For Facebook and Google, local search marketing is no competition
Despite Facebook's inroads, experts insist the platforms' offerings serve distinctly different purposes and can actually complement each other when leveraged well.
Google stands as the key player for any business looking to get started on search, as it maintains a 68% share of the market, but Facebook has also made some inroads and experts say it could give Alphabet's star player a run for its money in the near future.
Search is no longer confined to search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), particularly when it comes to targeting mobile-first customers at the local level. Research from Google has shown that 70% of smartphone users who bought something in a brick-and-mortar store used their mobile device for information beforehand and that one-fourth used a map before making a transaction. With Google and now Facebook continuing to roll out more ad products and services like the former's Promoted Places, local search marketing is only going to become a more important element to engaging the growing legions of on-the-go mobile users.
"As user attention spans continue to decrease and expectations for user experience increase, local search has the greatest potential to connect consumers with your products and services (as a brand marketer) than any other marketing medium," said Nick Neels, head of local search at Location3.
"Why? Because users conducting local searches often have a high degree of purchase intent and are simultaneously brand agnostic," he added. "As a result, customers that are converted via a robust local search strategy represent a lower average cost-per-acquisition for marketers."
Heating up on search
Local search marketing overall has the greatest potential ROI for brands with a large brick-and-mortar footprint. For these marketers, continuing to shift more marketing dollars and assets to local search is the smart move, per Neels.
Though Google is the clear leader for search for now, part of that simply stems from a deeper, long-standing background in the field, with Facebook starting to share some similarities. For one, Facebook is investing more resources in local search, and Neels noted it's only a "matter of time" before the gap between the two narrows and Facebook’s offerings hit a tipping point.
On the discovery front, the social network rolled out an Events app in October that lets users explore happenings nearby and just a few weeks later added a Recommendations bookmark and better ways to interact with local businesses on its core platform.
While Google has the Google My Business interface to give marketers better control over local listings, Facebook has a similar functionality via its "Locations" tab, which Neels described as acting like a store locator. Facebook isn’t conducting discovery searches for local businesses at the moment, however.
Leveraging the difference
Given Facebook's recent escalation in local services, it may sound like a scenario gearing up for stiff competition, but experts say the two serve distinct enough purposes at the moment as to actually complement each other when leveraged well.
"The first thing to understand is that most local search still happens on search engines like Google. There are some savvy users searching on a social network but it can often be more of an ask: 'Hey, who knows a good coffee shop in Birmingham?'" Marcus Miller, SEO and digital marketing strategist at Bowler Hat, a U.K.-based marketing firm, told Marketing Dive.
"Finding local businesses is orders of magnitude better on Google," he added. "Getting a window into the heart and soul of those companies is far easier on Facebook."
Naturally stemming from that, it's essential that marketers understand what distinct uses people tap Facebook and Google for, per Location3's Neels.
Google's strengths are in its paid, organic and local presence, which is typically used to get answers and solve problems. Marketers should then approach Google with target queries and keywords, Neels said. Facebook, given its emphasis on likes and shares, is driven more by connections, content and shared media than query resolution, meaning marketers should target via personal profiles and interests to reach the platform's massive monthly user base of 1.8 billion.
Optimizing local: Google
Local marketing on Google begins with Google My Business. Marketers can optimize their listings by ensuring that any name, address and phone details are correct across the internet, said Miller. This is especially pertinent as Google recently announced it is going to test using local numbers in AdWords location extensions.
Making sure the Google My Business account is accurate was also highlighted by Pamela Wagner, paid ads specialist at Ajala Digital e.U, who also recommended collecting at least 30 reviews for a profile, along with multimedia elements like pictures, to increase credibility and visibility.
And — perhaps a given at this point — local search is going to be most relevant on mobile regardless of the platform a prospect is using. Therefore, it's imperative to make sure that any business has a working mobile presence that is ready for visitors from a paid local ad or organic local strategy.
"Whether a brand has 10 or 10,000 locations, at the end of the day, everything is local," said Neels. "All conversions come from a locality or specific geo-market. Even brands without physical locations should focus on hyper-local efforts."
This approach allows marketers to compare demographic and competitor data with performance data for physical locations to effectively prioritize future efforts.
"The best results occur when brands set up customized campaigns for each market or location and evaluate the location-level performance ongoing," Neels added.
Optimizing local: Facebook
For Facebook, establishing and managing the Locations feature and ensuring that brand pages are linked to all location pages is key, per Neels. As with Google, making sure the local listing information is up-to-date is a given. With these details in place, marketers can better launch local awareness ads at scale.
Leveraging Facebook's conversational and content capabilities is similarly important to getting tactical, according to Wagner.
"Create content that matters most to people according to the seasons, events and major happenings," she said. "Create content that people talk about. This way your company is easily found on Facebook."
Local marketing on Facebook should ultimately be thought of by businesses as "the shop window," per Miller. Facebook's value here is something Google has never been able to replicate with either Google+ or iterations of Google Business, so marketers need to ensure that someone who's drawn to that "shop window" on Facebook can then contact their business and like what they see on the brand or location page.
"The two elements complement each other perfectly. Google can direct users to sites like TripAdvisor which then highlights reviews from Facebook connections (and connections of connections)," he said. "These social recommendations create credibility and help the user move from awareness to consideration for the business."