Local SEO – 2009 Year in Review

It’s no surprise that all the interesting developments in Local SEO in 2009 happened at Google. Yahoo and Bing continued to mostly sit on their hands this year.

10. Google Favorite Places poster
To promote their “Favorite Places” campaign, sent out window decals to 100,000 businesses late this year. There appears to be a bias towards businesses for whom driving directions have been requested, but there are reports of at least some businesses with PO Boxes receiving the decals.

9. Still little customer support with Google Maps
One of the constants throughout the year was the constant stream of complaints about Google’s support for Google Maps and the Local Business Center. These are buggy systems that require real help. While Google has a small team working to answer questions on the Google Maps help forums, their continued inability to solve this problem shows a real lack of understanding of the realities of serving the small business community.

8. Google looks towards acquisitions in local marketing
The blogosphere went nuts in mid-December over rumors that Google was about to acquire local marketing service Yelp. A week later, the deal appeared to be dead. Still, Google’s obvious interest in acquiring local marketing properties is a harbringer for 2010.

7. Google begins to fight back against Map Spam
Google finally began to take real steps against the spammers in Google Maps this year, most notably within the locksmith keyword spaces, and while their early efforts didn’t have much success, over the latter half of the year the SERPs for locksmith keywords are looking much better.

6. Government cracking down on fake reviews
Reviewing oneself online is stupid. It’s easy to spot, and reflects very poorly on the company that engages in such practices. But it now also has legal ramifications. Over the summer, the State of New York secured a $300K settlement with Lifestyle Lift for posting false reviews online. And in October, the FTC released guidance to bloggers about online reviews. While this doesn’t directly apply to reviews within systems like Google Maps, their attention will turn that direction soon.

5. New dashboard in Google Local Business Center
In early June, Google rolled out an actual dashboard for the Local Business Center. While the data seems to disappear at times, it’s a significant improvement over what we had previously.

4. Google Local Listing Ad test
In the fourth quarter, Google ran a limited test of paid listings incorporated within the standard business listings of Google Maps. The test, which ran in San Diego and San Francisco only, has been completed and the paid listings are no longer showing. Google clearly intends to monetize the business listings within Google Maps.

3. Google Maps Bulk Upload Whitelist
Previously, Google’s bulk uploading system for maps listings was a waste of time. The listings were completely untrusted by Google, and would barely show up for a query on the company name. With Google’s new whitelist upload system, businesses with ten or more locations can create a datafeed of their locations and have the data be trusted by Google.

2. Inferred local intent
I go back and forth as to whether to refer to this as inferred local intent or implied local intent, the difference being one of point of view. No matter what you call it, however, for a huge number of queries, you now receive Google Maps listings even if there is not a location in your query. For instance, if you search Google for [coffee shops], Google infers that you have local intent, determines your location by you IP address, and returns you listings for that location.

1. 10-Pack becomes 7-Pack
On October 8th, 30% of the space for local listings disappeared, and the 10-pack transmogrified into a 7-pack. We all hoped this was a temporary change, but after two and a half months, the change is clearly permanent. This greatly increases the competitiveness of the local business listings withing Google, and raises the importance of solid (and on-going) optimization efforts.

Look for predictions for 2010 later this week.