Gus Venditto writes:
For consumers, local search will be a time saver, in the house and in the car. But for businesses, it will represent a shift in buying habits that may give the local storefront a chance to regain the ground it ceded to online stores.
The first impact is sure to be Web development for small business. Right now, it’s estimated by the Kelsey Group and ConStat’s Local Commerce Monitor that only 48 percent of small business who advertise have a Web site. Lester Chu, vice president of marketing and strategic planning at Verizon, believes that 60 percent of all businesses don’t have a Web site.
Today, many of those Web-unaware businesses are able to keep their online base covered by buying listings through the Yellow Page directories. For a few extra dollars, 1.4 million businesses who advertise in print Yellow Pages have the option of buying online listings that appear at SuperPages, Yahoo and other portals. And if it weren’t for Google, all local businesses would compete on a level playing field, because they would all have an equal chance to buy their way into the same online directories.
Google’s impact could be seismic because it will rank the pages, and that will re-define the meaning of a good retail location. A small store on a remote side street can build more foot traffic with a good Web site than it could with a busy corner location. All the lower-rent store needs is a better education in the intricacies of search engine rankings.
At the global level, brand marketers will need to pay attention to how the new patterns affect product selection. Online stores allow consumers to select the exact brand and model they want instead of settling for what they found on the shelves. Will local search turn consumers into precision shoppers within the neighborhood? A national brand manager will have to do more than help franchises and regional chain stores buy co-op ads and regional radio. They’ll need to do a better job at helping local dealers show up in online catalogs that are optimized for local searching.