Experts Blog

Big Brands and Local Search

By Mary Bowling on Mar 29, 2012 - 06:56 PM

GroupM recently did a study that highlighted the lack of proper execution by national advertisers to achieve success at the local level. According to the survey, only 40% are actively managing local business listings like Google Places. You can see the full study here.


Anyone who has actually dealt with large, national retailers or service providers regarding local search is probably not surprised. I regularly see evidence of a crippling lack of local savvy among big brands. Some of this is because the marketing team is unaware that Local Search is a different beast than traditional Search Marketing. (I find it a little funny that anything online can be referred to as traditional.) Some can simply be attributed to the fact that no one has been assigned the specific task of overseeing local search efforts. This leaves a lot of opportunity for online marketers who can take control of these types of projects and help the stores and/or service centers get found in the Maps results for each of their local areas.

Marketing each location individually is indeed a daunting task. Creating and keeping local listings accurate and up-to-date is a matter of obsessively managing and distributing the minute details for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate locations. Many large companies simply pull phone and address information from their database and assign the same set of informational enhancements to every location thinking that that's good enough.

However, this one-size fits all approach does a great disservice to their branch operators since the same information rarely applies to all locations. They may not provide all of the same products or services, be opened on the same days or keep the same operating hours. The same photos and videos may not be representative of all places. Some managers may have social media profiles and pages set up for their shops, while others may be completely unaware of the possibilities of online social engagement as a way to market their branches.

It also provides a poor experience to the searchers who see information online about a location of interest that then proves to be inaccurate. Sometimes they are inconvenienced enough by that bad information that they won't consider doing business with that local operator again. For example, consider someone who drives all the way across town to purchased a last minute birthday gift only to find that the business is closed that day or that the specific brand they wished to purchased is not carried at that location.

While branch operators want advertising support from headquarters, if the information corporate sends out is not rock solid, it causes other problems at the local level, too. It can be extremely difficult to overcome the impact of inaccurate information spread around via these corporate efforts, as it's widely believed that the spreadsheets of business data that brands are encourage to upload to Google Places receive a positive bias to the point that they are white-listed and the information provided by them trumps other information, even that input by the local operator. So, even if the local manager tries to customize the information for their location, it may not appear in the listing.

It used to be that the last owner to verify a Places listing had control of it, which made sense. I don't know exactly when it happened, but Google recently revealed there can now be multiple verified owners of a listing and that each is able to edit the listing. The last one to edit the listing retains control of it. This is very likely an attempt at helping to resolve the parent/child relationship of big brands and their individual locations. If both parties understand this multiple ownership of individual listings, it could work. But those of us who have made a profession of marketing local businesses online aren't yet sure how to manage it, so I doubt the people running branch stores and service centers do either.

So, here 's the deal. The input by the last verified owner to edit a listing appears in the Places listing. If they have responded to any reviews, those responses will appear. If they have changed the operating hours, those will appear. If they upload new photos or videos, those will appear. But if another verified owner then makes an edit and takes control of the listing, their responses, hours, photos, etc. will appear, instead. If you're seeing crazy changes to what's in your listings, this is what might be going on. Fortunately, if you are one of the verified owners of a listing you can request that all other owners be de-verified via the Places Troubleshooter tool found in the help forum. Of course, other verified owners can do the same thing to you. Crazy, isn't it?

In my opinion, this also opens the door to widespread abuse by unscrupulous marketing companies who make a habit of punishing clients who leave them. It's too easy for them to make changes in Places listings for the sole purpose of causing confusion and lost customers. It'll be just another adventure in local search to watch how this plays out.