What next? Predictions for Local in 2013

Posted by & filed under Local SEO.

I can’t believe that it’s nearly Christmas ! This year has flown by at a terrifying pace and I hope that December brings a few days of calm so that we can reflect on what has passed, and what the future holds.

2012 has been (another) year of significant change for all of us involved in ‘Local’ and 2013 is set to be just as busy. But what will 2013 bring, and how should we prepare ourselves & our customers to capitalize on the developments which will shape the next 12 months?

We called upon 4 extremely knowledgeable & experienced SEOs and industry watchers to share their wisdom and predictions for ‘Local’ in 2013. We thank them wholeheartedly for taking the time to talk with us and give us the benefit of their insights. Thanks guys!

Introduction by Myles Anderson  – Founder & CEO BrightLocal.com

Qu 1. Looking back…what has been the biggest change in local search in 2012?

 

Mike Blumenthal

“Two big trends that I see are:

  1. Google firmed up their leadership position in local search on the desktop and from mobile browser and,
  2. The growth of the app as an alternative source for local search information (vs mobile search)

At a micro level, the biggest change was the broader recognition of the impact of local and the need for businesses small and large to understand it.”

 

 
Linda Buquet
  1.  The upgrade to Google+ Local.
  2. The ability to merge/verify with a Google+ Business page (which is still problematic and not ready for prime time.)
  3. The diminished LOCAL Serps display.

While a lot of emphasis will likely be put on 1 and 2 by others, I’d like to spell out #3, because I think it’s affected local search the most (in general terms).

The ‘blended’ Local SERP display USED to be ADDITIVE. You’d get the benefit of a full paragraph keyword-rich organic listing PLUS all the local goodies added on top, which made a bigger listing that stood out.

Now the red map marker has turned to gray, the gold stars are gone, the title tag and description are gone. It’s a stripped down tiny bare listing without any keywords or context. Just name, address, phone.

Many businesses I work with would now prefer AND find they get higher click-through with a top organic listing than with a local listing. More businesses are asking “How can I get rid of that local listing so I can just show up in organic again and get my clicks back.” So I advocate/teach getting the best of both worlds. Get an organic listing on top so you have the keywords and description, PLUS get a separate local listing, so you have the benefits of a map marker and reviews.

So the visibility of local listings was just greatly de-emphasized and diminished over the year 2012.”

 

Laura Betterly

 ”I think Google changing from Places to Google + Local changed things a lot–but this year has been full of changes. Panda, Penguin and the Exact Match Domain updates also effected Local so none of the campaigns we run end up being ‘set and forget’. A lot more care and effort has to go into what we do on a local level.”

 

Mike Ramsey

Google+ local is the big one, but there was a specific area within the new product that has effected what we do more than any other… Reviews.

The Zagat review system being integrated into Google brought about the biggest change for the following reasons.

1. No more 5 star system that helped with click through rates.
2. People now have to have a Google+ account to leave reviews and even read all of a companies reviews.
3. The review filter Google put on lots of service based industries has been a huge frustration with business owners that have actually pushed them to start diversifying reviews to other places and niche directories.


Qu 2. What do you predict to be the biggest change for ‘local’ in 2013?

 

Laura Betterly

“There are a few things that I think that will happen:

  1. Once Google + Local and business pages are fully integrated, I think that mixing the listing and social functionality might just work well for local businesses. Google + is being pushed but from what I can see it’s a wasteland compared to Facebook.
  2. Mobile will continue to be very important–Google Maps, Apple Maps, and mobile SEO for local.”

 

Mike Ramsey

Last Feb comscore conducted a survey in which they concluded that around 49% of searches on mobile for local businesses were taking place in apps.

I think we will see this trend of app searches through mobile helping yelp, apple maps, and niche directories (trip advisor) gain traffic and trust while Google will continue to do what they can to send as little traffic to these sites through their Search Engine.

The outcome of this will be a huge push for correcting citation data for more reasons than ranking in Google and more responsive and mobilized refreshes of small business sites.

 

Mike Blumenthal

“Google will continue to push more and more local results into the SERPS.”

 

Linda Buquet

“My biggest ‘hope’ is that Google puts more resources into getting Google+ Local right.”


Qu 3. What is your biggest concern for how ‘local’ will develop in 2013?

 

 
Mike Ramsey

“I am concerned that SMB confusion on internet marketing will hit an all time high. There are too many areas to manage:

  1. Traditional advertising (billboards, newsprint, radio, tv)
  2. Social Media sites (facebook, linkedin, twitter, Google+, Pinterest)
  3. Apps + Directories
  4. Search Engines
  5. Text and Email

Small Businesses will be looking for a complete solution across all areas as having an in house team to handle all these areas is not possible.

The challenge for local SEOs will be to decide whether to continue to focus on one area (google+ local) or try and create a service that will incorporate everything into one overall strategy.”

 

Mike Blumenthal

“I am along for the ride. I don’t have any real concerns. It doesn’t matter to me what happens. I see my job as understanding the change and interpreting it in both a practical and theoretical sense so others can increase their understanding of it.

Oops, I just thought of one…. that as more SMBs understand the importance of local and reviews, they will drive themselves absolutely bonkers obsessing over some policy, practice or behavior of the Googles of the world rather than making life better for their customers.”

 

Linda Buquet

“My biggest concern is that Google won’t put more resources into Google+ Local and won’t get it right.”

 

Laura Betterly

“Once things are working-a new change comes in and puts us back to square one. Waking up one morning and Google Places is no longer and now it’s Google + Local. The biggest issue continues to be that this “free product” from Google is hard to fix. Duplicate listings, terms of service changes, updates taking forever, etc”

 


Qu 4. What will be the biggest change(s) to local SEO ranking factors in 2013?

 

Linda Buquet

“I don’t have a crystal ball. Currently I believe there are around 300 ranking factors in local now that organic is such a big part of the picture. I predict 2013 there will just be more ranking factors added and the whole thing will get even more complicated.”

 

 
Mike Ramsey
  1. Elimination of category choices from Google+ will mean that organic website information and citations will matter A LOT.
  2. Quality of Reviews (getting reviews from active accounts and top reviewers) will have a more positive effect on rankings.
Laura Betterly

“I think that quality will continue to be a big factor. The other thing that comes to mind with this is that a quality site that has tons of information doesn’t always convert as well–BUT if a site that converts well doesn’t rank, what’s the point?”

 

Mike Blumenthal

“I think Google will continue to push changes that favor brands big and small, they will push personal authority and they will continue to increase their surfacing of the relationship that users have with their friends, family and associates.”

 


Qu 5. What changes do you predict for Google+ Local in 2013?

 

Mike Blumenthal

“From a product stand point, Google will finally be rolling out semi finished products for local (if we are lucky). I think we will see a “dashboard” like product for SMBS that is similar to the one described in the Wall Street Journal this past summer and they will make progress on the integration of their local and social. This will hopefully include the ability to integrate brand and local into a single easily managed presence.”

 

 
Mike Ramsey

I think Google will roll out a new business management dashboard that could potentially do the following…

1. Relying more on website organic information for ranking data compared to filling in categories. It seems that the google+ local business creating/claiming process removes category choice all together. This means that businesses will need to start creating very solid landing pages for each service.

3. Quality of Review will become more of a ranking factor (reviews from top accounts, much like yelp) compared to quantity.

4. Additional paid services through google’s dashboard like TalkBin (Allows customers to send text message feedback in-store) Punchd (rewards point system) and a refreshed coupon system with Offers and their recent acquisition of IncentiveTargeting.

 

Linda Buquet

“Again my ‘hope’ is that Google puts more resources into getting Google+ Local right. I wish I could PREDICT that’s what will happen. But I’m hopeful.”

 

Laura Betterly

“I think a lot of agencies and SEO’s got killed this year with the updates. Old spammy techniques no longer work. Many of these guys went out of business. I think there’s a huge opportunity for those who do it right to gain more business.

On the other hand, I think the tools will get better.”

 


Qu 6. What are the 3 pieces of advice you would give to local business owners for 2013?

 

Mike Blumenthal

“All too often SMBs are prey to the “shiny new object” syndrome. I think it important that ALL SMBs check that have the basics in line before they embark on any new tasks.

Those basics include a well optimized and attractive website, a properly seeded NAP, some basic link building and the ability to capture email addresses so as to stay in contact with their existing customers.

If they have those bases covered then their move into the social arena should first be via a review management strategy and if appropriate blogging.

These should all happen before they embark on using Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.”

 

 
Laura Betterly
  1. Make sure your site is mobile optimized
  2. Claim your listings with Google + Local, Yahoo, bing, etc
  3. Aggressively remind your customers to write reviews.”

 

 
Mike Ramsey

Diversify…diversify…diversify

Between Google’s new +local issues, penguin, panda, and review filters I would be looking for ways to ensure I was getting traffic from many new sources as one day you could wake up to find your listing un-findable.

 

Linda Buquet
  1. Work on your organic on-site SEO and be sure you are well optimized for city + keyword searches and have all the right local hooks in place on your site. (The current blended algo is IMO 90 – 95% based on organic ranking factors.)
  2. Be sure your site is not OVER-optimized as there are new Google guidelines (webmaster guidelines not Places guidelines) that deal specifically with lots of things I see many local sites doing wrong. Duplicate content, excessive keyword repetition which now in the guidelines also expressly includes big banks of all the cities you are trying to rank for, are a few of the things to watch out for.
  3. Read the Google Places guidelines 3 times with a fine tooth comb and try to read between the lines. There are lots of subtle or even unwritten rules and you need to be careful with everything. If you get in a bind with Google Places/Google+ Local it can be time and labor intensive to get problems resolved, to say nothing of lost business if listing disappears or data is wrong.”

 


Qu 7. What’s your most ‘crackpot’ prediction for ‘local’ in 2013?

 

Linda Buquet

“Google will hire Mike Blumenthal to lead the Google+ Local team.” (note from the editor: Linda didn’t know Mike was also taking part in this!!)

 

 
Mike Ramsey

“Facebook will buy Bing and Pinterest and create a new social search image engine that will instantly take 45% of US marketshare and will have a local product that works flawlessly. (You said crackpot)”

 

Laura Betterly

“Skynet is really Google and it will become self-aware next year! Seriously, The merge of Google and Facebook will create the largest network world-wide. The integrated entity “Fagle” will be bigger than the Microsoft/Yahoo alliance “MicroHoo”"

 

Mike Blumenthal

“That Google Plus will equal or surpass Twitter in value as a marketing tool.

Apple will fix their mapping product.

SMBs will start looking at conversions rather than rank (ok that one isn’t going to happen).”


 About our contributors (in their own words)

 

Mike Blumenthal
Mike Blumenthal – Blumenthals

“My blog? Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search… no, Understanding Google Places and Local Search…. no, Understanding Google Something or other and Local search. Yea that’s it.”

 

 

“Linda specializes in Google+ Local Training & Consulting. She’s a Google Top Contributor and Founder of the Local Search Forum. She’s been quoted by The NYTimes, InfoWorld and PC World regarding Google Places issues.”
 
 

 

Laura Betterly
Laura Betterly – Yada Yada Marketing

“Laura Betterly-Marketing Goddess: Laura is an eclectic serial entrepreneur. Although her first love was playing guitar (she performed in NYC punk bands in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s) she has spent most of her career being a tech geek, handling the marketing and promotion for her clients as well her own projects . PCDJ, which she co-founded had nine million downloads. She has traveled the world working with celebrities such as Ice T, Nile Rodgers, Jam Master Jay and Chaka Kahn but also took her last company In Touch Media Group public.

She currently runs a boutique marketing agency, Yada Yada Marketing and is published by Ryan Deiss with her product for local marketers, Mobile Local Fusion. Her company is Google certified for PPC and she is also an excellent SEO ranking herself and clients for competitive terms.”

Mike Ramsey – Nifty Marketing

Mike Ramsey is the founder/president of Nifty Marketing, a local search marketing company in Burley, Idaho. He has taken part in the local search ranking factors and speaks on the Getlisted.org Local University tour. Outside of search Mike also moonlights as the owner/publisher of The Voice which is a weekly newspaper in Southern Idaho that is delivered to 18,000 households. Mike has a wonderful wife, a rascal of a little boy, and a beautiful baby girl.

Myles Anderson Myles Anderson

About the Author

In my capacity as CEO, i get involved in all areas of the business but my 2 biggest passions are our 'Tools' and our 'Customers'. It's my job to ensure that we continue to extend and improve our tool-set to meet our customers ever-changing needs. But it's just as important that we deliver excellent customer service to match our tools - one without the other just doesn't cut it!

18 Responses to “What next? Predictions for Local in 2013”

  1. Linda Buquet

    Thanks for doing this Myles. So much good advice and great predictions! Thanks for including me.

    I just shared this over at the local search forum and am off to blog/Tweet/Scoop/+ and spread the good word!

  2. Mark Homer

    Great job. And A+ team of people to answers these questons. Nice to see some consistency in the answers too. Makes me feel more confident when it matches what we have seen. I will second a toast to hoping for better tools from google for SMBs in 2013!

  3. Steve Scott

    Great article folks. Loved some of the predictions. Still not sure that Google will ever get Google+ Local right.

    I also think Google needs to find a way to make the Self-Employed, Home Office business not feel so neglected or punished in some way because they don’t want their home address out there. A dog trainer that goes to people’s homes to work with the dog and it’s owners or a garage door repair person who’s office is his truck are just as legitimate a business as someone with an actual storefront. Google needs to find a way to not make these people suffer in Local Listings just because they don’t fall into the Google definition of a local business.

    If that day ever comes I’ll be one very happy camper. Here’s hoping Google has something wonderful up their sleeves for the local guy in the new year.

  4. E-Rock Christopher

    Myles,

    Great work! Thanks for aggregating this info…

    Here is my “crackpot” prediction: These 4 contributors will combine forces to create their own Local platform with all the things Google, Bing, Yelp, FB, etc should be doing and then create their own local search engine! If you do it, I want in as I prognosticated it!

  5. Ralph Paglia

    I enjoyed this Q and A around predictions for 2013 more than any other post or article I have seen yet… Mike Blumenthal; I met you at a UBL event in NC a couple years ago. At the time I didn’t know what a big deal you are, so I apologize if I was rude to you at the cocktail reception.

    As for predictions, I have a few more general ones:
    1. The simmering battle between Google and Facebook will boil over and become more publicly visible. Take a look at Bing’s “Don’t Get Scroogled” TV spots and you get the idea.
    2. Google will continue to evolve and modify Organic SERP ranking factors, plus roll out new indexing capabilities that measure relevance to their search engine user’s location, catalogued connections and triangulated with influence rank to deliver ongoing improvements to the Google user experience.
    3. Facebook will launch new tools and app functions that leverages their BIG DATA with rich and detailed profile info to provide fee based marketing services that many will describe ad Mass Personalization. I.e.; Imagine a new version of the Facebook Advertising App where you select up to 25 content posts from up to 25 different Facebook Pages your profile admins. You then go through the same or similar targeting wizard that we use today, but where you would normally select the post to sponsor, there is a button to choose “Relevancy Personalization”. When you select this feature, instead of picking one “Story” (post) to sponsor, you are presented with a selection wizard that allows you to check off up to 25.

    The mass personalization manifests itself with an algorithm that pulls in user behavior and profile based interests combined with friend portfolio and content post history to optimize the relevance of a sponsored story by selecting from the up to 20 posts the advertiser chose for the pool.

  6. Satish

    Loved this “SMBs will start looking at conversions rather than rank (ok that one isn’t going to happen)”. Problem is at our end actually. As Local SEO agencies have plenty of Ranking tools to play with, they only report rankings & in turn SMBs only ask for rankings.

  7. Sangeeta

    Thanks for this guys. Enjoyed the crackpot predictions most!
    Just a quick question. Will Google get deeper into mobile app search?

  8. Jamie

    Great information! I especially agree with Mike when he says “SMBs will start looking at conversions rather than rank (ok that one isn’t going to happen)”. I just met with a local landscaper who doesn’t get it. Their thinking is old school and they haven’t kept up with the changes. I guess it’s our job to help them understand.

  9. Myles Anderson

    @Jamie et al – thanks for your comments

    RE: what metrics should local businesses look at…At the moment SEOs, especially in local world, sell themselves on their ability to get higher rankings for their customers and this is the metric against which their performance is judged.

    If the industry moves to a conversion based model then this requires a change in the services & approach SEOs take. SEO’s will need to up-skill themselves in ‘conversion optimization’ and begin to take control of their client’s websites. It also requires SEOs to mange analytics & call tracking for their customers so that they get the full picture of conversion on a client’s site.

    This change will significantly increase the workload an SEO does for a client and thus the fees they need to charge. Not that appealing for either party!

    So I think there will continue to be resistance on both sides for the next 12-24 months and rankings are here to stay as the primary measure of performance for SEOs.

  10. Randy Kirk

    Enjoyed all your prognostications. Major element never mentioned: YouTube. For most of my clients, YouTube is the second most important local tool after Places/+. I see YouTube becoming more and more important in 2013 as it is so useful on mobile devices of all kinds.

  11. Geoffrey Monical

    This is great. Mike’s response to one of the questions was pure, timeless gold, IMHO. That being: have a good website, make sure NAP are consistent, have the basics of link building on your site, and CAPTURE EMAIL ADDRESSES.

    All of this prediction stuff is great, but small businesses, must, Must, MUST learn to engage their current and past customers. I see so many that just plain don’t get it.

  12. Justin Liles

    This was a very interesting read and I’m truly glad brightlocal put these interviews together from the top leaders in this niche. I can’t wait till some of those “Crackpot” predictions come true. 2012 was such a fun time for the SERP’s(is that sarcastic?)

  13. Chris Gregory

    I’m glad to see comments that go beyond just simple rankings. We realized this year that if all we were doing was chasing rankings for our clients we wouldn’t be in business very long. I truly believe the need for Website As A Service (WAAS) is here. SEO is just another form of lead generation as well as Adwords. We must take it further to help our clients convert that traffic to actual sales if we want to succeed. After all, our success is tied to their success.

  14. Kathy Long

    This year Google opened up Google+ to developers who were chomping at the bit get their hands on the API. And I know they were chomping because I belong to the Google user group here in the Silicon Valley, and was there in the standing-room-only meeting when everyone expected the API announcement.

    What this means is that we may see a whole slew of tools coming on the scene very soon in the Google+ platform. I’m sure many will be for the social side like more Farmvilles, but I also think there will be many apps to benefit businesses and consumers. Since Google+ is part business/part social, why not?

    What exactly those tools will be, I don’t know. But I could see tools for managing deals and coupons, reviews and referrals, customer service, appointment setting, calendars, task lists, reservations, and more. Since the public is coming into Google+ pages from a Google query with a local business intent, it makes sense to leverage off that commercial intent with business tools. Then if you tie in the social connection with the business page and the benefits it brings, Google+ will be the happening place for local business and the place for consumers to find them. And this is why I’m really stressing to my local clients that they get a strong presence in Google+, rank just being a part of that.

    And this then leads right into my crackpot prediction for 2013 which really may come true based on all the above. Are you ready? Yelp will go under because no one will need them anymore. Think about it. The review system that we can have in Google+ with the social connection ability that is there could be phenomenal. And if some Google user group member isn’t hammering away at this 20 hours a day in his closet somewhere, I’d be surprised.

  15. Kathy Long

    Regarding the comments about conversion and rank and Jamie’s comment that they “don’t get it.” So true. I have a local doctor client whose phone was “not ringing” and they were “worried they would have to let go of staff” when they brought us on. Two months later, 4 phone lines are ringing at once all day, they don’t have enough people to answer the phone and the doctor is working 12 hour days because he has too many patients. Yet, he said to me the other night, “Our traffic on the website is down.” Huh? So?

    Why did he say that? Probably because he’s been educated for years on the value of rank and traffic as if that is an end goal. And maybe that’s because many SEOs don’t know better themselves because that’s all they know.

    I suspect that is true with this doctor. I’m the third SEO he’s brought in. And now I’m having to reeducate him on what really matters. Now that might seem odd to him coming from a SEO and what he’s used to, but I agree with Myles in that CRO should be part of SEO. How can I optimize for something if it doesn’t convert? That would be a waste of my time and my client’s money. But then again, other SEOs may say, I’ll get the rank; it’s your job to take over and convert from there. And they would be right too.

  16. Ray Cassidy

    Blimey! I’ve kept remarking the email about this article as unread for the last month and only just got round to reading it. I’m glad I kept it flagged. That’s mainly because we don’t often get a local update from a UK based group. It’s odd though Myles that you don’t have a UK voice in this group?
    The predictions of these guys and Randy Kirk’s observation about the value of Youtube seem to indicate a huge increase in complexity for us trying to get started or get off the floor in the whole Local marketing / SEO world.
    I thought Mike B was remarkably diplomatic in his understated comments. Compared with his train wreck comments earlier in the year about Google’s Local service, which is a real bugbear for me at the moment, he must have wind of something positive from Google’s Places / Plus Local debacle. To be fair, most listings go through without any bother and most updates happen reasonably painlessly, but one of my clients has been completely unable to list as the Big G seems to be trying to verify by phoning his landline number as a mobile service!!! very peculiar.
    Thanks for this round up Myles, it really is a helpful summary. Next year – maybe you could get somebody on board who has a good overview of the subtle differences that exist here in the UK. Surely someone in your team would have that kind of perspective?
    All the best for 2013 everyone.

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