From search marketing to new online marketplaces to in-store messaging to the scramble to automate small business marketing, these headlines from 2014 point the way to what’s coming in the new year.
1. Google’s “Pigeon” Update Shakes Up Local Search
Google reworked both the algorithm that runs local searches and the look of local-search results pages in July, changing the way it categorizes some businesses by location. The update (nicknamed “Pigeon”) also reduced or removed the 7-pack of local-business listings that once led local search pages, and pushed up to the top of the listings local directories such as Yelp or internet yellow pages sites. Experts speculate that the moves are part of Google’s long-term effort to make its pages friendlier for mobile phone display.
The takeaway for 2015: Google remains the unpredictable king of local search and your best defense is to stay focused on the SEO basics of good website design and content, make sure your site displays the most specific terms describing your lines of business and neighborhoods you serve, and update your listings on local directories.
2. Amazon Local Services Rolls Out: Big Players Target Local Brick and Mortar Businesses
Late in the year, the online retailer giant quietly rolled out Amazon Local Services, billed as a marketplace for hiring “handpicked pros” in home repair, automotive, lawn and garden, and tech support. In New York, Amazon kicked off a test of one-hour deliveries by bike messengers for online product purchases; its Amazon Fresh service already delivers grocery orders in one day. Google Shopping Express is hot on Amazon’s tail for same day deliveries and Home Depot is moving into services marketplaces.
The takeaway for 2015: Big national players will increasingly push into the local space trying to make themselves the go-betweens for local retailing and services, pressuring local businesses to up their game on marketing and customer loyalty.
The two chains started major tests in 2014 of Apple’s transmitters that push smart-phone notifications to shoppers in stores. McDonald’s reportedly increased McChicken Sandwich sales 8 percent by sending deal offers to diners. But in-store coupons are just the start. These devices could also make product recommendations tailored to consumers based on what’s known about their shopping history – or creep out shoppers if the messages get too pushy.
The takeaway for 2015: Always-on, always-there digital marketing by cellphone, coming soon to a store near you.
4. Competition for Small Business Marketing and Management Tools Heats Up
Square, the maker of the mobile credit-card reader for small businesses, began offering appointment scheduling to its customers. GoDaddy, the web hosting company, launched payment services for small business via PayPal. Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks small-business accounting software, grew the customer base 27% in the third quarter for Demandforce, its marketing services package. Companies that offered single-focus products to small business are rapidly re-positioning to compete as the one-stop solution for online marketing, payments, appointment scheduling and customer relationship management.
The takeaway for 2015: Good news coming for small, local businesses, as competition makes these software tools better, faster, and cheaper.