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


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!

October 16, 2014

Why You Need to Adopt the Local Marketing Adoption Curve

By Jon Schepke

With 72 percent of consumers searching for local information on a smartphone visiting a store or location within five miles (and likely within five to ten minutes), the local marketing opportunity is clear. But local marketing consists of more than just optimized pages and listings — it’s a complex ecosystem that is always on and always changing. Many marketers struggle to take advantage of the local marketing opportunity because of its complex nature.

Enter the local marketing adoption curve. By taking a phased crawl, walk, run approach to building a comprehensive, cross-functional local marketing program, brands can be more visible, relevant and engaging in the eyes of their consumers and, ultimately, drive customer acquisition across hundreds to thousands of locations. In my new column for Search Engine Watch, I introduce the marketing adoption curve and discuss the concept in more detail. As you can see from my column, local marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Your ability to embrace and manage the adoption of local marketing will determine your rate of success. I encourage you to review the details and let me know where your brand lives on the local marketing adoption curve.

Click here to read the full article.

October 15, 2014

Team Member Spotlight: Annie Badeusz

By Ashley Sandal

This week our Team Member Spotlight features Annie Badeusz, our Sales Support Administrator!

Who in your life has influenced you the most? How did they do it?

The people in my life who influence me most are definitely my parents.  They taught me from an early age you need to work hard and put yourself out there to get where you want to go.

If you could buy one thing to complete your home, what would it be?

If I could buy one thing to complete my home it would be a Bath & Body Works 3-wick “Leaves” scented candle. Go get one and thank me later.

Why do you like working at SIM Partners?

My favorite thing about working at SIM is knowing that your work has an impact.  Every day working here is different, it’s a great learning environment full of challenges.  Everyone here works so hard at what they do and they enjoy it which is great to be a part of.


September 25, 2014

Learning to Crawl, Walk, and Run with Local Marketing

By David Deal

Eighty percent of consumer buying activity takes place within 15 miles of the home. But brands struggle to define, implement, and track the local opportunity across paid, earned, and owned media. According to Jon Schepke, CEO of SIM Partners, brands can achieve a breakthrough by learning how to crawl, walk, and run with local. He shared his insights September 24 via his presentation, Defining the Local Opportunity, at the SIM Partners annual SIMposium event.

SIMposium explores the tools and techniques that brands need to drive customer acquisition with always-on consumers, especially at the local level. Schepke shared with executives in attendance an approach for understanding the local marketing opportunity.

He set the context by sharing some compelling Google data: 72 percent of consumers who search for local information on smartphone visit a store within 5 miles. And local search converts at a higher rate than other forms of search engine marketing.

And yet, not enough companies are building their brands at the local level — partly because mastering local means embracing search, social, and mobile, “a dynamic ecosystem that requires brands to adapt constantly,” according to Schepke. And understanding the complexity of the ecosystem can be a challenge even for the most digitally savvy marketers.

He also previewed forthcoming research from SIM Partners and Forrester Research, which includes a survey of brand executives that reports their perceptions of local marketing. The survey uncovers a number of perceived barriers to local marketing, as identified by the executives surveyed. Among those challenges:

  • Brands need to take control of their local data. He recounted how SIM Partners recently met with a company that believed it would take 18 months to organize its local data before embracing the local opportunity. As it turned out, the brand really did not need 18 months to clean up its data; in fact, SIM Partners was able to tackle many of the brand’s problems in about one week. The brand needed someone with experience to help in order to realize that its obstacle was not as bad as perceived.
  • Brands struggle to prove the value of local marketing. Schepke stressed that proving the value of local marketing is more of a perceived obstacle, not a real one. “The issue is not proving value but making sure you are defining the appropriate KPIs to determine local return on investment.”

On the other hand, brands told SIM Partners and Forrester that they understand the potential benefits of a local strategy, such as getting more qualified leads and differentiating their brands.

“Marketers see the opportunity,” he said. “They just need to know how to seize it.”

Seizing that opportunity means recognizing that local is complex — too complex to simply “dive in and do local search” without a well defined approach. Google and its myriad updates alone can present a daunting challenge to any marketer. At various times, Google’s updates, ranging from Carousel to Hummingbird, have forced marketers to address responsive design and rethink their approaches to using Google+. All told, Google released 890 updates in the past year alone.

In such a constantly evolving digital landscape, Schepke suggested brands approach the local opportunity by, crawling, walking, and running:

  • Crawl: get the basics right, such as listing management. Cleanse your data and ensure that your brand information is consistent across multiple channels.
  • Walk: think more seriously about how location pages are optimized. Leverage dynamic content. Claim and optimize every Google+ listing. At this point, you should be getting enough analytics data to start capitalizing on the opportunity to build your brand.
  • Run: have a strategy, tools, and technology to post information with the right content at the right time. Implement an effective pay-per-click (PPC) strategy.

“Once brands learn how to run correctly, they see major benefits such as increased lead volume and lower cost per lead,” he said. “There is no question about measuring the value of local.”

He also shared how technologies such as SIM Partners’s own Velocity platform helps marketers embrace local by making big data actionable. He indicated that through its partnership with Signal, Velocity will be able to more effectively collect and understand customer behavior in real-time, online and offline. Velocity will therefore be able to anticipate local behavior and act on it — for instance, serving up information about local home insurance options for a customer who is buying a home.

“Local is all about commitment,” he concluded. “Brands that apply the time and resources to implement and track local campaigns are predetermined to be more successful than those that do not.”

September 24, 2014

The Digital Disruption Opportunity

By David Deal

Digital disruption is an opportunity, not a threat. But only brands that build customer relationships will prosper from digital disruption, according to Shar VanBoskirk, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. The power of digital disruption was the key theme of VanBoskirk’s presentation, A Look Ahead: Forrester’s Interactive Marketing Forecast, delivered September 24 at the SIM Partners annual SIMposium event.

SIMposium explores the tools and techniques that brands need to drive customer acquisition with always-on consumers, especially at the local level. VanBoskirk kicked off the event to deliver Forrester’s forecast for how brands are investing their 2015 marketing budgets. But she also provided a broad context for the numbers by discussing the key driver for marketing spend: digital disruption.

“Digital disruption changes the way companies not only market themselves but also operate their businesses,” she said. For instance, Walgreens has adapted to the disruptive power of mobile to create a photo app that enables customers to print photos in-store via their mobile device. Rolls Royce relies on digital to act as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) for the airlines industry, thus leasing its engines for air travel, not just automotive use.

The New Face of Disruption

Disruption itself is not new, according to VanBoskirk. What’s new is the impact of digital. Thanks to digital, disruption comes from 10 times the number of innovators, and from companies outside your industry. Digital disruption comes at one-tenth the cost and delivers 100 times the power of other disruptive forces. As a result, brands are reeling from competition that arises from unexpected sources. Weight Watchers’s earnings and stock prices have been on the decline because competitors like MyFitnessPal are stealing customers. Netflix has 44 million subscribers — twice as many as Comcast has.

“Disruption is not about changing a function but changing a business,” she said.

So what determines whether a company will be a disruptor instead of being disrupted? Answer: a focus on customer relationships. “Your only differentiator in the age of digital disruption consists of customer relationship,” she said. “We have moved from an age in which giants like Ford and GE dominated via mass manufacturing to the age of the customer, when brands like USAA and Amazon rely on customer insight to satisfy empowered customers.”

But simply “building customer relationships” is not enough to differentiate a brand. Creating better relationships by being aware of customer context is the key to success.

“Marketing has a new remit: context,” she said.

Context means adapting your content and style to how and where customers interact with your brand. Context means adapting your customer experience depending on whether your customer is using a smartphone or a laptop to interact with your brand. Context means being aware of your customer’s location — for instance, nimbly localizing the content you share with a customer when she travels from Boston to Chicago.

“When you are context-aware, marketing shifts from being a creator of message to being an entity that stimulates value-based interactions between your brand and customer,” she said. “In the age of the customer, savvy marketers are guided by constructs such as the customer lifecycle, as opposed to marketing campaigns. In the age of the customer, interactions between customers and brands are continuous.”

According to VanBoskirk, context-aware brands focus on interactions, not campaigns. They focus on customer recognition, not customer segmentation. They focus customer moments, not on media schedules. Context-aware brands invest in tools that build customer insight, such as journey maps and customer personas. They create content that is shareable and trackable in context of customer behaviors, and less on mass advertising. And at the center of context-aware customer relationship building: strong technology, which is the contextual marketing engine that fuels customer insight.

What Should Marketers Do Next?

VanBoskirk concluded the talk by challenging brands to jump-start their businesses in a number of fundamental ways. She offered these next steps:

  • Embrace agile tools and processes. For instance, Deloitte uses nimble technologies such as Yammer to manage its business more effectively and bring new ideas to market faster.
  • Go local. Have global business stories, but make them local in order to be more context-aware. U.S. Bank, for instance, works with SIM Partners to improve its local presence via social media, mobile, and search.
  • Take measured risks. Dedicate resources, time, and budget to try different approaches to business. For instance, adidas piloted a prototype interactive sneaker wall that was then rolled out into retail stores — all because of a measured approach to taking a risk in the way the brand interacts with customers.
  • Use customer knowledge to stretch your business model. For instance, Haier, an appliance manufacturer, created a combined washer/dryer unit used in rural Chinese households. The company received an inordinate number of service calls from units that were breaking because customers were using the washer/dryers to wash vegetables. Conventional product strategy would have been to blame customers for misusing the machines. But instead, Haier acted on the customer feedback and created a unit that also washes and peels vegetables.

VanBoskirk’s presentation reflects a more tempered approach to discussing digital disruption than I have experienced with other thought leaders. Many pundits have discussed disruption as a scary cataclysm. VanBoskirk’s discussion did not minimalize the impact of digital disruption. But she took the conversation about disruption from a place of dread and fear to acceptance.