The start of a new year is a good time to take a breath, reassess the recent past, and make plans for the future. That’s especially pertinent after a hectic 2018 full of changes for local marketers, what with Google releasing a flurry of new features and algorithm updates, Facebook revamping its local pages, Apple announcing a Maps rebuild, and Amazon reaching 100 million sales of Echo devices, along with many other changes.

New Channels for Local

At the end of the day, marketers need to decide what among all this activity to pay attention to, and how, if at all, to adjust their strategies in the coming year.

Organic local optimization – the practice of building a competitive presence on the sites and apps consumers use to find local businesses – has been evolving for many years to keep pace with changes in the digital device landscape. The last revolutionary change was the shift of audience share from desktop to mobile, and the tipping point was May 2015, when Google announced that for the first time, most searches were being conducted on mobile devices.

Voice reached its own milestone this month, with Amazon reporting that over 100 million Echo devices have been sold. As Greg Sterling pointed out in his coverage of that story, there are only 126 million total households in the U.S. If you add in Google Home devices, estimated at approximately one third the market share of Echo devices, it would seem safe to guess that more than half of American households now have a smart speaker.

Though the market for local search on voice devices has yet to mature, voice is certainly on our radar as a trend brands need to be prepared for. We’re keeping a close eye as well on developments in visual search. Already, users can search on Google, eBay, and other sites using pictures instead of text, and Google’s visual search tool lets you point your phone’s camera at a range of objects, from restaurant dishes to signs in a foreign language, providing instant search results and translation services based solely on visual input.

One of the earliest visual search tools on the market, Yelp’s Monocle, was launched ten years ago as a way to let smartphone users discover local businesses by overlaying local content on the world as seen through the phone’s camera lens. This combination of visual search with another still-emergent trend, augmented reality (AR), was just one early indication that new technologies would find a way to support local search use cases.

The Strategy for 2019: It’s All About the Content

All of these trends add up, however, to another reality that should bring some comfort to local marketers. After all, the market leaders and likely competitors in voice, visual search, and AR are those same companies that currently dominate search and e-commerce on desktop and mobile devices: Google, Yelp, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and the like. Furthermore, the local content already evident in newer tools and devices has been ported wholesale, for the most part, from applications that are already the main focus of local optimization efforts.

Some more good news, what has actually changed in recent months from a strategic perspective happens to apply equally well to older and newer interfaces; namely, an increased emphasis on rich content that differentiates your business from your competitors. Here’s a short list of the opportunities for differentiation Google now makes available:

·      Photos

·      Videos

·      Special Hours

·      Descriptions

·      Menus

·      Booking / Scheduling

·      Local Inventory Links

·      Posts

·      Questions and Answers

·      Reviews

·      Review Response

·      Attributes

·      Open Date

·      Ads with Location Extensions

·      360° Virtual Tours

·      Messaging

·      Featured Products

·      Google Assistant Integration

Not all sites offer the same differentiation opportunities, but many provide at least a subset of the features listed here.

Brands who want to stand out in desktop search, mobile search, voice search, and more need to leverage the differentiating features that make the most sense for their vertical – keeping in mind that seemingly limited features like menus are in fact more widely applicable, because Google allows you to list services and products in a menu, not just meal items. 

And remember, differentiation extends to websites and local landing pages as well. We know that Google is using business website content as a source for local keyword matching, a fact made clear in cases where local listings call out that the website mentions a certain product or offering. More generally speaking, a strong local business website tied to your Google listing will help both entities to rank well, and there’s no better way to boost the ranking of your site than by creating useful differentiating content.

Want to get more out of your listings and local landing pages? Our team of experts can help. Schedule a demo with us today! 

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Damian Rollison

VP of Product Strategy