January 27, 2015

Will You Win the Local Search Marketing War?

By David Deal

Local search marketing is the next digital battleground for your brand. But only marketers with strong strategies will win the war for customer loyalty. Those are among the takeaways from “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing,” a January 27 webinar hosted by Shar VanBoskirk, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst, and Jon Schepke, CEO of SIM Partners.

The purpose of the webinar was to help marketers better understand the local search opportunity and some best practices to maximize its value. The webinar drew upon on the findings of a recently published Forrester Consulting report sponsored by SIM Partners.

VanBoskirk started the webinar by elevating local search as an important starting point to embrace contextual marketing. She indicated that according to Forrester, brands will invest $100 billion into digital marketing by 2019, and by 2016, digital marketing will overtake television as an investment priority.

“It’s not just the numbers that are important,” she said. “The way marketers think about digital has changed. Brands are shifting from mass digital marketing to investing in more personal, contextual experiences. And local search marketing provides a starting point to embrace contextual marketing.”

A Landmark Study

Given the heightened importance of local search, in 2014, Forrester Consulting conducted a study examining how marketers perceive local, VanBoskirk indicated. Sure, marketers understand the importance of local, but do they understand local and how to deploy it? The study, “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search,” consisted of in-depth interviews with 13 marketing leaders from multi-location brands. The findings, published in December 2014, were revealing:

1. Marketers Perceive Local to Be Extremely Valuable, but Local Search Efforts Are Limited

The actual mechanics of applying search marketing at a local capacity is somewhat new. Stumbling blocks to applying local search include limited budget, lack of reliable data, and limited skill sets.

2. Experienced Marketers Find Good Value from Local

Marketers who have overcome stumbling blocks and moved forward with local report strong benefits such as brand awareness, better-quality leads, and more leads.

“I was pleasantly surprised that respondents were able to measure and understand how local efforts promote their brands to customers who might have not considered them in the past,” VanBoskirk commented.

3. Many Marketers Just Don’t Know How to Proceed with Local

Hampered by obstacles such as a lack of budget and an understanding of local, many marketers don’t even know to get started. As one executive from a U.S. financial institution told Forrester, “I’m not sure how local search fits into my long-term marketing strategy. But I know it is a growth opportunity for us.”

A Way Forward

To address marketers’ uncertainty and to help them understand the urgency of getting started with local search, Forrester created the Local Opportunity Matrix. The matrix helps marketers prioritize local along two dimensions:

  • Your Local footprint: the more geographies where you are present, the more important it is that you place a higher priority on local search.

“If you have a large local footprint and a mobile audience, local is critical,” she said. “If you have a small local footprint and a less mobile savvy customers, you should focus on the fundamentals first. Spend your time and budget building a foundation.”

The Importance of Strategy

VanBoskirk then turned the floor over to Jon Schepke, who emphasized the important of local strategy and adopting local at the right pace.

According to Schepke, a well-formulated strategy is critical to help marketers succeed with local search. In Schepke’s view, a local search strategy helps marketers not only identify the local search opportunity but also how to maximize the value of local.

He said, “The opportunity for local is much larger than most brands realize. But the information gap exists because most brands have not implemented a local search strategy.”

He indicated that a strategy should address elements of local search such as a brand’s approach to listing management and content distribution; and identification of tangible benefits that cuts across paid, earned, and owned media.

He added, “A local search strategy helps you maximize the value of local search at scale. A local strategy ensures that your local content is contextually relevant across multiple properties.”


Clients that formulate strategies should start to see results in about 60 days. And the results will go beyond improved local search results.

“A comprehensive local strategy changes the conversation from lowering your cost per lead for local to achieving a lower blended cost per lead across paid, owned, and earned media,” he said.

“A strategy is not only about driving incremental clicks lead and phone calls from local but also increasing conversion rates across channels.”

The Local Adoption Curve

Once you have a strategy in place, what happens next? According to Schepke, marketers should embrace search by crawling, walking, and running — a framework he calls the Local Adoption Curve.

In other words, proceed at the right pace:

  • At the crawl stage, brands should focus on building awareness and understanding by mastering some of the fundamentals of local search, such as listing management.
  • At the walk stage, brands should drive positive perception, buy-in, and participation by addressing needs such as optimizing local pages for search and being present on Google My Business listings.
  • At the run stage, brands should be getting more sophisticated with local search to achieve sustained value. For instance, brands should have a local content management system in place, and they should maximize the value of search across social properties.

Whereas a strategy prepares you for success, the Local Adoption Curve ensures that you achieve success on a sustained basis, according to Schepke.

“Local is the next digital battleground for brands,” he concluded. “Brands closest to their customers will win, and local is a way to do that across all channels”

VanBoskirk concluded by exhorting webinar attendees to get started with local. “Just try local,” she said. “And make sure your data are accurate and represents everything you want it to about the things you think customers want to know about your business. We are at a point with digital where marketing must deliver contextually relevant, multi-brand experiences. Local provides a starting point to do so.”

To download “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search” in its entirety, as well as see a replay of the webinar, click here.

January 26, 2015

Is Your Local Search Strategy Doing Its Job?

By Tari Haro

Businesses with thoughtful local search marketing strategies enjoy benefits such as improved brand lift and better leads. But businesses that fail to create well formulated strategies hurt their marketing efforts; even worse, they are adrift in a sea of confusion and frustration, without achievable goals or even a common definition of what local search is. The importance of having a local search strategy is one of the key takeaways of a recently published Forrester Consulting report, “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing.” But what are the key elements of a local search strategy?

The Forrester report, sponsored by SIM Partners and written by Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk, 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 good news is that most of the marketers surveyed have strategies in place. When well formulated and implemented successfully, those strategies lead to better-quality leads, improved brand awareness, and lift over traditional search programs. (One marketer reported to Forrester that her brand’s search strategy resulted in “her best, most qualified targets.”) The bad news is that most of the marketers Forrester surveyed have poorly formulated and implemented local search strategies. ” [M]ost existing efforts are informal at best,” VanBoskirk writes. “Local strategies are managed ad hoc, support only the bare bones, or have been in place for just a short time.”

Brands need not, and should not, settle for half-baked local search strategies. Here are some key elements that senior marketers should include in their local search strategies to make them fully baked:

  • Scope and definition. What surprised many readers of the Forrester study is the lack of consensus around what local search is as well as its role in your company. That’s why a strategy should act as a gut check, if you will, by defining what exactly local search marketing means to your company and the role it plays in building your brand. Defining local search and its role will force all the key decision makers in your company to arrive at consensus.
  • Goals you can measure. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course a plan should have goals, and the executives surveyed by Forrester agree. And yet, a number of executives in the Forrester study admit to lacking goals that they can measure readily. That’s why goals you can measure are so essential. Ideally, you should pick goals that contribute to broader branding needs such as customer acquisition and retention (examples being improved conversion rates). But make sure you have the means to measure the results.
  • Snapshot of your customer. Everything you do in local search revolves around the wants and needs of your customer. Your strategy should draw upon persona research and journey mapping tools to create a detailed snapshot of the customer you seek to acquire and retain through local search. Your customer snapshot might exist already via your broader marketing and customer service programs (you might have created them for your website, for instance). If you possess a firm understanding of your customer already, make sure your strategy identifies how local search fits into her wants, needs, and behaviors.
  • Integration. Local search does not exist in a vacuum. Your strategy should not, either. It’s important that you show how your strategy supports your broader marketing and PR program — as well as how it draws from marketing and PR. For instance, your local search strategy needs to be in close lockstep with your content marketing operation. If you possess a documented content marketing strategy already (and I hope you do), your strategy should identify how you will tap into your content planning calendar to deliver localized content.
  • Implementation game plan. According to Forrester, too many brands lack the proper resources and automation tools in place to support their local search needs. An implementation game plan will not solve those problems — but it will be an important first step. A game plan should identify, for all decision makers to see, the composition of your local search team, gaps in resources, a proposal for filling those gaps, and a required budget to succeed. An implementation game plan should identify tools you’ll need to pull off a local search program, ranging from analytics to automation tools. Ideally, a game plan will identify both your ideal budget, resources, and tools, as well as a Plan B in case you don’t get everything you want. The game plan will essentially put all your cards on the table and require your stakeholders to decide how important local search is to your brand.

For the purposes of inspiring you to take action, I have oversimplified many elements of local search strategy. (We would need more than a blog post to discuss this topic in full.) But the imperative is important: if you lack a strategy, start thinking about one now. To get a firm grounding, take a snapshot of your current local search program by performing a thorough audit. Your audit will identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities that a local search strategy will address. If you don’t know how to get started, find outside help. Creating a well-formulated strategy is too important to put off for another day.

Note: SIM Partners will host a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, featuring Shar VanBoskirk, 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:

January 20, 2015

Pace Yourself With Local Search Marketing

By Tari Haro

If you find local search to be a difficult topic to master, you are not alone. According to a recently published Forrester Consulting report, “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing,” marketers say they possess limited local expertise, consensus around what local search is, and resources to help execute local search programs. At SIM Partners, we believe marketers absolutely need to embrace local search — but at a pace that sets the stage for long-term future success.

The Forrester report, sponsored by SIM Partners and written by Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk, surveyed a select group of senior marketers of multi-location brands to assess their approach to local search marketing and their perception of it. According to the report, “We found no accord across our interviewees about what ‘local search’ means or which goals a local search strategy helps marketers achieve.” Moreover, many respondents confuse local search with other forms of digital marketing.

Consequently, too many marketers are taking a wait-and-see approach to local. And yet, marketers need to overcome the confusion or get left behind by competitors that are gaining benefits such as improved lead quality and brand lift by implementing well formulated local search programs, according to Forrester.

Our own experience working with enterprise-level clients shows that marketers need to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach to adopting local — in other words, a measured methodology characterized by building a solid foundation for success, then moving on to more complex actions that yield deeper benefits.

At the crawl stage, marketers should focus on local data management — getting the basics right with local search, such as representing their brands consistently and accurately on relevant local listings. At the walk and run stages, marketers will move on to more advanced challenges such as thinking more about how location pages are optimized (at “walk” stage) and linking local search to social and mobile (at the “run” stage).

We call this phased approach to local marketing the local marketing adoption curve. Our CEO, Jon Schepke, recently unveiled the local marketing adoption curve via this informative column in Search Engine Watch. “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,” Jon wrote.

Two months later, Forrester Research underscored Jon’s thinking with the publication of “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing.” Shar VanBoskirk counseled marketers to avoid taking a “wait-and-see” approach with local search despite marketers’ misgivings. Why? Because local search not only delivers results today but also helps marketers make the transition to contextual marketing. The local marketing adoption curve will help you embrace local marketing at the right pace as you learn, and set the stage for lasting differentiation and results.

Note: SIM Partners will host a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, featuring Shar VanBoskirk, 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:

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January 19, 2015

The New Google My Business Policy Guidelines: What Marketers Need to Know

By Alexis Gui

If you’ve visited the Google My Business policy guidelines page recently, you might have noticed that Google has made a number of updates. While many of the changes expand upon rules already in place, marketers and SMBs should take note as there is more clarification around some of the previously murky topics.

That said, there is still some murkiness. To help simplify the “Googlespeak,” SIM Partners put together a list of the top 10 takeaways and our interpretations of how marketers can apply the changes to listings. We count down from the most widely applicable and (relatively) straightforward, to the more nuanced.

1. Geo-modifiers are NOT allowed in the business name.

Google has been enforcing this more stringently, but now it’s 100 percent clear on paper that location/address, directions, or containment information (e.g. “Chase ATM in Duane Reade”) are not permitted.

2. Use the fewest number of categories you need to describe your core business.

Google is further cracking down on the use of categories as keywords and asking you to trust that it will rank your business for relevant searches. According to the guidelines, ‘when you select a specific category like “golf resort,” Google implicitly includes more general categories like “resort hotel” or “hotel.” Google can also detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web. Translation: you should have a relevant landing page with category signals and good citations elsewhere that include your business categories.

3. Hours of operation may be an unspoken requisite.

For your business to be eligible for a local listing, Google has added the clause that it “must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.” Aside from certain business types like ATMs, Google is looking at hours as a criteria for eligibility. Ergo, you should have them if possible.

4. Don’t use a website URL that redirects to social media sites or online directory listings.

This expands upon the old guideline to explicitly call out social media pages, which local SEO expert, Mike Blumenthal, notes has been the best tactic post-Pigeon.

5. For branded chains, use the same brand name (no descriptors allowed) and the same categories across locations.

To comply with this, branded chains should use bulk accounts as the simplest way to ensure consistent names and categories. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule.  First, if you are managing multiple business types (i.e. departments and sub-types like Walmart and Walmart Vision Center). In this case, name and category consistency still apply within departments and sub-types. Second, your locations use different names in the real world (e.g. Hilton Chicago and Hilton San Francisco).

6. If a location has a sole practitioner who represents a brand, create a single listing in the format: [branch/company]: [practitioner name].

The example given is Allstate: Joe Miller, if Joe Miller is the only agent at that location. Staff do not count as practitioners.

7. If there are multiple practitioners at a location, create a parent organization listing separate from the practitioner listings (this is the same as the old guideline), but for the practitioner listings, don’t reference the parent organization in the name.

This rule may create challenges for a few reasons. First, if the previously mentioned Allstate location had two agents, their business names would no longer be directly attached to the Allstate parent brand (i.e. Allstate: Joe Miller would just be Joe Miller if he had a colleague.). Referencing the parent brand in a location business name has traditionally been considered best practice and is still the preferred format for distribution to feed aggregators. Using different naming conventions for My Business and elsewhere in the local ecosystem should make marketers raise an eyebrow, as we know that consistent citations is key. Second, it’s not user-friendly to expect bulk account users to have to parse out which locations have multiple practitioners and therefore need an additional parent brand listing and a different naming convention. (NOTE: It will be interesting to see how strictly this is enforced during the listing verification process.)

8. Departments within organizations can have separate listings from the parent organization. Their names can reference the parent organization, but they must have different main categories and phone numbers.

For example, the pediatric department of a hospital could have a listing with the category “pediatric care,” while the main hospital would have another listing with “hospital’ as the main category. It is unclear whether departments are always entities, or if individuals within those departments also count as “departments,” or if they should be considered “practitioners.” This matters because, unlike departments, multiple practitioners at a location cannot reference the parent organization in their names, which in turn could have repercussions on how their names are distributed across online directories and other local listings in order to maintain consistency in citations.

9. For multiple brands operating out of the same location, don’t combine brands into one business name, but create separate listings for each brand only if they operate independently.

In cases where brands clearly operate independently (e.g. the TCF Bank inside a Jewel Osco), Google says they should have separate listings. But it may cause some confusion for a dual-branded location, such as a KFC/Taco bell, which is staffed by the same people. It doesn’t make sense for that location to feature just one of the brands in the name, yet they don’t technically operate independently. In the near-term, brand might consider creating separate listings for separate brands at the same location, but being sure to differentiate them with suite numbers and phone numbers if at all possible

10. Don’t reference any brands carried by your business in the name, unless you’re a fully dedicated and authorized seller, then you can choose to use the brand name for the listing.

Again, what qualifies as a “fully dedicated and authorized seller” is ambiguous. The example Google provides is a U Haul Neighborhood Dealer. However, if you’re an independent auto shop that’s also a U-Haul neighborhood dealer, it likely makes more sense to market your own auto shop business name in your local listing. I’d suggest going that route and making sure to include U-Haul in the description or list of services. (It would not be best practice to create a separate listing for each name if you are a single business with one main phone number.)

As always, please let us know what you think about the changes and which points you still have questions on.

January 15, 2015

Assessing the Local Opportunity for Your Brand

By Tari Haro

“Local is a great opportunity for any marketer…” That’s a key take-away from a recent Forrester Consulting Study, “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search,” commissioned by SIM Partners.

But with so many competing priorities, at what pace should you proceed to make the most of the local opportunity for your brand?

Enter the Local Opportunity Matrix.

Created in partnership with Forrester Consulting, the Local Opportunity Matrix is a framework to help marketers understand how quickly they should proceed with their local marketing efforts. The framework looks at two essential factors — how many locations your organizations has as well as how mobile your consumers are.

Forrester’s Shar VanBoskirk, VP and Principal Analyst, says that if you have a strong local presence and mobile savvy customers, then local is a “significant priority” for you.

To learn more about the Local Opportunity Matrix, as well as at what pace you should proceed with local, register to attend our upcoming webinar featuring Shar along with SIM Partners CEO, Jon Schepke, at

No time for the webinar? Check out this two-minute video to put the Local Opportunity Matrix to work for your brand.

January 14, 2015

Your Local Workforce Hold the Keys to Local Content

By Adam Dorfman

Any brand that operates multiple locations faces the compelling challenge of creating content that is more relevant and findable to local audiences. For instance, if you are a retailer with locations in Sao Paulo and New York, a winter-season promotion will occur at radically different times of the year in both locations. As I discuss in my new column for Search Engine Land, your local workforce can be incredibly valuable as you formulate location-aware content. Your local employees understands the nuances of communicating to their local markets better than anyone. My new column shares how brands can more effectively tap into the value of their local brand ambassadors. Check it out and let me know what you think.

January 12, 2015

AdAge: Getting Closer to Customers in 2015 with Local Marketing

By Tari Haro

Today, SIM Partners CEO Jon Schepke made his debut in Advertising Age with a byline on how national marketers can get closer to their customers in 2015.

In “Marketers: Get Closer to Customers in 2015 with Local Marketing,” Jon asserts that marketers can no longer afford to take a “wait-and-see” approach to local. Why? Because local search represents built-in intent and opportunities to drive brand awareness as well as customer acquisition across mobile and social. He also shares three tips for national marketers to get started with local, including understanding how to prioritize local, identifying an approach to prioritizing local efforts, and assessing the role of a local marketing automation toolset.

While this piece is a landmark for our brand and business, what’s most important is that local search marketing is becoming part of mainstream marketing conversations.

Now, will it become part of your strategy for 2015?

January 8, 2015

Take Advantage of the Local/Mobile Convergence

By Jon Schepke

Succeeding with local search means succeeding with mobile marketing. And if you don’t understand the interplay between local and mobile, you’re missing an opportunity to build your brand and create customers. Consider that three out of five consumers use a mobile phone to search for local businesses, and by 2016, mobile will overtake the desktop for local searches. My new column for Search Engine Watch delves into the symbiotic relationship between local and mobile, drawing from some conclusions of the recently published Forrester Consulting study, Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search.  Check out my column and plan on learning more from a January 27 webinar that SIM Partners is hosting with Forrester Research’s Shar VanBoskirk (author of the study). (To register for the webinar, visit: How are you taking advantage of the convergence between local and mobile?

January 6, 2015

Local Search Is Important — but How Urgent?

By Tari Haro

The recently published Forrester Consulting study “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing” (sponsored by SIM Partners) gave marketers a clear mandate: embrace local search to achieve benefits such as improved lead quality and brand lift. But local search is not the only marketing priority on a CMO’s plate.

To help senior marketers understand the urgency level of the local search opportunity, Forrester has unveiled in our study the Local Opportunity Matrix. How high you place local search on your priority list comes down to two factors: your local footprint and your customers’ mobile savvy. The bigger your local footprint and the savvier your customers are about mobile, the more urgently you should tackle local search marketing.

Local Footprint

Understanding the size of your local footprint is essential for any brand, such as a restaurant chain or financial services brand, which operates multiple locations. You can determine the size of your footprint by taking stock of how many franchises you own or storefronts you operate. If you have a large footprint, your level of opportunity and risk are greater: opportunity to create customers though local search, but risk to tarnish your brand if you fail to represent your locations accurately and consistently across digital. If your customers cannot find you, they will find someone else. If your customers find your location on a listing, but information about your franchise is out of date, your customer will not only find someone else but also form a negative impression of your brand.

Mobile Savviness

Your local footprint is a measure of your brand’s presence. Mobile is the lens through which to view your customers. “The more mobile and connected your customers are, the greater their demand for location-based experiences,” writes Shar VanBoskirk, Forrester Research vice president, principal analyst, and author of the report. And why is mobile so important instead of, say, social? Because mobile devices are catalysts for local search. You use your mobile device to look up restaurants on Yelp when the mood strikes whether you are exploring downtown Seattle or New York. Your mobile device is an portal to search, just as it facilitates taking pictures and video. In fact, by 2016, mobile will overtake the desktop for local searches.

Mobile is so important that Forrester Research has created a model for studying consumer mobile behavior, the mobile mind shift, which means consumers’ expectations for getting what they want immediately and within the right context. If I want to find vinyl record shops in the Ukranian Village neighborhood of Chicago, I expect my mobile device to serve up exactly what I want and to offer walking directions based on where I am conducting my search in Ukranian Village. (When it comes to local search, Forrester could have called the mobile mind shift the app mind shift given how much we rely on apps such as Yelp and Google Maps to do the heavy lifting of for us.)

If you don’t know how mobile-savvy your customers are, find out. Use tools such as customer analytics data and observational research. Mobile is just too essential to local search to overlook.

How Urgent?

So how urgent should search be for your business? If you have hundreds and thousands of locations, and most of your customers are mobile-savvy, it’s time you make search an urgent priority. If your local footprint is small and your customers are not mobile-savvy, you’re still not off the hook: it’s important that you ensure that your locations are at least easy to find and share accurate information. “Start with instituting a data hygiene routine and establishing relationships with online directories and aggregators of local data,” writes VanBoskirk.

But given the rapid pace of mobile adoption, it’s only a matter of time before all consumers are mobile savvy. And any brand that aspires to be a national or global presence will need to think more urgently about local search.

SIM Partners will host a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, featuring Shar VanBoskirk, 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:

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!