Local Search in 2019

What’s in store (pun intended) for 2019? The Local Search Association kicks off each year with a compilation of its members’ predictions.

This is our third consecutive year submitting predictions. While our 2017 prediction proved way too optimistic, our 2018 prediction, and the two we submitted this year, resonate well among those of our peers.

Google My Business

GMB, as insiders call it, is easily the central theme of this year’s predictions. As Google describes it, your Business Profile appears right when people are searching for your business or businesses like yours on Google Search and Maps. Said differently, GMB democratises the digitisation of the physical storefront. Because Google observes web standards such as Schema.org, GMB is in line with A structured, data-driven future predicted by MONO‘s Louise Lachmann (p. 47) and Svenn Anderson (p. 56). We couldn’t be more pleased about this development as it finally addresses (pun again intended), at scale, the question we posed in our 2018 prediction:

Might brick-and-mortar benefit by borrowing now familiar concepts from their online counterparts?

In fact, Marc Poirier of Acquisio, a business local to us in the Montréal area, specifies exactly how Google breaks down [the] barrier to entry for local advertisers (p. 34) to make our previous prediction a reality.

Alternatives to the mobile-social status quo

One of our two predictions this year was The emergence of refreshing alternatives to the mobile-social status quo, the paradigm which has largely characterised the current decade. Perhaps the best indication that change is afoot is the dearth of predictions about social networks! The Social & Reviews section is a mere four pages long, with one prediction being our own, and another, by Surefire Local‘s Shashi Bellamkonda, being that Google will finally get social right (p. 26).

Indeed if there’s one prediction that has us excited it is the growth of No click search results predicted by Infront Webworks‘ Michael Hodgson (p. 15). Thanks to the aforementioned structured data in the form of Schema.org, anyone — not just Google — can present information in a novel way to users through the web browser. In fact, one of our current top initiatives at reelyActive is in-page search of physical objects within physical spaces, leveraging these same standards.

Privacy, data ownership and consumer inclusion

The other of our two predictions is that Consumer inclusion will become the norm rather than the exception. As many experts cite in their predictions, the subject of ownership of personal data has come to the forefront, as was clearly the case at the LSA’s Place Conference a few months previous. Jeff White of Gravy Analytics predicts that The data privacy storm is coming (p. 66) while Skyhook‘s Kipp Jones suggests that “the rumors of the death of privacy have been greatly exaggerated” (p. 54). While there’s consensus among the experts that change is coming, the nature and impact of that change is, however, very much up for debate.

Of course concerns over data ownership apply equally to SMBs and brands themselves, as Location3‘s Josh Allen highlights in his prediction of Data ownership & brand control (p. 68), concluding:

Own your website. Own your accounts. Own your data.

This mantra is as befitting to the individual user as to the brands and businesses with which they interact. We’d therefore be pleased to see the conversations about data ownership around the board room table translate into more meaningful conversations around the kitchen table.

Summing it all up

In conclusion, we’re partial to Gyi TsakalakisPlus ça change, plus c’est la même chose prediction (p. 19), not just because it is titled in French, but because it reminds us all that technology is only complementary to what has made, and continues to make, the local space great:

While 2019 is sure to bring improvements in the way that machines understand the real world, success in the local space will continue to be built on remarkable service, reputation, and relationships.

Here’s to a successful 2019 for local search, to a broadly-accessible standards-based web, and to serious industry and individual introspection about privacy!

Still Place for optimism?

Yesterday we attended our fourth Place Conference, held in NYC a little further uptown than our first Place back in 2014. Back then the conference had a strong focus on all the latest mobile location and proximity technologies that were expected to revitalise retail. There was an air of optimism around the Bluetooth beacon and similar innovations which held much promise to deliver delightful, contextual, brick-and-mortar experiences for a broad consumer base increasingly expecting personalisation.

At the 2018 edition, it didn’t take long to realise that this optimism had not simply faded, but completely vanished. The first and only mention of a beacon did not occur until the fourth presentation: a panel entitled What Nobody Will Tell You about Location Data. And what did the panel tell us?

Baseline location data is a commodity now.

Indeed, that fact was affirmed in the previous presentations and those to come. The state of the art in location analytics and proximity marketing has become the acquisition, interpretation and application of baseline location data from mobile phones.

Wait, what’s baseline location data and how is it obtained from mobile phones?

Curiously enough, that subject was never directly addressed. But in short, the primary data source consists of a latitude/longitude paired with a device identifier, gathered from mobile devices under their terms of service. These data points are enriched by companies who probabilistically associate the identifier with a household, demographic (or more!), and the geocoordinates with addresses and/or an individual’s journey. This commodity is then applied to business decisions or to pushing the right ad to the right consumer at the right time and place.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Thomas Walle of Unacast made the precision (pun intended) that data quality is not yet a commodity. This was affirmed by the chief data scientist of Outfront, a leading out-of-home (OOH) media owner with countless digital billboards, questioning the reliability of “polygon visits” as source data based on his experience with multiple vendors.

Only two hours into the conference, as the panel progressed, I was already distraught, painfully reminded of the above slide which we had presented at a similar conference two years previous. Entrenched was the “old way” of bombarding the consumer to drive a response, the innovation being smarter bombs homing in on fainter signals. The term “surveillance” entered the discourse and was not outright dismissed. Were we collectively comfortable with that?

But, it all turned around when the panel was followed by a presentation entitled The Future of Digital Identity: Countdown to 2020 in which Neil Sweeney of Freckle IoT promptly declared that

a data revolution is coming.

Calling into question the status quo, he argued that there is currently an inverted value proposition for the consumer, progressive government regulation (GDPR in Europe and soon CCPA in the US) is becoming law, and scandals such as Cambridge Analytica have unveiled the uncomfortable truth behind advertising business models. In short, don’t expect our suggestion to Facebook following last year’s Place Conference to become a priority anytime soon!

What Neil proposed was a complete reversal of the flow of information and the ownership of personal data. And with the Killi app, he invited the audience to take the first step right then and there, opting in to select specific pieces of personal information that they would like to share with brands in exchange for money.

It was as if our complementary slide from that previous conference had suddenly appeared! Here was the consumer “advertising” their intent to brands and businesses through their presence and the information they chose to share, expecting an appropriately personalised response in return.

Since reelyActive’s founding in 2012, we’ve championed this paradigm for the flow of information. Coincidentally, our most watched video, in which we present this paradigm by reversing the flow of information of a beacon, will tomorrow celebrate its fifth anniversary! It’s not difficult to imagine this implemented in the Killi app to facilitate real-time hyperlocal exchanges of information like we demonstrated with our own reelyApp.

Whether a micro-DMP like Killi or rather a Bank of Personal Data will eventually prove to be successful is of course up for debate, as few attendees seemed threatened by the imminence of a data revolution. Nonetheless — and reassuringly — most attendees seemed to agree that such a paradigm, which fosters transparency and inclusivity and moves the industry Beyond People-as-a-Product, is much closer to being the right model, even if most would argue it is not yet a realistic model. In any case, the technology is ready. The trillion-dollar question is whether the vendors will ready themselves to flip if and when that critical time comes?