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Local search, search personalization, and small business local influence

by on January 29, 2015
Last updated on
"Where everybody knows your name" - Cheers

When it comes to marketing and sales and the Internet, most small and local businesses don't know where to start. Twenty years after the Internet began going mainstream and many businesses still struggle to identify how to make money online. Even businesses that were started in this era are still throwing money away on strategies that promise riches, but instead turn into black holes of expenses. It doesn't matter if it's online advertising, a Facebook strategy, or perpetual search engine optimization... while there are winners, there are many more losers.

Small businesses need to get back to their roots, to market themselves on the Internet as if it wasn't the Internet. They need to practice availability, progressive influence, and engagement with their existing customers. They need to build a foundation for local online success.

Set yourself up for local search availability

According to last research, 56% of on-the-go searches have local intent. In our post Local Search and its importance for Local Business we provide insightful metrics regarding a local restaurant in a major US city and demonstrate how local search accounts for the vast majority of traffic to their website, but is also a major contributing factor in getting customers in the seats for reservations. A research report by Google on mobile activity further stresses the importance of local search, specifically:

  • 45% of all mobile searches are goal-oriented and conducted to help make a decision
  • 3 of 4 mobile searches trigger follow-up actions, whether it be further research, a store visit, a phone call, a purchase or word-of-mouth sharing. On average, each mobile search triggers nearly 2 follow-up actions 
  • 28% of mobile searches result in conversions (store visit, call, purchase)
  • 55% of conversions (store visit, phone call or purchase) happen within an hour
  • 63% of mobile search-triggered actions occur within 1 hour of the initial search
  • 84% of follow-up actions triggered by mobile search occur within 5 hours

Local search availability is not difficult, time consuming, or costly. Within Google, local search availability starts at claiming your Google+ Page for your business, making your listing as complete and as pretty as possible, and then using inexpensive services such as Moz Local to make sure your listings in other directories are up to date and complete. You then need to make sure your website is mobile-friendly, a practice called "responsive web design".

Get your customers and clients to be your advocates

One of the popular trends in online marketing is the idea of Influencer Marketing, finding influential people (influencers) in your target market and finding ways to get them to post about you or link to you. In my opinion that's a strategy with a lot of eggs in one basket, regardless of how big their reach is. Instead I believe it to be a much more valuable strategy to engage people already familiar with and happy with your company, your clients and customers, and encourage them to lend their progressive social influence.

What is progressive semantic influence? Progressive Semantic Influence is the idea that we are all influencers, and that everyone should be treated based on the affects we can have on the decisions of others. All of us. Each of us, in our own way, have connections in our lives both online and in real life in which we wield influence. Much of this influence is not captured through the various tools that attempt to measure it, but is instead rooted in our everyday connections and familiarity with people in our communities. We are much more likely to place value in the recommendation of someone we know, or even someone we know of locally, before we would place value in the recommendation of someone outside our circles, however influential they might be.

To tap into this progressive semantic influence, a business can do something very simple: ask their clients and customers to leave a positive review!

A review is one of the strongest forms of social proof that you can cultivate, and a prime differentiation when it comes to comparing your business to your competitors. A business that has more reviews, higher quality and detailed reviews, and more semantically relevant reviews will have an easier time winning the customer inquiry as the reviews often assuage any questions or fear that the inquirer might have. It also provides additional semantic value in the search algorithms, associating users and additional content to your entity.

In addition, once you have a minimum of 5 reviews your business will have stars displayed next to it,making it more visually enticing.

Increase visibility through search personalization

Social networks are increasingly having a greater and greater impact on search, as the social signals in those networks provide popularity and trending data to the search engines. We've explained before how Google+, the social layer to Google (the search engine), provides those social signals, in addition to inbound links through shares, but it also has significant effects on search placement through your network and secondary network.

This personalization in search results, which is now the default setting in Google results, is typically discussed in relation to Google+ posts and content shares, but it touches so many other aspects of Google as well. And it doesn't require that you or other people in your network use the social aspects of Google+.

For instance, if one of your friends that is connected to your via your Google Contacts (fed from Gmail, Android phone, or other) leaves a positive review of a restaurant that is relevant to a search you make, that restaurant might show up higher in the results.

While social media marketers might encourage you to try to reach out and connect with more and more people, I instead advocate using that Progressive Influence discussed earlier to reach that wider and wider net through personalized search. Embracing those existing connections, your clients and customers, continues to yield benefits.

Make it so that Google MUST feature you

"Get real and popularize yourself among relevant people who will spread the word about you so that Google has to follow." - Tadeusz Szewczyk

People often forget that Google's primary goal in search is to display the best results to their users, the results that provide the searcher with the most value. Google wants to display what will best fill the searcher's needs and requirements.

Making it impossible for Google to ignore you is a great judo method for accomplishing your goals. Building a web of connections, not necessarily by going for the Influencers, but instead going for strong and relevant connections, gives added voice to your content and will, in my opinion, get you displayed in more relevant and targeted inquiries. Google is using your local networking, your local influence, as a strong ranking factor for delivering pertinent local search results to its users.

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You might be asking why I'm so focused on Google and mobile search. The reason is because in 2015 (this year) Mobile Search is expected to outpace Desktop Search in terms of volume, and that Google accounts for 95% of all mobile searches. And those Google+ Local Pages that feed those local search listings can be a huge source of immediate goal conversions as well as extra search traffic to your site. Capitalizing on local intent searches can be a great source of customers and clients for your business without much expenditure of resources.

Location-based wins

While shopping recently we noticed the attached screen in our Google Now, the launcher for most Android-powered mobile devices.

The phone knows your location (by default), is getting better at identifying physical locations where you might be, and getting better by the day at showing you relevant information that might help inform your intent-driven decisions.

Are you at this location? You'll probably want to see the weekly sales and deals. And if you're perhaps at a restaurant, here's the link to the menu as well as reviews and what people recommend.

See how this is starting to work?

Semantic search in the local search and other locations

Earlier in this post we discussed how reviews are a powerful factor in search, lending social proof to entities. But the content of those reviews is contributing much, much more into the search algorithm and results.

For example, in some local listings, the "editorial description" being shown for an entity is being created entirely by keywords and phrases within the many reviews that have been left. In the case of "TWO urban licks", the review generated was slighly erroneous as it referenced the restaurant as a "club" because of the great live music.

In other ways, the reviews can be used to glean sentiment based on phrase repetition and density, helping Google understand more about the entity being reviewed. As you can see in the example from the Google Play store, Google is identifying common themes and displaying them to the visitor.

But there's more!

Recently spotted in some search queries, it seems that Google is testing bringing these sentiments and themes to the forefront of the search for local search results.

Spotted by Dr Pete Meyers, you can see how phrases from reviews seem to be incorporated into the search results, and can be speaking to both sentiment as well as intent of the searcher.

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For additional reading on these subjects please read:

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