Organizing the Chaos of Local Search

Written on
May 13, 2010 
Kirsten Mangers  |

chaos_smallADOTAS – Pardon the Dickens-like observation of these being the best of times and the worst of times. With some 7,000 different applications using location-based services, the mobile apps cup runneth over. For businesses, software developers and mobile users, everyone’s having a field day.

There’s seemingly no realm of modern life that doesn’t lend itself to slick implementation on a 3G phone. For all intents and purposes, three platforms dominate the mobile space — the iPhone, Android and everybody else’s smartphone (that includes you, BlackBerry).

Now for the worst-of-times reality-check: of those 7,000 apps, only 34 at last count worked as standard across all devices. Thirty-four.

As The Kelsey Group noted in 2009, small businesses have not completely warmed to mobile advertising, owing to persistent technical and business hurdles that make ad buys challenging even for major brands.

While the potential can’t be denied — Kelsey estimated that U.S. local mobile search advertising will hit $1.3 billion by 2013 — those hurdles aren’t going away of their own accord. Just last month Kelsey found that, on average, consumers are using 7.9 different media sources when shopping for products or services in their local area.

So what’s a small business to do?

Everyone’s life would be vastly easier if every message and every app were capable of being retrofitted to multiple devices. Until the Holy Grail arrives, however, small businesses need to think in multiple dimensions, in order to manage — and optimize — their ad buys.

For local, independent businesses, search is not one-platform-fits-all. To be eclectic is to be smart; being eclectic acknowledges how consumers (in other words, all of us) find local products and services in increasingly diverse ways.

And to be smart means obtaining a clear view of the status quo. The role of business owner-as-consumer is instructive here. When shopping for netbook computers for the office, our prototypical small business owner probably searches online from work. If the furnace goes on the fritz at home, he or she will likely use the PC in the study to locate a specialist.

If our small business owner is schlepping the kids around and they begin demanding pizza, the in-car navigation system will find the closest joint. If he or she is on a business trip and needs to give a suit that just-pressed look, out comes the smartphone to pinpoint a dry cleaner within easy range of the hotel.

Those are four different types of searches, corresponding to four separate “personas” – business owner, homeowner, parent and business traveler. Certainly, there are others: vacation traveler, mobile salesperson, student, and the list goes on. Each conducts searches in a different way and with an untold number and variety of devices.

The challenge for any business — whether conducting transactional business online, or using the Internet to drive response on a local level — is to be where potential customers are searching. That’s no small feat, considering the utter lack of standardization, the thousands of entry points and the lack of time to manage them all.

A Framework That Works

A small business can best cope by simplifying its approach to knowing how customers find them. A simple framework is in order here; it involves answering these questions:

Where are they looking for you? Do they use Google, Yahoo!, or an online directory? What about the phone book? Do they use wireless devices, or do they go online?

When do they look for you? Consider the products and services you offer, and think about the situations in which your customers are likely to need you. Are you a convenience service, such as a dry cleaner? Or a major infrequent purchase that involves heavy research, like when someone is looking for an attorney?

How are they finding you? What key phrases do they use when they search? What categories is your business listed under in the directories? One of the best ways to gain insight is to test a few search campaigns and then analyze the data.

Think about it — for the fraction of the cost of running a focus group, you can gain insight into how your customers are looking for you, and then analyze what time of day they are most likely to search and on what geographical areas you should focus.

Knowing how customers find you is key to being found — and it’s also (logically if paradoxically) how you can find them.

Kirsten Mangers is CEO of WebVisible and has been helping small and mid-size businesses be found for more than 25 years.

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