Google: Mobile Searches Eclipse Desktop Volumes Across the Globe

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Earlier today Google’s Amit Singhal told a conference audience that there were now more searches happening on mobile devices than on PCs and laptops around the world. Google made a more limited version of this announcement in May when it said, “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”

At the time, Google declined to name the other countries but soon it added the UK to the list. Now Singhal is saying the phenomenon is global. Individual countries may be exceptions but overall mobile has eclipsed the PC.

In terms of local-mobile query volumes Google has thrown out a range of numbers over the past couple of years: 30%, 40%, 50% and most recently 30% again. It’s not entirely clear where these numbers are coming from (whether internal data or surveys). Bing previously told me that 53% of the queries coming through its mobile app were local in nature.

Notwithstanding this uncertainty, I think it’s safe to now assert that the majority of mobile search queries carry a local intent — and potentially by extension the majority of search queries period. While people do entertainment, news and general research queries, most lookups are going to have a local or offline purchase intent.

In 2010 Google said that 20% of PC search queries were “related to location.” Upon further questioning Google acknowledged that it was difficult to disambiguate many queries and that this 20% figure was a safe and reliable estimate but that it probably didn’t capture all of local-intent search taking place on the PC.

On mobile devices local intent queries are generally easier to determine. I would argue that the relationship between local and non-local queries has now flipped. Or perhaps more accurately I would contend that it’s simply easier for us to see the location intent reflected in the query and subsequent user behavior on mobile devices.

In any event we’ve truly entered a new era.


Thumbtack Defies Conventional Wisdom, Scores $125 Million — More


Local home services marketplace Thumbtack is now a so-called “unicorn.” I hate that term. But it means the company is worth at least $1 billion.

With a new $125 million round of funding, announced yesterday, Thumbtack is valued at $1.25 billion. Last August the company announced a $100 million round. That means within essentially a year the company has raised $225 million.

When I heard about the $100 million last year I was surprised. After all, Thumbtack is essentially Service Magic 2.0 (nothing special in a sense). It also doesn’t have a consumer brand and does no consumer marketing today.

In its blog post announcing yesterday’s massive round, the company said that it was rejected 42 times for its Series A funding. This just shows the lack of confidence, independence and vision that characterize most VC investing. Yet everyone wants a piece of something already proven — hence the big later rounds.

That brings me to what’s “proven” about Thumbtack. I would guess that 9.5 out of 10 people on the street probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what the company was about or did  — although Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush visited Thumbtack on a recent swing through Silicon Valley and gave it some general media publicity.

But Thumbtack has been steadily executing since 2011. I spoke with Marco Zappacosta, Thumbtack’s co-founder and CEO, yesterday about the company’s funding and its success to date.

He told me that Thumbtack has 200,000 paying small business advertisers but no sales reps — zero. He said that Thumbtack is entirely self service and that its retention numbers are impressive. He wouldn’t share them with me specifically except to say that “We’ve had small businesses working with us for years.”

He added that the retention discussion “is the strongest part of our [VC] pitch.” Currently 95% of the company’s referrals and traffic are organic; only 5% is coming from any paid advertising that Thumbtack does. As an aside Zappacosta added that 75% of SMBs respond to leads via their mobile phones. I thought that was pretty interesting.

The last two paragraphs explain the $225 million in a nutshell:

  • 95% of consumer traffic organic and word of mouth
  • No sales reps
  • Total SMB self-service model
  • 200,000 paying local advertisers
  • High retention rates

This is extremely impressive and defies most of the well established, conventional thinking in the industry. As I said there’s really nothing special or terribly inspired about the model; the company’s success is about execution. But with $225 million in the bank the company is going to start executive on building its brand.

I’ve asked Marco Zappacosta to tell the Thumbtack story at next year’s LSA 16. I promise it will be very interesting.


Could Nextdoor Provide Social Media Redemption for Google?

SMB local

Following an $8 million second-round funding announcement by SMB network Alignable I wrote a post on the LSA blog asking, “How Will Facebook and LinkedIn Respond to the Rise of Local Networks Nextdoor and Alignable?”

I compared Alignable to LinkedIn (B2B) and Nextdoor (B2C) to Facebook. I speculated about which of those two established social sites would buy the younger networks. It didn’t immediately occur to me that Google would potentially acquire one of the two.

One of the comments on the post raised this question: “Why not let Google throw in their hat as well! After all, it does want to get more local, fight Facebook for some space and has the resources to get Nextdoor.” It’s an obvious and fascinating point.

Google+ is being de-coupled from local (and other things) causing people to pronounce it dead. I wouldn’t go that far but its influence is certainly diminished. David Mihm in the 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors commentary says, “With the removal of links to Google+ pages from Maps and even from the primary SERP, the always-awkward integration between Plus and Local has now been completely severed.”

Google bought Waze for more than $1 billion for its crowdsourcing data and traffic capability but equally to keep it out of the hands of Facebook, which had been in acquisition talks with the company. Facebook is a potential acquirer of both Alignable and Nextdoor, which could eventually rival Facebook for SMB engagement if it continues to grow.

Facebook must closely watch Nextdoor, which offers more limited but potentially valuable use cases, and will undoubtedly consider how to react to it — including potentially buying it. That also means that Google will need a position on Nextdoor.

Nextdoor might turn out to be an awkward fit within Facebook because of some degree of overlap between the sites, though arguably that’s also true of Instagram and that’s turned out fine. But with the demise of Google+ Nextdoor could represent a redemption path back into social media, designed by someone else with established momentum.

I suppose that Google could always seek to buy Twitter, its new bestie. However Nextdoor could be more strategic in a number of ways.

What do you think about the prospect of a Google-Nextdoor acquisition and its impact on both companies? Again this is raw speculation and not based on anything beyond that.



Apple Maps Listings Take #1 Position In iOS 9 Safari Local Search Results

Safari Apple Maps

Like many iPhone owners I downloaded iOS 9 yesterday, after a couple of false starts. The new OS has some nice new features but isn’t radically different. But there are some meaningful changes especially when it comes to search and local search in particular.

I was on a panel yesterday at #Entrata Summit in Utah. The question of Apple search came up and its competitiveness with Google. Apple is slowly chipping away at Google’s mobile search dominance but as a general matter the product isn’t truly competitive yet — except perhaps in local.

There are now four entry points for Apple Search on iOS devices:

  • Apple Maps (now getting reviews from more sources)
  • The new right-swipe Spotlight (federated) search, with suggested content
  • Siri web search (still mostly Bing)
  • Safari (still Google, though diminished somewhat)

Most interestingly, on Safari, Google search results can be “demoted” to second position in a newly federated list. In fact this happens every single time for local queries. The top result is now from Apple Maps, which has immediate and significant SEO implications.

Safari results with maps

The number one result for a local search in Apple Maps is also going to be the number one result in Safari.

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Another interesting change is search suggestions or local category icons. On the left below is a screen from Safari (when you touch the search box). Selecting an icon will take you to further category refinements as well as a list of local results.

On the right below is Spotlight search with its local category buttons. This seeks to unify the local search experience across entry points.

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Right now Apple can’t really compete well against Google in general web search. However, it now has a range of viable options for local search that are likely to take a bite out of Google’s mobile volumes.

What are your thoughts about all this?


When Mobile Websites Suck — SMB Edition

Google mobile results

There’s been a ton of coverage on Mobilegeddon, the scramble to mobilize and post-Mobilegeddon ranking experience. Still only a minority of SMBs have mobile sites and most of those mobile sites will probably, to use the vernacular, suck.

There must be a lot of bad advice and bad SMB mobile site development out there. I’ll wager many of the sites that Google considers “mobile friendly” in actuality offer pretty mediocre usability.

Here’s an anecdotal example from my own recent experience.

I live in Oakland, CA and had to take one of our cars in to address a squeaking sound (brakes). I had no access to a PC and wanted to make an appointment. On my iPhone searched for Honda of Oakland on Google.

I went first to the mobile website. As a digression, notice two things about the screenshots above: 1) above the fold are all ads (very common now) even with a navigational query and 2) the Honda of Oakland site below the fold is labeled “mobile friendly.”

I went first to the mobile site and saw you could schedule an appointment. I tried to but encountered a lengthy wizard with too many screens, which were about refining and ultimately upselling services. It was very tedious to say the least, partly because the site had trouble loading and parts of the page were cut off (I have an iPhone 6). So the I called, figuring that would be faster.

I got an IVR and then the main reception desk, whereupon I asked for the service department and was put on hold. It rang multiple times and then went to voice mail. I then immediately called back and went through the same tedious process. But this time I spoke to a human.

Honda mobile site

I said, “I’d like to make an appointment to bring my car in.” She said, “We, don’t have appointments; it’s first come, first served.” That directly contradicted what I saw on the mobile site. I didn’t point that out, I just went back to the mobile site to try again.

I was confronted with all the same menus (that weren’t fully loading and were slow). I had to go from landscape to portrait to try and get at the “next” button that was cut off at the bottom of the screen.

Eventually I was able to make an appointment. It took multiple tries and considerable patience. I should have been able to do this with one click from the home screen. Yet there were at least 10 screens I had to get through (a lot like a rental car checkout process) before I could pick a time and schedule an appointment.

Data reflect that nearly 90% of US mobile users will abandon a mobile site under similar circumstances of frustration. I was briefly motivated to discuss this experience with the dealership but decided against it because I assumed that the available parties on site wouldn’t care and I’d be wasting my time.

I don’t spend lots of time on SMB mobile sites. I’m usually on Google or Yelp or another vertical app seeking information and then I call or show up. My behavior is the norm I suspect. However, things like online scheduling and payments are great opportunities for SMBs like auto dealers to acquire and retain users.

Indeed, in some more Platonic version of reality, these guys would have a simple mobile site that also promotes the dealer’s app, which would allow for scheduling, communication via notification or text and in-app payments. But they don’t.

All this leads me to wonder how many SMB websites that Google calls mobile-friendly really aren’t.


Craigslist: Steadfast or Complacent and How Much Longer Can It Last?

You don’t hear much about Craiglist these days. It seems to be on a kind of autopilot, an internet 1.0 company that keeps chugging — or coasting — along.


If I’m not mistaken the UX hasn’t changed meaningfully in a decade — the UI is the brand — and there’s no official mobile app. One gets the sense the site is on autopilot. In a way why not? The company continues to have significant traffic (63 million monthly uniques) and modest overhead.

Craigslist used to symbolize a kind of integrity in the face of widespread commercialization of the internet. Now it may instead represent a kind of indifference and complacency in the face of changing markets and user behavior.

There was a time when Craigslist could have sold for more than $1 billion pretty easily to someone like eBay. Not selling was a political statement of sorts. I once heard Craig say “My endgame is death,” a morbidly humorous retort to someone who asked the question at a Google event.

Though it still has massive usage, it’s not clear what the endgame is or if there is one. Will the site just continue to operate and make money until it simply doesn’t anymore?

Top 50 Craigslist

Craigslist is currently number 34 on the comScore top 50 list. That’s certainly impressive; however it has fallen from its peak. Back in 2010 for example, Craigslist was the 19th most visited site on the internet.

While there are many verticals and competitors that have eroded its traffic and position — we switched our classified activity to Nextdoor and others — it has enough critical mass to keep going for some time. Nonetheless it’s hard to imagine, without changes and attention to the UX (especially in mobile), this can continue for many more years.

A more extreme case of something similar is Citysearch. I was discussing this example with someone today. At one point Citysearch was a dominant local internet brand with many millions of users. Then Yelp arrived and slowly but surely surpassed it, much in the same way that Facebook eventually overtook and killed MySpace.

For years Citysearch (and related properties such as InsiderPages) have been largely neglected by corporate parent IAC, which invested in ad network Citygrid but let Citysearch languish. Citygrid has largely been superseded by programmatic, while Citysearch has a fraction of its former traffic and little brand value accordingly.

To survive over time internet companies must keep reinvesting, unless they don’t care. That’s my sense of what’s going on at Craiglist: they’ve stopped caring.

What do you think will happen? How many more years can Craigslist survive in status-quo mode?


The Current State of Indoor Location & Marketing — Webinar Today with Aisle411


Since joining the LSA I haven’t been spending as much time on indoor location and marketing as I had been for the past couple of years. But there’s a great deal going on and it’s a very important issue to both the future of retail and offline attribution (for all types of digital marketing).

Among other things, Google recently introduced a new flexible beacon standard called Eddystone. It’s capable of working across Android, iOS or any platform that supports Bluetooth Low Energy beacons. Target also just announced a 50-store beacon rollout.

One of the things that you’ll be able to do with the location-aware Target app is request help and get someone to come to you in the aisle. This starts to point to how mobile apps can be used to improve the in-store experience and boost loyalty (as well as basket size).

Facebook is also getting more aggressive about delivering beacons to local businesses. This type of deployment holds implications for anyone servicing local business advertisers in terms of ROI, attribution and other types of analytics.

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But beacons are just one technology and one piece of a larger indoor location and marketing puzzle. Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn told me yesterday that beacons are being integrated into location-aware LED lighting (to help solve the beacon battery issue). He’s going to discuss this and a range of other interesting developments today on a free LSA webinar on indoor location and product search.

Aisle411 was one of the earliest companies in this space and has seen it evolve considerably over the past seven years. The company now has 2.3 million UPCs, 13,000 indoor maps (in partner apps) and real-time local product inventory for 200,000 local stores.

Pettyjohn also told me that people using indoor location apps and product maps have on average a 35% higher ticket value than those who do not. (People who can’t find products can’t buy them.) These are just a few things that he’ll talk about on today’s webinar.

To learn more about the state of indoor location, in-store product search and other developments in this rapidly evolving segment (today at 2 Eastern) register here. If you can’t watch in real time you can catch a replay early next week.


Seizing a Piece of the $9B Local Video Opportunity (Webinar: August 4)


A few years ago video was very hot in the local segment. It was a high-margin advertising product being sold by directory publishers and others — remember SpotRunner?

That all died down as video producers went out of business or evolved (e.g., TurnHere) and local media sellers saw demand decline amid uncertain ROI. At that time video was largely a branding/vanity play for SMBs.

Now video is back in a huge way.

At the enterprise level, brands and agencies are shifting budgets from TV to digital video. Mobile device adoption, changing consumer behavior and the rise of “over-the-top” content providers (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu) has powered this shift. In turn, precision online targeting and retargeting has made “addressable TV” effectively a reality for digital video.

There’s no question about the digital video opportunity for brands. Various forecasts argue that digital video will drive billions in ad revenues over the next few years (often at the expense of traditional TV). But what about local? Will that follow the same trajectory?

The answer to both questions is “yes.” As I wrote on the LSA blog in May, video is “A Big Marketing Opportunity Most SMBs and Their Vendors Miss.” YouTube and Facebook in particular offer myriad local video opportunities for SMBs and their vendors.

In May Google talked about the explosive growth of “how-to” searches on YouTube. The company said that these searches have grown 70% year over year. Many of these queries are being generated on mobile devices by people with an immediate need: “91% of smartphone users turn to their smartphone for ideas while doing a given task.”

SMBs get multiple benefits from posting video that answers common questions or demonstrates how-to accomplish a specific task. First you’re getting people who have a clear need and may turn into customers. Furthermore, the content is by definition within the realm of an SMB’s own expertise. With YouTube comes an SEO benefit. Finally the video content can be shared or posted across multiple social channels.

Borrell video forecast

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said on the company’s recent earnings call that more than 1 million videos had been uploaded by SMBs to Facebook. This type of video content is very different than the “vanity” ads created for SMBs in the digital video 1.0 era of a few years ago.

Borrell Associates has forecast that local online video will be worth more than $9 billion by 2018.

Which local-SMB categories will be most likely to spend? How much of this money will flow through programmatic buying channels? Which local media channels are in the best position to capitalize? What makes video different from other ad units?

Join LSA tomorrow at 2pm Eastern/11 Pacific for a thought-provoking and wide-ranging webinar look at the new local-video opportunity. You’ll hear about the latest forecast, market data and local case studies from:

  • Corey Elliott, Director of Research, Borrell Associates
  • Michael Taylor, Director Business Development, Thrive Analytics
  • Mike Osborne, President and COO, bieMEDIA
  • Greg Sterling, VP Strategy & Insights, LSA

Register here. Learn more here.


Survey: Consumers Prefer to Shop Local but Expect Digital Sophistication

Small Business Alignable

Most consumers would generally prefer to shop and buy from local/small businesses but they also want those businesses to be digitally savvy. That’s according to a survey by Yodle of 6,000 US adults released in late June.

The following are the top 10 reasons to use or stop using a local business according to the survey data. While local businesses are at a disadvantage in terms of pricing consumers believe there’s a better overall experience to be had by shopping at independent stores. A majority of survey respondents consider local businesses to be more trustworthy and deliver better quality than big boxes.

Yodle consumer survey

Yodle consumer findings

The survey found that consumers were typically willing to pay somewhat higher prices to local businesses in order to accomplish or receive:

  • Better quality work — 72%
  • To support the community — 48%
  • Personalized service — 44%

Although they’re willing to forgo lower pricing for better service and quality, consumers still want local businesses to price products and services more aggressively and/or offer deals. Interestingly, consumers also want local businesses to improve their websites.

Yodle consumer survey

The desire for improved websites aligns with small business digital priorities. Consistently “a better website” is a top SMB digital marketing objective.

One of the most interesting sets of findings concerns consumer expectations and differentiation. The chart below shows digital features/capabilities that could impact perception of a small business (and therefore the bottom line). They’re ranked as “not important,” “expected” or “sets business apart.”

Yodle consumer data

Consumers want loyalty programs first and foremost from SMBs. They expect reviews and a surprising number now want to be able to book or pay for a product or service “online” (think mobile app or via website). These findings should be most eye-opening for SMBs who mostly haven’t place emphasis or priority on booking or payments capabilities.

A substantial number of consumers want to see booking and payments added within 12 months. Those businesses that do so will see a competitive advantage and those that do not. Think: Uber and Lyft vs. conventional taxis.

Yodle consumer data

In terms of communicating with customers, most consumers appear to be receptive to email communications. This suggests that SMBs should be doing more email communication, not less.

Yodle consumer data

The final point I want to pull from the survey is about reviews. Most people “in the industry” tend to believe that consumers write reviews when they’ve had a negative experience. For years Yelp has said the opposite and this survey confirms Yelp’s position: positive experiences are much more frequently the motivation for consumer reviews.

Yodle consumer data

Finally the chart above on the right shows that 89% of survey respondents “would leave a review if asked.” This suggests that simply by asking satisfied customers to write reviews on specific sites (e.g., Yelp or Facebook) business owners can significantly boost positive review counts.

The full survey report can be downloaded here (reg. required).


Google Walks Back Local-Mobile Search Number, Now Says 30%

Google Maps

Sometimes Google will quote third party survey data in public situations (e.g., conference presentations) without necessarily clarifying where the data come from and people will assume this is Google’s own internal user behavior data.

In the past Google said that 40% and even 50% of mobile search activity was related to location or offline information. I always assumed these were Google’s own numbers because of the way they were communicated to me.

Beyond this, the 50% number was echoed by Bing a few years ago as well. However today on Google’s second quarter earnings call Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani said that “30% of Google mobile queries are related to location.”

The number walks back the earlier, larger figures. It’s not clear whether Kordestani was citing internal Google data or dropping a number he got from third party research.

Separately, not long ago, Google said that queries with a local modifier or that contain the terms “near me” or “nearby” “have doubled in the past year” (Google Trends data). The company added that 80% of those queries are generated via mobile devices.

Google has also said that mobile query volumes now exceed PC volumes — by how much is uncertain and Google won’t yet disclose that — in 10 countries including the US. What that means is that we’ve likely got at least 12 billion monthly mobile queries in the US.

Using Kordestani’s smaller 30% figure, it’s safe to say that there are at least 3.6 billion local-mobile monthly queries in the US market. But it may be closer to 6 billion in actuality.

I’m confused and I’m tempted to pursue this to get a more definitive number as well as clarity around the sources of these figures. What are your thoughts about the 30% figure?

  • This is probably a third party number
  • Google is just being conservative
  • The number of local searches on mobile devices may have declined (unlikely given the data above)
  • Kordestani was being casual/sloppy in his remarks (unlikely)
  • Other