Spurred by recent developments at Google, Facebook, and fellow Vodorian Chris Michael's Foursquare activity (seriously dude, being the mayor of an incorrectly spelled comedy club is not something to be proud of), it became clear to me as a search engine marketer that an increased focus on geo-aware apps and services could mean serious shifts in the way we use searchable content to reach our target audiences. Only time will tell if the recent announcement of Facebook Places unleashes industry-wide plate tectonics of Pangean proportions, but at the very least it's valuable to explore how local your online marketing efforts might become.
Despite widespread concerns that popular check-in services like Foursquare, Gowalla, and even Yelp are nothing more than the 21st century equivalent of Big Brother, there's no doubting that they're addictive, fun, and growing in popularity.
The recent announcement of Facebook Places, the long-awaited location-based service from the social network that boasts 500 million active users, means things are getting serious. According to an article in AdAge Digital, Borell claims that location-based ad spending will hit $4 billion in 2015, up from $34 million in 2009, and Paul Feng from Google claims that 1/3 of all Google searches have local intent.
Making Cents of Check-Ins
So what, exactly, does this mean for online marketers? For one, it could mean an increased focus on mobile advertising platforms. The two biggest mobile ad players, Google and Apple, are certainly placing their bets on an explosion of mobile advertising dollars. As users spend more time on geo-aware apps and services, surprising them with locally relevant ad content may prove invaluable.
It could also mean a slew of new local optimization techniques. Companies like Twitter, Yelp, and Flickr have proved that it's now second nature for any popular Internet service to include automatic geotagging features. These features accumulate mounds of searchable, location-based information. As Google continues to test integrating local search results with a redesigned landing page, it might become important to reconsider online marketing campaign strategies for companies that regard themselves as location-agnostic. As the Yellow Pages moves to the cloud (see: Facebook Business pages, LinkedIn profiles, and Google's Places Directory) being able to rank high for locally directed search terms, even if you're an international gum manufacturer, will be increasingly significant.
But When Will Location-Based Services Actually Improve my Life?
Check-ins are fun, but other than improving your probability of randomly meeting a friend at a public place, does it really satisfy a basic human need? That's debatable, but it's not to say that check-in services aren't a platform for something bigger and better.
Companies like PlaceCast and DashMob are exploring ways of sending instantaneous, automatic coupon and sale information unique to the geofences you enter. This takes the "bother" of checking-in away; being in a certain proximity to different retailers results in automatic notifications of deals you might be interested in. Think Groupon for the few city blocks around your house. Think Foursquare's competitive game-like check-in mentality bundled with the shopping comparison power of snapping photos of bar codes in scanner apps.
Who knows, maybe this could even translate to a barrage of mobile Facebook ads in your previously uninterrupted friend-stalking adventures. And if that doesn't catch your attention, I don't know what will.