Neg Norton, President of the Local Search Association, joins us for part 2 of a Q&A excerpt from the Kenshoo Guide to Local Search. In Part 1, Norton gave an overview of the LSA and local search. Today, he discusses challenges for local marketers, shares highlights on recent research, and looks ahead to the future of local search.

How does LSA see local search differ from regional, national, or global search?
Norton: National businesses generally have established brands, which makes it easier for them to reach and be noticed by customers. Local businesses have to operate with a ground-up approach. While national businesses can cast a wide net when deploying their marketing campaigns, local search is incredibly targeted – businesses seek to reach consumers who not only live in a specific area but who have an affinity for their specific products or services as well. 

What are the unique issues facing local-local companies?
The biggest issue local-local companies face is limited resources. Many local businesses have limited staffing, budget and time to focus on marketing efforts. That’s why it’s important for local marketing partners to offer easy, comprehensive and cost-effective solutions for business owners. As owners work to maintain and grow the bottom line, they need partners who have the time and expertise to guide them through the latest technologies and techniques for attracting customers.

What challenges do national-local companies have that local-local companies do not?
National-local companies are often not viewed as local, even though they may operate locally through a franchisee or other owner. National-local businesses may find challenges entering the local conversation in the ways that local-local companies can. In many cases, communities believe that the national brands don’t provide the same level of service. They generally believe that national-local brands are managed and operated elsewhere with little local input and take money away from the local economy. Additionally, national-local businesses often create marketing plans that are not specifically targeted to local communities and their unique demographics and interests.

What are some of the infrastructure concerns that local businesses face when trying to compete with national brands at the local level?
Local businesses often are limited in the investment they can make to enhance their digital footprint. It’s important to have a functional and well-designed website that can be viewed on multiple devices – desktop, smartphone and tablet. It’s also important to have strategies in place to promote search visibility and online engagement across social media channels and review websites. National companies have an advantage in all these cases because of their wider range of resources.

LSA has conducted some strong research in the way consumers use mobile devices for local searches. What have been some of the key findings?
We have so much rich data. We found in a recent study with comScore that the mobile market exploded in 2012 – local search via non-PC devices more than quadrupled that year. We also found that traffic to local directories and other local resources from non-PC devices reached 27% share of total web traffic in December 2012 (up 6% from December 2011) and that 48% of U.S. mobile users used their devices to access local content in December 2012 (up 6% from December 2011). Another study we conducted with Burke, Inc. found similar results. The fact is that consumers are going mobile and businesses need to follow.

What are some of the action steps from this research that local search marketers should execute on?
These findings all point to the need for local businesses to re-evaluate their mobile advertising strategies to fully leverage current consumer trends. Some points that local businesses should keep in mind when evaluating their marketing plans include:

  • Introduce advertising strategies and mobile and tablet-friendly websites to attract consumers who are increasingly accessing the web from their handheld devices.
  • Adopt a multi-platform advertising approach, which places value on all potential lead sources (desktops, mobile devices and print). Local businesses should take advantage of leads from all the places their customers are searching.
  • Make mobile campaigns, websites, or apps accessible via Android and iOS operating systems. Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS have achieved near-domination of the smartphone and tablet operating system markets, so visibility on both is essential.
  • Offer options to conduct searches via apps and browsers. More than 60% of smartphone consumers are now accessing local content on their devices; and, while consumers prefer apps to search for local content, use of browsers is also strong.
  • Take advantage of new local e-commerce opportunities and digital storefronts that make it easier for consumers to purchase products and schedule reservations and appointments.

What’s the future of local search?
I see things getting better and better for both consumers and local advertisers. Technology has evolved to harness the data collected from consumer behavior in a more comprehensive and insightful way, which can be used to offer customers more tailored messages and to better demonstrate return on investment for businesses.

The future will be one of continuous evolution – new innovations are on the horizon in the form of smartphone payment systems, digital loyalty systems and location-triggered mobile coupons – which allow us to connect with consumers in unprecedented ways. We are committed to fostering innovations that help businesses attract consumers in the final step along the path-to-purchase – in other words, that get them to take an action.