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Will 2016 be the year for local search to become profitable?

Last year was a significant year for local search, and the tech giants of this world, namely Google, Facebook, Apple and even Pinterest, have muscled in on the local business directory and online mapping space.

Mike Fantis

Local search will take on an even greater role in the customer online journey in 2016, according to Mike Fantis from Make It Rain. He shares his predictions…

1. Mobile local search will lead the way

Mobile was undoubtedly the big player in 2015. Mobile search finally surpassed desktop search and there is no looking back. With Google now providing insights into mobile search volumes and trends, it's clear that consumers use their mobile device for local search needs. According to Think With Google, “near me” searches have surged 34 times since 2011 and have even doubled in the last year. The consumer path to purchase now includes some level of mobile engagement at multiple steps during the journey. From product research, to educational videos, to price comparison, to driving directions, mobile is dominating the way we as consumers find information for local products and services. The savvy retailers will find ways to court the mobile shopper, and draw them to the local store.

2. The Google Maps and Apple Maps war will heat up

Let’s be honest, Apple didn’t have the best release of its mapping application, Apple Maps, back in 2012. Do a quick search for “Apple Maps Fails” and you can see a long list of issues Apple had with the data quality and mapping service all the way into early 2014. After a few years of cleaning up its location data and topography images, Apple Maps had a great 2015 and is now a strong contender to de-throne Google Maps as the mapping application king in 2016.

3. Beacons will hit the mainstream

Beacon technology has been steadily gathering pace since Apple launched the iBeacon in 2013, and recently it has begun to take the world of mobile by storm. A BI Intelligence report at the start of the year said that beacons would be driving $44 billion in retail sales by 2016, up from the $4 billion prediction for 2015.

Some say that retail is on the verge of “total reinvention”, and this is true at a national and local level. Beacon technology has been dubbed “the missing piece in the whole mobile-shopping puzzle”, through its ability to communicate with a customer, in a personalised way, without them having to do anything at all. For example, Starbucks was able to lure customers to its local coffee shops on Black Friday, through the delivery of personalised mobile coupons. Could beacon technology be the silver bullet of data-driven marketing, which will help retailers to bridge the gap between offline and digital, and enable them to win ‘the last physical mile’ with the customer on the high street?

4. Businesses will demand a clear ROI with local search investments

When local digital marketing became a big thing, some eight years ago, there was no easy way to quantify what a local search investment was able to return to the business owner. Yet over the past few years, business owners have really challenged that thinking and have started to ask local search providers what better visibility and accuracy will mean for their bottom line. In 2016 providing a strong ROI story will become mandatory for local search.

5. Google will turn local search into new revenue

Google has been edging towards it for quite some time, and it's pretty certain that 2016 will be the year that a pay-per-click model will be introduced into the local search channel. This has already been tried in certain test markets and industries where Google has sponsored ads appearing in the local search pack, and this past year the local pack shrank from seven to three results. Reports have indicated that the local pack appears over 93 per cent of the time in search results. Google essentially believes that every search performed is of local intent and it’s only a matter of time before it introduces a way to monetise the channel.

Hopefully 2016 will be the year it plays out.

Mike Fantis is managing partner at Make It Rain.