Local Services for the Global Marketplace
October 30, 2014 | Contributed by: Damian Rollison
Though developing at different rates and susceptible to special circumstances of culture, geography, and language, local search has become a global affair.
The sales channels capable of reaching the maximum number of SMBs are increasingly those whose business models are global in nature, such as hosting companies, website providers, and domain registrars. Such companies benefit from economies of scale as well as longstanding direct relationships with thousands of SMB clients in multiple countries, making them uniquely qualified to promote broad awareness of the importance of location marketing. In fact, it’s likely enough that a new type of global channel will emerge in the next few years where local becomes the main event rather than a value-added service.
Service providers must begin imagining global solutions for the local space. Local services are moving toward a future with dual focuses. First, service providers must create seamless integration across countries, languages, devices, and publishers. Second, local services must offer solutions for small business clients that are both meaningful and actionable.
The basic value proposition of location marketing is to ensure that a business is prominently featured across all sites and apps that matter to consumers. Just how that is accomplished has evolved over time. In the early days, local services relied heavily on data aggregators who had the power to reach hundreds of destination sites, but offered little in the way of direct control on the sites themselves.
Now, local is evolving into a network of direct relationships with end publishers, enabling quicker and more certain results. Still, the fact remains that some critical publishers cannot be reached in an automated fashion. These publishers will continue to require a manual solution that depends for its success on expertise and specialized handling. A combination of automated methods and human expertise will continue to provide the optimal result.
As local service providers begin to imagine a global future, the network of publisher relationships will grow, though providers can and should rely on a bedrock of consistency with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google that are inherently global in nature. Global services, however, need to strike a balance between consistency and relevance, so that some services are common across all countries and others are designed specifically for the directories that matter in a particular country, such as Thomson Local and Yell in the UK, Meinestadt in Germany, and YPG in Canada.
So too, providers should not neglect important non-English demographics in primarily English speaking countries, such as the US Hispanic market, served by directories like YaSabe, and the French Canadian market, served by such bilingual directories as Yellowpages.ca and Weblocal.ca.
In parallel with imagining a globally connected future for local services, we must acknowledge that a concept of local search that is isolated to the desktop experience has become a thing of the past. The future is mobile first. That fact has repercussions both in the focus of service offerings and in the design of client user experiences.
As for service offerings, sites on which local presence is managed on behalf of consumers must feature those that have a strong mobile component. Local profile optimization – the process of ensuring that a business profile on a given site makes best use of the site’s capabilities and stands out amongst competitors – must shift its primary focus to content that engages mobile users, such as photos, as well as the information that matters most in mobile search, such as whether a store you’re planning to visit is open now.
Small businesses still lag behind in understanding of local search. This is equally true in the US and abroad. Though the US local search market is more mature than that of other countries, still, market penetration in the US has remained relatively small in proportion to the size of the SMB market as a whole.
And yet, despite the general lack of understanding, local search solutions are critical to the success of small businesses online and offline. Nothing demonstrates this fact more clearly than the case reported in Wired of a Washington, DC area restaurant recently forced to close its doors due to an erroneous Google Maps listing.
Small businesses want simple solutions that give them the tools they need to engage with consumers. Like most of us, today’s SMBs conduct business on mobile. Indeed, as reported by AppInstitute in the UK, half of all web users now use mobile as their primary or exclusive means of going online. Location marketing needs natively mobile solutions that give business owners the flexibility to manage presence from mobile devices and tablets.
In the coming years, local service providers will face the challenge of managing global networks of publishers, each with its own stringent requirements. They will need to navigate complex differences of culture, language, and geography. Their task will be to master that complexity and present to the business owner a simple solution that “just works.”