Your web searches go through the cloud to the behemoth Google. Facebook lets us cross the years and miles with ease. If we have a tough question, we can use any social network to reach out to a subject matter expert around the world. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember how much of our lives are local: most schools, your favorite coffee shop and restaurants, for starters. Much of search, recent studies show, is also very local.
Blame, if you must, the explosion of exceptionally easy to use smart mobile devices. For me, my phone is my GPS, my movie and theatre guide and restaurant concierge, and then some. Most data show the raw number of local searches made on mobile devices increases by 50 percent each year. With the number of smart phones coming out over the next few months, expect that number to escalated even quicker in 2011.
Searches can be done on iPhone and Android by just speaking into the phone. Blackberry and some other phones have add-on products that can enable similar features. These spoken searches are more than three times more likely to be local searches than non-voice searches. The research by online advertiser Chitika looked at iPhone user searches and concluded that “It does make sense – after all, searching by speaking is often done in the car, leading to a higher proportion of locally-oriented queries. It’s also rather telling to look at other categories that do unusually well or unusually poorly in receiving traffic from voice searches.”
For example, entertainment and local voice searches make up 28 percent of all voice searches, with news 20 percent.
Restaurant searches as a whole are already up 70 percent year over year on mobile devices according to a ComScore report. “Across the board, local search-focused Internet brands have been developing mobile content at a feverish pace. AT&T Interactive, for example, has made a significant effort to expand its YELLOWPAGES.COM online experience across several mobile platforms.” In fact the Yellowpages web site has been rebranded as yp.com, and even knows the general area where you’re browsing from.
Location Based Services (LBS) like Yelp help you find and read reviews on restaurants, clubs and now even banks and stores. FourSquare and Gowalla are trying to get you to “check-in” when you arrive at a local venue. They are also trying to work with local stores to give discounts to their most loyal customers.
Remember the sticker you may have gotten once after voting that said “I voted”? If you checked into Foursquare from an authorized polling place during the American elections in 2010 you were able to get the “I voted” badge on the service. The badge system is the reward for taking part in certain activities: travels, joining over 50 people at an event and even some events have their own badge (full list of badges).
Today, Facebook announced three enhancements to the LBS application, Place, which provide relevant ads based on your location. Augie Ray’s blog at Forrester Research believes this will push LBS offerings way above the 4 percent of Americans who check in at a location. “… Facebook is a platform with 500 million avid users (compared to the 4 million who currently use Foursquare), and with each passing month more consumers are accessing and updating Facebook via their smartphones. Second, Facebook’s new Deal platform is free for marketers and SMBs; anyone who claims a location on the Facebook Places platform can easily and quickly launch an offer.” American Eagle, Chipotle, H&M, Starbucks, Macy’s and McDonalds are already on the waiting list.
SCVNGR brings the games to a new level that is designed to bring more engagement with your local businesses with challenges: take a photo; meet someone new, and the like. The goal, as they say, is to “unlock badges & real-world rewards.”
So as big and bad as the Internet seems to make the world at time, there are a growing number of companies trying to help the local economy, and people are using them.