Saturday, February 27, 2010

Local Search Frustration? Here's Why

Local Search Complexity = SMB Frustration

At our recent Local University in Spokane, Mike Blumenthalexplained to small business owners how Google and Bing assemble a Local listing. Mike explained that the major search engines pull in a number of disparate pieces of information (street address, phone number, hours of operation, etc.) about a business from just about any source they can crawl – obviously weighted more heavily towards sources they trust, including their own Local databases.

He further blew our minds with the notion that this two dimensional chart of location information not only expanded infinitely in two dimensions to cover additional local information sources, but also extended into three dimensions, with time as the additional variable. Suggesting, in other words, that recent changes to listing information that aren’t corroborated by other sources may be overwhelmed by the weight of a particular listing’s history!

This lack of transparency and understanding of how listing “clusters” are formed understandably leads to frustration on the part of the business owner, particularly when his experience to date has simply been to tell the Yellow Pages rep how he’d like his information represented year after year.

The bottom line: if you don’t claim and verify each and every listing on each and every search engine and data provider, Google and the other search engines are forced to make a “best guess,” by clustering information that seems to match up, and they don’t always guess right.

My Take

The daunting and inefficient choices for local advertising are temporary - a left-over effect of the mad rush by businesses to get found on the Web.

As Web advertising options begin to take shape, social media is achieving dominance in both traffic and advertising effectiveness. HubSpot's Mark Roberge demonstrated this in his keynote at yesterday's Hartford Business Journal eTechnology Summit. By a show of hands, he illustrated the staggering contrast between purchase decisions influenced by traditional ads vs. social/web research & recommendations.

The "Social Web" provides major advantages over the "Search Web" - higher quality interactions; less "noise"; lower cost' higher yield. Consumers and advertisers who 'get social' will realize these benefits.

The only losers will be the firms who thought short-term and provided unimaginative quick-fixes as well as old media firms that failed to adapt.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

After the Hype - Does Trust Remain?

Heavy participation in social networks ignited enormous hype around the newfound economic value of relationships. Recognizing the advertising opportunity, companies attempted all manner of ways to pose as our trusted friends in order to sell products using the new venue of social media.

While the advertising industry itself, followed by the justice system, clamped down on the glaringly unethical and deceptive practices, many more clever and subtle social techniques are still employed.

There's nary a Facebook app that is not the social Web's version of Hollywood product placement. Not that this is necessarily bad. Like any other advertising, it will continue to be as long as there is a market for it - even though consumers gradually tune it out.

Which brings us to the real question. Is trust in relationships gone? Based on the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer you might conclude "yes".

According to the survey, trust in information from friends and peers, “people like me,” dropped by 20 points, from 47 to 27 percent. That is a 42% drop in just two years.

To get to the bottom of it, let me ask - do you trust your friends and family 42% less? Do you trust 42% fewer of the people you trusted in 2008? If you answered "yes", then please call a psychologist now. It's crazy to accept this statistic as a measurement of trust among "real, trusted relationships".

The Edelman study merely points out that the rush of ad dollars and marketing resources into social media produced a fad - and fads don't last. It'd be wonderful to trust every person who recommended a surefire-make-money-now-from-home-scheme on Twitter; or to believe that every 20 year old named Bambi really wants to be your Facebook friend; or every headhunter with 20,000 LinkedIn connections just found a great career opportunity for you.

To see the ridiculousness of this statistic, you merely need to see if the converse is true. Ask local businesses, many of whom get 80+% of their new customers from referrals, if they are now getting close to half of that.

Bottom line - social media is another media. It can never fabricate trust. And it will never create friends - even though, when used well, it can help you build relationships.

And relationships is where the trust is - and will stay.