State of Local Search in 2015

State of Local Search in 2015

On January 14th, 2015 we were joined by 3 local search experts to discuss the State of Local Search.

As the start of the New Year, it was the perfect time to look closely at the past, the present & the future of the local SEO industry. 2014 brought some major changes to the industry, so we took a look back at the last 12 months with interest, and also considered what we can expect in the months ahead. We were joined by 3 well-known experts to help us make sense of the current local search space.

Watch Webinar Recording

Key takeaways from this webinar

Why does investment & interest in local search continue to grow?

Mike Blumenthal talked about the decline of traditional advertising mediums & the acceleration of new mediums. Yellow Pages, print, radio & TV are all in a state of decline and so there’s fewer local media options, which correlates with the ascendance of Google’s dominance in local.

Are we at ‘peak demand’ for local marketing services yet?

Local may have once been a niche, but as Adam Dorfman pointed out, local is breaking past this niche within the SEO, content marketing side of things, and starting to make headway into a general marketing service that “all marketers need to start thinking about”.

Mike Ramsey said that there was more demand for local but a lot more competition coming in the form of social ads and better opportunities for paid online local advertising, adding that “paid products will become more local specific, which will create challenges for the industry”.

However, Mike confirmed his belief that the overall market will continue to grow, SEOs will just have to be smart about how they go about it.

Will interest / demand in local search begin to fall?

Mike Blumenthal summed up local search as “any online activity which helps market a business”, stating that whilst the balance may shift, it’s still essentially about driving customers through an online storefront.  Mike added that “as long as 85%-90% of the US retail economy occurs locally, I see local search as increasing in importance”.

“The goal is to drive customers, not to drive rank” – Mike Blumenthal

Will 2015 be any different to 2014 for local search?

Mike Ramsey reaffirmed the need for a small business or brand with multiple locations, to have a mobile experience; “The rapid change has been the adoption of mobile within local. Not a big fundamental shift between 2014 & 2015 – I think that shift already started – but it will continue to matter in a very big way going into 2015″.

“Local is so much more than just rankings or search” – Mike Ramsey

Mike also stressed that in 2015, there will be countless ways that people can find a business, and not all of that starts and ends with Google; “I think  in 2015 people will being to wake up to that and you’ll see a lot more local services that aren’t just specifically geared after google rankings”.

Mike Blumenthal commented that Google is perhaps in store for a fairly challenging 2015; “As I look at the market over the last 6 months, I see Google for the first time being forced to confront people who are both as competitive, as ruthless, and have as many dollars in their pocket as Google does”.

On the subject of Apple, Amazon & Facebook, Mike said that he sees them driving after the local market because ultimately that’s where most of the transactions take place; “each of those competitors view local as different, and whether Google can fend them off while simultaneously fighting on all the other fronts they’re fighting on, one can only guess…”.

“For the first time in probably 8 years there’s serious competition on the horizon… nipping at Google heals. So it could be an interesting year in that regard” – Mike Blumenthal

How important is local to Google?

Our panelists agree as Google tries to answer more questions, local data becomes increasingly more important to them. Mike Blumenthal added that “Google wants to index every real world entity and create relationships between them…local is a critical part of that”.

What is Google’s primary objective with GMB?

Mike Ramsey considered that Google has two clear goals with Google My Business. The first being to create an accurate representation of the ‘offline world’, online, and the other goal being about finding ways to monetize that. By having the best data, they have the power to do just that.

Mike Blumenthal offered a view of the bigger picture; “We live in capitalism, the nature of capitalism is the need for increasing profits. At the end of the day there’s a limited number of ways that Google can increase profits, and they’re gonna look at every interaction where their service has a way to increase profits – and many will get monetized directly or indirectly.” 

What is the biggest threat to Google’s local dominance?

Adam Dorfman considered that with Apple launching Apple Maps, it is a clear sign that “they don’t want their consumers to have to go to Google in order to find out where a local business is, they’d rather just have Siri answer that”.  

Where do Yahoo and Bing fit into local search?

Mike Blumenthal suggested that the recent link-up between Firefox and Yahoo was is an encouraging sign, but he didn’t see how they have the resources at this point to get back into local – however, this may change in the future.

Mike added that Google had basically outspent Yahoo in the first battle for local dominance: “Marissa (Mayer) said it very clearly when she joined, that local is very expensive, they couldn’t afford it.”

Mike Ramsey suggested that mobile was the key to local, and that was something which definitely puts Yahoo & Bing at a disadvantage.

What are the key forces driving changes in Google’s local product?

Mike Ramsey pondered whether the Pigeon Update suggested that Google essentially couldn’t figure out local signals, or whether Google had so much more data around traditional web signals, and so felt more comfortable with that shift.

Adam Dorfman considered that the whole idea that the location of the searcher is essentially the dominant factor when returning results, makes “all the sense in the world.”

Mike Blumenthal added that Google is constantly changing and that Google Pigeon is a perfect example of that; “Pigeon in the US has got significantly better than when it first came out, and I think that’s a conscious effort”.

Will we start to see purely paid results in local?

“We’ll see less and less free real estate in search results”, said Adam Dorfman, before adding that he didn’t think it would become purely paid. However, it was suggested that “there will be ways that if you do pay, then you’ll get better results”.

Is local search getting harder or just more time consuming?

Not every strategy works for every business, and that’s how it’s got harder, stated Mike Ramsey. “To be successful you have to do more and you have to know more areas, and you have to treat local as everything and every way a customer comes through the door – both online and offline”.

Do you make use of a wide set of online services for your clients or just a core few?

Mike Ramsey suggested that the core areas need attention:

  • your website
  • a basic link profile
  • a few basic reviews
  • having your citations in order

Once you get those areas in order, the opportunities are endless and you can focus on what’s best for your ROI.

Do you foresee an end to the issues around data cleanliness?

Mike Blumenthal considered that mistakes will always be made, eg. businesses changing names, addresses, etc. and that these issues therefore won’t go away anytime soon; “I do see real-time developments as removing some of the problems of dispersion of the data, but I don’t think they’re going to overcome the issues of closures and getting rid of the old data.”

Brands & Big Business in Local

Adam Dorfman stated that the one advantage that SMBs have, “is typically the ability to have greater control over the content that they are creating”. Content created by local business will help them become more sticky & appealing to customers.

“Having an authentic local voice… That’s typically the hardest struggle with big brands”. – Adam Dorfman

Mike Ramsey said that one advantage which bigger brands have over small businesses is that they often have professionals working on local search for them. Adding that whilst they have been slow to get on the local bandwagon, a lot of them have done a very good job at doing so, which does squeeze the small players out.

Our Expert Panelists

Mike Blumenthal

Mike is one of the best known figures in the industry and an avid fan of local search; a subject which he writes about on his blog Understanding Google Places & Local Search. Mike’s blog was ranked as the no. 1 local search blog in our poll at the end of last year & he has already featured on the first InsideLocal webinar of the series –Discussing the Impact of Pigeon Update. Follow Mike on Twitter & G+.

Mike Ramsey

Mike is heavily involved with Local Search Marketing & spends the majority of his time learning and speaking about how consumers use the internet to find local businesses. As the President of Nifty Marketing, a local search marketing company in Idaho, Mike also takes part in the annual Local Search Ranking Factors study. Follow Mike on Twitter & G+.

Adam Dorfman

Adam Dorfman is a marketing professional with over 15 years experience in all facets of online marketing. At SIM Partners, Adam drives product strategy for the Local Search Platform as well as working on traditional SEO. As a contributor to the Local Search Ranking Factors study, Adam is considered to be an expert in the local search space and spends the majority of his time immersed in it. Follow Adam on Twitter & G+.

Ross Marchant
About the author
Ross is the former Marketing Manager for BrightLocal. With 9+ years SEO and content experience, Ross spearheaded the marketing and CRM initiatives which focus heavily on creating useful and informative content. Ross coordinated the research program at BrightLocal which delivers unique insights into both the SEO industry and local consumer behaviours.