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At the Local Search Association’s Search Starts Here conference in Boca Raton, today’s sessions kicked off with Google’s view of opportunities in local. As usual lately, this tied in closely with lots of trends and themes in mobile and social.

Ursula Worth, Head of Directories and Web Hosting Partnerships, Google
Nick Boos, Product Manager, Google
Rick Ducey, Managing Director, BIA/Kelsey

Nick Boos framed the opportunity in local search (and, of course, Google’s positioning) with some data.

— Google has 1 million advertisers.

— 64 billion in economic activity is generated through Google’s search marketing.

— 4 million businesses are running Google apps.

— AdWords is used in 190 countries and 42 languages.

Panning back to a few trends that paint the opportunity in digital media (a key talking point for this particular audience), Boos reminded the audience that eBay saw 2 billion in gross merchandise sales last year through mobile alone. From a presence perspective, it also says a lot that 97 percent of shoppers research products online, yet 63 percent of SMBs don’t have a website.

On that note, he took the opportunity to plug some of Google’s search products for SMBs. AdWords of course is well-known, but he drilled down to the advantages of AdWords Express. This is AdWords “lite,” requiring a $50 monthly minimum budget and lots of streamlined ways to get an account started and ad groups built.

Moreover, Google within the last couple of months has done a lot more with location targeting ability in AdWords. Like Facebook’s new ZIP code level targeting, Google launched this a couple of weeks ago. It’s obviously valuable for SMBs that have a small defined service area, beyond which there are diminishing returns for ad spend.

This comes with its share of difficulties, which is why it took Google so long to launch it, according to Boos. A lot of this comes down to dynamically allocated IP addresses; one that’s assigned to a node in San Francisco today might be in Oakland tomorrow. Without explaining, Roos claimed to have found some workarounds (more on this later).

“We think it’s useful for SMBs because you can get clicks that are only in your area and only relevant to you,” he said. “Or if someone is looking at places to visit here in Boca, but they’re sitting in San Francisco, you may want to message them differently. The more local we can get, the better you can be relevant for customers.”

Ursula Worth added to the conversation by pointing out the incremental opportunity across many screens. Showing data we’ve seen, although they’re always worth a reminder, PCs, smartphones and tablets all peak in usage at different points throughout the day.

This is an indication for SMBs to not only be across screens but also to have their presence, content, and campaigns optimized for differentiated hardware and use cases. She gave five main recommendations, many taken from the messaging in Google’s GoMo initiative. Many of these sound obvious, but surprisingly few businesses apply them.

1. Create a mobile specific website: This has all kinds of best practices such as “thumb friendliness.”

2. Think local and immediate: Make sure local calls to action (i.e., phone number) are more prominent on mobile landing pages than they might be on a desktop site.

3. Use mobile ad formats: Take advantage of things like click-to-call and local extensions.

4. Separate mobile campaigns: Bid on different keywords and ad groups based on different levels of local user intent.

5. Launch and iterate: Gain knowledge through practice in campaign management — especially nowadays where oversupply of ad inventory keeps mobile advertising rates somewhat undervalued.

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