Quite a Month in Local Search
As I found out from a Twitter conversation last week, I apparently neglected to share with people that I’m traveling in sunny England–it’s rained exactly twice since April 1–through the beginning of June. (I’ll be speaking on the Local Search panel at SMX London on May 17 before heading back to the States, so if you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to say hi!). My only excuse for forgetting to share my travel plans with readers is that it’s been a very busy Spring over at GetListed.org, with several new tools slated to launch in May, and three new stops on our Local University series that will be announced later this week.
At any rate, it’s been almost a full month since I last checked my feedreader and I was finally able to plow through it this morning. There have obviously been some pretty key developments to keep an eye on if you’re in the Local Search space.
Bing Business Portal Launches; Exceeds Google Places’ Functionality
#1 Slider bars to indicate the most important categories for your business
#2 Free mobile “website”
#3 Ability to delegate listing control to an authorized third-party
I know that this was in development at Bing for a LOOONG time–but the effort should pay off bigtime if Bing can get some traction from the press and gain some market share away from Google. (And if their verification process is as smooth as they say it is…anyone verified a Bing listing in the last three weeks?) Hopefully we’ll see at least the three innovations above make their way into the Places Dashboard at some point in the near future.
Google Offers Offers (FINALLY)
So, what was it, November/December when the Goog-Pon deal fell through? I know Google’s become a huge company with a lot more levels of bureaucracy than it used to have, but with all those engineers, it really took them over four months to come up with a fully-baked offers program? That currently is only available in Portland? At the very least, you’d think Offers would be part of the sales kit for feet-on-the-street Places reps in Madison, WI and Charlotte, NC?
In the time it took Google to develop its own Groupon alternative, the Daily Deals market has become so saturated that some analysts over at the Kelsey Group are calling it “bubblicious.” (Count me in that camp as well, at least at Groupon & LivingSocial’s current margins…not to mention the bargain-basement kind of customer whose interest they pique.) Still not sure if it’d have been worth $6 Billion to Google to buy Groupon, but they’ve probably lost a reasonable percentage of that amount in market share in the last few months.
I signed up as a beta consumer of Offers but so far none have come into my Inbox. I’ll post a screenshot as soon as I get one. For any local businesses who want to sign up, here’s the page.
Google Places Customer Service?
Matt McGee wrote a great recap of Google Places’ first birthday. He pretty much hit the nail on the head: lots of great features rolled out in the past year…but still with several gaping holes, including continuing analytics bugs and a lack of customer support.
Linda Buquet of Catalyst eMarketing thinks there might be “light at the end of the tunnel” on problem no. 2, however.
Linda suggests that Google is open, dare I say eager, to working with ethical Local SEOs, but as Mike Blumenthal would say “I’m not holding my breath.” Still, at the very least, the increased competition from many of the other companies in this post (notably Groupon, Facebook, and probably even Bing) seems to have upped the ante for the Places team a bit.
Is this post from a Fortune 200 company with tens of millions of dollars in Adwords budgets a one-off example from a front-runner who has been ahead of the Local game since Day I, or is it something that will open the floodgates for higher-visibility criticism than the inconsequential suggestions of our little SEO community that have largely fallen on deaf ears?
Facebook Steps Up Its SMB Game
An item which got surprisingly little press for the scale of its impact, it seems to me, was this announcement by Facebook that users can now transition personal profiles into business pages. It seems to involve a bit of ‘amnesty’ for business owners–at least the ones who had created a profile that violated Facebook’s real-person-TOS, but together with the also-relatively-new ability to interact as a PAGE rather than a PERSON on Facebook, they’re moving increasingly towards a business-owner account that stays separate from personal interaction.
– merchant ability to cap redemptions
– no fixed discount amount
– the ability to follow-up with customers after they purchase (via your Fan Page)
TMP / 15Miles Implodes
I was positively shocked to read this news. According to BIA / Kelsey, the news might have been foreshadowed by a 2010 Dex earnings call. If anything, it may signal future consolidation and/or implosions of IYP’s, since a lot of what TMP was selling was in that space.
It might also portend a major downturn for other CMR’s, although clearly the survivors are going to gain some of TMP’s clients in the short-term. But the future of listing syndication is going to be direct via companies like infoGroup, Localeze, CityGrid, Places, etc. And ad networks like Groupon, AdMob, etc., are also more than happy to work directly with VP’s or Marketing Execs. So, except in limited verticals, the “expertise” of an agency to place ads in hundreds or thousands of different Yellow Pages markets all over the country is simply no longer needed.
In the new Local/Social world, national brands are going to be much better served hiring smaller agencies with minimal overhead–like the one 15Miles alum Gregg Stewart has already started–to advise them on in-house strategies they can pursue. TMP apparently billed $230 million last year–that’s a lot of upside for nimbler, savvier agencies going forward.
Google MyMaps Are Dead…or Are They?
Update from Mike Blumenthal: “I was not saying that MyMaps is shuttered but that its lost its place of prominence and is being moved to the backwaters.”
Can someone help me out here? Multiple sources, including Mike Blumenthal, reported that Google was shuttering MyMaps in favor of MapMaker. If true, I say BOO. The new interface is INCREDIBLY slow and the UI much more confusing than MyMaps.
There used to be an incredible citizen-created MyMap for all of the great food carts in Portland that showed up for a lot of searches within http://maps.google.com. Now I get this crappy thing…not only is it poorly curated but it’s extremely difficult to zero in on a particular neighborhood and get a real sense for the actual food carts in a particular parking lot. In list view, hitting the “Next” button just seems to zero in on random neighborhoods.
And given Google’s notoriously slow response to approving or disapproving community ‘Report a Problems’ on business listings, I can’t imagine human reviewers are going to be able to cope with the amount of abuse they’re inviting via this new system.
Clearly, though, they’re trying to develop an even more independent underlying map after ditching TeleAtlas several years ago.
But, at least in MY logged-in version of http://maps.google.com all of the MyMaps I created still show up, and the link to add new ones does not seem to have been removed yet.
And, if I’m a business owner who wants to create a MyMap, or I guess just a Map now, of my location to embed in my website, which of these tools am I supposed to use?
Google Tags Are Dead…or Are They?
Are Tags actually dead? How come I’m still seeing them show up in both Blended and pure Maps results?
This one is a little more obvious. They’re set to expire on April 29, according to multiple emails I’ve received from clients.
I thought the extremely-low-fixed-cost-per-month product offering was a terrific idea…we’ll see if it continues in some form under Boost, perhaps as Boost Lite at some point…
Hotpot Really Is Dead…but It Lives On (as Just “Places”)!
Creating a separate brand for the Places rating system was always a bad idea (even though I think it is, by and large, a wonderful product). The URL still resolves, but it has indeed been rebranded. Good on Google to nip this confusion in the bud.
Despite their public pronouncements, at some level Yelp seems to know it may not win the battle over review volume & I hope they are not backing themselves into a corner by completely ignoring the value of quick-hitting ratings. I, for one, do not believe that every business on Places will wind up being a median 3.5 stars…
Some Great Case Studies
Two colleagues posted some terrific case studies in the last month.
Kristy Bolsinger highlighted the success that a Redmond, WA Hair Salon has had even without a website by maximizing their visibility on Google Places and Facebook, and keeping in touch with their customers via email–a technique that until recently, with the rise in the importance of reviews, has been sorely underpublicized by a lot of SEOs.
And check out this incredibly well-optimized Place Page highlighted by John Audette of 406 Strategies. While I’m not in the camp of search marketers who feels that % of profile completeness assists in ranking in any way, that kind of robust Place Page can’t not help with searcher conversion.
And if I could just chime in with one amazing small business I’ve happened upon across the pond…my local butcher here in St. Leonard’s, Exeter. They’re doing so many things right, both online and offline:
1) A beautiful (at least I think so), easy to navigate website.
2) Extremely well-optimized Title Tags for both relevance AND CTR from the SERP
3) Strong calls-to-action on-site to “Shop Now” and “Buy Now”
4) Fantastic photos of their delicious products
5) A compact, easy-to-use shopping cart (yes, I know from a where-does-the-content-actually-live standpoint, it could improve)
6) An extremely active and engaging Facebook Page
7) A solid, if unspectacular Twitter account, given what makes sense for their business
8) An incredible product and astounding service
By way of explanation on #8…my first evening in Exeter, about 10 days ago, I had simply popped into the shop as I was exploring my temporary neighborhood. Not intending to purchase anything, I was the ultimate annoying customer just looking at the meat cases that line the walls of the cozy store. Peter, (whom I later learned from the website is one of the owners), came out from behind the main case & not only started chatting with me about what I was looking for, what I was doing (as soon as he heard my accent) in Exeter, but then offered me a free ready-made meal as a “welcome to town.” Although I insisted on paying for it, he was equally sure that I’d be back for more after a taste
He was certainly right. I’ve spent (and gained? :D) about 30 pounds in there in the past week, trying everything from chicken to lamb to venison to the most delicious pork sausages I’ve ever had in my life. Pipers is surely not the cheapest place in town to load up for dinner, but paying a small premium is so worth it for quality and service of this caliber.
In a lot of ways, Pipers Farm offers the ultimate Daily Deal example, but it’s one that no company–no matter how innovative, no matter how many engineers or salespeople they employ–can “scale” or do for them. All that’s required is:
– A business owner taking an extra three minutes to treat a customer the right way
– Creating a product so amazing that it sells itself.
Pipers Farm will certainly be getting my praise for tomorrow’s Review Wednesday, and I imagine as the review scene heats up over here in the UK they’ll dominate the Exeter meat market for years to come.