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2015 saw some big changes in local search, with Google basically demanding that all websites be mobile-friendly or pay a price. Mobile searches outpaced computer searches for the first time, and Google searches now return only three local search results where there used to be seven. Clearly, the times are changing when it comes to local search. Here’s what you need to know to stay on top of what’s happening in the New Year.
Local Data and Local Search Are Linked
You probably already know that it’s important to make sure that your business name, address, and phone number (your NAP listings) are in sync with one another for SEO purposes. Even small variations in the way you list that information can impact your search rank, so if you haven’t already done so, take a tour of your online listings and make sure everything matches.
In 2016, Google is taking things beyond SEO and using NAP listings to help gather relevant local search information. This trend is especially important given the surge in mobile searches in 2015. When your customers are out and about, you want them to be able to find you – and you can be sure that if they can’t locate you because of confusing information, they’ll find your competitor instead.
Speaking of local search, one of the most popular kinds of searches on mobile devices is the “near me” function that uses NAP information and GPS to direct users to local businesses. No local business can afford to ignore this trend.
Google Is Prioritizing Local Search
Just as Google made mobile readiness a priority in 2015, they are making local search a priority in 2016. The latest Search Quality Ratings Guidelines put a lot of emphasis on local search, to the point where they included a Google My Business API to allow business owners and managers to control information about their companies.
The first sign of disruption from Google regarding local search was the removal of local business information from social media site Google+. It’s safe to assume that more disruptions will be coming, so keep your eyes and ears open for changes. The businesses that stay on top of Google’s priorities won’t end up getting caught flat-footed the way some companies did with 2015’s Mobilegeddon.
Google never makes their algorithms public, but if you notice a big change in your local search listing, it’s a good indication that Google has been tweaking their formulas. There’s no way to predict how or when that will happen, so for now, the smart business owner should focus on standardizing all NAP listings.
Mobile Wallet Usage Is on the Rise
2015 was the year of the beacon, with many companies making use of the store-based devices to interact with customers as they neared the store. While some retailers are still using beacons, the wave of the future appears to be moving away from beacons and embracing the idea of mobile wallets.
A mobile wallet is a mobile storage app that allows users to store a variety of things to make shopping easier. For example, they might store their credit card information, identification, and special offers and coupons from their favorite companies.
The uses for mobile wallets are always expanding. The popularity of “near me” searches on mobile devices combined with customers’ desire to get insider information and special deals are on trend to make mobile wallet usage go through the roof in 2016. You can expect to see retailers moving away from beacons and getting on board with communicating with customers’ mobile wallets, instead.
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Apps Are Getting in on the Local Marketing Game
There has been a lot of talk about apps in recent years, as one expert after another weighs in on whether local businesses should have their own apps. Now there’s a new trend, which involves using well-established global apps, such as Periscope and Snapchat, to target local customers.
One recent example involved Dunkin’ Donuts using Snapchat to promote National Coffee Day. Using an established app offers the opportunity for big corporations to reach out to local customers, enticing them to visit a particular location. Local businesses would do well to notice the trend, as it could easily be adapted to their purposes too.
It might be worth experimenting with Snapchat or Periscope to see if your customers might be influenced by app-based local marketing.
There’s New Competition for Google
While Google is still the undisputed king of search, there are barbarians at the gate. As local search gains in importance, Facebook has an eye on giving them a run for it when it comes to search.
Facebook is already a popular search engine for users seeking out local businesses. The social media giant already has a good handle on user demographics thanks to the profile information of its users. They continue to fine-tune their search function, and it’s probable that before long, they’ll be displaying local business information next to queries about what to buy.
Apple iOS is in on the game too, offering a powerful local search tool with iOS 9. Google is still in the lead for now, but for the first time in a long time, they have some serious competition. Facebook appears to be the bigger threat based on reach, but don’t underestimate Apple, either. The trends in local search may end up attracting other competitors to the game too. It should be interesting to follow.
No matter how you slice it, the trends for 2016 are clear. While our society tends to be more global than ever before, the marketing trends are all about localization and personalization. In many ways, 2016 looks to be an ideal year for local marketing. The trends are all heavily geared toward helping local businesses (or local locations of national or international businesses) reach customers where they are. And with the increasing importance that Millennials put on personal service, the time couldn’t be riper for making the most of your local search options.