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Navigating the Local Web Landscape

There might be 329 million domain names in the digital ecosystem (source: Verisign), but most businesses serve a predominantly local audience, rather than a global one. 

As such, it is important from time to time to explore the digital marketing landscape for local enterprises, highlighting the opportunities and challenges businesses face as they push forward on initiatives to attract people in their specific geographic area. 

Location is clearly an important part of the mobile (and desktop Web) experience for example, but understanding the data extracted from apps and how to take action on it can be incredibly cumbersome. There are some technologies emerging however which aim to provide an assist in this regard. Radar (www.onradar.com), for example is a tool that hopes to take the guesswork out of using location data, parsing the data brands want to collect, analyzing it, and ultimately providing actionable results. Developers can add an SDK to their app, establish a geo-fence around the area they want to target, and receive event data. The opportunity in such data is undeniably invaluable. In the future, developers using Radar will be able to do things within their app including knowing when a user has arrived at an event like a concert or when they are in the mall shopping. 

Not to be left out, Facebook is also making a rather substantive push into the local market. Not only has the social network recently released new features for finding nearby Wi-Fi, meeting new people (through its new “Discover People” functionality), and even checking the weather, but it is also rolling out City Guides – a new addition to the “More” menu inside the Facebook mobile application. The feature, which looks to be a challenger to platforms like Foursquare, shows users a list of cities which their friends visited, along with various recommendations of things to do and places to go. When users select an individual city they will see a row of profile icons of friends who have visited there, and tapping each will reveal a list of places they have been including hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc., data which is likely being extracted from check-ins and posts on the network. 

The City Guides feature from Facebook is essentially a pared down, socially infused version of a traditional travel planning app, but augmented with the publicly available data from Facebook could make it quite useful to users and, of course, attractive to brands looking to draw in prospective customers. Users that scroll down into the guide will see a list of upcoming events, for example, which they can swipe through including popular attractions like landmarks and scenic places. That’s likely the opportunity Facebook sees in getting advertisers and marketers into the feature and to think of the platform as a truly local marketing opportunity too. 

Google, of course, is what most marketers think of first when it comes to local search and local online promotion. That’s for good reason – the search engine is responsible for a vast majority of traffic to local businesses and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to releasing features designed to improve the experience of users, features that can and should be capitalized upon by local businesses. 

In the past few months alone, for example, Google made several adjustments and introduced new features focused on local. The search engine is now showing star reviews for businesses that only have one customer review (as opposed to the five reviews that were required previously), is showing local results based on the query and knowing the users location designating how long ago (e.g. “near you – 10 minutes ago”), and rolled out a new version of its iOS app that includes new local search filters (e.g. “Top Rated” and “Open Now”), and even added more support for AMP (accelerated mobile pages). The search engine is even showing AMP carousels for local review sites in the Google search results, appearing as the first organic search result (but following the local map pack). While AMP is not a ranking factor, Google definitely seems to give preference to AMP carousels in the search results over non-AMP ones.   

Success in “local” however doesn’t (always) require an app, a strong social media presence (although it certainly helps), nor does it mean chasing and reacting to every single update made by Google. For those looking to employ best practices and optimize their presence over the long term, consider the following: 

USER EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Websites are the face of every local business in the digital realm, and it’s important to think like a user when developing your presence. Include phone numbers and addresses in a visible location, create location specific content, and realize that most users looking for local businesses are on their mobile phones (meaning a mobile-friendly site, ideally a site built with the AMP framework, is optimal). 

Even the manner in which page titles and meta descriptions are created matter greatly. By simply adding in the location of your business in these areas, business are indicating to prospective visitors that their listing and their corresponding business is relevant and more clicks from the search results pages is the likely result (and more conversions as well). 

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS & BING PLACES FOR BUSINESS:  Consumers use search engines to find what they are looking for upwards of 80 percent of the time (according to Google) so local businesses need to concentrate their effort on optimizing their listing within Google My Business. Bing also has a comparable page for local businesses called Bing Places for Business. If you have time for only one specific local optimization practice, ensuring there is an up-to-date, complete and accurate listings on these systems is imperative to success. 

ADDITIONAL DIRECTORIES & CITATIONS: Platforms including Yelp, FourSquare, MerchantCircle, CitySearch and others are another important element in local optimization. Even a citation from a local Chamber of Commerce, a neighborhood newspaper or another business in your area can be just the citation you need to move your way up the search results. It’s also important to get your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP) on the major citation data aggregators like Infogroup, Neustar (aka Localeze), Acxiom and Factual. Always make sure that your company’s NAP is consistent on as many of these directories and citation sites as possible.  

Local optimization does not need to be complicated. Think like your user, commit to providing an experience that benefits them, and build relationships (and links/citations) with others and businesses will find themselves not only in the local pack, but on top for every local query. There’s a lot more that goes in to local optimization but let this serve as your starting point to higher local listings. 
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