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).
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.
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.
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.
we dead pic.twitter.com/lUys7DptdZ
— alex medina (@mrmedina) November 16, 2017
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!