2015 saw a number of major shifts and behavior changes that greatly affected local search. Consumers continue to require more and more information on local businesses, yet search engines and online mapping publishers are making it harder and harder for businesses to be properly optimized in the channel. This struggle between evolving consumer demands and search engine algorithm updates will continue in 2016. DAC Group believes that local search will take an even greater role in the consumer journey online this upcoming year. Here are a few predictions we foresee happening…
1. Mobile local search will lead the way
2015 was undoubtedly the year of Mobile. We finally saw mobile search surpass desktop search and there is no looking back. With Google now providing insights into mobile search volumes and trends, it’s clear that consumers use their mobile device for local search needs. According to Think With Google, “Near me” searches have surged 34x since 2011 and have even doubled in the last year. The consumer path to purchase now includes some level of engagement at multiple steps during the journey. From product research, to educational videos, to price comparison, to driving directions, mobile is dominating the way we as consumers find information for local products and services. DAC Group believes that mobile will continue to lead the way in 2016 and brands should take a “mobile first” approach to how local search is implemented and utilized.
2. The Google Maps and Apple Maps war heats up
Let’s be honest, Apple did not have the best release of its mapping application, Apple Maps, back in 2012. Do a quick search for “Apple Maps Fails” and you can see a long list of issues Apple had with the data quality and mapping service all the way into early 2014. After a few years of cleaning up their location data and topography images, Apple Maps had a great 2015 and is now a strong competitor that could de-throne Google Maps as the mapping application king. In 2016, DAC Group believes that the mapping application war will really heat up. Now that the data quality in both mapping applications is improving we anticipate this next year will introduce a number of exciting “maps” features that will make the user experience even better. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, Google Maps vs. Apple Maps, the online mapping battle will be legendary!
3. Beacons vs. Mobile Wallet… it is just the beginning
If you are a retailer then you have probably heard about beacons or mobile wallets and online coupons. Each of these new technologies have pros and cons and ultimately only the retailer will be able to determine which is best for their specific consumers. Both of these newer technologies are helping close the loop on the consumer journey – from online search to offline purchase. 2016 will see the beginning of a turf war between beacon and mobile wallet providers. Also, don’t be alarmed if this new technology space gets flooded with new providers.
4. Businesses will demand a clear ROI with local search investments
When local digital marketing became a big thing 7-8 years ago there was not an easy way to quantify what a local search investment was able to return to the business owner. “We will get your business listing found more visible and accurate across online directories…” local search providers (like us) would say. Yet over the past few years business owners have really challenged that thinking and have started to ask local search providers what better visibility and accuracy will mean for their bottom line. In 2016 providing a strong return on investment (ROI) story will become mandatory for local search. Just like a business owner will want to measure and track their other digital marketing channels – i.e paid media, SEO, social media, etc. – local search needs to be accountable to the bottom line.
5. Consolidation, partnerships, and joint ventures… oh my!
The local search market is flooded with competition. Everyone and their brother says that they can “do local search” for your business. In 2011 we saw a few major acquisitions take place (Neustar acquires Localeze, Constant Contact acquired Single Platform, Yodle acquired ProfitFuel). DAC Group believes that 2016 will also see newly formed acquisitions, partnerships, and joint ventures being announced. This crowded field of providers will realize that sometimes two is better than one when competing for local search dollars.
6. The definition and value of a “data aggregator” will change
Dovetailing with the need to demonstrate an ROI with a local search investment, DAC Group believes 2016 will see a shift in what the definition of a “data aggregator” truly is. The value of distributing a business’s location data to the four main data aggregators (Infogroup, Neuestar Localeze, Acxiom, and Factual) is unmatched and should be considered table stakes for every business owner. However, business owners need proof and validation that a service is working. When a data aggregator cannot provide analytics on the services they are providing their value becomes diminished in the eyes of the business owner. In 2016, businesses will continue to challenge the value of distributing data to all four of these data aggregators. Additionally, new powerhouse publishers, search engines, and social media players like Facebook, Foursquare, and Apple Maps will take a bigger role in 2016, which could disrupt the normal definition of what a data aggregator really is.
7. New competitors challenge Yelp
Yelp has had a great run and DAC Group highly encourages businesses to invest in Yelp if their industry is focused on consumer driven reviews. Just as Google Maps now has a competitor like Apple Maps, and Instagram has Snapchat, DAC Group believes that 2016 will be the year that new competitors begin to challenge Yelp. User-generated content is dominating the web and consumers see peer related information as informative and influential to their purchase behaviors. Any day a new Unicorn could emerge and catch fire with creating user-generated reviews and recommendations. When this happens Yelp should be ready to compete or write a check and make the new competition disappear.
8. Google turns local search into new revenue
Probably the boldest prediction DAC Group believes will take place in local search during 2016 will happen in Google. We believe that this is the year that Google will introduce a pay-per-click model in the local search channel. Some of this already been took place in certain test markets and industries where Google has sponsored ads appearing in the local search pack. Remember that Google is a business looking for ways to make more money. This past year we saw the local pack shrink from seven results to three results. We also have seen reports that indicate the local pack appears over 93% of the time in search results. Google essentially believes that every search performed is of local intent and they will introduce a way to monetize the channel. DAC Group believes that 2016 is the year we will see it all play out.
Looking ahead and making predictions is always a fun exercise to do. 2016 will be an exciting year for digital marketing, especially for those of us that enjoy working in local search. Do you agree or disagree with any of our predictions? What predictions do you have for this channel? We would love to hear your comments and feedback, or else feel free to contact a DAC Group specialist for information on how you can adapt to future changes in local.
By Brett Fritz and Gerry Arnoth