Local Inventory on Google’s Mobile Product Search

Research online, buy local.  That is how many of us tend to operate…and more and more services are trying to connect us to the inventory available at our local stores.   Now Google has dipped their toe into the space with the launch of their ‘blue dot’ service.  Their mobile (and only mobile for now) product search results will include a ‘In stock nearby’ link if one of the retailers they are working with (1) has a location near you and (2) has that product in stock.  The list of retailers is pretty short at launch: Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and West Elm.

This is a new feature for Google, but a few companies have been playing in the space for a while now: thefind.com (they don’t have the real-time inventory aspect though), shoplocal.com (driven more off of weekly print ads) and milo.com (true real-time inventory) are the ones that come to mind.

in-stock-nearby

More Local Searches Coming Your Way

Google announced a ‘Nearby’ search option today.  Just another way to drive searchers into localized search results and even more opportunity for businesses that are ranking well in the local listings.  Quick example below:

A search for ‘snow blower’ does not give me any local results:

not-local

Selecting the ‘nearby’ option brings in local results (a single listing in this case):

now-local

The Murky Waters of Online Reviews

The internet has always struggled with authenticity.  It is a medium that accepts anonymous interaction, so you never know if the voice at the other end is really who it says it is.  This provides for both an overwhelming opportunity (think sites like glassdoor.com) and a saddening view on humanity (think the comments on any political article).

This struggle has always existed in the world of online reviews.  Fake reviews and fake comments are just part of what you get online.  Astroturfing has always existed, but it is just plain easier and more prevalent online.  In the world of local business reviews, we have seen massive growth in the number of online reviews over the last 2 years.  This growth, for the most part, has been lead by product and marketplace innovations at Yelp.  One of their claimed technological innovations is ability to detect fake reviews in a large-scale way.  This removes some of the astroturfing that is going on and provide their customers with a more authentic experience.  But now Yelp is in the news (again) for supposedly requiring businesses to purchase advertising from them in order to remove negative reviews or maintain positive reviews.  This approach would certainly destroy any authenticity Yelp has created through their fake review removal technology.  I can’t imagine this extortionist approach being either implicitly or explicitly supported by anyone that matters in Yelp.  However, I can see a few rogue sales people looking to close deals by hanging this over a customer’s head.  If that is the case, Yelp needs to clean its house and clean it quick if it wants to retain the authenticity it has started to build.

So what does this all mean to the small business owner?  First and foremost, you need know what reviews exist for your business online.  Secondly, you need to be responsible for maintaining your digital reputation.  See a review bashing your business that your competitor down the street wrote?  You need to flag that review.  All major review sites offer a mechanism for contesting these type of reviews.  See a review bashing your business that a real customer wrote?  You have an opportunity to respond to that review in many cases.  Maybe that waiter was really a problem and has been fired or maybe that customer was just being unreasonable.  Your response, at the very least, will show your potential customers that you care.  Now with all the reviews and review sites out there, this process can be overwhelming…but we are busy building tools to help.

Local Content is Digital Crack

Maybe a bit overstated, but we get the premise… Yahoo! VP Hilary Schneider, at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference, summed up her company’s position on local with this gem: “We believe local is the new digital crack”.  People want local content and this is certainly not a revelation of any sorts.  The big change we see emerging in the space is a model where ‘web companies’, with no true local presence but with years of experience executing on the web, are (finally) creating and partnering for more local content.  Local content has always been there, it just has not been effectively distributed.  This transition is one of the macro trends driving the huge opportunity for local businesses to advertise online.

The Digitization of Local Information

Good article on all the other types of local content, beyond traditional local business listings,  that are infiltrating search results.

The main theme is see here is the movement towards the ‘digitization’ of local content, and more specifically, the products and markets which make that digitization possible.  The primary challenge with local information has always been that ‘digital’ is not its native format.  Local information exists in small newspapers, on a new sign over a previously vacant storefront and in people’s accumulated experience.  These aren’t things that any search engine can take advantage of.  What you see today are more products that allow, and more markets that encourage, people to create digital representations of this local information.  As the digitization of local information increases, it only makes sense that its prominence in search results will increase.  We all live locally after all.

Local Media Talking About the Importance of Search

Boston.com has an article talking about the importance of search marketing.  Covers the basics of good links and good content…but also points out that there is a large gap between the value of search marketing and the typical business owner’s understanding of the space.

Showing up prominently in [Google, Yahoo and Bing] search results has become an important part of basic sales and marketing strategy for businesses – but one that isn’t well understood.

Always great to see people out side of “the space” talking about how critical search is to a business.

Consumers More Accepting of Local Ads Online

Interesting article about the ‘ethics of advertising‘ and how contextual targeting and behavioral targeting can impact journalistic integrity, or the perception thereof,  on news sites.  One nice local nugget included as well:

Respondents also revealed that when the ad was local and relevant to the content, it had a favorable impact. “One of the things that surprised me was how people were much more tolerant of local advertising in odd positions,” says Best. “We asked people about it, and they said it was kind of weird but OK because it was a Seattle thing.

Biggest Problems for Small Businesses?

Based on a NFIB Small Business Optimism Index study and via The Business Insider:

f

Poor sales?  Some online advertising can help with that!

Damage Control or Just Another Step in the Process?

Like an 8th grade relationship, the Google/Yelp saga continues.  Who broke up with who?

November 2009 Search Numbers From comScore

Microsoft’s Bing is up over 25% from May! …but is still only 10.3% of market.  Bit easier to grow fast when you are small.

Summary of the numbers below and more detail at SIA.

May 2009 to November 2009 according to comScore:

Google — 65.0% to 65.6%

Yahoo! — 20.1% to 17.5%

Bing — 8.0% to 10.3%