While there’s always a chance for a radical change in the final month of the year, the last day of November seems as good a time as any to share my point of view on what’s coming down the local marketing pike in the last 12 months.

To see how last year’s predictions held up (or didn’t!) see my recently-completed 2017 Year in Review.

“Ads & Knowledge Panels”

This was my answer to the last question from Matt McGee at SMX Advanced in June as to what we’d be talking about in 2018. Nothing I’ve seen in the last 6 months has caused me to change my opinion. Organic results will continue to retreat across huge swathes of Local SERPs, and of course not be present at all in the rising tide of voice searches.

Google will be the new homepage for most small businesses as more information and interactivity flows into Knowledge Panels for recovery/brand searches.  The flipside is that the return on SEO will diminish for many local businesses who rely on discovery searches to acquire customers.

Knowledge Pack results will increasingly become a hybrid of paid and organic listings as Google’s Local Services program expands and others like it are released.

Local SEO will not “die” in any way, shape, or form. But agencies will have to work much, much harder to get their clients organic visibility, and fewer and fewer clients will reap the rewards.

Reserve with Google in even more industries

This program is our clearest indication yet of how Google plans to monetize voice searches: by facilitating transactions. Even setting voice aside, providing consumers an immersive experience with a business through its Knowledge Panel has been a longtime push.

Website clickthroughs will continue to decrease as Google seeks to gather as much transaction-related data as it can directly from its search results. Once it has enough data about transaction volume and profitability, it’ll cut its current “partners” out or raise their rates to a far less-profitable level.

GMB slows down a bit

The Google My Business product team threw a lot of pasta against the wall in 2017.  I think they’re going to sit back for the first few months of 2018 to see what sticks (i.e. analyze usage).

I’m feeling less optimistic that Google Posts will be sunsetted by January 2019 — Mike Blumenthal has convinced me of their value to Google as an SMB engagement mechanism — but at some point, Google will realize that all of these engagement features are costing them beaucoup bucks by distracting consumers from clicking on ads.

Maps becomes a new frontier of monetization for Google

Speaking of distracting consumers from ads, Maps feels like one big distraction right now!  Although Merkle reported a significant uptick in Get Location Details clicks over the course of 2016 (page 11)Promoted Pins still seem underleveraged, even by major advertisers. With all of Google’s location-tracking and retargeting abilities, there’s a major opportunity to expand Maps advertising, even if it’s not quite to the level of push notifications within Maps.

Google actually fights back against fake reviews

No amount of disingenuous PR and fake academic studies underwritten by Google can hide the fact that fake reviews are a major problem — not just for Google, but every company in local search and eCommerce.

Now that Google has finally started to devote resources to GMB, its laughable review spam detection is surely next in line for a refresh?

Twitter’s “Promote Mode” product is a complete and utter failure

It’ll either be shut down by the end of the year or undergo such a massive overhaul that it’s unrecognizable.  I’m all for “MVP’s” in software but this is in no way even a Viable Concept, let alone a Viable Product.

Facebook discontinues broadcast Messenger ads by the end of 2018

The consumer backlash on ads like this will just be too strong. Instead, Facebook will continue down the path of monetizing Instagram more heavily.

Amazon maintains at least a 40-point voice device lead over Google

It’s been hard to escape the ads for Google Home this holiday season. And partnering with Wal-mart was a smart move on Google’s part, even if it just sells more devices. But Amazon is already so far ahead in this category that it’ll be years before Google catches up on the dedicated device front (though I don’t doubt their voice capabilities are superior to Amazon’s). They’ve ceded a ton of ground here, and I expect Amazon to maintain at least a 40-point device market share lead by this time in 2018.

Amazon makes a major SMB push

Amazon is putting many big box stores out of business. But small retailers seem to be doing just fine: 2/3 of them don’t think Amazon impacts their holiday sales, and Amazon has a top NPS score.

Alexa opens up a whole new world of marketing opportunities for SMB’s who are willing to experiment.

I think we’ll see Amazon ramp up advertising on this program, or see an entirely new SMB solution come from them this year.

Etsy makes positive headlines with major partnership or as an acquisition

Etsy needs some positive headlines. A major partnership with (or acquisition by) Square or Shopify would do the trick.

Both Square and Shopify in particular offer impressive marketing products that would be a natural fit as Etsy sellers expand into more traditional businesses, and at least from the outside seem to be good cultural fits.

If Etsy goes into full capitalist mode, Facebook has been trying to drive more traffic to its marketplace for years and would also be a natural partner. And Amazon could easily make Etsy the new Amazon SMB.

The beginning of the end of Yelp

2017 seems like a pretty good year for Yelp’s stock price, up 20%…until you compare it to its closest competitors, Google and Facebook.  Despite the law of large numbers, both have far outpaced Yelp’s growth by percentage.

Mid-year it seemed like Yelp might start to gain some positive momentum with its sale of Eat24. But it’s been more of the same perverse arrogance from the leadership team, continuing to shoot the company in the foot by siding against their own customers with their heavy-handed review policies and a review filter far too prone to false positives.

While companies like Google and TripAdvisor actively help their customers solicit reviews, there’s a reason Yelp continues to bottom-feed among all tech companies in Net Promoter Score.

Facebook’s Local app launch and voice search’s rise are both bound to take consumer eyeballs away from Yelp, and Google’s aggressive push for SMB walletshare will take dollars away from it.

Absent a mindblowing new SMB product release, Yelp’s decline will begin in earnest in 2018.

And that’s a wrap!

I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store, and I look forward to hearing your own predictions (or disagreements with mine) in the comments below.

Disclosure: I own a tiny number of public shares of Amazon, Square, Shopify, and Twitter.

8 comments on “2018 Local Marketing Predictions

  • I am not sure I agree that Google is going to focus on review spam. People are still getting away with virtual offices, po box, and keyword spamming. With all of the bad press and complaining the powers that be don’t seem to consider it a priority. I do agree that Yelp is on their last leg. I know a lot business owners that don’t like Yelp or its policies. It will be interesting to see who takes their place.

  • Great stuff, thanks David! I’ll add two thoughts: 1) Facebook tests search ads, particularly in local. Seems like a big proliferation of unclaimed Places, their local app of course, and where’s the lowest hanging revenue growth opportunity? 2) Maps become a bigger mess across platforms as everyone thinks they can capture their own data on the cheap, based on trends reported with the new ecosphere graph. Cheers to 2018!

  • If Nextdoor.com offers expanded business engagement with it’s growing communities, it may be noteworthy for local marketing. A recent $75 million investment means someone’s now noticing them after being around since 2010.


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