How Google Is Inventing A “Near Me” Future

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In recent months, Google has made significant moves to invent the future of location marketing. 

The mobile-friendly update hastened the evolution of location marketing into mobile location marketing. The launch of the Google My Business API underscored the importance of location data as the foundation of location marketing. And now, Google is inventing the future for “near me micro-momentsby autocompleting “near me” searches for both mobile and desktop users, which accelerates the customer journey at the local level.

Near Me Autocompletes

Google is encouraging the uptake of “near me” micro-moments by autocompleting our searches in both branded and non-branded categories.

Micro-moments, a term Google created, are explained as “intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey.” They occur when people start looking for things to do, places to go and things to buy, usually by doing a search on their mobile devices.

Often, consumers are looking for answers near them (e.g., “Star Wars movie times near me”). Google has made a compelling case for “near me” micro-moments through thought leadership such as a guidebook that shows how many brands have succeeded by focusing on the shift to mobile (plus tips for how you can, too).

But Google isn’t just observing micro-moments. Google is creating them. I recently tested 142 non-branded keywords, ranging from “accountants” to “X-ray clinic,” on both desktop and mobile. When I searched for those keywords in Google (using private search), over 90 percent autocompleted “near me” on desktop searches and 78 percent autocompleted “near me” on mobile.

Clearly, Google is responding to consumer intent with these autocompletes. Google is anticipating that when users enter words such as “accountants,” “banks,” “toy store” or “Vietnamese food,” chances are that they intend to find something near their location, regardless of platform. 

Micro-moments are significant for another reason: they accelerate the customer journey. Sometimes research and purchase occur on one device. And most certainly, micro-moments accelerate the path to offline purchase. For instance, according to Google, nearly half of consumers trying to decide on a restaurant do their local search within an hour of actually going.

The autocompletion of “near me” searches is the latest in a series of major changes Google has enacted in recent months to seemingly impose its will on the future. A few other examples that come to mind:

Mobileggedon

In April 2015, Google issued a widely read report claiming that “near me” searches had increased 34 times since 2011, and that 80 percent of those searches were occurring on mobile devices. The same month, Google dropped the Mobile-Friendly algorithm update — on a day known as Mobilegeddon — which nudged location marketing toward a future where we’d been heading. 

Mobileggedon expanded Google’s use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, which meant that businesses with more mobile-friendly sites would rank higher in search results.

According to Adobe, within the first eight weeks after Mobilegeddon landed, traffic to non-mobile-friendly websites from Google mobile searches fell 12 percent relative to mobile-friendly sites. It isn’t difficult to imagine the impact on enterprises that operate hundreds and thousands of locations, all fighting to be found on their own pages. If you are not optimizing your contextual content and location data for mobile search, you are living in an unpleasant past.

Google My Business API

Months after launching Mobilegeddon, Google dialed up the importance of location data management with the rollout of the Google My Business API to create and edit locations in Google My Business. 

The API automates the management of location data ranging from store hours to name, address and phone (NAP) information — in essence making it easier for businesses to manage their location data across the search ecosystem, ranging from Google Maps to search engine results.

The Google My Business API is more than a tool. It’s a statement. Google is telling us that managing location data as a scalable asset is critical for businesses to be visible when people conduct the “near me” searches that Google wrote about last April. 

With “near me” searches surging 34-fold, it’s imperative for brands to be visible when those searches happen. Accurate location data shared with major publishers such as Google is the key to visibility. The Google My Business API makes it possible for businesses to meet the need that Google has facilitated.

Brave New World

Enterprises can thrive in the world Google is shaping by adopting a strategy that combines accurate location data with contextual content to earn the attention and, ultimately, the business of consumers who are experiencing micro-moments in a mobile world. Don’t wait for the future. It’s here already.

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