register with their address, which determines what geographic area content is sourced from. All posts reveal real names and the neighborhood of the writer. That means I can screen out the recommendation for a lawn service of someone who lives in a wealthy neighborhood knowing that I probably don’t need my lawn to look like the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

Right now, most recommendations occur organically as a simple post that describes a good experience with a local contractor or is made in response to someone’s request for recommendations to meet a specific need. And they can be incredibly effective.

A recent post from a neighbor near me described his experience with an “honest pool service.” He received over 30 requests for the pool guy’s contact information.

The interface is currently a bit basic and could use some improvement in indexing and business listings. But Nextdoor is clearly taking steps to build on the strength of the volume of recommendations. As a percentage of total posts, I counted approximately 30 percent of all posts were giving or seeking a recommendation for local businesses and services.

Nextdoor created a separate tab for recommended local businesses with links to directories of popular categories such as roofers, hair salons and auto mechanics. Businesses can claim their listing, although it seems relatively few have. Nextdoor is also promoting the most popular businesses with “Neighborhood favorites” in several categories.

It feels that syncing the data with useful content is still a work in progress and that there will be a better way to incorporate the features under the recommendations tab into the more widely used newsfeed. But even Facebook went through some similar growing pains. Nextdoor now has the audience and the context to really make some noise in the local search marketplace.

Data and privacy laws will make recommendations even more valuable

Offline actions are a better predictor of future behavior than measurable online actions. In other words, real-life choices, actions and behavior better predict online decisions than clicks, search history and page views. That offline behavior is a deeper and more complete picture of the real world and forms more accurate indicators of intent.

So while Google may have the greater volume of data, Facebook seems to have the ability to extract greater insights with theirs. What people share on social media is often a record of offline action. It’s not just location data check-ins, either — it’s what they did, how they spent their time, what they liked or didn’t like, what they were feeling and what they spent money on.

The Cambridge Analytica data breach and restrictions imposed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are likely to at least decelerate developments in using data for targeting in the near future.

Recommendations, on the other hand, do not rely on any particularly data-heavy predictive algorithm. It’s pretty much an organically derived opinion offered up voluntarily. Facebook has done a nice job at greasing the axles to both give and find recommendations and will help boost its platform’s ability to help local businesses during a time when more consumers are opting out of tracking, swiping past ads and rejecting opt-in requests to collect user data.

What’s the business’s role in recommendations?

Recommendations may invoke some nervousness for advertisers about the lack of control over the message delivered.

But the business still plays an important role. Recommendations may not be as visible to the business as reviews, but similar strategies can be used to generate positive recommendations — the most important of those being to provide great customer service and a positive experience with the business.

Developing a plan to boost recommendations is especially important, as Facebook has announced it is intentionally reducing the exposure of organic posts by businesses. Commonly termed Facebook Zero based on predictions that Facebook’s goal is to reduce business posts to zero, the new policy emphasizes content created by or shared by friends. Recommendations as a category would thus arguably be the best way for local businesses to generate exposure on the platform.

Claiming business pages on social media and having those listings actively maintained to display up-to-date and accurate information is important. The look and feel of those pages and any links to your website likewise should reflect well on you. And anything that builds customer loyalty will also help.

Closing thoughts

Facebook and Nextdoor are just two examples of the way social media is stealing away local search market share from Google. But they illustrate some trends on how local search is evolving and how having the right data is more important than the volume of data in providing results people want.

Facebook certainly seems best positioned to grow its local business offerings. And despite the negative public relations for Facebook and reports of younger users ditching the app, Facebook has managed to keep the brand identities of products like Instagram separate and maintain a strong following amongst younger users.

While cross-media and changing technology will continue to open other opportunities for local marketing, social media will not only occupy the most consumer screen time but also threaten to influence where the most local dollars are spent.

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How to survive Google’s new local search world /how-to-survive-googles-new-local-search-world-298449 Mon, 21 May 2018 14:27:00 +0000 /?p=298449 Google has made some significant changes in the area of local search. Contributor Wesley Young gives an overview of the important changes and shares tips on how to keep your local business visible in the search results.

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Last month, I attended the Local Search Association’s 2018 annual conference (LSA18) and was overwhelmed at the helpful information shared by the experts who spoke. I’d like to share some key takeaways and offer some insights of my own on local search.

Local search must adjust

One of the main themes discussed centered around the fact that Google search today is less about displaying organic web page results and more about featuring Google products.

A typical query in Google search may bring back an abundance of Google-owned properties:

  • Paid listings and ads.
  • Knowledge panel.
  • Review carousel.
  • Local pack.
  • News carousel.
  • Images carousel.
  • Research carousel.
  • Refine by brand carousel non-Google SERP features.
  • E-commerce URLs.
  • Review URLs.

We are seeing result pages where Google features occupied virtually the entire page and organic web page results were barely visible.

The impact is clear: More and more information resides on Google’s servers instead of on the web itself. Google “curates” the vast majority of content users see, so webmasters must rely on Google’s platform and less on their independently owned websites.

To those who complained that traditional search engine optimization (SEO) relied too much on following Google’s rules, thanks for playing — you can now turn in your game card. We will soon be entering the local search arena on Google’s exclusive home turf.

How to survive Google’s new local search world

Much of the discussion at the conference focused on new updates Google has introduced over the past year. Below are some ways that were suggested to boost your search ranking within Google features.

1. Optimize your business’s Knowledge Graph

The Knowledge Graph has become the new source of information for SEO, which makes sense since the content is essentially pre-indexed for Google’s algorithm.

Google My Business (GMB) now allows owners to add much richer content than photos and basic listing information. Some of those updates are:

  • Google Posts. Allows businesses to share dynamic content with users as distinguished from more permanent content such as name, address and phone number (NAP) information. Examples might include events, announcements or seasonal content. Posts may take the form of text, photos or video.
  • Google Q&A. Users can ask questions about your product or service, and you or a member of the public can answer. This is a way to engage with customers and add relevant content to your listing.
  • Google Messaging. Unlike Google Q&A, messages are personal and do not appear on your listing. Messages are sent to the business that responds directly to the customer.
  • Google Bookings. Google bookings integrate with supported scheduling partners to provide appointments and reservations and insights through your GMB account.

2. Actively manage your Google My Business listing

The new features add significantly greater functionality to the GMB listing, but it also adds more work.

While it was always advisable to regularly check on the listing to make sure it hasn’t been updated with an aggregator’s outdated information or a prank photo, the new features mandate frequent, if not daily, checks.

For example, critics of the Google Q&A feature say it has become an open message board for the public. Instead of asking questions, some are leaving reviews, going off on rants, or even posting spam. Yet even legitimate questions left unanswered can reflect poorly on the business.

The new GMB features require frequent attention and some pampering in order to ensure their addition has a positive impact on your listing.

3. Test search results for your local business

Even though everything looks good from the inside, it’s important to step outside and see how the display window looks from the sidewalk, as the customer sees it.

With your GMB listing, sometimes the displayed result doesn’t match what you expect.

Even brands such as the Four Seasons Hotel find misinformation for their properties displayed both in search results and local maps. Here are some examples of wrong information affecting the Four Seasons brand:

  • Misidentification of a hotel name with a former property location.
  • Map pin that was dropped in the wrong location.
  • Incorrect Knowledge Graph information stating a hotel golf course was public.
  • Missing bridge on Google Maps that resulted in roundabout directions.
  • Incorrect street names on Google Maps that affected directions to the property.

These problems were all reported and eventually fixed. This demonstrates the importance of viewing your business’s search results from the customer side.

4. Consider ads if you want to appear in the top search results

From 35 percent to 64 percent of local pack results now contain ads, according to data from Moz.com.

And AdWords ads are growing to take the lion’s share of local search engine result pages (SERP) results.  David Mihm of Tidings.com created the “SERP topology” to illustrate this point:

If you pay enough, AdWords also appear in the most prominent location at the top of the page. Thus, AdWords seems to be the best option for making sure you are listed at the top of search results.

5. Restructure web content to provide answers to questions

The graph above also points out the other type of content displayed prominently in the local SERPs is Google snippets.

These are excerpts from web pages that provide results that Google believes best answer what the searcher is looking for. Instead of just providing web page uniform resource locators (URLs), the snippet provides relevant information that in many instances foregoes the need to click through to the web page.

The snippet might contain a definition, an answer or a description on a topic, displayed in the form of a paragraph, a list or table.

Snippets reduce surfing, exploration of websites and business information and shorten discovery potential.

Instead, a single answer is deemed the best information and is served to the user. Now it’s a fight for getting your content to appear in a search snippet.

Optimizing your web content to provide answers to common questions in bite-sized digestible snippets will improve your chances of being featured in a snippet.

6. Utilize Google tools to help manage your client listings

Anita Yuen, product management director of Google My Business, explained updates to conference attendees and explained how their API tools and a new GMB agency dashboard can help marketers manage client listings at scale.

The new dashboard should be released this month and will feature the following:

  • Single organization accounts on Google My Business to manage all locations and no longer limited to 100 locations.
  • User groups to manage internal teams and control access to locations.
  • Improved search functionality enabling users to efficiently search for locations within an account and across location groups.
  • Easier workflows to send and receive invitations to manage listings.

Anita also discussed a new partner program highlighting key partners and providing early access to new information, as well as enhanced support for those partners.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and voice search means constantly shifting sands

Another reoccurring theme throughout the conference was changing technology and how we, as local search marketers, can adapt.

Adoption of new technology is creating windows of opportunity for competitors to carve out a niche for themselves and perhaps even become front-runners in certain areas. Technology is changing the way consumers interact with businesses and those of us that help businesses work more efficiently.

We need to embrace everything that offers opportunities for marketers to better compete in the local search space.

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Why we need to fight fake reviews /why-we-need-to-fight-fake-reviews-295005 Mon, 26 Mar 2018 16:15:00 +0000 /?p=295005 As a business owner, are you tempted to slip in a few positive reviews since you think everyone is doing it? Resist, says contributor Wesley Young.

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I have a growing concern about fake online content.

Last year, I wrote an article about eight different types of fake content and how the epidemic would hurt local search. It seems the problem is continuing to get worse, much worse.

Perhaps the most outrageous example of fake online content in the past year is the story of the Shed at Dulwich (the Shed). While this specific example itself doesn’t have much long-term impact on the industry, it does aptly illustrate how deeply both consumers and online sources can be so easily conned.

The Shed was an experiment dreamt up by Oobah Butler, who had previously been making ends meet as a “reviews-for-hire” writer. Based on his experience, he wanted to test how far he could fake it online by posting made-up reviews of a completely imaginary venue — a restaurant called the Shed at Dulwich.

The name came from the disarray in his backyard and the pictures on his website were of dishes thrown together from common household items and his own body parts. He used a toilet bowl puck and food coloring in one picture and a partial view of the heel of his foot in another.

Butler created a TripAdvisor profile for the Shed to launch his fake restaurant and test the impact of his reviews. As expected, it started dead last for restaurants in London on the site, ranked #18,149. But by gaming the system with fake reviews, the Shed slowly began to creep up in the rankings.

In order to prevent real customers from showing up and to create a mystique behind it, dining was advertised as by appointment only. He told the increasing number of callers that the restaurant was completely booked, which only seemed to have the effect of driving up the restaurant’s online reputation. Real consumers started posting real reviews on TripAdvisor about the Shed based on conjecture.

Incredibly, after 11 months of the hoax taking on a life of its own, the Shed became the #1 ranked restaurant in all of London on TripAdvisor. The restaurant rose over 18,000 spots in the rankings based on fake reviews and made-up phone calls.

This despite the fact that not a single real customer had visited the “restaurant.” Eventually, Butler did invite some customers to his backyard for a meal and managed to complete his illusion despite serving microwave lasagna and packaged entrees.

The story itself has limited real-life impact. TripAdvisor explained the fake site wasn’t caught because such a scenario is so unrealistic and the company doesn’t look for false businesses.

But the real-life application is significant: Can we trust the information we’re seeing online?

Can we trust what we see online?

Of all the areas in which fake information affects local search, reviews are likely of the most concern to local businesses.

Ooi Ming, co-founder of Fakespot.com, a site that analyzes Amazon products for reviewer authenticity, said:

As we ranked the products, it became pretty obvious that there are a lot of inauthentic and fake reviews online. This is probably an epidemic that hasn’t been talked about. I would say 40 percent of the reviews on Amazon are fake.

And from Yelp’s Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Communications Vince Sollitto:

This means about 25 percent of the reviews *submitted* to Yelp are not published on a business’s listing or recommended to consumers … [because they are ] likely to be fakes submitted by businesses themselves.

Yet there remains a lot of pressure on local businesses to maintain a high rating and receive positive reviews.

Reports from Bright Local state that 85 percent of consumers rely on reviews.

A study from Harvard Business School shows increasing a business’s online rating by one star causes sales to jump 5 percent to 9 percent.

That pressure, plus the readily available people offering to write positive reviews on behalf of any buyer, can make it hard to resist a little artificial stimulus. News outlets report review-writing services being advertised on online classifieds like Craigslist for as little as $5.00 a post.

Fellow Search Engine Land columnist Joy Hawkins even found Google local guides peddling fake reviews on a private Facebook group.

But businesses and marketers must stand firm against corrupting online content and reviews. Here are five good reasons to stand up against fake content.

1. Trust precedes substance

I mentioned before that 85 percent of consumers report that they trust online reviews. Maintaining that trust is important, and consumers are increasingly sensitive to information that challenges their brand loyalty. Reviews are part of your business content and reflect your reputation, whether positively or negatively.

Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy found that people evaluate others by answering two questions in order:

Can I trust this person? and can I respect this person?

Trust is evaluated first, and only if the person is deemed credible is substance evaluated. Thus, as applied to a local business, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your trade or how good your food tastes if you don’t pass the first test.

Consumers who realize reviews are fake will move on from your business. And they’re pretty good at sniffing them out. Almost 80 percent of consumers say that they’ve spotted fake reviews.

2. Short-term gains are a losing game

While you might get a temporary bump in business from artificially raising your star rating, the long-term risk is great.

Consumer behavior statistics reveal that customers are likely to stop patronizing your business if they feel misled by false reviews. When targeted with irrelevant information, 67 percent of consumers unsubscribed from email lists, 43 percent ignored future communications, 32 percent boycotted company media and 20 percent stopped buying from the company. The reaction to false information is likely to be even stronger.

3. It’s a long fall from unrealistic expectations

Recently, a friend told me she would have walked right back into the theater to watch “The Greatest Showman” a second time. Unfortunately, that turned what should have been a good movie experience for me into a slight disappointment.

The problem is that when expectations are built up, it is much more difficult to meet them. The greater the expectation, the longer the fall to reality. Building up a super rating on false pretenses only does two things: It creates an expectation you cannot match and starts a trend that is not sustainable.

When consumer experiences don’t match expectations, the backlash will be hard including more negative reviews. Combined with inflated reviews, those high ratings cannot be sustained. Or it takes more false reviews to compensate, making the problem even worse.

4. Real is better than perfect

Online media has made it easier to share the good and hide the bad. Driven by social media, everyone from teens to seniors creates a persona of the perfect life. Fun vacations, trendy dining and unique experiences have dominated what we share with our friends. But there is a growing movement toward authenticity.

Advertisers are now emphasizing the virtues of the less-than-perfect and embracing diversity. Dove has cast models of all shapes, sizes, colors and styles in their “Real Beauty” campaign. Plus-size and Plus-50-aged models now grace the runways of New York and Paris.

Reviews constitute native content to be judged on its merits. That means the good and the bad. Too many five-star reviews often lead to a skeptical response.

According to a report from Power Reviews, 82 percent of consumers seek out negative feedback to get the full picture, based on the belief that the truth often lies somewhere in the middle.

Source: PowerReviews

5. Build for the future

Millennials are the future of local business. Not only will their income and purchasing power continue to grow, but according to Nielsen, they also have a particular appreciation for local goods and services that support jobs and the local communities they live in.

A whopping 84 percent of millennials say they don’t like advertising, according to a study by The McCarthy Group.

The reason is that they don’t trust it, ranking the trustworthiness of advertising only 2.2 on a scale of 5. That has often been translated into a dislike of the brands that advertise. False reviews will result in the same reaction to those businesses that use them

There are other risks associated with false reviews that jeopardize the long-term health of a business.

Getting caught can result in being blackballed by Yelp or Google. It is also illegal. Posting fake reviews is considered a deceptive practice subject to triple damages and attorneys’ fees imposed by most state consumer protection laws for private causes of action. Consumer protection agencies such as the FTC or state Attorneys’ General offices can also bring enforcement actions.

What about soliciting legitimate reviews from real customers?

This discussion would be incomplete without addressing what seems to be a viable solution to the fight against fake reviews: soliciting real reviews.

Yelp has taken a hard-line stance against soliciting any reviews, even from real customers and without any incentives. Its reasoning is that organic reviews are the only truly unadulterated and unbiased customer feedback. I believe there is also some desire to create a clear, bright-line policy that is easy to state and enforce.

Others argue that asking verified customers to give honest reviews would increase the number of reviews and improve the overall credibility of the content given the larger sample size. Yelp would point to research that shows solicited reviews result in biased higher grades than organic reviews. Supporters of solicited reviews say organic reviews show a negative bias.

It’s a gray area, and both sides are correct, depending on the circumstances. It may also be semantics, to some degree, as Yelp supports businesses encouraging customers to “check out” the business on Yelp. If there’s one thing all sides can agree on, it’s that truth is paramount.

In closing, it may be tempting to justify a boost in ratings with a few made-up reviews when you’re convinced everyone else is doing it. But the negative impact on your business far outweighs the temporary lift you might experience.

And it’s a lesson that applies to both sides of the marketing relationship. Local businesses must keep their marketers accountable, and marketers must resist any means that falsely boost the performance of their services.

Stay true and authentic to your customers and invest in the long-term health of your business.

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6 smart e-commerce lessons to boost local business /6-smart-e-commerce-lessons-to-boost-local-business-292853 Mon, 26 Feb 2018 16:21:50 +0000 /?p=292853 With more and more people window shopping on a small screen, contributor Wesley Young shares six ways to use online tactics to drive customers to an offline store.

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E-commerce and local search might seem to be exclusive functions. Local search is typically associated with store locations and driving offline purchases, while e-commerce usually involves online transactions.

But recently the crowded e-commerce space has led online-only stores to encroach on the turf of local stores and services.

Amazon opened a bookstore in Seattle and acquired Whole Foods. Warby Parker, the eyewear company, opened its first store in 2013 and now has 61 nationwide. Bonobos, Blue Nile and others are likewise opening retail stores.

The reason for the bleed over is that online brands have realized the cumulative benefit storefronts are having to both marketing and sales, boosting both online sales as well as adding sales from stores.

That’s a lesson that also applies in reverse to those whose primary business is a brick-and-mortar storefront. Many of the components of e-commerce are increasingly relevant as consumers use more devices and more media to research purchases that they plan to buy offline. Omni-channel customers now expect to start their search for goods and services in one place and continue it seamlessly in another whether on a different device, media outlet or store location.

Here are six lessons from e-commerce you should use with your online content to provide a lift to your offline business.

1. Your website is your storefront, too

Sometimes it is hard for brick-and-mortar stores to dedicate the same investment to their website as they do their store.

E-commerce sites don’t have this conflict. Yet based on consumer behavior statistics, local businesses must realize that they likely have more visits to their website than their store and most in-store customers will visit their website first.

A 2016 Google and Purchased Digital Diary survey found that 58% of consumers visited a retailer’s website or app before making an in-store purchase.

Local Search Association’s (LSA, my employer) own survey of 8,000 consumers likewise found that a company website is the most used channel by consumers who are ready to purchase. Twenty-seven percent turn to a company website, even more than search engines at 24%.

On the flip side, consumers are turned off by bad online experiences.

A survey conducted by Vistaprint in 2016 shows:

45% of consumers are unlikely to buy from a business with a poorly designed website. This could be anything from a poor mobile experience to broken links, a confusing user experience or something similar. More compelling still, 34% were unlikely to buy from a business if they didn’t have a website.

2016 Vistaprint survey of 2000 adults

Realize that your website is an extension of your store and invest in a good online experience for your customers.

2. Make sure online information is accurate and up to date

You wouldn’t keep a Christmas sale sign up after the New Year in your store. Don’t do that online either.

While most customers are not likely to react as strongly as a Harvard professor who was charged $4 more than the outdated online menu prices he saw online, it can still impact business. That Harvard professor threatened legal action and notified authorities.

There are plenty of reactions short of his that are still not desirable.

My wife recently purchased a vacuum accessory just to be notified later that it was back-ordered, and then, a second time, that it was indefinitely out of stock. I can personally attest to the veracity of the phrase “unhappy wife, unhappy life” and do not recommend you tick her off with inaccurate online info.

On the flip side, there are a lot of good reasons to keep online information just as timely and accurate as the information you have in the store.

I was shopping for necklace charms for my daughters and looked at James Avery, an artisan jeweler based in Texas. Their online inventory by store was very helpful as I looked at some vintage letter charms. I was able to locate a store that didn’t just carry the charms, but the exact letters I needed.

They were also careful to let me know when they didn’t have information I needed. James Avery partners with and sells their jewelry through Dillard’s department stores, however, it appears they cannot track inventory at those locations like they can in their own retail stores. Online, they make it clear that inventory searches are not available for the Dillard’s locations.

Informing the customer when information is not available is much better than frustrating them with vague answers and wasting their time.

3. Don’t hide the ball from online shoppers

The shell game played on the streets of New York City (NYC) might be entertaining to watch, but it is not effective marketing.

A study by Market Track found that 80% of those surveyed compared prices online before buying offline. Business owners might use that as justification for not displaying prices online out of fear that they will be undercut by a competitor.

The problem with that mindset is that price is a core decision-making factor but not the only one. If a shopper is looking for the price and you fail to provide it, you are likely taken out of consideration. That was my personal experience.

I’m in the market for a new mattress. As I’m comparing products, I’m looking at comfort, features and quality. Even though I’ve visited several stores, I can’t recall all the details of each mattress I’m considering. One store doesn’t list their prices online and, even though I’m not trying to figure out which mattress is the cheapest, I do need price to assess overall value.  So that store is out.

4. Provide a full shopping experience online

It’s not just pricing information that isn’t always disclosed.

Some feel that providing only basic information online will drive store traffic where customers can get the “full experience”. I’m certainly not underestimating the value of in-person customer visits, but today’s consumer wants more, not less, information online.

LSA research found that 63% of consumers research a product or service online 50% of the time before making a purchase at a store. But many consumers research a product or service online even more frequently. Forty-six percent said they do online research 75% of the time before in-store purchases.

As an example, online mattress companies might appear to be at a huge disadvantage to local stores, but they are competing effectively by providing rich amounts of information to compensate for the inability to test the mattresses in person.

Effective use of video individualized for each mattress highlighting descriptions, features and comparison data comes close to mimicking a conversation with a sales rep. Charts, comfort ratings, and reviews also help decision making.

Brick-and-mortar stores must match these online experiences just to stay even before they can realize their in-store product advantage.

5. In store product interaction still maintains an advantage

One thing that online stores cannot duplicate is the ability to touch, feel, smell and get a truly interactive experience with a product. They may compensate by offering extended return policies and lenient trial programs, but each of these requires a greater commitment than a store visit.

LSA recently reported on a study that found the ability to interact with products was the top reason for most consumers to shop in-store. The only group for which this wasn’t true was Gen Z, 72% of whom said their top reason was to avoid shipping costs.

Keep in mind this group has the lowest disposable income and likely spends mostly on small item purchases.

With more product research being done online, in-store visits to interact with products is likely done at the tail-end of the purchase funnel. So these store visitors should be considered high-conversion leads.

There are ways to combat the concern about showrooming. That consumer is still ready to buy -– give them reasons to buy in-store by highlighting price-match policies, easier returns without shipping costs, and the immediate gratification of buying it now.

6. Don’t forget to pay attention to third-party listings

Brick and mortar stores extend their storefronts using third-party sites such as Google Shopping and Amazon. Because of their interactive sales nature and API programming, it’s easy to understand the importance of keeping the information such as price and inventory up to date.

But listings such as Google knowledge graphs and Yelp profiles are often relegated to the “set it and forget it” mode. After all, isn’t all of that information static?

That’s a mistake that many make. Google and Purchased Digital Diary’s 2016 survey found that “37% of consumers visited a non-retailer website or app before an in-store purchase and 31% used an online map” where consumers commonly view the store profile.

While not a substitute for a local business website, a third party does operate as a proxy in many cases. So while the information on those listings can be relatively static, it would be more effective if there were some updates.

For example, add holiday hours or special events such as President’s Day sales.

Update listings with new lines of products or highlight specific menu items. Upload new photos showing store renovations or redesigns. And conspicuously post any variation from your store’s status quo such as being closed for a private party. This is all information that customers searching for your business want and need. And failing to check these third-party listings can be costly.

My colleague Greg Sterling recently wrote about his experience with furniture shopping. It seems a Google map listing indicated that a particular Macy’s store had an in-store furniture gallery.

Armed with the sales catalog and intentions on buying $1,000+ of furniture, Greg headed to the store. Turns out they did not sell furniture at that location. Greg didn’t have time to visit another store before the sale expired, and for Macy’s, it was an opportunity lost.

Closing thoughts

Local business owners spend much of their time on site so it is natural to focus on a customer’s experience as primarily in-store. But today’s consumer often arrives at the store more informed and closer to making a purchase decision than ever before. Much window shopping is now done on a screen.

In today’s cross-device, multi-media, omnichannel market, it pays to think like an online store and use some e-commerce strategies to provide a lift to your local storefront’s business.

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Customer loyalty: A key ingredient for successful local search results /customer-loyalty-key-ingredient-successful-local-search-results-290294 Mon, 29 Jan 2018 19:08:04 +0000 /?p=290294 Loyal customers are both your cheerleaders and bodyguards. Contributor Wesley Young shares six ways to boost local search results using customer loyalty.

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Customer loyalty is often overlooked in local search. The thinking is that people are searching for new places to shop or for things they don’t know about already. If they were a regular or loyal customer, they wouldn’t need to search.

But that’s not entirely true. Due to the  “Google effect” or digital amnesia, consumers process information differently today. We’ve become so inundated with information we have adjusted to relying on search outlets like Google to find information instead of remembering the actual content.

For example, instead of recalling the name of the coffee shop I enjoyed the last time I visited Washington, D.C., I remembered that it was near the train station. Once I pulled up search results for coffee shops on Google Maps, the choices of names and locations triggered my memory.

Loyalty in local search is about being top of mind when choices need to be made and friends ask for recommendations. Below are six ways to build customer loyalty and drive traffic to your local search results.

 1. The social value of loyalty

Social media’s impact on local search is growing incredibly fast, and I am seeing it play out on my own Facebook news feed. Here are two posts from the last few weeks seeking recommendations for plumbers, lawyers and restaurants:

Friends seeking suggestions has become so popular that Facebook now offers an “Ask for Recommendations” option for those writing a post or updating their status. And in true local search form, the function asks for a location and shows any suggestions posted on a map.

According to studies by Edelman, 87 percent of committed customers will recommend a brand through liking and sharing. Your loyal customers will respond to recommendation requests and put their reputation on the line for you if they like your brand.

And they do so enthusiastically. The image above looking for recommendations garnered significantly more engagement through comments than typical posts. A friend who asked about restaurants received 87 comments — that is significant!

The potential for such social media recommendations to disrupt traditional local search channels is huge. There’s an intrinsic value in the personal relationship and word-of-mouth recommendation the Google algorithm can never duplicate.

Consumers trust their friends and can gauge deeper insight on a recommendation without reading a lengthy review based on what they know about that friend’s taste in relation to their own. Businesses likewise rate word-of-mouth the most effective marketing because of the trust factor and weight usually attributed to a personal recommendation.

Facebook is extending the merit of word-of-mouth recommendations by proxy, too. When searching for businesses on Facebook, search results include a list of friends who have recommended the establishment.

As this functionality grows and social media is increasingly used for local search, boosting customer loyalty will pay off in a big way.

2.  Loyal customers are both your cheerleaders and your bodyguards

It used to be that once you were found through a local search, you at least controlled the narrative from that point, as the search result would link to your website, ad or owned content.

Today, that control has been wrestled away by consumers. Search results now show up on private Facebook newsfeeds seeking recommendations. Even a Google Knowledge card populated by information from a Google My Business (GMB) account can be hijacked by bad reviews.

This is why loyal customers who actively engage online on behalf of a business they patronize are highly valuable. Studies have shown committed customers who recommend a brand presumably write positive reviews and will also defend a brand against criticism. I’ve seen this brand defense firsthand!

A friend of mine was quite vocal recently after reading a negative review of a restaurant he liked on Facebook. He and other loyal customers spoke up and supported the restaurant. Whether it be on Facebook or Yelp, local businesses benefit when loyal customers share their views.

3. The core of loyalty

For a local business, loyalty means being selected despite the customer having other local choices. This is especially helpful for small businesses but works for national brands as well.

In the case of Chick-Fil-A, the brand has been so successful in getting diners to visit their stores no matter where they are, the company’s biggest challenge now is how to squeeze $5 million in sales out of a kitchen designed for $2 million.

I see Chick-Fil-A’s success in building loyalty whenever I travel through the airport and find myself in a dining area with a Chick-Fil-A. There are always different eating options nearby, yet customers line up 30 deep and wait 15 to 20 minutes to order and receive their food.

Brand loyalty travels with you, no matter what the wait!

4.  The economics of loyalty

The economic benefit of loyalty is not just the “per capita” increase in volume of business brought in by a return customer. Loyal customers cost less to convert, spend more when they do and upsell more frequently.

  • According to Google, it costs up to 10x more to acquire a new customer compared to retaining an old one and,
  • Existing customers are three to 12 times more likely to buy from a business than a new customer.
  • Existing customers are 50 percent more likely to try new products says data from Koyne Marketing and they spend 31 percent more than new customers.

So, spending to retain customers and keep them coming back is a good investment.

5.  Data intelligence from loyalty

Data is key to understanding business performance and consumer behaviors. Getting data from repeat customers is easier and yields higher quality.

Most customers who participate in loyalty programs voluntarily turn over personal information about themselves. Those programs provide an opportunity for the business to ask questions and get a deeper understanding of behaviors and preferences. And while loyalty programs seem to provide the most opportunity for capturing data, there are other less formal ways to do it, such as stored payment accounts or CRM databases tracked by phone or address.

Once that type of information is incorporated into operations, it helps track valuable data, such as what actions are done by which customers, what products they purchase and what times they shop. Attribution of online marketing efforts to offline purchases can be captured. And the business can see the way those customers engage with it.

This is all valuable data that will help provide better service and improve local search marketing.

6.  Targeting improvements from loyalty

While there are a variety of uses for customer data, it’s the improved targeting capabilities that are key to local search marketing. The preferences of repeat customers help build profiles of your ideal and most valuable audience.

Whether it be through a loyalty program or records of return customers, even some basic data can help narrow down your best audience and understand what works.

For example, tracking the spending habits through your loyalty program can help identify young professional women on Pinterest to see if they are responding to local search marketing efforts. Your loyalty program can also be used to look for additional demographics and opportunities to target local advertising and promotions.

A loyalty program can answer key questions and provide data for a targeting strategy developed from that information:

  • Who? Your demographically profiled targeted audience, as well as return customers with two or more visits in the last month.
  • How? Via customer email, direct mail and those channels getting the best response, such as Pinterest or Instagram.
  • Where? Geotargeting around gyms and natural food markets might be at least tested. Address information may also help define the radius of how far your marketing reaches.
  • When? Spend most at times when your audience engages on social media — whether it’s at lunchtime or late at night.
  • What? Use content your best audience most frequently responds to.

Ready to reexamine your strategy for engaging with loyal customers? Here are some simple tips to help you get started on building customer loyalty:

  • Provide a great customer experience, a consistently good customer experience is why many remain loyal to a brand and share positive experiences on social media.
  • Reduce friction in transactions, and beware of drastic changes. Convenience as an important reason customers remain loyal to a brand.
  • Stay engaged with your loyal customers. According to CitiGroup, 86% percent of emotionally engaged consumers want brands to be engaged and reciprocate their loyalty in two-way interactions. Social media and email are great ways to do it.
  • Stand for something.  American consumers show loyalty to brands that share their values, Chick-Fil-A is a prime example of this. The company also wears its values on its sleeve, staying closed on Sundays and still beating many of its competitors multiple times in revenue per store.
  • Use loyalty programs to identify your customers. Loyalty programs help tie your customers with data that is useful in helping reach them and serve them better.
  • Make it easy for your customers to participate. With all the technology we have, sometimes we overcomplicate things, don’t make it hard for to sign up for a loyalty program.
  • Offer valuable perks. A loyalty report from Bond Brand Loyalty states redeemers are twice as satisfied with loyalty programs as non-redeemers, and those who enjoy the program are 10 times more likely to be satisfied. The economics of loyalty discussed above make it worthwhile.

In closing, as control over local search listings and the content served in results becomes ever more diluted, reinforcing the relationship with your regular and loyal customers will help compensate for some of that loss. Loyal customers are great ambassadors for your business.

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How much will privacy regulation disrupt the local search market in 2018? /much-will-privacy-regulation-disrupt-local-search-market-2018-288962 Wed, 03 Jan 2018 15:30:31 +0000 /?p=288962 Columnist Wesley Young covers a growing storm of events that are likely to culminate in substantial regulatory change and analyzes the impact that can have on the local search industry.

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Most marketing professionals don’t give much thought to the regulatory climate. In the US, unlike Europe, privacy laws are largely industry-specific and targeted toward healthcare and financial services. Thus, marketers have largely been able to rely on lawyers to provide privacy disclosures and then go on to business as usual.

Yet there are a number of indications that a tipping point may be near, giving way to new regulations that demand significant changes in business practice. These changes can have a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized local businesses. And varying standards across state lines means that companies with local operations in different states may have to make multiple adjustments.

Below, I take a look at the current environment and indicators that major changes are due in 2018. Then I cover seven ways changing privacy laws will impact the local search market.

Deregulation on federal level driving changes on state level

With all the news on Net Neutrality last month, you may have forgotten that earlier this year, Republicans killed federal privacy rules adopted by the FCC that would have required your Internet Service Provider to obtain permission before collecting and selling certain types of personal data (such as web browsing and app usage data). While the general perception is that such deregulation means fewer privacy laws, the practical impact may be more regulation.

Following the repeal of the FCC privacy rules, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia filed state versions of the FCC privacy rules as a direct response. Two states passed those bills into law, while others deferred the issue to 2018 or passed bills to study the issue further. And even though bills in a number of states died at the end of their 2017 legislative sessions, it is likely that many will reintroduce those in 2018.

The broader application is that deregulation on the federal level is causing states to take more action, which causes a number of problems. While state versions may all address the same topic, they are not identical. They are similar but contain differences unique to each state, such as different notice requirements, disclosures, consent or use requirements and enforcement mechanisms. Even using similar but different terms to describe the same principle creates problems regarding uniformity.

Lack of uniformity amongst states means more complexity. And more complexity results in greater uncertainty, risk and cost.

The state reaction to the repeal of FCC privacy rules is just one example of how federal deregulation trickling down to state levels can create major headaches for business.

The mother of all data breach cases: Equifax

Major data breaches almost seem to be yesterday’s headline with the prevalence of the problem. Yet the Equifax data breach may finally push us over the edge in demands for regulatory action. Let’s review how bad the Equifax case was and still is:

  • Data thieves stole private information on over 145 million Americans from Equifax.
  • Data stolen was the most sensitive kind: personal and permanent information including names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth and drivers’ license numbers.
  • Equifax discovered the breach on July 29, 2017, yet didn’t announce the breach until September 2017.
  • Equifax executives sold millions of dollars of stock days after the breach was discovered and before the public announcement.
  • Equifax claimed that top executives of a company whose business is protection of personal data didn’t know about the breach.
  • Equifax was notified in March 2017 by the Department of Homeland Security that there was a critical vulnerability in its software.
  • Equifax relied on a single employee to alert the company (he didn’t) to the risk of a data breach affecting 50 percent of all Americans.
  • Equifax sent customers needing more information about the breach to a fake phishing site.
  • That fake site clearly disclosed it was a fake in its headline and contained a tongue-firmly-in-cheek link to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video.
  • Equifax is profiting from its screw-up: Concerned consumers are purchasing third-party credit monitoring services that frequently utilize Equifax services. So money spent due to Equifax’s problem is paid back to Equifax.

Yes, all of the above really happened. It seems it can only be a matter of time before cases like this force legislators on both sides of the aisle to take regulatory action tightening privacy and data protection laws.

Categorizing personal information to include marketing info

But it’s not just highly sensitive personal information that lawmakers are seeking to protect. While protection against breaches that cause economic harm or risk serious personal threats such as identity theft is justified, proposals are reaching beyond financial and health data.

States have introduced legislation that imposes reporting and notice requirements upon a data breach of personal information. But broad definitions of “personal data” have included what is typically considered to be marketing data, including search history and location information.

The argument against the broad regulation of consumer data is that there are different risks and expectations of privacy for credit card numbers compared to shopping history for a phone case or search history for coffee shops.

Yet broad regulation impacting all such information has been pushed through by state legislators, sometimes only being stopped by a governor’s veto.

Location data is being targeted

Location data that so many local search marketers rely on for targeted campaigns has, in turn, become a favorite target for privacy activists. Recent legislation specifically calls out geolocation information derived from mobile devices as requiring express consent before it may be collected, used or disclosed.

Several states introduced similar legislation in 2017 requiring affirmative express consent after clear and prominent disclosure as follows:

  • Notice that the geolocation information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Information about the specific purposes for which such information will be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Provision of links to access other disclosure information.

Failure to comply is deemed to be a violation of and subject to enforcement provisions of the state consumer protection laws. It is likely that some states will reintroduce bills that were vetoed or that died in committee, while others have carried the bill over to 2018.

Europe is redefining consent

Europe has already passed sweeping privacy regulation, titled GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect in May 2018. For example, the personal data subject to protection is defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.” That’s as broad as it gets.

The GDPR also makes major changes to rules surrounding transparency and consent before personal data can be used. Consent will be an especially complex issue for businesses to figure out, as conditions for obtaining consent are much tighter. Issues will include the form of consent, the specificity of consent and what downstream matters that consent applies to.

Some of the restrictions include prohibitions on making services contingent upon consent and on obtaining consent for multiple purposes. Consent must also be separately given, as opposed to being one clause in a lengthy terms and conditions agreement. Further, the ability to revoke that consent must be as easy to do as it was to give it.

The impact on local search

The above are all factors that seem to be culminating toward significant movement and changes in privacy regulation that will have a dramatic impact in the marketplace. Below are seven ways in which privacy will become a disruption to the local search and marketing industry:

1. The cost of marketing data will rise

Increased privacy regulation means all businesses will have to spend more resources to comply. It also raises the exposure to liability and increases risk of public enforcement and of private lawsuits. Potentially, there could also be a decrease in the supply of marketing data if consumers respond to the notice requirements and consent requests by not giving permission to collect or use their profile information.  All of these changes would make collecting, acquiring, using or buying marketing data more expensive.

2. Targeted marketing becomes harder

If the supply of marketing data is throttled, accuracy declines. For example, if fewer people share their location, getting a sufficient volume of leads from targeted marketing will require casting a broader net.

The effectiveness of targeted marketing is further hurt by the ability to determine those target audiences. Less data regarding behaviors that predict specific purchase or online actions makes forecasting less accurate. Attribution would likewise be harder to pinpoint.

3. The competitive edge shifts back to larger companies

I’ve written recently about how having the right data is the new competitive edge over traditional economies of scale. Good data means that smaller businesses can more equally compete against larger companies.

But tougher privacy laws benefit larger businesses that have resources to adjust to mandated changes. Also, they will have better access to data as it becomes more expensive and potentially less available.

4. Google and Apple will become even more powerful

Google and Apple have great leverage over user privacy choices via their mobile operating systems. They embed many functions and apps that have a huge user base and that are critical to local search into those systems such as maps, media and search engines. Consumers frequently treat these apps and functions as essential services and defer to Google or Apple terms for access and use.

Android and iOS also serve as a gateway to third-party apps and control how users grant app permissions or consent to collection and use for data such as location.

5. Brands who control first-party data will hold premium ad inventory

Brands have direct contact with consumers and sufficient reach such that they are able to offer advertising solutions to third parties, especially those related to the brand’s product or service.

For example, Honeywell offers a software upgrade for its WiFi thermostats that will optimize thermostat settings. The offer to help save its customers $71 to $117 a year off of their energy bills means many opt in. Users get customized reports with insights into energy use, comparison to similar homes and tips to help track and improve energy efficiency. Those “tips” will likely include some referrals to vendors such as insulation companies, solar energy vendors and HVAC contractors or other marketing offers.

Brands are well-positioned to reach their customers within the confines of privacy regulations, and targeted audiences they can reach should demand premium ad spend.

6. The GDPR bleed-over effect

The GDPR will affect local businesses and marketers even if they don’t have European customers. Larger companies that already have to deal with tighter European regulation may find it difficult to segment different policies for American and European customers. As a result, they may adopt uniform privacy policies companywide.

Local businesses that rely on third-party data or do business using services of those global companies may be forced to follow stringent privacy policies as conditions of terms of use. And as discussed above, that could involve some major changes to business operations.

7. Regulatory hurdles used as a competitive barrier to entry

The other potential consequence of larger companies voluntarily adopting stricter privacy policies is that they would be less resistant to privacy regulations that mirror those internal policies. In other words, they may not oppose legislation, or even publicly support legislation, undercutting the position of those who are against it.

Some may even push for those regulations knowing that it may give them an advantage over competitors who haven’t adopted such privacy policies. Regulation that raises the cost of doing business or requires some catch-up changes may serve as a barrier to entry for new startups or others seeking to add business outside their core service area.

Closing thoughts

Understanding the issues and potential impacts will help identify when action is needed and provide some guidance to thinking through a business strategy.

It’s also important to get involved on the issue. The breadth and details of legislative policy may seem overwhelming, but there are groups that will help keep you up to date and work on your behalf. Chambers of commerce, business associations and trade groups represent wide business interests in policy issues like privacy. So get plugged into a group that can support you and your business.

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Top 10 local search insights of 2017 /top-10-local-search-insights-2017-287385 Mon, 04 Dec 2017 15:40:47 +0000 /?p=287385 From location data to SEO, columnist Wesley Young of the Local Search Association provides his top 10 list of local search lessons learned in 2017.

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Is it just me, or does it seem time flies faster in the local search industry? Another year has gone by, with many changes and developments to boot. Here’s a list of my top 10 insights from 2017:

1. Customer data is the new competitive edge

SMBs often feel at a competitive disadvantage compared to larger companies who benefit from scale at every level, including the purchase of search advertising or other marketing services. Data is helping even the playing field as it emphasizes quality over quantity.

Better data resulting in better targeting means that local businesses experience lower costs, higher conversion rates and greater ROI. And while targeting is not a new strategy, what’s new is the access to and quality of data.

Just as the price of technology drops with increased adoption, data will be cheaper, more accurate and more insightful. The Internet of Things (IoT) is driving growth in data much faster than what could be achieved by mobile phones alone. It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be over 50 billion connected devices, including wearables, home devices and automobiles. And it seems that nothing is off limits — internet-connected ink for tattoos, mascara and contact lenses have already been developed, making the potential for the type and volume of data collection seem endless.

Ultimately, having the right customer data rather than scale is the new competitive edge.

2. Offline behavior is better at predicting online actions than online behavior

There’s been a lot of attention focused on understanding online actions and whether they drive offline visits, i.e., the ability to attribute store visits to online marketing efforts.

Yet perhaps the opposite is even more important: measuring offline actions to predict online behavior. While measuring offline behavior has, to date, been largely reliant on location of mobile devices, IoT devices now bring a much greater diversity of data into play.

Knowing real-life choices, actions and behavior better predict online decisions than clicks, search history and page views. That offline behavior is a deeper and more complete picture of the real world and forms more accurate indicators of intent.

3. Facebook makes waves in local search

As recently as 2015, Facebook’s local search functionality was woefully bad. Major changes since then have made Facebook a real local search player. Facebook uses location information, better indexing and richer business profiles to offer robust search results.

Yet the game-changer for Facebook is the way it is beginning to incorporate its vast bank of personal data into search results that allow targeting and profiling at an unprecedented depth.

Its social media data provides insight into preferences, hobbies, taste, beliefs and other personal behavior that will help Facebook predict intent or choices far more accurately than Google can. And that should scare the bejesus out of Google.

4. SEO ranking factors must now be customized by vertical

Whether it’s the threat of competition from the likes of Facebook or other reasons, Google has always striven to provide consumers with search results that best match what they are looking for and content that will be most helpful. So it is no surprise that Google is looking more deeply and more specifically at ranking factors that determine search results.

SEO can no longer be a one-size-fits-all solution. To be most effective, SEO ranking factors must be analyzed based on vertical and other business-specific characteristics.

For example, even though general statistics say that content with images performs much better in user engagement and action, studies have shown that the top-ranking websites for financial products and services contain 40 percent fewer images than the average universal benchmark. While many cite the large percentage of consumers who leave slow-loading websites, the top-ranking travel websites took on average three seconds longer to load than the universal benchmark. Users are willing to wait for the right content and read lots of text when doing so meets their needs.

Use of ranking factors such as backlinks and keyword frequency to boost search results needs to be customized based on content and relevance. Understand your consumers and how they utilize your business’s website and content. Do they rely on images for visual information, or do they look for detailed text that needs to be broken down into more readable, bite-sized bullet points? Does social media convey the type of image that you seek to convey? Does LinkedIn reach your audience better than Facebook?

Answering these questions and building a website showing Google you are mindful of what relevant content a targeted audience seeks will boost your search rank.

5. The local search audience radius is shrinking

It’s long been believed that the majority of shopping happens locally, despite the growth of e-commerce. A Google study conducted in May 2014, “Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior,” found that 72 percent of consumers who searched for local info on a smartphone visited stores within five miles of home.

This year, Access released data that shows consumers stay even closer to home for the most frequent purchases, like gas, groceries, eating out and working out. For example, consumers travel, on average, only six minutes to fill up their cars and eight minutes to buy groceries. That correlates to roughly two to three miles away if traveling by car.

While consumers will travel farther for less frequent purchases like clothing or auto repair, 93 percent of all consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less for their general shopping needs. Urban consumers, who represent 83 percent of all shoppers, prefer even shorter distances, with 92 percent traveling 15 minutes or less. That is approximately a five-to-six-mile distance by car, or much less if by transit or walking.

Thus, local businesses must adjust their marketing reach to account for the small radius of their audience. However, that audience might include local residents, commuters who work nearby or out-of-town travelers. So remember that distance becomes relevant at the micro-moment when a need arises and isn’t a static point for each individual.

6. Google images are searched more than all non-Google searches combined

According to Rand Fishkin at Moz, search on Google Images ranks second among all web properties behind Google.com and is performed more frequently than search on the remaining Top 10 web properties combined. Google images are searched more than 10 times as often as any search on Bing or Yahoo and almost 40 times the number of searches on Facebook.

Search on Google Images constitutes almost a third of all search on Google-branded products, ahead of Google Maps and YouTube.

Yet many businesses fail to optimize images uploaded to their websites for search, leading to many missed opportunities to generate sales or be found otherwise. Optimizing image labels, data, tags and descriptors helps Google better index graphics and images, leading to better ranking. Further, being mindful of how images contribute to a better user experience will increase clicks on the image during searches, which will, in turn, improve rank. Some UX factors to consider when uploading images include quality, load speed, viewability, context, authenticity and general appeal of the image.

Businesses that rely on visual cues should take special note including retail and consumer goods, professionals (profile pics), destinations and design.

7. Over 85% of brand engagement by consumers is local

The majority of consumer engagement with brands (85-95 percent) happens through local listings, local web pages or other local search results. Location is often discussed synonymously with local, so the use of location data in marketing is a good indicator of the emphasis placed on local. This year, 50 percent of brands are using location data to target consumers.

Brands are also spending more on location-based marketing. Twenty-five percent of leading brands’ marketing budgets are spent on location-based marketing and projected to rise. In 2016, $12.4 billion was spent on location-targeted ad spending by US brands, and that figure is projected to rise to $32.4 billion by 2021, equivalent to 45 percent of all mobile ad revenue.

Those companies committed to the use of location marketing cite case studies that demonstrate the return of investing in local. Use of location in advertising provided up to a 27 percent lift in specific campaigns run by Wendy’s.

8. Some brands still struggle with location marketing

While brands are understandably increasing spending on local marketing, neither the dollars spent nor the quality of marketing appears to reflect the importance of local. That 50 percent of brands are using location data for targeting still seems on the low end when we can see how consumers are universally engaging, shopping, researching and evaluating brand products and services on the local level.

It’s even more surprising when comparing local search results for brands that prioritize location and those that don’t. Fast food restaurants, hotels and convenience stores are just a few of the examples I found where some brands were featured prominently in search results, while others were markedly less visible or even completely omitted from local search results.

The latter examples were not simply poorly ranked — rather, they did not show up at all on Google Map search results. For the many consumers who search for local businesses exclusively on their mobile devices, businesses that don’t show up on maps or search results might as well not exist at all.

One way brands fell short in using location data was by listing national corporate credentials and links instead of local ones for individual location listings or sites. And some brands failed to create or complete profiles for individual stores that were part of bundled retail locations. These mistakes reflect a lack of an overall strategy for making location a priority despite the importance of doing so.

9. Consumers are wrestling brand reputation away from corporate control

Social media and consumer-generated content such as reviews are the new battlegrounds for business reputation and identity. Gone are the days when PR teams could operate in a relative vacuum and shape the perception of product quality or business image in a series of closely controlled campaigns.

Shared pictures and video can portray a reality that is impossible to refute, and a single consumer can capture the world’s attention in real time through one tweet. Movements such as this year’s #DeleteUber empowered hundreds of thousands of individuals to join together in a united voice. And reviews demand accountability from businesses in every aspect of consumer experience and engagement.

As such, reputation is much less an internally generated message broadcast to the masses and more a management of public discourse in trying to protect or uphold brand identity. Businesses need to understand this shift and adapt brand management with this in mind.

10. New competition arises for marketing media and agencies

Technology has encroached into the advertising space in a variety of ways. Platforms such as social media and review sites created new ad inventory. Software products consolidate multiple media platforms into one-stop user interfaces. And programmatic ad services match ad buyers with ad sellers.

But the core service of strategic management and planning of marketing and ad campaigns is now also being threatened by technology. Technology companies are offering additional services outside of their core service area including marketing and advertising. And two numbers from the Local Search Association’s 2017 Tech Adoption Index Survey reveal that advertising media and agencies have reason to be concerned:

  • 60 percent of SMBs prefer to work with a single SaaS tools provider.
  • 62 percent of SMBs favor technology companies over media companies if they were to purchase services outside of a company’s core product.

With more agency work being provided via online portals, and more technology companies offering marketing services, the numbers suggest that SMBs will shift that work away from traditional ad agencies.

In order to compete effectively, agencies need to keep up with the latest marketing innovations and demonstrate superior performance arising out of their core expertise.

Closing thoughts

As 2017 comes to a close and planning for next year’s goals and budgets begins in earnest, it is prudent to remember to take time for reflection. I hope you’ve had a successful and rewarding 2017 and that taking a look at some important lessons learned this past year will help continue that success in the year to come.

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SEO ranking factors for 4 business verticals and what they mean for local businesses /seo-ranking-factors-4-business-verticals-mean-local-businesses-286039 Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:54:54 +0000 /?p=286039 As organic search becomes ever more targeted, SEO is evolving in ways that require more customization. Wesley Young explores a recent study on ranking factors and provides 7 practical takeaways to boost search rank.

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SEO for local business has gone through a number of changes. First, local businesses had to figure out Google’s algorithm so that their websites would appear in search results. Next came local search ranking factors that emphasized location-based factors. Now, it seems Google updates will require a new look at vertical-specific ranking factors.

This isn’t really a third wave of SEO — rather, it’s an evolution of Google’s general ranking factors. Consistent with attaining its goal of providing consumers with search results that best match what they are looking for and content that will be most helpful, Google looks more deeply and more specifically at factors that determine search results.

What this means is that pursuing general factors like “more backlinks” or “matching keywords” simply doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not to say those factors are no longer relevant; they are. But it’s getting more complicated.

One size no longer fits all

While the debate rages on about the importance of websites or whether pages on third-party platforms such as Yelp, Facebook, or even Google My Business are diminishing the need for them, Google’s move itself may provide the real answer.

Basically, Google is saying that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Consumers are demanding more specific information and more targeted responses, even from advertising. Thus, SEO for ranking factors can no longer be a one-rule-fits-all solution.

Sometimes websites are the best option; sometimes a Google My Business or Yelp listing is enough. When it comes to restaurants, for example, the information you need to decide where to eat can be contained in a short profile caption that simply includes location, cuisine, price point and reviews. On the other hand, you’d likely do a lot more research before deciding what financial advisor you want to manage your money — and you’d not likely make that decision based on the advisor’s Facebook page.

The proliferation of information sources may work to Google’s advantage. If Google can provide the most relevant results that directly answer the consumer’s search inquiry, it will protect the dominance of its search platform against other domains. In other words, Google wants websites to remain relevant.

Additionally, the growing blur between online and offline commerce means that local businesses need to maintain a strong online store presence. It’s no longer solely about driving foot traffic from online ads or local search results. Consumers may buy online and pick up in store. Or buy in store and reorder online. Or book appointments online for offline visits.

Consumers expect these conveniences and cross-media interactions to be seamless. Thus, local businesses need to be easy to find both offline and online, to make their online experiences great and to design storefronts that continue that online user experience.

Recently, Searchmetrics conducted studies on the highest-ranked websites for keyword searches in several verticals, including finance, travel, media and e-commerce. Their results included both ranking factors and other trends that may not be recognized as directly considered by Google’s algorithm but that correlate across the top sites. Since Google broadly measures user experience through volume of views or clicks, these correlations that attract consumers or reflect well-liked sites still may impact search ranking.

Summary of study results

Below is a summary of how the top 10 websites for a variety of keyword searches in a given vertical compared to average benchmarks for universal search results.

Finance websites

  • 30 percent smaller in file size.
  • 40 percent fewer images.
  • Load one second faster.
  • 23 percent more likely to have bullet point lists.
  • Keywords appear one-third as frequently in text body.
  • 81 percent fewer internal links.
  • 20 percent of benchmark for Facebook signals; 70 percent more LinkedIn signals.
  • 14 percent longer URLs.

The above demonstrates that users on Finance websites value relevant and clearly communicated content, organized in readable format, that provides specific details on the subject matter.

Faster load times are a result of fewer images that are deemed less important in conveying hard facts or terms.

Users appear to be single-item shoppers, less interested in a variety of products or information, so they surf around the site less and use specific landing pages.

Social media is not considered authoritative in financial decisions, with the exception of LinkedIn and its professional focus.

Travel websites

  • 38 percent more images.
  • 23 percent more internal links.
  • 57 percent higher word count.
  • Load times slower by three seconds, on average.
  • 27 percent more bulleted points.
  • 50 percent fewer keywords on page.
  • 50 percent fewer results are HTTPS encrypted.
  • 11 percent of Facebook and 2 percent of Tweets compared to 100 percent index.

Consumers searching for travel information also demand more relevant and deeper content related to keywords, but unlike for financial websites, images are highly useful for travel. These consumers are also more likely to surf within a domain — for example, users on a hotel site may look at other products such as different rooms, different properties or other destinations.

Less sensitive general information is not protected by secure websites, and users are likely transferred to separate and secure sites for purchases, bookings and financial transactions.

Surprisingly, social media signals are rated low for travel sites. Thus, don’t confuse pretravel research with post-travel social sharing.

E-commerce websites

  • 40 percent higher interactive elements like buttons, menus, click to call.
  • More than double the rate of online stores above the fold.
  • 70 percent more bullets per list and 25 percent higher word count.
  • 73 percent more internal links.
  • 32 percent larger file size.
  • 30 percent less video integration.
  • 74 percent less Facebook integration.

Not surprisingly, e-commerce sites prioritize online stores and calls to action via interactive buttons and menus. They also have substantial internal links, presumably because consumers like to consider or compare other products or services offered on the site. Detailed product descriptions via lists are valued over video. And e-commerce sites rely less on social media.

Media websites

  • 106 percent greater Pinterest social signals; 39 percent greater Facebook signals, 29 percent greater Google+ signals and 17 percent more Tweets.
  • 16 percent more external links.
  • 7 percent more images.
  • 12 percent greater use of keywords; 16 percent more text.
  • Four-second slower load time.
  • 75 percent fewer results are HTTPS encrypted.
  • 24 percent higher Google AMP integration for media websites; 43 percent higher for news search results on publisher sites.

The high value of social signals generated by media sites demonstrates the importance of traffic generated by social media for news and articles.

Higher keyword and text count indicate the importance of relevant content complemented selectively by images.

Lack of sensitive information translates into low encryption rates. And industry-wide dependence on advertising revenue to pay for content leads to higher load times.

The high adoption of AMP integration helps compensate for the slow load speed.

Takeaways

The above Searchmetrics study results reveal that SEO often boils down to common-sense application of matching relevant content to targeted audiences and less emphasis on keyword matches or checking boxes of general ranking factors. Below are some of my takeaways that will help your websites rank better:

1. Help consumers understand subjects requiring deeper research

Products such as electronic devices, home appliances and computer equipment often are distinguished by technical specifications and functional capability. Knowing what features are included for the price helps determine value. Google will prioritize search results that help consumers make these decisions.

Likewise, health advice or medical information related to prescriptions or conditions requires detailed explanations. Consumers will search narrowly but deeply about specific subjects. Helping break down the information into more easily understood headings and bullet points appears to be valued by Google.

Professions like lawyers, dentists and financial planners should also describe their expertise in specific fields. For example, lawyers should detail their field of practice in divorce, criminal defense or estate planning.

Consumers also spend more time researching high-dollar purchases such as cars, homes, and expensive electronics. Make it easy for them to compare the benefits and features that they’ll spend their hard-earned money on.

The quality of the content matters in areas consumers will research in depth.

2. Use images only when they enhance the user experience

The stats that indicate increased user engagement when using images is compelling. But don’t overdo it. The studies above indicate that well-organized text can be more effective in breaking down complex subjects such as financial products, medical procedures, legal services and technical information.

Areas where use of images is well served include fashion, food, design and travel, in which visual evaluation plays an important role.

3. Social media is more effective for showing off end products, less for the path to purchase

Social media is likewise universally touted as critical in today’s marketing environment. Certainly, published content like media, news, articles and blogs is highly dependent on social media.

Yet based on Google search results, social media signals are far less important for e-commerce, finance and even travel. The distinction may lie in the fact that users like to share travel experiences after the fact, and not while they are planning a trip — or show off a new watch they bought on social media, not where they bought it.

While the end might justify the means, it doesn’t always justify sharing the means.

4. Seek backlinks from relevant sources

This takeaway is an extrapolation of the social media signal results from Finance websites in Searchmetrics’ study. While Facebook signals correlated at only one-fifth of the benchmark for Finance websites, LinkedIn signals were highly correlated, at 70 percent more than the benchmark. Thus, broad rules regarding social media signals cannot be drawn. Rather, social media signals from the right sources or relevant sources are what matter.

Backlinks are widely sought for their SEO value, yet the same logic applies to backlinks. If you’re a bike store, and you receive a backlink from a website that caters to triathletes, that’s a quality backlink. A link from a deep-sea fishing website, not so much.

5. Use common sense within verticals, too

The concept that one size doesn’t fit all is true even within verticals. There are many variable subgroups within verticals where results may skew from the norm.

For example, while social media signals don’t correlate strongly with search results in travel, an exception would be for a site that depends heavily on referrals. Destination wedding locations or planners might benefit much more from social signals than the typical travel site.

6. Consumers will wait for good content

Google’s public emphasis on load time and its AMP format led to broad advice about improving page rank by creating faster web pages. Mobile adoption and responsiveness remain important, but speed alone should be looked at in context.

Local businesses should quickly display signals to consumers that their content is of high quality and worth waiting for. If you can do that, consumers will be more patient for the page to load. Some tips include those that AMP uses: Loading above the fold first or prioritizing text first and slower items like images or video second.

7. Separate general information from secure information for a better user experience

While repeated reports of security breaches and Google’s emphasis on security have many scrambling to convert their entire websites, HTTPS may affect performance or web page load time. A better practice may be to separate sensitive information from general information.

Even finance websites don’t have a greater-than-general rate of HTTPS adoption. And travel sites that seek to spur purchases of airline tickets, vacation bookings and hotel rentals have a significantly lower rate of HTTPS encryption. By linking to secure sites for transactions, general information doesn’t need to be protected by encryption.

Conclusion

Google continues to improve what its search result algorithm is meant to accomplish: providing results that truly help the user find what he or she is looking for. Understandably, that means more customized results that don’t follow a one-size-fits-all formula.

In order to show up in top search results, businesses must evaluate broadly accepted ranking factors in light of their audience. Instead of checking off boxes of ranking factors, it is important to ask whether those items truly serve the utility of the website for consumers and users. Putting user experience first is Google’s priority, and websites that demonstrate that they do will be chosen for search results.

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6 ways IoT will make local search for SMBs scalable /6-ways-iot-will-make-local-search-smbs-scalable-283750 Mon, 09 Oct 2017 16:25:27 +0000 http:/?p=283750 Don't turn your attention away from the Internet of Things just yet. Contributor Wesley Young contends that the data provided by connected devices could help smaller players better compete with the big guys.

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In an age of artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) may seem like yesterday’s news, but, of all the technologies currently developing, it has the greatest potential for near-term changes that affect local search.

While it remains murky how AI will benefit agencies, IoT is reaching a critical point in adoption and maturing to a stage where it provides actionable data. Or, as Brian Buntz with the Internet of Things Institute stated, “The IoT is about to shift into ludicrous mode.”

The growth of the IoT is spurred by decreasing costs of hardware, such as sensors, together with the ease and availability of wireless connectivity. IoT devices already outnumber smartphones by about four times, and growth is expected to accelerate further with Cisco estimates topping 50 billion devices by 2020. The amount of data generated by these devices is enormous.

Growth in the Internet of Things

Source: Cisco

Annual global IP traffic already exceeds 1 zettabyte of data and will double by 2019, Cisco forecasts. What is a zettabyte? It’s 1 billion terabytes. Or 1,000 exabytes. One exabyte amounts to 36,000 years of HD video, the company says. And Cisco adds, if a small (or a tall, for you Starbucks drinkers) coffee represented 1GB, a zettabyte would equate to a volume of coffee the size of the Great Wall of China. That’s a lot of data.

Back in 2014, Cisco’s CEO pegged the IoT as a $19 trillion market opportunity that will almost certainly change the way consumers do pretty much everything, from working to driving to shopping to exercising, and many other things.

And a subset of IoT, the location of things market — which enables connected devices to monitor and communicate their geographic location — is expected to reach $72 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. With location being the heart of local search, IoT will impact local search and search marketing in profound ways. But it goes beyond location.

According to Goldman Sachs, there are five main IoT verticals of adoption: wearables, connected cars, connected homes, connected cities and industrial internet. The first three are those most relevant to search, as they are related to consumer intent and behavior.

ey verticals of adoption - IOT

Source: Goldman Sachs

The SMB scale issue

Servicing local businesses with small budgets has always been a challenge for agencies. It’s too much work for too little money. It’s also expensive for SMBs who don’t enjoy the scale that larger businesses benefit from when purchasing search advertising or other marketing services. Both of which lead to the high churn rates at agencies that service SMBs.

Even though search boasts the ability to know the intent of users through keyword searches and display relevant advertising in response, it still has inefficiencies that are magnified for SMBs. Understanding user intent is largely dependent on how accurately the user can express his or her needs in typical keywords.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. I recently replaced an electric cooktop in my kitchen with a gas one. But the electric cooktop used a unique 50 amp plug. Instead of hiring an electrician, I wanted to see if there was an adapter that would convert that 50 amp socket into one that would fit the standard 15 amp plug that my gas cooktop used.

Gas range adapter vs RV plug adapter

What I needed (Gas Range Adapter) vs. What I got (RV Plug Adapter)

I must have conducted a dozen searches of varying terms describing what I wanted. I was repeatedly served search ads of products that seemed to be what I was looking for. But all the products advertised did just the opposite — converted a 15 amp socket for a 50 amp plug — an issue I discovered was common to RV hookups. I finally found a product conveniently called a gas range adapter. It seems obvious now, but, since I didn’t know the name for it, I wasted a lot of time, and more importantly, clicks on irrelevant search ads.

Consumers with experiences like mine may be why so many SMBs stop buying SEM services. But if search engines and advertisers had had more data about me and about my recent offline behavior, this problem might have been avoided, and I could have been served up information that was relevant to my needs.

Better data — which IoT can deliver — will both improve the consumer experience and result in better returns from marketing for SMBs. With better ROI, SMBs can better justify spending money on hiring agencies, and agencies can spend more time doing the job right. Data will also produce better results with automated processes like programmatic ad buying, reducing time and cost for agencies.

What kind of data are we talking about?

Current data use in targeting and retargeting is just the tip of the iceberg compared to how IoT will change the landscape. It appears nothing is off-limits when it comes to connectivity. Connected products being developed include mascara, contact lenses and ink for tattoos.

Simple applications would already be improvements over former or current uses. For example, location information can be enhanced by real-time data from wearables such as clothing, shoes or smart watches that indicate speed, and thus, whether the user is passing by in a vehicle or walking down the street. And, if the user is walking, it could indicate whether the person is walking for exercise, at a pace to get to a destination or at one that would indicate window shopping. Multiple location devices on a consumer are also more likely to interact with on-site location devices such as beacons and WiFi and help improve location accuracy.

Another area of significant growth for IoT is health care. Devices like contact lenses, implants, wearables or tattoo-like connected ink can track sweat composition and body chemistry, measure blood flow and glucose levels, or even determine whether you’ve taken medication. Lack of adherence to medical prescriptions is estimated to cause 125,000 deaths and at least 10 percent of hospitalizations, making such devices arguably medically necessary.

Home connected devices — including lights, appliances, thermostats, vacuums, pillows, TVs, lawnmowers, video cams, voice assistants, scales and security systems — capture behavioral data in the home as never before.

Examples of IoT devices

Examples of IoT Devices

But the potential lies in the way data from multiple devices may be integrated to tell a deeper story. Envision knowing the sleep habits of a consumer such as:

  • how soundly they sleep.
  • what body triggers occur before they wake up.
  • how many times they get up at night and turn on the lights.
  • whether they turn the TV on.
  • how that sleep varies based on the temperature of the room.
  • whether the chip-tagged cat climbing onto the bed triggers minor allergies that wake the homeowner.

The potential for insight into consumer behavior and responding with timely information is limited only by imagination. Yet the impending impact is already something agencies and SMBs can plan for. Below I take a look at six ways IoT will boost the ROI of search marketing for SMBs, making it a much broader and viable option.

6 ways that IoT will make local search scalable for SMBs

1.Boost search ads through improved targeting

Good data will make targeting the right person at the right time more accurate. Multiple GPS-connected devices per person provide additional location data for tracking users with greater accuracy and additional IoT data will provide deeper insight into needs and behavior.

For example, your wearable knows you just worked out and are hot and thirsty, based on your sweat readings. Your car knows there is a 7-Eleven two blocks ahead on your right where you can swing in quickly. And your phone can read you a notification on a 99-cent deal for a large cold slushy drink at that location which is good for 10 minutes. You pull in, and the coupon is location-triggered and automatically applied to your credit card when you pay.

2. Customer data becomes the new competitive edge

Large buyers of marketing services gain a competitive edge in scale by spreading costs over a large volume of interactions or leads. That lowers cost per lead. Smaller local businesses often don’t have that luxury, but good IoT data that improves the conversion of leads means that you can get more customers even when buying fewer leads. So the cost per customer goes down.

Ultimately, having the right customer data — rather than scale — is the new competitive edge.

3. Identify real-world offline behavior that drives online action

Knowing more about a person’s habits or preferences isn’t just about being able to target them directly. That data, when aggregated for many other individuals, reveals trends and predictability for targeting strategies. SEL’s sister publication, Marketing Land, recently published an interview with PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall, who explained that offline data on user location and behavior is a better indicator of intent than online signals.

In other words, knowing real-life choices, actions and behavior predicts online decisions better than clicks, search history and page views. Presumably, this is because the offline behavior is a deeper and more complete picture of the real world, at least until we live in a Matrix-like AR universe.

And that type of data is exactly what IoT devices collect and measure. The data can provide some surprising audience insights. Data from targeting platform NinthDecimal revealed that fast-food patrons were not the best targets for a quick-service restaurant campaign. Rather, DIY enthusiasts, moviegoers and leisure travelers were better targets.

4. Boost data sharing and overcome privacy concerns with services consumers want

There’s a great concern, especially with companies that have business in Europe, over evolving privacy laws. Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect in May 2018, limits use of a person’s data unless express consent is given.

The way to overcome that limitation is to provide a product or service that the user values more than the information he or she is releasing. For example, a company called Mimo makes onesies for infants that measure breathing, sleep movements and other sensitive data. But concerned parents gladly turn that information over to the company in return for protection against SIDS or improved sleep routines.

Roomba, the maker of robotic vacuums, uses maps of your home to improve the overall user experience. The inside of your house seems like something most wouldn’t want to share, but consumers routinely choose convenience over privacy. If data sharing will make your vacuum perform better and get your house cleaner, many users will agree to it. Data might be shared with Amazon or Apple to link the device to your Echo or to Siri. It may link to any of a number of smart home devices made by Google (Nest), Samsung (appliances) or a flooring company or a retailer that carries Roomba-friendly furniture.

However, the GDPR prohibits making provision of a service conditional upon release of data if that data is not necessary to the service. While not law in the US, there certainly are discussions over similar privacy concerns. Yet again, providing related benefits in return for the data can solicit “freely given consent.”

For example, I recently installed a Honeywell WiFi connected thermostat in my home. Honeywell has since emailed me to offer a software upgrade that will optimize my thermostat settings to help save me money and states that customers save $71-$117 a year on their energy bills by enrolling in the program. I get customized reports with insights into my energy use, comparison to similar homes and tips to help track and improve energy efficiency. I’m sure those “tips” will include some referrals to vendors such as insulation companies, solar energy vendors and HVAC contractors. But I’ll likely opt in to save a few bucks.

5. Level the playing field in access to big data

One of the complaints about privacy regulations is that they favor the big players that have sufficient leverage to get consumers to consent to handing over their data. Not many opt out of using Google Maps because they don’t want to share their location data, whereas smaller lesser used apps are easier to say “No” to.

Apple is also limiting ad tracking and frustrating ad buyers, but since its revenue is not advertising-dependent, it doesn’t really care. Those restrictions hurt advertiser conversions, make retargeting less effective and reduce reach. Meanwhile, Google is beginning to block “annoying” ads in its Chrome browser, further demonstrating that decisions made by a few big players can have a lot of impact.

The explosion of IoT devices means a lot more players in the data supply chain that provide quality first-party data and widen the narrow funnel controlled by a few major players. With data being the new competitive edge, that’s a great thing for ad buyers.

For example, in my Honeywell thermostat example, ad buyers can target users directly through Honeywell’s communications to its customers, or Honeywell can use its customer data to match and target users within other third-party media outlets such as Facebook or Bing.

6. Overcome ad blocking

Ad blocking occurs because users are tired of being served ad content they don’t want. However, there are repeated studies that show users are receptive to targeted or relevant advertising.

Verve shared a study called “The Rise of Mobile Prodigies” at LSA’s Place Conference that demonstrated that young consumers want ads to be tailored to their interests, hobbies, habits and location. Forty-six percent of them even saved ads they found innovative to revisit at a later time.

InMarket shared a case study at the same event showing a 2.3x lift in purchase intent, as well as 100 percent positive social media reaction to ads they created for ProYo, a protein-rich ice cream product.

Consumers are receptive to advertising when the content and timing are right. IoT data will drive relevant content at the right moment to consumers, reducing the aversion to receiving ads. The end goal is to change the perception of ads from slick sales pitches to helpful information for making decisions at the time when consumers are researching a purchase.

Closing thoughts

IoT has gotten somewhat lost in the conversation dominated by AI and personal assistants. Yet what some have predicted as the “third wave of the internet” after the fixed internet and mobile devices is cresting towards huge volumes of devices and accompanying data.

It may seem ironic that big data is the solution for scaling small business needs, but it’s the automation, efficiency and effectiveness at small tasks that will make it cost-effective for SMBs. They will still need providers to help them determine the use cases that benefit their businesses and to match products and services with business needs. But those who can leverage the new depth of data will have a marked competitive edge in building profitable small business marketing models.

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6 tips for using location information to boost conversion /6-tips-using-location-information-boost-conversion-280398 Mon, 14 Aug 2017 14:39:45 +0000 http:/?p=280398 Columnist Wesley Young looks at how far consumers are willing to travel to shop at local stores and how to use your store’s location to boost conversion of your marketing campaigns.

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While much deserved attention is given to local SEO and SEM, showing up in search results is only half the job.

Google performed a study that demonstrated very little correlation between usage or traffic and influence. In other words, just because people frequently find your business doesn’t mean they choose your business or buy from your business. Rather, influence is achieved through consumer experience and matching your content to what consumers need or are looking for.

Conversion takes more than attracting attention — it requires engagement or connection with the consumer and matching what you are offering with what the consumer is looking for. More often than not, consumers look for location information when considering local stores to purchase from.

Local search conversion starts with location

In a study by MomentFeed, national brands report that 85 percent of all engagement with their businesses takes place on local media assets such as local landing pages. Local business characteristics drive conversion, whether for large brands or small businesses.

Arguably, the biggest local factor for consumer decisions when shopping at stores is location. In a national consumer study (registration required) on how far consumers would travel to shop, Access found that 93.2 percent of consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less when shopping for everyday purchases. Urban consumers (83 percent of all shoppers) prefer even shorter distances, with 92 percent usually traveling 15 minutes or less.

Distance was a far greater influence than price or quality of product. When asked what influences purchases, excluding travel distance, only 32 percent responded that best price most influenced their decision. Thirty-two percent likewise stated quality was the most influential.

Consumers also shortened the distance they are willing to travel for the most frequently purchased items, averaging only six minutes away from home for gas stations. Groceries and fast food may be slightly farther, averaging between eight and nine minutes, while home and garden and auto service average about 14 minutes away from home. Consumers tolerate the greatest distance for purchases of clothing and shoes, averaging almost 20 minutes from home.

Consumer Travel Distance for Local Purchases - Source: Access

Consumer Travel Distance for Local Purchases (Source: Access)

Converting time consumers are willing to travel into miles is a little more difficult. There are a lot of variables such as traffic, mode of travel and roadway speeds. For example, highway access would extend the distance someone would be willing to travel, while someone in an urban neighborhood might use walking time as their standard.

Nevertheless, below are some measurements of distance based on time of travel by car per Google Maps. The travel is via direct routes on major roads (not highways) during a time of day with little traffic:

  • 6 minutes = 2.2 miles
  • 8 minutes = 3.2 miles
  • 9 minutes = 4.1 miles
  • 12 minutes = 4.9 miles
  • 17 minutes = 6.6 miles
  • 20 minutes = 9.3 miles
Time to Distance Conversion - Google maps

Time to Distance Conversion (Google Maps)

The results from Access provide greater insight into consumer tolerance for distance than the oft-cited (but of unknown origin) statistic that 80 percent of consumer spending is made within 20 miles of home. And it shows that consumers often want stores closer than even Google’s study found, wherein 72 percent of consumers searching locally visited a store within 5 miles.

Thus, we can estimate that consumers search for local businesses such as groceries, coffee shops, convenience stores, pharmacies, dry cleaners, gyms, household goods, mail/shipping services and gas stations that are within two to four miles of their location.

Given the importance of location to converting local search results into purchases, below are six tips for using location information to boost your local search marketing. If you’re interested in how to use location data for targeting, check out this previous article. The following tips focus on communicating location information that consumers seek when deciding where to shop.

1. Make location information easy to find

It’s easy to overlook the importance of making location information prominent on web pages or landing pages when designing creatives and content about your product or service. Especially with the current trend of large singular hero graphics and the need to accommodate mobile screen size, choices are frequently made on what content to keep and what to cut on the front page or above the fold.

Location is too critical an influence on consumer choice to sacrifice in those choices. Addresses, maps and cross streets that communicate your store location should be highly visible. If not on page one, conspicuous labels linking to location information need to be easy to find.

2. Use local landing pages for businesses with multiple locations

For multilocation businesses, it’s typical to have a dedicated page listing different locations with addresses, contact information and hours of each. However, with 85 percent of engagement occurring on local media assets, each location should have its own landing page, too.

Each location should have its own GMB (Google My Business) profile, Facebook page, website or landing page, Yelp listing and page/listing/profile on any other media platform on which the business relies. This will allow each to highlight maps, addresses, neighborhood and other location information relevant to itself.

3. Describe location in ways different audiences understand

While addresses are important, they may not communicate sufficient information for a user to quickly evaluate proximity. For example, even though I travel Preston Road frequently, an address of 1428 Preston Road doesn’t mean much to me. Preston Road is 30 miles long and traverses through Dallas, Texas, and the suburbs of Plano, Frisco and Prosper.

Including what neighborhood a store is in, the closest cross streets, what corner on the cross street (NW, SE and so on), and other recognizable nearby stores (e.g., Kroger shopping center) all help the consumer picture where a store is relative to what they know about the area.

4. Highlight proximity to popular landmarks

Since time and distance are frequently used to evaluate the convenience of a location, include those measurements in describing your location. For example, stating that your store is “five minutes from downtown Plano” or “half a mile off the Tollway” helps consumers digest location information quickly.

A significant portion of local business revenue (up to 33 percent) comes from out-of-town visitors. Not only are these visitors less familiar with the surrounding area, they are likely to visit certain destinations and then search locally for stores around them. Thus, describing your location relative to these tourist landmarks can help as well.

5. Location descriptions don’t have to be static

Since your store location is fixed, it’s easy to treat your location information the same (set it and forget it). However, today’s targeting methods allow businesses to reach different audiences with different campaigns and landing pages.

These different audiences will find different location information helpful, so tweaking your location information to fit those audiences will improve the response to your marketing. For example, when targeting locals, you might describe the proximity of your store to certain well-known neighborhoods such as, “located in Stonebridge Ranch,” a community in McKinney, Texas. On the other hand, ads targeting fans at a soccer game can reference proximity to the Toyota Stadium, while ads during Cowboys training camp can provide distance from The Frisco Star.

Use landmarks and proximity that will most resonate with your audience at the time your ads are served.

6. Use interactive maps

Maps are great, but static maps are limited in what is communicated. Zoom out too far, and it’s hard to illustrate precise location; zoom in too close, and you may lose context of what area of town you are in.

Interactive maps that don’t open in a separate app or window help the user stay on your page yet be able to adjust the map to the detail they need.

Closing thoughts

Consumers want to shop at stores near them. Younger consumers are even less tolerant of traveling long distances for everyday purchases — the Access study found that millennials were 16.4 percent less likely to travel more than 20 minutes for purchases. Thus, consumers will increasingly search for stores close to them. Target with and highlight relevant location information, and you’ll get a big boost in ROI from your local search marketing.

The post 6 tips for using location information to boost conversion appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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