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Location-based search surpasses geographic targeting in the quest for relevance

A few years ago Google took another step forward in its mission to deliver search results uniquely relevant to your search queries. It started focusing on geographic targeting. What it did was use the IP address from which you conducted your search to determine which country you were from so it could deliver nationally relevant results. It used the domain of relevant websites (.co.za, .co.uk, .co.ca, etc) to tell which ones would most benefit you. This was something of a revelation in search and got digital marketers all excited about the new possibilities.

Geographic information cropped up in keywords, it was used in titles, descriptions, URLs and internal linking.

When Google Maps came along to further refine search, specific locality became even more important. Marketers started adding regions, cities and suburbs to their website information so that someone searching for an antique car dealer in Milnerton, Cape Town, would find one rather than coming across dealerships in Johannesburg or Durban.

Of course there were some problems, websites that concentrated on very narrow location-based information (like area codes) lost out on a great deal of broader, more investigative search. But lessons were learned and life was, by and large, good.

Enter mobile and GPS locations

It’s a bit of a stuck record but mobile search is becoming increasingly important as more people search from their mobile phones. Location-based search is becoming increasingly important because people using their mobile phones want very, very specific geographic information. If they’re looking for a B&B in Simon’s Town they don’t want results for Muizenberg, so search engines use information based on their GPS location to deliver results.

This is a somewhat controversial thing to do.

It can be argued that it’s a gross invasion of privacy and that people should be able to opt-in to that kind of system, rather than be forced to opt-out. Permission is often assumed, for instance, when users have apps that allow GPS-specific information to be delivered to their social networks. But, Apple doesn’t like that approach. According to an article on Ars Technica (written in 2010), the company warned developers against using location-based data to deliver location-specific ads in their apps.

This is something they may want to reconsider in light of a recent report published by JiWire. The report looks at the importance of location-based information in ads and how it affects sales. Apparently, 17% of mobile users purchase products via their mobile phones. This might not sound like much but consider the fledgling nature of the technology, then consider its probable exponential growth.

According to David Staas, senior vice president of marketing at JiWire, 57% of mobile users said that they would likely engage with a location-specific ad.

“The adoption of GPS-enabled smartphones is fueling a real lift in the adoption of location-based services. So many developers are working a location-component into their applications that helps people find things and places that are nearby and more relevant,” said Staas.

He added that location should be a key priority for digital marketers in 2011.

Location-based search is the present, not the future

Kipp Bodnar looks at three ways he thinks location-based apps will affect SEO. First, he sees it increasing relevancy to real-time search. Second, it will enhance social search. Third, it will make designing mobile sites incredibly important. To take advantage of these factors he suggests digital marketers get comfortable with the way in which location-based applications work. Also, you should become familiar with how the apps are used. You also need to start marketing websites on social media in a way that punts locality.

Digital marketing has been steadily evolving to keep up with the way in which people use the web. Over the past decade search patterns and behaviour have become sophisticated as people have become more discerning. Mobile is just one more step in the evolution of search. If you think about it, location-based search is a gift that makes marketers’ lives that much easier. Your audience is virtually on your door step. You just have to get them across the threshold.

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