Local SEO – Top Seven 2010 Predictions

Local became a buzzword in 2009. The ubiquity of smart phones increased the demand for local information, and many startups were formed to service that need.

With a new year upon us, here are my predictions for developments within the local SEO world in 2010.

8. Continued testing of business/financial models
In many way, 2009 was similar to 1999, which a focus on building traffic and user base. In 2010, the focus will be on making money, so companies will test various business and financial models to see what generates revenue.

7. Real estate listings added to main SERPs
Search on Google for a city name combined with “real estate”, “condos”, “houses” or “town homes”. You won’t see any Google Maps listings returned on the main Search Engine Results Page. But click on the “Maps” link at the top of the page, and you’ll receive a list of real estate listings, not the list of realtors and property developers you would have found earlier in 2009.

Google has created it’s own real estate search engine, but has not rolled it out in a prominent manner. As very few people click on those links at the top of the page (most of which take you to various vertical search engines), this allows Google to test out the system in a live environment, but with fairly limited traffic.

In the first few months of 2010, Google will blend these real estate listings in with the traditional SERP, making its real estate search engine the de facto standard.

6. Internet Yellow Pages adapt or die
2009 was a hard year for IYPs. Traditionally, they had gained the bulk of their traffic through strong SEO’ing of their company and category pages. If someone searched on a local product or service, the organic search results were generally dominated by IYP pages. As the traffic flowed to these sites from Google, so did the dollars from local advertisers.

With the increasing prominence of Google Maps results within the main SERPs, however, the traditional listings are pushed down the page, and are often below the fold. Local companies are focusing their efforts on optimizing their Google Maps business listings.

Things are only going to get worse for the IYP, and unless they adjust their business models, many of them will go away in 2010.

5. Yahoo! Local becomes Bing Local
As part of its takeover of search operations from Yahoo, Bing will start returning their local results in place of Yahoo’s local listings.

4. Google goes on M&A trail for local companies
Google showed their hand on this with Yelp. And while those negotiations fell apart, there is no reason to believe that Google is any less interested in acquiring local marketing properties now than they were a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, they will most likely go after content providers, rather than what they really need, a local advertising company with large and strong sales and support teams. Google seems to really have a blind spot on this topic, and there’s no indication that they realize it.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and acquire a company with both good content and people, but I doubt it.

3. Local goes hyper-local
The search engines do a decent job today of returning results on a city wide basis. But in many cases, that is not good enough.

Imagine you’re in midtown Manhattan. You’re looking for a coffee shop (one not called StarBucks, preferably), so you pull out your trusty smart phone, and do a search on Google. Today, the results will be from all over the city.

But as 2010 progresses, Google will do a better job of determining your precise location, and biasing the results to ones near you.

Having this degree of targeting on the desktop is going to be much more difficult, but is certainly something Google is working on.

2. Federal and/or state governments prosecute false reviews
In 2009, the federal government and the State of New York woke up to the fact that online reviews are an important part of consumer information flow. The State of New York attained a judgement against a skin care company for posting false reviews online, and the FTC released guidance to bloggers that paid reviews should be disclosed.

I expect activity in this area to increase, with particular attention being paid to reviews on Google, CitySearch, Travel Advisor and other such services. The FTC is going to want to make an example of someone. You don’t want to be that someone.

1. Google looks to monetize local
Google is a for profit company. As such, they tend to want to give away things for only so long. And, with business listings on Google Maps, they’ve been giving away a lot of value for the last couple of years.

I don’t expect this free offering to go away. There will always be “organic” Google Maps listings, but using the lessons learned from the tests in San Diego and San Francisco, Google will release a paid option for being found in Google Maps sometime during the first half of the year.

Hopefully, it will be easy to set up and maintain, with clear, concise reporting, or Google’s lack of small business support may bite them.