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Universal Thoughts on Local Search

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People don't go to Web sites anymore. Web sites come to them. This is, perhaps, the best way to explain the impact of search on the online experience.

SEO is now commonplace, which this means that Web sites are now tailored to user needs and accessible in the manner of their choice. It's that "pull vs. push" marketing battle cry from a couple years ago fully realized. We must follow users wherever they go.

Thanks to mobile devices, like the new iPhone 3G, instant gratification is even more instantaneous. Search marketers journey even further into the real world, far outside the confines of traditional home and office use.

The mobile Web has severely ratcheted up the importance of local search. Location-based searches can now occur from anywhere, with its usage increasing in urgency (e.g., hospitals in Duluth) and expanding in purpose (e.g., gas in Philadelphia).

Local Search in a Nutshell

It's all about location, location, location. When a user types in a search query that includes a ZIP code, city, or state, the returned results contain listings of local businesses in the organic listings.

Most often, these local listing appear at the top of the page -- prime real estate for attracting new users. A map indicating the location of these results in relation to each other usually accompanies the listings.

For example, perform a search in Google on "hotels in Philadelphia," and you'll find that the first listings below the paid listings are for hotels in Philadelphia with a map indicating where each of them is in the city. These listings beat out the regular organic listings for this search because they are clearly the most relevant universal listing, especially if you find yourself suddenly stranded in the City of Brotherly Love.

Local Search in the Bottom Line

Instant customer satisfaction means that local is now big business. The local search industry is projected to increase in value from $4.5 billion to more than $25 billion in the next 10 years, according to a 2007 Piper Jaffray research paper. Additionally, Piper Jaffray notes that 30 percent of all queries conducted today contain a city, state, or ZIP code.

But wait, there's more! These listings go beyond just your name, address, and phone number. There's a whole slew of information you can share with the user. Your local listing can also contain brands carried, products/services, hours of operation, logo, tagline, amenities, photos, and much more.

Providing easy access to local information drives users to your locations, and directs them there at the appropriate time with an idea about additional services. With strong local listings, instant consumer gratification can often yield near-instant business profit.

Local Search in User Thinking

People use local search in two primary ways: recovery search and discovery search. A recovery search indicates that the user probably already knows the name of your business but needs to find the one closest to them at the time.

So for example, let's say you really love Starbucks but your job includes a great deal of travel. If a walk around the block doesn't yield a Grande Cappuccino (and trust me, in some places you may be surprised), then you may Google "Starbucks in Grand Rapids" as a recovery search.

In contrast, someone carrying out a discovery search has a product or service in mind but doesn't know name of the business that may supply it. So if you happen to spill that Grande Cappuccino while racing to a client meeting, you may need to perform a discovery search for a "dry cleaner in Grand Rapids."

Local Search in the Real World

Local search is showing up in your Web browser, at your desk, on your phone, and on your GPS devices -- and these are just the easy examples. I know of one person who used the browser on his Nintendo Wii to find the nearest Domino's that delivered.

The number of devices and locations for local search will continue to grow as more things become connected to the Internet. Next time the fridge is empty, you may think about using the browser on the door to find the closest Chinese restaurant.

Local Search in an Anecdote

For one of our clients, we prepared and submitted all of the local locations for their storefronts to local search feeds. Within two months, 98 percent of their storefronts had gotten at least six impressions. Of those, 95 percent had gotten at least one click.

So far, local search has generated over 3.3 million impressions and a CTR of 2.24 percent for our client. Projected out over a year, local search will yield around 13.5 million impressions with a cost-per-view of less than $.20. Ask your local print yellow pages directory to match those numbers!

Local Search in Your Strategy

If you're a business owner, make sure your local profile takes full advantage of all category fields available to you in the listings. You may not see click-throughs to your site increase, but if you provide a user with all the information he or she is looking for, then you've started on the right foot to build engagement with a potential customer.

If you're a Web surfer, you don't need to do anything. Continue to surf and search as you normally do, but keep in mind the wealth of information out there on local businesses for you to use to your advantage when searching. Or don't. If we're doing our jobs right, local information will come to you on your terms.

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