The Future of Local Search: 5 Layers of Local

Local search is broken. To improve your local search strategy for both now and the future, you need to understand the growing importance of local data, personalization, emerging technologies, new transaction methods, and delivery.

During a session at SES San Francisco, The Future of Local Search: 5 Layers of Local, Gregg Stewart (@greggstewart), president of Geary LSF explored the five layers of local:

  • Data
  • Algorithm
  • Interface
  • Transaction
  • Delivery

Here are details of each different layer and how this is going to affect your local strategy both now and in the future.

The 5 Layers of Local Search

1. Data

Data should be synced across all platforms and sites.

The currency in local is a lot messier than the currency for SEO (backlinks). Name, address, and phone number, referred to as NAP, is the currency for local, and even something that seems this easy can be confusing.

Let’s say your company is located on West Garfield St. What happens if you just put W Garfield St. or West Garfield Street? There are hundreds of data points for local (inventory, pricing, promotion), so when we look at data it’s a very complex issue that is going to remain a big part of local search in the future.

Takeaway: This information isn’t easy like it is when working with a URL, so NAP needs to be synced across all platforms and sites. Work on citation building and monitor your ratings and reviews. Check all of your business listings (Yahoo Local, Google Places, etc.) as well as distribution networks (Yext, Localeze, etc.). and make changes as needed to keep your NAP information consistent.

2. Algorithm

Algorithm varies based on device and platform, so you need to focus on data and distribution even further when making improvements.

What consumers want when searching for a local business is proximity and relevance, but we’re not quite there when talking about the algorithm. Over 60 percent of people say they want reviews and ratings to pick businesses, but only 20 percent of people actually do because there just isn’t enough content. They want a rich data experience, but today’s reality doesn’t really support that.

Stewart gave an example of a search query for “brain surgeons in San Francisco.” When you dig deeper into the results page you actually see that “car accident attorneys” comes up and has you wondering: Do I really want to trust a search that pulls up car accident attorneys for a brain surgeon? Consider the screenshot from the presentation:


Takeaway: The future will be a lot more personalized than it is today. Today we’re putting out mass information, but tomorrow it will be customized better for users. It’s also worth noting that algorithm does vary by platform and device, so you need to put a greater focus on data and how you’re distributing your content and message.

3. Interface

Devices are continuing to shrink, which fuels the need for responsive design.

Interface means understanding which devices your brand is being activated on, and you can’t take a one-size-fits-all solution. According to comScore, there has been a 41 percent increase in the number of people who use their smartphones for local search. Tablets are growing at an even faster pace, already with 100 million device owners.

Takeaway: It’s also important to realize that there are many different emerging technologies such as Google Glass and other wearables. Responsive web design is going to be incredibly important in the future as all of these different devices begin to grow in popularity.

4. Transaction

There is now an increased ability to capture data.

We’re seeing rapid growth in the adoption of self-service check outs and devices that help you check out a customer on a cell phone or tablet. With things like GoPayment, more businesses are starting to turn cell phones and iPads into cash registers.

Sometimes companies will even do in-store mapping based on the GPS in smartphones. Transaction is something we’re moving toward, so that adds another layer onto something that we need to understand as marketers and/or business owners.


Takeaways: New transaction methods give us the ability to improve customer service, become more efficient, and increase our ability to capture data. The better you can understand how these new methods of transaction work, the easier it will be to improve your local business.

5. Delivery.

There isn’t much new in the way of delivery, but we’re getting smarter.

Stewart stressed the idea of ROBO –> BODO, or research online buy offline –> buy online deliver offline. The focus is different now because delivery is highly localized. You have to understand route dynamics.

Takeaway: You should focus on street by street then neighborhood by neighborhood, not market by market. Use delivery as a differentiator in order to really win in the future.

How to Win in the Future of Local Search

Our biggest problem today is that we aren’t agile enough, Stewart said. Data and algorithm are both opportunity areas where most brands are not taking advantage. We have lots of data and we just don’t know what to do with it.

The key is to prototype and deploy – what didn’t work 6 months ago could very well work now. If you say “I tried that” then you have to make sure you go back and try that again.

You also want to keep in mind the idea that the local marketplace changes quickly, so if you have to plan an annual budget you should set aside extra dollars and be prepared. Innovation, testing, and budgeting require agility.

The Local Search Wars

Howard Lerman (@Howard), CEO of Yext, continued from where Stewart left off, breaking up the five layers of local into winners and losers, but first the backstory on the war.

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

There is a huge war going on regarding local search, and the cause of that war is simple: It’s because of mobile. We have huge platforms fighting for mobile dominance – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yelp – and location is the key.

If you look at the top iPhone apps, those that aren’t games all use location services. You therefore have to offer both developers and users outstanding location and mapping services if you want to win the war.

The five layers of local discussed above can also work as the five battlegrounds of the local search wars. So who’s winning and who is losing these battles?

1. Data: Winners & Losers

Location data is not a file that can be sent on a CD. It is now a live cloud of always changing information, so the key to winning the battle is being self-sustaining. Those who are self-sustaining have an advantage.

Location data also makes it possible to merge different sources together. For example, Google bought Waze and Facebook partnered with Yext.

Winners: Nokia, Google, Foursquare, Facebook

Losers: Groupon, Apple, Amazon

The winners and losers are quite surprising (it’s not often you see Apple in a “loser” category). Nokia’s business is basically all location data now whereas Groupon and Amazon aren’t location data but rather product data.

2. Algorithm: Winners & Losers

You can win this battle with expertise in search and hordes of data. Again we see Apple in a losing category, and what is interesting here is the idea that Yahoo is its own winner because they don’t outsource local to Microsoft. Smart move.

Winners: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo

Losers: Apple, Groupon

3. User Interface: Winners & Losers

Winning this battle means having control of proprietary OS, real-time traffic data, and excellent design and imaging technology. The social places have a huge disadvantage because it is basically all a directory. Consider the victories:

Winners: Nokia, Apple, Google

Losers: Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare

Facebook needs a UI and not a social network to push it into a win, and Yelp looks the same as it did 10 years ago (not to mention they use Google Maps and not their own system). Foursquare uses Google Maps.

4. Transaction: Winners & Losers

The winners here are going to be those at the bottom of the purchasing funnel. Traditional search engines lose this battle because a searcher will start there but not finish there.

Winners: Groupon, Amazon, Yelp, DemandForce, Square

Losers: Google, Yahoo, Bing

5. Delivery: Winners & Losers

The key to winning here is simple: proprietary distribution network. If you control the delivery of the service you will win this battle (even if you don’t control the upfront search). Facebook loses, for example, because they only offer virtual gifts, which of course isn’t a real delivery.

Winners: Amazon, Groupon, Walmart, Target

Losers: Apple, Facebook, Google

So who is the winner of the local search wars? According to Howard, it’s you the consumer who is the winner. We are the primary beneficiaries. Hopefully in the future we will see a social map from Facebook or a product map from Amazon, but only time will tell.

What Do You Think About the Future of Local?

What do you think about the five layers of local? Do you think any companies belong in a different category when it comes to the local search wars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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