Blog

December 18, 2014

Celebrating a Season of Gratitude

By Jon Schepke

The holidays are a natural time of looking back, taking stock, and being grateful. And at SIM Partners, we have plenty of reason to be grateful in 2014. Thanks to our loyal clients, we grew our employee base by 63 percent and received $8 million in funding to accelerate the growth of our Velocity platform – an innovative tool that helps national brands succeed with local marketing at scale. I am pleased that we were able to accommodate our growth by relocating to a new headquarters in the heart of Chicago’s Loop, where we have found time to mix fun with our work, as the following holiday infographic illustrates.

I am also grateful that the marketplace is recognizing our ascendance as the leading technology platform provider for local marketing. In May, SIM Partners was selected as a finalist for Best Enterprise Web Company for the 2014 Moxie Awards. Throughout the year, our people regularly shared our thought leadership through blogging, bylines, and quoted viewpoints in publications ranging from Chief Marketer to Search Engine Land. And we’re just getting started building a true brand that will resonate with senior marketers.

In 2015, SIM Partners will elevate the conversation about local search as an essential element to successful marketing, period. On December 15, you saw a glimpse of what’s to come when we announced the launch of a new study that shows how firms are leveraging local marketing strategies to enable more contextual brand experiences for their customers. In 2015, SIM Partners, with the help of our clients, partners, and employees, will dominate the conversation around the local marketing opportunity in the marketplace.

For today, let us pause, give thanks, and be grateful. As today’s holiday infographic says, nothing would be possible without you…thank you.

Happy holidays from SIM Partners…cheers!

December 17, 2014

2015 Tech Predictions from SIM Partners

By Amy Fitzpatrick

With 2014 coming to a close, it’s time for the SIM Partners team to highlight some of our top technology predictions for 2015. Although a number of our predictions from last year came to fruition in 2014, there were still quite a few surprises. We believe 2015 will be an interesting (and even, at times, tumultuous) year. Major security breaches such as the one we just witnessed with Sony will continue to rock the business world. Wearable device adoption will accelerate and inform our understanding of local search. Also, get ready to see the deployment of more beacon technology, which will influence the growth of proximity marketing. Oh, and by the way: local search will be the next digital marketing battleground. Read on to discover a whole lot more predictions for 2015.

Local Search and Google

In 2015 we will see a change in the language and keyword structures used to make search queries. The growth of voice as a search input will continue because of the improvement in voice-to-text technologies. This improvement, coupled with the proliferation of smartphones, will continue to drive the usage of Siri, Cortana, and Google Now to create more local searches. The growth of those services will require a greater understanding of semantic Web principles as well as new content strategies in 2015. - Gib Olander, vice president of product

The Google My Business naming convention requirements will be universally accepted by online directories, search engines, and data aggregators. That acceptance will encourage the use of non-geo-modified business names, allowing for Google Maps to more accurately display business within a business results — think Redbox or ATMs. It will be the norm to know which hospital parking lot to park in so that you’re nearest to the wing of your doctor’s office. – Karin K. Straehl, director of client services

The dust around the Google Pigeon update will settle, and its effects on local results will stimulate an increase in pay per click (PPC) ads. We may see more obvious moves from Google to make local listings a paid channel.  – Karin K. Straehl, director of client services

Brands will shift away from keyword search and a move toward mobile/GPS location-based queries. – Amanda L Bury, director of enterprise sales – health and wellness

The explosion of mobile, combined with the rise of contextual marketing, will make local search marketing the next digital battleground for multi-location enterprise brands. - Tari Haro, chief marketing officer

Mobile

Ads will be seen on mobile devices more than anywhere else. Social channels will integrate “buy” buttons straight from their platforms. - Julie Piatek, social media specialist

The new competitive goal for retailers in 2015 will be making the coupon/loyalty rewards system less painful on the consumer through mobile integration. Loyalty programs will become automated through mobile apps and beacons in-store, making coupon clipping and e-mail printing obsolete. Instead of a retailer listing discounts on its site, consumers can walk into a store and automatically get rewarded appropriate discounts for the respective branded products they’re buying. Less price/product research required by the customer allows for a quicker and more satisfying in-store purchase. – Laura Trujillo, director of enterprise business development

Proximity marketing and ambient proximity will gain ground as beacon deployment increases across the board — from stadiums to shopping areas, museums, and city centers. Proximity marketing represents a big opportunity for businesses to enhance their on-site and in-store experience. Through location-based marketing programs, consumers will benefit by receiving special offers, information, and/or directions in real-time based on their latitude and longitude. – Jay Hawkinson, senior vice president, emerging products

This is the year that mobile makes a huge push into payment systems. Local adoption in storefronts will drive this growth, as well as a drastic increase, in providers entering the market to give multiple options for users. Privacy will remain a concern for some, but not enough to quell the tidal wave of spending convenience. - Bob Franke, senior account manager

Mobile app and API integrations will continue to improve the overall customer experience. For example, a cooking app that that is integrated with a grocery delivery service, such as Instacart or Peapod, allowing users to select a recipe and the associated ingredients then – with the click of a button — have them delivered to their doorstep.. – Jill Linsenberg, director – enterprise sales

Social Media

The “unplug movement” will continue to rise, and engagement in social networks will plateau for the sake of humanity. – Karin K. Straehl, director of client services

The revolution may not be televised but perhaps digitized. Social media will continue to play a major in role in how media is consumed and processed. – Amy Fitzpatrick, performance analyst

Apps/Devices/OS/Software

Wearable device adoption will continue to increase and become a factor in proximity marketing and local search. – Neal Deters, platform analyst

With the evolution of health wearables, we are going to see more digestible medicine and tracking within your body. With small tracking devices in patient pills, physicians will be better able to track adherence to prescribed medications. - Amanda L Bury, director of enterprise sales – health & wellness

The gap that exists in cross-device attribution will be closed by the end of 2015. By using WiFi to establish IP addresses, marketers will be able to connect desktop and mobile devices. – Mike Fruland, senior account manager

Google Chromebooks will grow in popularity. - Mike Prest, lead cloud systems administrator

Windows 10 will be released and be a successful Microsoft OS like Window 7. – Mike Prest, lead cloud systems administrator

Apple computers (MacBooks) will make inroads into corporate environments (even with the success of Windows 10). – Mike Prest, lead cloud systems administrator

Cloud provider Alibaba, based in China, will begin to emerge in the United States and compete with Amazon Web Services, Azure, and Google Compute. – Mike Prest, lead cloud systems administrator

Security

The number of hacks to financial and health institutions will continue to rise, forcing large corporations to hunker down on security and compliance when it comes to data platforms. Investment in secure technology platforms will increase. - Karin K. Straehl, director of client services

Major hacks – think Sony, Target, and Home Depot — will continue into 2015. – Mike Prest, lead cloud systems administrator

Mergers

Traditional media agencies will continue to acquire — and merge with — digital firms. – Amanda L Bury, director of enterprise sales – health and wellness

We’ll start to see more strategic and unique partnerships emerge as digital businesses leverage their APIs to extend services and capabilities. – Amy Fitzpatrick, performance analyst

Do you agree or disagree with us? What are your predictions for 2015? We look forward to hearing your insights and questions, as well as what’s ahead next year.

December 15, 2014

New Study Uncovers the Benefits of Local Marketing — A “Greenfield Opportunity” For Marketers in 2015

By Tari Haro

In this video, commissioned by SIM Partners, Shar VanBoskirk, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc., discusses the local marketing opportunity for multi-location brands.

Brands that deploy local search strategies see real benefits such as improved brand awareness and lead quality — but many multi-location brands still struggle to implement local search, too. That’s a key finding in a study conducted by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by SIM Partners, and announced today.

For the study, titled “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing,” Forrester surveyed a select group of senior marketers of multi-location brands to assess their approach to local search marketing and their perception of it. The study yielded a number of key findings:

  • Local search efforts are limited today. Marketers in the study had limited local expertise, consensus around what local search is, and resources to help execute local search programs.
  • Those with a local search strategy realize benefits. The marketers interviewed who have local search strategies reported various benefits, including improved brand awareness, lead quality, and lift over traditional search programs.
  • Firms hesitate to wholly embrace local, due to perceived issues of scale, measurement, and support at a location level.

The study calls the local search opportunity “greenfield enough that no business should take a ‘wait and see’ approach” and suggests that marketers pursue local using the Local Opportunity Matrix Framework, created by Forrester Consulting.

SIM Partners will host a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, featuring Shar VanBoskirk, VP Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc., on how multi-location enterprise brands can take advantage of the local search opportunity. To download “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search” in its entirety, as well as register for the webinar, visit: resources.simpartners.com/uncovering-benefits-local-search-marketing.

December 12, 2014

Google Gives Marketers Yet Another Reason to Go Mobile

By Christine Wuertz

Mobile has been the hot topic amongst digital marketers for quite some time. And now, Google is giving all the buzz around going mobile even more credibility as it intends to make life much easier for the growing number of mobile users who use Google on their smartphones. Google will now be identifying mobile-friendly pages within its search results on smart devices.

Anyone with a smartphone can tell you how frustrating it can be to click on a link while using your phone and then be directed to a page with tiny font that requires a zoom or links that are too small to be clicked on. You no longer have to be the victim of these pages as Google will be adding a “mobile-friendly” tag below the link and before the description within its search results. In fact, Google may even use these labels as part of its ranking algorithm going forward.

Google’s “Mobile-Friendly” Criteria

Google has published a checklist of features that you must have on your pages in order to make sure you meet the “mobile-friendly” label as determined by Google. According to Google’s official post regarding this new feature, your pages must:

  • Avoid software that is not common on mobile devices (such as Flash)

  • Use text that is readable without zooming

  • Size content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom

  • Place links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

If you’re unsure whether your pages meet Google’s mobile-friendly standards, you can use this tool to test your pages.

Within Google’s official post regarding this change, there is also one very important line to note: “We are also experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.” Google plans to roll this feature out globally in the coming weeks. If they do indeed start using these mobile tags as ranking signals, it will be imperative for anyone looking to rank on mobile to consider implementing mobile friendly pages.

Last December, we posted an infographic highlighting all the positives that come with having mobile-friendly pages. At that time we noted that 99.8% of websites had yet to implement responsive design (i.e. mobile friendly). In that same infographic, we shared that on average 44% of consumers take some sort of action whether it’s a call, a visit, or a purchase to that business after performing a mobile search. When you take into consideration these two statistics, implementing a mobile-friendly strategy seems like a no-brainer and doing so might put you ahead of the competition in the race to go mobile.

November 20, 2014

Facebook Places: “Social Proof” Drives Visibility for Multi-Location Brands

By Joe Horan

Facebook’s local Places directory, which launched in July, is starting to gain traction and attention. Facebook Places utilizes Graph search, the Page Locations API, plus some other elements in an attempt to complement other local directories, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

When it comes to a digital marketing strategy, the theory of social proof is more important than ever. Social proof is the positive influence created when a person conforms to the actions of others in an attempt to mirror appropriate behavior. Because of social media, social proof has become much more prevalent. Online reviews and ratings are a great example of how a customer’s buying decisions are being influenced today. Facebook takes it one step further and provides their Graph Search blended with traditional online reviews. With 1.35 billion monthly active users compared to Yelp’s 139 million, Facebook Places is a worthy competitor to local business directories and review platforms.

Here’s how Facebook Places works:

Once users select a city on the Places page, they can select among a pre-determined list of categories including restaurants, hotels, bars, cafes, attractions and more.

Each of the categories seem to be ranked by the user’s network and overall business rating. Also included are recent reviews from the user’s network of friends.

Once users click on a business, they are taken directly to the individual business location. There they can see reviews and comments related to that location.

What does the rise of Facebook Places mean for your multi-location business?

  1. Brand presence on Facebook continues to be essential. Not only should your brand have visibility on Facebook, but it is critical to have a local social strategy as well.

  1. Personalized results make engaging with customers vital for success. Sixty percent of people say that they’d willing to post about products/services on Facebook if they were offered a deal or discount.

  1. Reviews and recommendations continue to play an important role in buying decisions. Of those that search social media before making a buying decision, 62 percent said they turn to Facebook.

As Forrester says, “the age of the customer is now.” The country is flooded with smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets all designed to keep consumers connected and informed. Reviews and experiences on local businesses are all readily available on numerous platforms. For the most part, none of it is filtered, deleted or influenced by the business. When Facebook catalogs and displays Graph Search and reviews, it sets itself up to be a local search powerhouse. Facebook Places makes it easy to provide reviews and recommendations that will then be displayed to your network providing digital word of mouth and social recommendations at scale.

November 18, 2014

What Marketers Need to Know About the Demise of Google Carousel

By Christine Wuertz

Google is officially moving away from the horizontal carousel user interface to display search results for listings. Consequently, when Google users conduct searches for categories such as hotels and restaurants, search results no longer appear as a horizontal black bar with local listings. Instead, searches reveal cleaner looking and somewhat larger versions of the traditional three and seven-pack results (i.e., the top three matches for a search). This seemingly minimal change creates a major challenge for businesses: brands now need be in the top three rankings in order to have visibility on the first page. Our advice to brands: use tools such as Google My Business listing management to improve your visibility.

What’s changed:

Google has made an effort to keep some of the previous features from the carousel while maintaining the familiar look of the traditional three and seven packs:

  • One similarity to the former horizontal carousel is the fact that users must now click on each listing within the new three-pack menu in order to see a phone number, address, and map. Within the new and improved three-pack menu comes the option to sort by ratings and price

  • Another key difference is the path a user now takes when clicking on each of the listings. Within a traditional three or seven-pack, a user could either click to visit the Google+ page or click to be taken to the listing’s direct website. Now, when a user clicks on a listing within the new three-pack menu, he or she is taken to an intermediate page that brings up what a user would have traditionally seen in the knowledge graph
What is means to Marketers:

After conducting some testing, we believe that this revamped version of the local pack is only displaying for non-branded searches. Searching for locally branded terms still continues to show the traditional three pack. It is still unclear if or when branded results or results from a broader set of search categories will be looped into this new interface, but it would not be surprising if we begin to see it become more prominently displayed sooner rather than later.

The demise of Google Carousel has some serious implications for marketers.

  • Compared to the horizontal carousel, the new three pack drastically reduces the number of local listings showing on the first page. It’s reminiscent of the Pigeon update, which knocked many seven-pack results down to three, making space in the local pack more competitive than ever. Also, the former horizontal carousel didn’t provide the tiered ranking that this new feature does. Whereas previously, it was arguably just as valuable to rank #5 in the carousel as #1, you now clearly need be in the top three rankings in order to have visibility on the first page.
  • Having an eye-catching local listing with more robust info seems to be more important now (a situation similar to when the carousel was introduced). As was the case with the carousel, the new three pack displays business photos and reviews. It could also be helpful to make sure your listing has a description, as those are now shown as well. Having a description would also maximize your real estate on the page, possibly boosting click-through rates
  • Organic search results are now pushed even further down the page and below the fold for most screen types, making ranking well for local search more important than ever.

For those looking be appear above the fold, Google My Business listing management is one of the major keys to success within this new feature. If your website is less visible in organic results, it is imperative that your local listing shows the most up-to-date information and is consistent with what’s on your website. Also, previously within the horizontal carousel, users had the option to click on sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor as they typically appeared above the fold. With those options now eliminated, the spotlight is now on your Google My Business listing to provide the vast and accurate information that Google is looking to show in this new three-pack menu.

 

November 12, 2014

AMA Momentum 2014: Using Data to Drive Engagement and Results

By Ashley Sandal

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Looking for strategies and tactics to drive incremental lift from your search marketing program in 2015? Then you won’t want to miss the AMA’s Momentum 2014 event, Wednesday, November 13. This year, the half-day event is focused on “Customer Engagement and Big Data: Closing the Gap.” Speakers include SIM Partners’ own Gib Olander, VP of Product, who will help marketers understand how to use location data to improve search rankings as well as conversions in his “Proximity Marketing” session.

With 70% of mobile searches leading to action within an hour, it is essential for your brand to be visible where and when your customers are looking for you. What is location data and how is it used? How should it be collected and distributed to ensure visibility? Gib will answer these questions and many more, as well as provide a checklist for marketers to use to increase brand visibility, relevance and engagement and, ultimately, drive customer acquisition.

Considered a “must attend” marketing event by many, AMA Momentum 2014 will “balance learning critical strategies from best-in-class marketers, with actionable takeaways and implementation tools, no matter your industry.”

If you aren’t able to attend, you can follow live updates on Twitter via #CEBDGAP or follow Gib at @golander. Hope to see you there!

Session: Proximity Marketing: Using location data to improve search performance

Speaker: Gib Olander, VP of Product, SIM Partners

Date / time: Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 at 2:25pm CST

Where: Willis Tower, 37th Floor

November 5, 2014

3 Simple Steps to Maximize Local Visibility with Apple Maps Connect

By Joe Horan

Apple recently announced Apple Maps Connect, a self-service portal for adding or updating your local business listing on Apple Maps. Apple Maps Connect allows business owners or their representatives to quickly update their listing data on Apple Maps. To enhance the mobile customer experience, and be found when and where consumers are looking for them, brands should take three simple steps to maximize local visibility and accuracy with Apple Maps Connect.

Apple Maps Connect is a simple to use interface for small business owners that is similar to Google My Business. Businesses with multiple locations must enter information for each business one at a time. For businesses with more than 100 locations, Apple Maps will accept a file with updated information via email. In order to update a listing, the user must have a valid Apple ID.

As many know, when Apple Maps first debuted it was met with a good amount of criticism. Listings were inaccurate and out of date along with poor directions and business images. Allowing business owners control over the listings provides faster improvements and allows Apple to rely less on major data aggregators. Business owners who update their listings will also notice display advertising for iBeacon, Apple’s indoor mapping system.

A few notes about verifying your business with Apple Maps Connect:

1. Make sure you are using a consistent name, address and phone number. Your information on Apple Maps is another signal to search engines. So consistency within the ecosystem is key

2. Include your most relevant keyword. You can find a list here at Local Search Visibility.

3. Make sure to include correct business hours and website URL with no redirects.

If Apple Pay factors into the release of Apple Maps Connect, we can be relatively certain that Apple is looking for a more direct relationship with small business owners. So watch Apple Maps closely for more developments — and make your brand more visible when and where your customers are looking for you.

November 4, 2014

Social Advertising Spotlight at ClickZ Live Chicago

By Ashley Sandal

 

Looking to create a competitive advantage through greater ad engagement? Don’t miss SIM Partners’ SVP of Social and Emerging Products, Jay Hawkinson, at ClickZ Live Chicago this Thursday at 2:30 pm (CST).

In his session, “Social Advertising Spotlight: Improving Lead Gen, Engagement & ROI,” Jay will be helping marketers understand how to navigate the constant changes in social advertising to build a program that expands their reach, engages audiences and, ultimately, creates sustainable competitive advantage. (More details below.)

If you aren’t able to make the event, be sure to follow live updates from the event on Twitter via #CZLCHI or follow Jay at @sleestakk. Hope to see you in the “social advertising spotlight” at ClickZ Live!

Social Advertising Spotlight: Improving Lead Gen, Engagement and ROI
Thursday, November 6th, 2:30p – 3:30p

By strategically navigating the constant changes in social advertising, marketers gain a competitive edge for better connecting with users through greater ad engagement. As social advertising continues to evolve, marketers must stay on top of new developments and leverage those opportunities to expand audience reach and generate a positive return.

In addition to sharing key social advertising tactics, this session will highlight where marketers can get the best return on their ad dollars on each social media platform, including how to:

  • Determine which social ad is most effective based on marketer goals/resources

  • Leverage photos & videos in promoted posts & tweets to boost performance & engagement

  • Utilize audience targeting capabilities to deliver relevant messages to drive engagement

  • Cross promote paid, owned & earned media

  • Set up Conversion Tracking to better track sales & optimize ads

Photo credit: Flickr, kimeriksson

October 22, 2014

SIM Partners Studies Impact of Google Pigeon on Your Brand

By Adam Dorfman

When Google unleashed its Pigeon update months ago, my colleagues at SIM Partners and I agreed that it would take some time before we could assess Pigeon’s impact on brands. Since then, using the Velocity platform, we have researched its effect on clients and have learned that Pigeon has a number of implications for brands. Studying 5,000 location pages across several industries, we wanted to know how Pigeon affects crucial factors such as website traffic and ranking performance among businesses that depend on local listings. I discuss the results of our study in my new byline for Search Engine Land and encourage you to read our findings and let us know how Pigeon is affecting your brand. Read the article here!