The future of local discovery

Columnist Brian Smith discusses some of the recent developments and technology that will impact local search, both in the short term and the long term.

We’ve entered an exciting time for local marketing. Big Data, digital assistants, augmented reality and beacons will fundamentally change the way users discover locations. As Bob Dylan so aptly pointed out, “The times they are a-changin’.”

As such, local marketers and advertisers need to start thinking about how they’re going to change along with the times. Here’s what you need to know about the future of local discovery.

Big Data: ‘Who’ informs ‘where’

Proximity is the primary ranking factor in local searches. That’s not likely to change. After all, what’s nearby is the fundamental aspect of local discovery.

What is changing, however, is the filter that sorts out, ranks and presents those nearby locations. What filter, you ask?

It’s you.

Going forward, local discovery will function as proximity filtered by your individual preferences. The person searching will inform what locations are shown.

In truth, this is nothing new. Google, Bing, Safari and Yahoo have been personalizing search results for some time through tracking your browsing history. What is new is the sophistication of artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics.

With the burgeoning Internet of Things, the amount of customer and behavioral data is growing by the day. Even if Congress hadn’t cleared the way for internet services providers (ISPs) to sell your data, what marketers and advertisers know about customers was only going to increase thanks to the growing data fiefdoms of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

For good or ill, the ability to use that information to target the right customer with the right message at the right time is maturing. In fact, even back in 2012 ,Target had the capability to use data mining to predict the pregnancy of a teenager before her father could deduce the news himself. Big Data has come a long way since then.

In the case of local discovery, Big Data will help search engines personalize local results based on a user’s preference. The more the search engines know about you, the more relevant search results and maps will be.

For example, a search for nearby restaurants might include ranking factors such as your favorite dishes, food allergies, price point, time of day and how long it was since your last visit. Meanwhile, a search for a nearby product such as shoes might be filtered by your favorite brand, shoe color, size and any ongoing sales.

However, knowing your customer and targeting your customer are two different things. There needs to be a means of surfacing local information in a unified way, and that need will undoubtedly be addressed by digital assistants.

Digital assistants and voice search

Digital assistants will serve as the connection between customer profiles and the preferred locations and products around them.

Digital assistants will be everywhere. On your phone, in your car, your house, your office — everywhere and inside everything connected to the internet.

The ultimate goal of Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri is to become that universal connection between the physical and digital worlds.

In the context of local discovery, think of a digital assistant as your very own personal Rick Steves, providing you with everything you’d ever care to know about a location — and then some.

This omnipresent assistant, part tour guide, part planner, part shopping liaison, will provide users with the most relevant and personalized local recommendations for anything you can imagine.

And thanks to voice search, digital assistants are always listening.

Google Home and Amazon Alexa operate in this mode by default, and Apple’s latest iPhone update is pushing users to set up voice activation for Siri.

In addition to enabling ambient listening, voice activation establishes voice biometrics, which will allow digital assistants to become device-agnostic.

Whether it’s smart cars, smart homes or smart offices, the ability to distinguish between users is critical to translating your personal preferences regardless of location or device. This will provide a consistent user experience without a disruption to conversational context.

In fact, Google Home recently made progress on this front by being able to recognize up to six different voices from one device. It’s not hard to extrapolate this trend to the point that digital assistants will be able to recognize who you are regardless of where or what device you’re using.

Soon you’ll be able to make dinner reservations by talking to the digital assistant embedded in your hotel room, order an Uber from the digital assistant on your phone as you walk to the lobby and check your flight from the digital assistant inside your autonomous Uber — all without breaking the conversational context with your digital assistant.

Augmented reality

With the rise of voice search, it’s also necessary to replace the traditional screen on your phone and monitor. A picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s unlikely that even a sweet-talking digital assistant will replace our need to visualize what’s in front of us.

As I outlined in a previous article, the solution to traditional screens is to replace them with augmented reality — your smartphone transforming into smart glasses. Based on Facebook’s recent plans for augmented reality, this indeed seems to be the direction we’re heading.

In my mind, augmented reality is likely to be one of the more exciting and less privacy-invasive developments of local discovery. You’ll be able to scout out a local restaurant, visualize the precise location of a product on a shelf or interact with custom location-based content triggered with beacons. Which brings me to the final trend you should be keeping an eye on.


Proximity targeting will flourish with the rise of augmented reality and digital assistants.

Beacons are perfect for surfacing content in a user’s immediate proximity. The challenge right now is alerting users to beacons. However, if everyone has a digital assistant embedded in their augmented reality glasses, it will be easy for users to discover beacon content and have that content personalized based on personal preferences.

Whether it’s triggering a coupon for a customer’s most likely purchase as he walks by a store entrance or promoting a fast food restaurant as a vehicle exits the interstate off-ramp, the potential for beacons is tremendous.

Start preparing now

Many of these developments might seem too far out in the future. However, technology is evolving at an exponential rate. The time to start preparing and laying the groundwork for these marketing developments is now.

[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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