Local Search: Light Speed Ahead
For the local search and location-based services (LBS) industry, 2011 brought a great deal of innovation. The speed, availability and ubiquity of devices like tablets and smartphones, and the extreme growth of social media, have empowered users to quickly access and generate local content. While the vitality of the daily deal space is still up for debate, local group offers have significantly changed the way consumers connect with local businesses. In 2012, the deal market will continue to be refined as it has the potential to give SMBs new marketing power.
So, with rapid innovation unlikely to wane, where is the LBS industry headed in 2012, and which applications will be the winners?
Time-Sensitive Mobile Offers
In 2012, one of the most useful local search tools for local businesses will continue to be daily deals, but particularly time-sensitive mobile offers available to businesses on platforms like GrouponNOW, Living Social and Foursquare. The low cost of acquiring customers via mobile-based social offers is becoming more attractive to small and large businesses.
These mobile offers are creating a new, time-sensitive advertising model. In this model, businesses will benefit by bringing in new customers or more sales during a typically slow period. For example from noon to 1 p.m, a sandwich shop typically makes most of its profits, and it anticipates lower sales between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. During that time they still have to keep the lights on and keep the staff busy cleaning counters and restocking shelves. With a time-sensitive mobile offer, they can invest in a higher cost of acquisition for new clients due to the tangible nature of the goods they sell. The business will likely be willing to make a significantly reduced profit on a sandwich from 2-4 p.m. without fear of cannibalizing its current clients. This model also works well with service area businesses that can suffer inefficient routes or drive times. For example, they can offer a group of buy-now customers a lower price because the drivers have to be in that area anyway. Business owners will now have the power to manage this marketing spend more efficiently then ever.
Overall, Groupon and Living Social will continue to be the main players further evolving their products in 2012. Also, expect companies like Google and Amazon to strengthen their offers and innovative startups like Needium, Closely and Yipit to make some noise.
Tablets have had a profound impact on local search this year. Their speed, ease and utility are making them coffeetable pieces in many homes and changing the way consumers search for local businesses. Our living rooms are an inherently local place. We talk about community events, plan our family schedules and research who and how to fix our daily problems. Tablets are opening up the entire family to search more, with the topics of conversation so local in nature the searches and use cases are following. The key ingredients are the incredibly fast start time and size – tablets are small enough to be in a convenient location in the home and used while watching TV or enjoying other media simultaneously.
As these devices make their way into more consumers’ hands in 2012, local search tablet applications will need to ensure they are delivering the most reliable, user-friendly information to tablet consumers. Additionally, as marketers we need to make sure the businesses we represent are front and center within all these apps.
Voice Search Evolving
With the relaunch of Siri this past summer from Apple, voice search has generated a lot of buzz in local search and even in the general search community. Siri indeed is innovative and impressive from a technology standpoint. The application’s ability to search various platforms using business listings data is extremely beneficial to on-the-go users. It offers local results based on relevancy, reviews and rankings from a host of local search content providers. Now, it’s more important than ever to monitor your reputation as a business owner and ensure that as much content as possible for your business listing can be found –- allowing the Siri ontology to use your business as an answer to a local query. Several companies are leading the pack in this area of reputation management including yellowbot.com.
It will be interesting to watch voice search’s evolution in 2012 as it strives to represent the full spectrum of local businesses regardless of category or region. The first step should include the mapping of structured business information -- including identifying and discovery information - to the voice ontology of the Siri application. This will improve the ability for users to connect with the right businesses regardless of whether the information is provided directly by the business owners, the marketers creating content catered to SIRI voice search capabilities or Siri establishing the structure needed to find businesses within specific categories or regions. Certainly, we expect voice search technology to grow in 2012, as Apple broadens Siri’s reach and capabilities and as GPS companies expand their personal navigation products and features to include voice search.
The local search industry transformed more in 2011 than in any other year as the number of devices, apps and methods for finding local businesses continues to increase. Rapid technology changes are extending the prevalence of local business listings and opening up tremendous opportunities for vendors as well as for businesses trying to capture gold -- their potential local customers.