Location based marketing becomes more important as the number of mobile phones with GPS and data connections is on the rise. People look for businesses situated close to them, wherever they are and at the moment they need them the most. In addition people increasingly share their whereabouts for fun or because of some self-gratifying gaming mechanism. So no doubt about it, putting your business on the digital map is a must. It can help you attract new customers, retain loyal ones and fuel the online conversation. But how? Well,for that I compiled the list below, it will help you on the good way.
An obvious one to start with and probably also the first location based service for you to look at: Google Places. Google allows you to add your business to their extensive ‘Places’ database so that you’ll appear in both general and specific ‘Places’ search results with your business venue. Places also appear as auto search suggestions in mobiles searches or might appear on Google maps. Place pages give you the option to add quite some information about your business, such as foto’s, video’s and opening hours, in addition to your website link, a description and up to 5 categories. Make good use of these options as they will play a role in your Places rankings and make it more likely for you to appear in general searches. For bars, hotels and restaurants 3rd party reviews from authority sites (e.g. Yelp or Tripadvisor) are also shown on the Places page and taken into account to give it a ranking in search results. Though your Place will probably generate traffic to your website, try to think of it as a separate entity. People searching from their mobile might not want to visit your site, but only need enough information to decide wether navigating to it or not.
Finally, Google now started to mix information from the web to describe in a couple terms what’s being sad about a particular place. This gives searches a clue what your business is about, based on what others say about it. This leads to believe that Google Places will more and more come to function as a recommendation engine fueled by user generated reviews and ratings with an important role to play in local search.
One of the first and original ‘check in’ location based services, fuelled by a gaming mechanism with points, mayorships and badges. The reach of this location based service is growing worldwide (10 million users) but still limited in Belgium. It offers opportunities nonetheless, in particular if you target the young and trendy. Check-ins are shared with friends on the network but often on other platforms like Twitter or Facebook as well. Other services started integrating the Foursquare API too, to include venue names in photo apps for example. Foursquare is more than some eyeballs on your venue name though. As a business owner you can claim your venue(s) and get acces to some extra features and analytics. New customers can be offered a ‘newbie’ welcome reduction to lure them in; loyal customers a giftvoucher after several check-ins to keep them coming back. Such promotions are visible to nearby users as ‘specials’. Moreover, the analytics offer you a unique opportunity to identify your best customers and stimulate their ambassadorship of your venue.
Conclusion: don’t wait for your customers to start using Foursquare, but convince them to do so yourself, with premium offers and privileged experiences. (In the verification proces you can ask for window stickers)
Gowalla was the first location based check-in service, but is currently lagging behind in popularity compared to Foursquare, despite a nicer UI design. It’s popularity varies per region though and it could be popular amongst your target group, so don’t neglect it. Claiming your business on Gowalla allows you to customize check-in messages or purchase a custom Passport stamp for your business. Users from their part, can award your venue with a particular ‘highlight’, such as ‘Best Cup of Coffee’ or ‘Best night out’. ‘Trips’ group several venues with a common theme ( e.g Stockholm Green Tour or London Pub crawl), being included in one could generate some traffic to your venue.
Tip: Search for nearby popular places (stations, squares) or venues your target group would frequent (bars, stores) on Gowalla and Foursquare. Compare their number of check-ins to get an idea of their popularity amongst your target group and decide on which to focus. If not both anyway, as users can also connect their foursquare account to their Gowalla account.
Google Latitude is Google’s answer to previously mentioned check-in services. People can ‘check in‘ into the Google Places mentioned above and leave a comment, a rating or a simple smiley. With a widget, it’s possible to show one’s location on a blog or website. Google’s alternative is generally less fun because it lacks the gaming element, but with the recent integration into Google+, it might gain popularity. Also, the user generated ratings of Latitude impact the ranking of your Place in search results and the comments will show up on your Place page. In the US business are already able to create offers, enabling them to reward visitors for checking in. This feature is expected to be available in Europe in the months to come.
Facebook has been closing in on Foursquare and Gowalla with the launch of Facebook Places and more recently Facebook Deals. The combination of both brings you to a similar setting as Foursquare, but with a much larger user base behind it. With Facebook Places you can claim your business just like in Foursquare. The questions feature allows you to interact with people connected to your Place/Page, good to collect feedback. In addition, Facebook Deals offers 4 possibilities to reward check-ins: Individual deals ,Friend deals, Loyalty deals and Charity deals. In Europe, this feature is currently only active in selected countries. With 500 million, users, Facebook is defintely a player to watch in the location based domain and candidate to overtake Foursquare and Gowalla as it can speak to the masses. (Those masses are now massively buying smartphones as well).
Local business directories usually group all businesses from a certain region, subdivided in categories. As search engines understand that these directories are focused on a particular region or city , they will also associate your business to that region when listed in it. In Belgium for example, such directories are Handelsgids or Gouden gids (yellow pages) but often your sector organisation or city has a directory for itself where companies can add their coordinates and preferably a link. Search for ‘[yourcity] / [yoursector] directory’ to find some possibilities for your business.
Many of the tools mentioned above partner with trusted and popular recommendation engines to offer a richer profile of a certain venue. Google Places includes reviews from Tripadvisor, Yelp or CityPlug (particularly relevant for Belgium) and Foursquare partners with several daily Deal sites to offer more ‘Specials’ to its users. Being present, and more important being well reviewed, on these recommendation sites is crucial, though depends entirely on your own service. Having few control might be scary for a business owner, but remember most people are just being honest about their experience and that is yours to shape. Many engines also offer the owner a possibility of replying on reviews. Make sure to use that feature when possible, as it shows responsiveness and involvement from your side (and could rectify certain situations). Participating in locally focused deal sites and group buying initiatives could also improve your local visibilty.
In Adwords you can easily target advertisements to searchers from a particular country, region or city. But if you are specifically targetting mobile searchers with Adwords campaigns, it’s good to add what Google calls a ‘local extension’. It’s nothing more than your business address (or multiple venue addresses) and you can dynamically link it to your claimed Places. It’s usefull however, because the addres shows to local searchers who are in the proximity of your venue.
To let search engines interpret certain data on websites, microformats were introduced in 2005. Microformats structure data (in the code) in such a way that the search engine knows what kind of data he’s reading. Microformats exist for contact information, recipes and events amongst others. Supposedly, if the search engine can interpret the contact information on your site, it also knows where to situate your business. However, more recent programming languages such as HTML5 have better en less intensive methods to structure data. Go to microformats.org to generate your contact information in a microformat and insert it in your website.
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