Local Search Revolution: Optimizing for Mobile or Automobile

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Recent years have exposed us to a drastic evolution in the way users perform local search. As customers get more comfortable with the online world, their expectations shift towards data integration across devices such as mobile, desktop, tablet and even newly emerging wearable devices, giving users the scope to freely discover products, services and businesses across channels. Following the movement of digital innovation, automobile technology is a greatly affected player in the evolution, with increased in-car search provoking the need for better-connected cars.

For local businesses, this means expanding local SEO efforts further than simply creating a few business listings and resting on your laurels, waiting for consumers to discover you. In-car search provides a huge opportunity for marketers to expose brands to consumers when the chance of purchase is high. Performing a search on the move could be considered as a signal that users are looking for an instant solution that they are ready to drive to at the moment of search. By understanding local search in-car, local business owners can understand where to focus their local SEO efforts to increase their chance of being found and increase sales.

In-car search – is it really a trend?

While in the past a navigation system or a built-in Bluetooth were considered luxury, they are now typical automobile features and from 2017 we can expect online access in-car to emerge as standard equipment as well. Either via the use of smartphones or navigation systems with access to a number of apps, it is common for drivers to search for businesses near-by. There is a vivid increase in consumers browsing for solutions while on the go, making in-car search a trend local businesses cannot afford to ignore.

А 2013 survey by Accenture uncovered that 18% of US drivers already use local search in their cars while 22% are likely to use it. Low penetration rates provoked forecasts for growth in following years. A later Accenture study from 2014 revealed that 26% of drivers have stated that they already use in-car search, 30% are very likely to start using it and 30% will consider usage in the future. We can see the increase in numbers and today, in 2016, the trend of in-car search is already dominating.

A look into drivers’ in-car search process

In-car search typically takes place either directly through an integrated car navigation system or by syncing a mobile device to the automobile’s dashboard. Depending on the system in place or the app used, search can be performed by inserting a keyword, business name, specific address or by requesting local suggestions based on a specific business type (ex: searching for restaurants, dentists or beauty salons nearby).

Although in the past results came in the form of a simple address along with directions, this is no longer enough to satisfy users’ expectations. Apart from basic contact information and business working hours, results are now commonly delivered in combination with user reviews and ratings to assure users of the credibility and quality of the business they may be interested in. Local businesses who have failed to implement a successful review-gathering strategy may suffer from poor or no customer feedback, damaging the overall online reputation of the business.

Where navigation systems get their data from

Different car brands and navigation system manufacturers have unique systems and partnerships in place to ensure drivers are equipped with up to date and well-connected maps, real-time traffic, local search with features such as restaurant reservations, for example. To provide relevant and updated information, partnerships with data providers are formed.

While major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have a fair share in contribution to the provision of information, other sources such as data aggregators, business directories, Facebook Places, Foursquare or Twitter also feed data into navigation systems.

Data Sources contributing to in-car search

Google, the world’s leading search engine, has greatly contributed to the development of a number of systems and apps which ease drivers’ in-car local search. Google’s partnership with Toyota gave birth to Toyota Entune, an infotainment system that syncs with drivers’ smartphones via a USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth, depending on the user’s mobile operating system. For 2014 and newer vehicles, The Entune App Suite provides access to Yelp and Facebook Places. While previously data was provided by the Bing app, Toyota now uses a new search engine app called Destination Search, allowing drivers to use voice search to look up addresses or to select from a list of locations near them like restaurants, shopping malls, parking, etc.

Other car manufacturers prefer to partner with Google when offering in-car local search experience to their customers. Such products include BMW Connected Drive, the NissanConnect and Kia Uvo, providing access to Google Local Search and YELP.

Volvo Sensus‘ local search helps drivers of cars equipped with Sensus Connect and Sensus Navigation discover information on local businesses. Local search loads data HERE’s online database. Thanks to integrations with Yelp, users also have access to ratings which contribute to making better-informed decisions.

A common problem among built-in navigation systems is the high risk of information quickly becoming outdated. Local businesses may be charged a fee to update the information included or to list their business in the database in the first place.

To overcome these issues, drivers often find a solution in the eyes of their mobile devices. Apple’s CarPlay, for example, gives drivers the comfort of accessing the user’s iPhone apps and Apple Maps, providing information on local businesses taken from data aggregators, business directories and other data sources. Similarly, the Android Auto, developed by Google, connects Android mobile devices to the automobile’s dashboard.

Let’s examine what all of this means for local businesses!

Make sure your business has strong presence in search engines and relevant business directories.

Putting together the pieces of the in-car local search puzzle, we can see a large and intricate data ecosystem forming. Within this data ecosystem is where your business information or business citations live. Business citations are online mentions of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) and are regarded as a top influencer on local rankings.

Although there are a few major players that are used as dominant data sources when it comes to searching for local business and navigation maps (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing, Here, Yelp, Foursquare, TomTom and Facebook Places), there are a large number of other, smaller data suppliers that also feed business information to these systems. Examples of such sources may be business directories (general, local or niche), data aggregators, social media channels and other places where your business information can be registered.

Diversification between the three types of business directories derives from the directory’s focus. General directories such as Yellow Pages include in their database businesses from all industries, locations and sizes. Alternatively, local business directories such as NY Biz List, provide information on small businesses located in the state of New York, focusing solely on a chosen location. Niche directories, on the other hand, collect and provide information on businesses from a specific industry. An example is Cigna , a healthcare business directory which offers business data on dentists, pediatricians, dermatologists and other professionals from the industry.

Creating Business Citations

Building citations in as many relevant and high-quality business directories that feed information to in-car search apps or navigation systems will shorten the distance between your brand and customers. When creating your business listings, it is worth paying close attention to a few essential points. Make sure that your NAP provides complete and up-to-date information about your business. Also, a number of listing sources will ask for your business category in order to include your business in results for searches based on specific categories. Double-check if the category you have selected is the one that suits your local business best.

Now that you are familiar with the different ways local information is gathered and presented to users searching in-car, it might be helpful to consider what other data sources manufacturers have partnered with. If those sources are external to the major search engines or business directories you are familiar with, it may be a good idea to get in contact for information on the process of getting your local business included in their pool of data.

Importance of consistent citations across sources

One of the ways to ensure your local business appears in apps or navigation systems for in-car local search is by building a healthy and extensive citation profile across diverse online sources. Major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have developed their own apps or have partnered with navigation suppliers, feeding local business data that users are exposed to. Providing complete, up-to-date and most importantly – consistent business information will help your business be indexed by these search engines and ranked well for local results. Citation inconsistency, or discrepancies among your NAP online, may significantly harm your business credibility, search engines may refuse to consider your business as trustworthy and relevant for users’ searches, leaving you in the shadows.

Easy to find businesses which appear as the first suggestion to a consumer’s search often have increased chances of expanding their current customer base and taking the road towards business growth. Appreciating the importance of citations and citation consistency is the key to optimizing your local SEO efforts. A well-executed citation strategy with a focus on building and managing your local business’ citations across sources will help you improve your visibility to users performing in-car search. Local SEO professionals are there to guide you through the process of citation building, audit and cleanup, making your local business competitive in this fast-paced and dynamic digital revolution. Your local customers are a stretch away, increasing your reach and tapping into this newly evolved trend will expand your chance of growing business and reaching more customers.

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