2017 Local Marketing Year in Review

While there’s always a chance for a radical change in the final month of the year, now seems as good a time as any to take a step back and reflect on the arc of 2017.

Reviewing My 2017 Predictions

I thought I’d start by recapping what I thought would be major trends in 2017. As you’ll see below, many of them did in fact come to fruition.

A caveat: keep in mind that all of my predictions were and are made from the perspective of local businesses. Mileage may vary across the broader marketing landscape.


The number of beneficiaries of organic visibility from Google will decline dramatically.

Overall, given the first three trends below, the direction of this prediction is spot-on, but the pace hasn’t been quite as “dramatic” as I expected. Google’s recent conversion of Home Service Ads to Local Services indicates that Google has major plans…I was perhaps a year too early, however, to earn a perfect five stars on this one.


PAID > ORGANIC ON MOBILE

If you sell products locally, this prediction is starting to be spot-on.

Merkle reports (page 13) that phones produced an outright majority of paid clicks across a wide range of industries — and to my knowledge doesn’t take into consideration Local Service Ads. And organic search’s overall share of mobile visits is down to 24% (page 20).

But I thought we’d see even more Knowledge Panel real estate monetized and a few more of these pack ads, so there was room for improvement on this prediction.


KNOWLEDGE GRAPH (NEARLY) EVERYWHERE

I assumed we’d see more Knowledge Graph entries eating organic results, but Dr. Pete reports it’s even gone beyond that — they’re eating featured snippets, too. And big companies are seeing their local entries merged with brand panels as well.

In combination with my Attribution prediction below, all this means fewer and fewer website clickthroughs for businesses of all sizes.


AMPLIFIED AMP

Google has doubled down on its commitment to AMP, releasing more monetization options for publishers and even buying a company that converts standard HTML pages to AMP.

This comes on top of the expansion of what I see a local business version of AMP: Google Posts.


ATTRIBUTION BECOMES THE NEW CLICKTHROUGH

Google tested expanded Knowledge Panel booking functionality late last year almost immediately after I made these predictions.  Recently that went into overdrive with a direct integration into Google My Business and even more partners.

Mike Blumenthal’s excellent “Google as the New Home Page” post lays out just how dramatic this is for local businesses — something which I don’t think non-local marketers realize. Roughly 70% of conversions are happening directly at Google, before a searcher even visits your website.

And then there are the massive improvements to the Adwords Express program, including a pre-roll “this call brought to you by Google.”

Safe to say, attribution IS the new clickthrough at this point.


KEYWORD STRINGS GET LONGER

I’d thought this would be the case as people got more comfortable with voice search queries.  While I’m not sure if Rand Fishkin they used the same methodology, comparing Rand’s 2016 presentation on keyword length with aHrefs’ 2017 results seems to indicate this is happening.


RANK-TRACKING BECOMES FOLLY

Not only has Google made it incredibly difficult to track rankings from afar, but the local algorithm has become far more location-sensitive. Across different industries and different cities, results now vary wildly.

The only reason I don’t give myself five stars on this one is that (I hear) clients still ask their agencies for this barely-useful reporting.


A TIPPING POINT IN RESOURCE ALLOCATION

Maybe my weakest prediction of this set. Despite all of the above, I haven’t yet sensed a major shift away from SEO expenditures. I suppose it could still be coming at year’s end as businesses assess their 2018 marketing budgets, but to my surprise, agencies still seem to be doing quite well offering SEO as their bread-and-butter, no matter how much Mike Blumenthal and I believe they need to diversify.

Additional Predictions


SNAPCHAT GOES STRATOSPHERIC

No other way to say it: a complete strikeout on this one. SNAP’s IPO went fine, but has since tanked, and Spectacles (or any AR devices, for that matter) have definitely not taken off the way I expected them to.


FACEBOOK TRIES AND FAILS TO GET SMBs TO ADOPT REAL-TIME MESSAGING

Facebook has definitely tried to get businesses to adopt Messenger as a communication platform. But despite consumer demand, it sure seems like success has been limited. Wearing my own business owner hat, I haven’t received any messages in managing our Tidings Facebook Page, but even if I did, I’d likely be too busy to respond to them in real-time…a pain point I have to think is even more acute in retail.


MAJOR CONSOLIDATION HAPPENS IN REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

There was one big acquisition of a reputation management company — SweetIQ by Gannett.  And at some level you might consider the DexYP merger a reputation management consolidation as well, though I think that was about sales more than product.

It still seems like large companies competing for local businesses who don’t yet have a native product in this space will have to acquire one.


SMB CUSTOMER SEGMENTATION EMERGES AS A PRODUCT SPACE

As CRM systems begin to underpin more marketing platforms, we’ve started to see this emergence, though there’s still a lot of room for growth among major SMB marketing service providers. I’ll be interested to hear what some of the larger tech companies are doing on this front at next week’s Cloud Adoption Summit.


LITMUS ANNOUNCES ANOTHER MAJOR PARTNERSHIP

In a way, the company’s Litmus Extension killed multiple partnership birds with one stone, but I didn’t hear any explicit partnerships announced this year. And frankly, I’ve been disappointed by the “results” of their Microsoft partnership from 2016: Outlook is still dreadful at rendering modern email, a major productivity-killer and inhibitor to better emails.


What Else Happened in 2017?

Looking back, there were plenty of things I didn’t predict (or try to predict) for which I think the year will be remembered.

GMB’s Biggest Year Yet

In the last year, Google My Business has rolled out or massively expanded Websites, Posts, Messaging, Q&A, Reserve with Google, Local Services, and a dramatically-improved API. Those are all in addition to Adwords Express.

Google is clearly stepping up its game on the local front as it tries to counter Facebook’s massive advantage in both SMB mindshare and walletshare.

Google Mapmaker Disappears

RIP, old friend. You were an invaluable product for almost a decade.

Seismic Semantic Shift

Mike Blumenthal’s excellent MozCon Local presentation detailed Google’s relatively unreported reliance on semantic cues for local rankings early in the year, and Local SEO Guide’s recently-completed study demonstrated it empirically, with 4 of the top 6 factors relating to keywords-in-reviews.

Google also showed off its ability to extract semantically-important keywords from local business websites in August.

Facebook Becomes Exclusively Pay to Play (in Certain Countries)

You could easily argue this already happened in prior years, but if the news feed change that went live in a few countries rolls out to the U. S., it could indeed be a “death blow” for small business visibility on the platform. (Instagram also began to monetize much more heavily this year.)

The flipside is that Facebook’s long-overdue bonafide Local app may backfill some of that lost visibility, though it gives Facebook additional real estate to monetize over time, too.

Mailchimp Evolves Far Beyond Email

Already among the most robust Email Service Providers, Mailchimp extended its product set to include retargeting and lookalike audience ads on both Facebook and Google, began to offer landing pages, and introduced lightweight marketing automation — all in the same year. Hats off to their entire product team.

Amazon (Quietly?) Invades the Home

While its recent Whole Foods acquisition dominated consumer headlines, many of Amazon’s splashes of interest to marketers came very early in 2017.

Google faces significant threats from Facebook and Apple, but I believe Amazon’s Voice device, TV, and logistical advantages make it by far Google’s #1 competitor in the next 5-10 years.

We’re not far from a time in which Amazon Optimization becomes as important as Google Optimization. I love seeing small businesses experiment with this already.

One Privacy Invasion after Another

Perhaps people already know that Alexa is always listening and are fine with it, but I wonder if 70% of them know Google is tracking their credit card purchases (I’m skeptical that a complaint to prevent this data harvesting will succeed)?

Even with location services disabled, Google continued to mine Android users’ locations for features like how busy a given place is (in addition to helping close the loop on Adwords spending). It stands to reason they’re already using this data for organic rankings as well.

As invasive as all of this feels to me, I get that they’re just trying to keep up with the Zuckerbergs.

AI Starts to Get Scary

The impact of AI is just starting to be felt in the marketing world, as Google experimented with automated Adwords and machines outperformed humans in an Unbounce Conversion Rate Optimization study.  It’s clear we’ll see more of these automated solutions rolling out in 2018.

In the world of not-science-fiction, there’s some truly terrifying stuff happening that I’m not sure we should be relying on companies to police.

Thanks for reading!

What’d I miss? What do YOU think 2017 will be remembered for?

Let me know in the comments, and if you’re interested, check out my 2018 predictions as well!



5 comments on “2017 Local Marketing Year in Review

  • Google is toast.

    They’ve stuffed around with MyBusiness and G+ o often nobody knows how to make it work anymore, and nobody cares. Once people stop caring,it’s over.

    Also 60% of all product and services searches now start on Amazon, Google barely makes 30%, which means it’s no longer the dominant search engine for shopping or business.

    Plus what Facebook is quietly doing for business will make Google look like roadkill.

    Reply
  • Hey Mark,
    Directionally, I agree with you that Google will be in decline over the next couple years, at least in terms of search revenues (we’ll see what happens with self-driving cars). But I’m not sure I’d quite go as far as “toast” :). Growth rate will slow and Wall Street will be unhappy, but even though Microsoft has been in decline for a couple of decades now, it’s still a strong company with plenty of profits.

    Reply
  • Where should smb money go David? In our smb types search remains important. We spend a lot on adwords and also spend at bing ads. Undoubtedly we see the enormous shift from desktop to mobile. Tablets are so small as to be insignificant from our perspective.

    Interestingly while we see the enormous shift in desktop to mobile we also see differences in the two based on demographics. Our services cover some dramatically different demographic types.

    Our services don’t relate to Amazon. We don’t see it. Alternatively we see a variety of social media impacts. That too depends on demographics. IG has exploded for us in one demographic and has gone nowhere in others.

    In both sectors and each smb we work as hard as possible to expand WOM and direct referrals. From a sales perspective its extremely effective. Nothing is that effective per sale, but WOM and direct referrals have nowhere’s the reach that do search. We experiment with an endless varieties of social media and social iinteractions to expand that element.

    In general where do you think expenditures should go?

    Oh…and btw: That is a helluva prediction score…but don’t you think you should get an independent service to give you a rating? 😉

    Dave

    Reply
    • Dave, I’d be happy to have someone as astute as yourself independently rate these next year (2018 predictions coming out tomorrow) — maybe a side business on top of your bartending school? 😉

      In regards to where to spend money, it’s still Google and Facebook/Instagram, but you have to be smart about where you do it, and what to do with people once you’ve captured their interest. Because as prices continue to rise, conversion rate and loyalty communications are going to be critical pieces to keep the cost of acquisition sustainable.

      As far as Amazon, yes, as a pure service business, you’re outside of them at the moment. But I could very easily see a “Cocktail Recipes from Dave’s Bartending Academy” Skill coming in quite handy for voice searches in the kitchen…

      Reply
  • David,

    Pretty good scores overall.

    I think the point about SEO as a pure-play is very interesting. I think Technical and On-site only SEO are at best small parts of the digital marketing mix.

    The challenge becomes, from an agency perspective, how does one deliver value at the very small end of SMB budgets across this newly expanded stack?

    I always get the good stuff from “minutive”

    Reply

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