Magazine article CRM Magazine

X Marks the Spot: Consumers Are Looking for You on Search Engines-But Are You There to Be Found?

Magazine article CRM Magazine

X Marks the Spot: Consumers Are Looking for You on Search Engines-But Are You There to Be Found?

Article excerpt

By the time this article comes out, there may be a whole new set of rules around local search. But it's worth pausing for a moment in this rapid frenzy of innovation, to recognize one group that's finally getting a little recognition in the storm: small businesses.

In early June, Google unveiled its updated Local Business Center (LBC) dashboard, a free solution aimed at increasing accuracy and visibility for local establishments. The dashboard provides visualization around Web activity--from top search queries to how often your listing appears in Google Search and Maps and its clickthrough activity. At the local level, businesses can even see the ZIP Codes that customers are requesting directions from.

Moreover, Google launched a tool by which businesses can see the "completeness" of their listings. "Most people don't know that you can post a video with your business listing," says Carter Maslan, Google's director of product management. While Google isn't usurping the need for a company's own Web presence, he says, "this is a fallback for those who don't have anything yet."

"Up until now, Google Maps has not been small-business--friendly," says Mike Blumenthal, a partner at Web and search consultancy Blumenthals.com. In an effort to empower users to add to and edit Google Maps, the search engine has often sacrificed the integrity of the local business. Anybody could go into an unclaimed listing and hijack it, he says. The hijacker takes advantage of the links, content, and reviews associated with a listing--even if the information is irrelevant--to become a highly ranked result to a popular search.

Blumenthal demonstrated the system's vulnerability last fall by temporarily hijacking Microsoft's listing. Even if Google is combating this issue better than anyone in the industry, he says, "I hold them to much higher standards."

Search engines are getting better at generating answers. Consumers get it. If they don't, it doesn't take long for them to figure out. "[They're] time-pressed," says Gene Alvarez, a Gartner research vice president. In recent months, he has seen "steep" erosion in consumer ability to remember a company's URL.

Instead of debating whether there's a double "s" in "Williams Sonoma" (the URL is actually williams-sonoma.com, by the way), customers are letting the search engines do the grunt work for them. Finding a brand online is a first-generation use of search, Alvarez says; the second generation will involve product discovery. Potentially, he says, this trend may lead to "the death of the URL." (See "Do You Know Your URLs?," page 22, for more on the URL dilemma.)

Consumer reliance on Web search is changing how local businesses operate, even offline. In a September 2007 study by Nielsen/NetRatings and local interactive advertising firm WebVisible, 86 percent of the 1,971 United States Internet users said the Web was "vital to their lifestyle." Of those, 90 percent had used the Web to search for a local business.

However, not all search engines operate the same way, nor do they all target the same audiences. In April, Google captured nearly 73 percent of all U.S. searches, with Yahoo! Search, MSN Search, and Ask.com receiving 16 percent, 6 percent, and 4 percent, respectively, according to Hitwise, Experian's Web-traffic monitoring company.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Real-time search has recently entered the scene with One-Riot, Summize (which Twitter acquired and baked into its own platform), and tweet-powered Topsy. …

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