Loci 2010 – Greg Sterling

Who better to start off Loci 2010 than Greg Sterling? Greg is an indefatigable writer (how does he get anything else done?) and provides the strategic insights as well as the scoop on the “daily deal” to all of us in the industry. He can be found at Screenwerk, SearchEngineland and Internet2Go. He speaks at and organizes a number of conferences and you will find him speaking next at his Conversational Commerce Conference February 2-3 in San Francisco.


Local-social-mobile is the new mantra for many financial analysts and VCs. Indeed, we saw a range of developments in 2010 that tied these arenas closer together. It was a watershed year for the mobile Internet and the year that everyone started to take local very seriously – most notably Google. Executives at Google declared local not only a major priority but the company’s “top focus.” High-profile but unsuccessful attempts to buy Yelp and Groupon testified to that.

The following are list of the top trends and developments that I believe were significant in “local” or local marketing this year:

1.     Mobile: the rise of mobile and smartphones in 2010 helped focus new energy and attention on the importance of local and location

2.     Google’s surge into local was significant on several fronts and many product areas. There were so many local-related initiatives this year by Google it’s hard to keep track of them all. The launch of Place Search and the new UI that emphasizes local content on Google is reflective of this larger cluster of local moves by the search engine

3.     Group buying and Groupon: in 2010 this phenomenon came out of almost nowhere to culminate in an aborted $5++ billion takeover by Google at the end of the year. There are well over 100 “Groupon clones” operating in the market and many more if you include the traditional media companies that have adopted the daily deals model

4.     Facebook: Facebook launched check-ins and Places. It also launched Deals as a tool to reward check-ins. While each of these offerings is still “1.0” Facebook’s huge footprint can bring a kind of scale to location and deals that few others can match, save Google or perhaps now Groupon in some limited respects.

5.     Local product inventory: a number of startups emerged and joined a group of existing companies trying to bring real-time product inventory data online. In Q4 NearbyNow and Milo were acquired and Google launched its own effort.

6.     The rise of ‘free’ local data: there are now several companies, including Facebook, Google, Factual, Placecast and SimpleGeo offering free local data to developers. Over time these offerings will become better, more flexible and richer, enabling much more competition in the local, and especially local-mobile, segment. The “free database of places” removes a front-end barrier to developing local sites or applications

7.     Local ad networks: CityGrid, Chitika, xAD, WHERE, Verve, Marchex and others emerged with local monetization offerings that hadn’t existed 12 months ago.  This is significant for local (and mobile) publishers and developers. Now there are a number of high-quality alternatives to Google and conventional ad networks that offer generic national ads with geotargeting

8.     Places (and location) everywhere: Google Places, Facebook Places, Twitter Places; location is now seemingly everywhere.

9.     Social as alternative to SEM: While social media and search ultimately go together social marketing emerged as a kind of parallel universe and in some cases alternative to to more traditional PPC-search marketing. And for many smaller companies social media are more “comprehensible” than paid-search or SEO.

10.   Noise and more noise: From a small business perspective the world of digital marketing and advertising became vastly more complex, confusing and “noisy.”

Guest post: Top 10 local UK business directories compared & rated

This is a guest post by Myles Anderson of Brightlocal.com. Brighlocal is a London-based local SEO company that is building local SEO tools for marketers, web-designers and local businesses. He has also written an excellent companion piece:  Top UK online business directories – comparison of audience figures 2009/2010. In November, I wrote up Brightlocal’s Review facilitation tool, ReviewBiz.

Last year, David Mihm did an excellent piece on UK directories, The Guide to UK Citations for Local Search. He offered up a comprehensive list of citation sources from the professional SEO point of view. I thought that this was a good companion piece to David’s in that it approached the issue from the SMB’s point of view and offered some good, actionable advice as to prioritization of efforts.

Top 10 local UK business directories compared & rated

Online business directories are an important & powerful marketing tool for local businesses. Whether you’re a builder, a hairdresser, a dentist or a driving instructor you can attract new customers and grow your business using an online business directory.

More and more people are turning to the internet to find best local businesses. Online business directories provide a quick & easy route to identify the best businesses.

Recent research shows that people use online directories when they have an immediate need for a local service but they don’t know which business to call. Theyíre ready to buy your services but they’re looking for guidance on which business to select. Over 50% of directory searches result in either a call or visit to a local business. You need to make sure that local business is your business!

Many online business directories offer a free listing and it’s important to get listed in as many directories as possible.

Paid-for listings will often appear at the top of the directory results but there are other ways to get your business to the top of a directory without paying for it (see our article on ‘Perfecting you online business directory listing’)

Top 10 UK online business directories

1. Yell.com

Yell.com - online business directory listingsThe biggest online business directory with over 6 million monthly users*. yell.com offers free, basic online listings but the options to personalise your listing & create standout with photos, service description are non-existent at present. Yell.com recently (Sept2010) bought TrustedPlaces.com and is in the process of integrating the TrustedPlace community & review features into the Yell.com platform. This marks a new era for Yell who have only played the paid-for listings game up until recently. Paid-for listings still remain their focus and costs range from £300-£600 depending on your business category.

Verdict: list your business for free and could be good value for paid-for listing given their large audience size..

2. Qype.co.uk
Get listed in Qype - local business directory

A rapidly growing heir to Yell’s throne. Qype covers all business categories. Qype has a loyal community of regular users who actively rate & recommend businesses. Getting on the inside of this community offers any business a great opportunity. Qype allows businesses to add lots of extra information for free – inc. photos, business description. A full listing will really standout and getting good customer reviews on the site can get you to the top of the listings for free. Qype do offer a paid-for listings service for approx. £50/month which represents good value if you want to boost your business leads.

Verdict: list your business, add extra detail; consider their paid-for listings if you have the budget..

3. HotFrogUK.co.uk
Get listed in HotFrog - UK busines directory

A relative newcomer to the UK, this bizarrely named directory has grown rapidly due to itís excellent ranking in Google. All listings are free and a business can lots of extra information which will help you to get up their ranking and also start appearing in Google for relevant search terms.

Verdict: list your business for free now and benefit as this directory grows in influence..

4. Vivastreet.co.uk
Get listed in Vivastreet - UK business directory listing
This is a free local classified advertising service not a directory. Vivastreet has a monthly audience of over 1.2 million users and they rank very well in Google. Local businesses should use the site to promote their latest special offersor any local events that you put on. Listings donít remain on the site for too long (they expire when your so youíll need to update regularly. Your listings will provide a Citation in your Google Places listing (see this article for more on Google Places & citations).

Verdict: advertise your latest deals & local events for Free..

5. City-visitor.co.uk
Get listed in City Visitor - uk online directory
A well established online directory but with an aging design. They offer a basic free-listing which is useful as a Citation for your Google Places listings. Theyíre business is paid-for listings and they will try hard to persuade you to buy into their directory but iím not convinced of the value or return.

Verdict: list your business for free but not worth paying for..

6. FreeIndex.co.uk
Get listed in Freeindex - UK online business directory

Another rising star in the UK. FreeIndex only offers free listings and uniquely they donít buy in a list of basic business information. Each business listed on FreeIndex has been added by the business owner which is what makes it so powerful in itís Google rankings. FreeIndex also offer a lead-generation service for local businesses.

Verdict: list your business for free but explore the lead-generation options as they could prove good at generating new customers..

8. Bizwiki & AccessPlace
Get listed in Bizwiki - uk local business directory

2 separate directories but they share information, so if you list on Bizwiki you get a listing on Access Place – great, 2 for 1! Their combined monthly audience is approx. 700,000 and you can list your business for free and extra information including photos, service description, opening hours etc…

Verdict: go for free listing and generate some positive user reviews to get to the top.

8. Yelp.co.uk
Get listed on Yelp - uk business directory listings

Yelp is huge in the US – Google recently tried to buy them for a reported US$500m! Theyíve been in the UK for a couple of years and are rapidly building a loyal audience – theyíve grown from 100k users to 500k in 12 months! Yelp is known primarily for their restaurant reviews but they cover all business categories. User ratings & reviews are an important factor on Yelp and to get the most out of the directory you need to get to know the community.

Verdict: will be a major force soon so list for free and start generating some user reviews..

9. Bview.co.uk
Get listed on Bview directory - online local directory listing

They’re focus is on local deals more than traditional online directory. You can list your business for free and add a local offer (see this article about local discount vouchers). Still quite London-centric, their local vouchers are distributed to a number of other sites & mobile apps and they get a great response.

Verdict: great lead generator with discount vouchers so list for free, add a voucher and wait for the phone to ring..

10. ViewLondon.co.uk
Get listed on View & View London - London local business directory
View is a lifestyle & entertainment directory so if youíre a pub, bar, restaurant, club, venue etc…then this is for you. They now cover most major cities in the UK and are growing rapidly. You can list your business for free & add lots of extra information. They have a number of advertising & paid-listing opportunities. Theyíre not cheap but iíve heard from business owners who use it that it works.

Verdict: if you’re an “entertainment” business then list your business for free and consider testing their paid-for options and see what the return is like..

Conclusion: Online Business Directories are a great local marketing channel if used correctly

Online business directories represent a great local marketing channel for local businesses. Local businesses should take advantage of the Free listing opportunities and focus their efforts on getting their customers & directory users to leave positive reviews in order to reach the top of the listings.

If you have some additional marketing money available then you should consider paying for priority listings in the leading directories but make sure you negotiate and push them for extra value – it’s a competitive market!

Social network phenomenon

“Social networking” phenomenon is driving astronomical growth of many online companies, from the leaders of the pack like Facebook, to numerous peddlers of “make quick money online” self-help guides. The bigger the network/ mailing list, the larger the company value and profits. But what is really behind this phenomenon? I am leaning towards a conclusion that it has nothing to do with “social” but rather with our limitation to deal with information overload

Let’s look at this objectively. The capacity for individuals to participate in various social exchange networks was available from the early days of the Internet: forums, discussion boards, chat services and the like. However, the limitation was that these were mostly thematic based networks. With rapid growth of themed content on the Internet it all became very fragmented and difficult to follow…What Facebook, Twitter and the like brought to the mix was the capacity to participate/ follow many themes from a single portal! So, rather than helping user engage in “social networks” what those companies are really doing is assisting in information exchange! As simple as that. Just think about it. A person “following” a company on Facebook or Twitter has nothing to do with “social interaction” with that company – it’s not about “belonging” or “association” / “being part of a social group”. It’s all about access to specific information of interest to that individual (humour or other forms of entertainment, news, events, specials, etc.)!

Same applies to relationships between individuals – sociologists claim normal individuals are not capable of true social relationship with more than 150 counterparts at a time. Yet social network sites are full of people with thousands of contacts… Again, it is all about information and trusted channels of access to information, not about social interaction! The fact that individuals can participate in discussions and exchange messages is a part of the deal – some take advantage of it, others do not. True, the focus on “friends” helped Facebook to grow those personal networks at a rapid rate to propel the company to number 1 network facilitator but I will argue the key driving force was “the need to know” and not “the need to belong” (opening up the network to others and not only college students was the best and most logical decision to make since it is not about who you are but rather what you need to know!).

The information overload is what in my opinion is driving the popularity of the thing labelled as “social networking”. People want to know what is happening in their immediate environment, places of interest, topics of interest AND people they associate with (friends, colleagues, celebrities, etc.). At the same time people want to participate in some of those forums personally. Not enough time to read/see/do everything so the only way to keep up is to revert to “skimming over main headings” and to “following” limited number of information themes (on demand, user initiated).

What is helping in managing communication complexity associated with information overload is wide acceptance of abbreviated message format. It could be argued that the format was first introduced by Google Search – we all are so used to it: title and a short description of content. Just compare the main content pages of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Search … they all follow the same “short message format”!

I believe “social network” is a bit of misnomer as it implies only personal interactions of a casual nature. It is more than that! And the implications of this view on the state of affairs are far reaching. Let me just share a few observations. Firstly, for publishers and participants in networked information exchange it highlights the importance of catchy titling with informative but short secondary tag line to draw attention of “skimmers” (the principle is nothing new and has been applied in print advertising for ages…). Short form content sharing and aggregation will only grow in popularity. This is a great opportunity for content aggregators and gadget makers and another warning for those considering locking their content exclusively behind pay walls (although can also be seen as a great opportunity if enough of short content is left in the public arena!).

Secondly, it implies that the importance of Google and other search engines (and hence SEO for marketing) will be diminishing as “search” is starting to loose ground to “personal recommendations”. A new information referral model is emerging on the Internet where “opinion leaders” (ie. those with large personal networks) are starting to play more significant role in directing online traffic. The bad news for online advertisers and marketers is that it is a very fragmented channel of communication. It also means that the concentration of online advertising power will be shifting to network facilitators, such as Facebook, and away from search focused sites. Some food for thought…