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Where Local Search Falls Down In Small Town USA

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
As you may have heard, we’ve been very busy this July moving the old igloo from one place to another. Our new home is even more igloo-ish than the last one, off in lovely, open countryside with a small town within decent driving distance. And, it’s got the zippiest Internet connection we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. We’re going to do business in style here!
We’re strangers in a new town now, and Local Search ought to be our best friend right now. There’s nothing like moving house to produce a Santa Claus-like list of things you need…light bulbs, extension cords, area rugs, a new teapot to replace the one the movers dropped in the middle of the street….Being new in town, you don’t know where all of these goods are to be found and Local Search could potentially save you hours of bewildered driving around, trying to check items off that considerable list while perspiration cascades from your brow and you wonder peevishly why you decided to move in the midst of the state’s biggest heat wave in recent years.
Yet, there is a disconnect going on between local business owners and Google Maps/Local that is making this tool so much less useful than it could be, and I feel the trouble is especially apparent in places like my new small town. The truth is, the new igloo lacks good lighting. The overhead fixtures produce an unsightly, un-homey glare, so the acquisition of area lighting became evident after spending our first night here. Thus began my ridiculously difficult search for lamps.
I call them lamps. Do you? You know, those wired objects with a light bulb at one end and a shade of some sort? I don’t know of anything else to call these, but a Google search for lamps + my small town location returned me a Local 3-Pack containing:
A lamp repair shop
A smog check station
An automotive garage
Short of breaking one of the lamps already in my possession or turning on my car so that the headlights shine in my windows, these results weren’t getting me very far. Clicking through into Maps hinted that house lamps do exist in this part of California, but only if I wanted to go on a long drive through the horrible freeway traffic we moved to the country to avoid. Come on, I said to myself, no one in my town is buying or selling lamps? This can’t be. Lamps are such a basic household need. Let there be light doesn’t come first in the Bible for no reason.
Let down by Local Search, we resorted to driving around in the sweltering heat to an invigorating soundtrack of Mexican polkas provided by our radio which gets about 3 stations. We discovered our town has not only chain department stores like Kmart and Kohl’s (whose lamps are so blah I don’t blame them for not mentioning them in their local listings) but also, very fancy home decor shops (whose lamps are so expensive, we edged backwards out the door, grinning foolishly). The answer to our state of dimness was to be found, of all places, in the local chain hardware stores. OSH and Ace have got more lamps than any of the local department stores and the prices can be swallowed without danger of choking. But you’d never know it from Google Maps. We also found a beautiful lamp for our office at a local import store, but Google is none the wiser.
After a week of searching, I could easily write a guide that would plot out every lamp-bearing destination within a 10 mile radius of my new home, but what can Google do to encourage local business owners to do this work for them? Maps is there. It provides the opportunity to list brands carried, specialties offered, but the franchise owners and small business people are not making good use of this tool. Maybe it’s different in San Francisco, in Boston or Chicago. Maybe there, savvy business owners are eagerly cramming every detail they can into the LBC listings. But here, in Small Town, USA, opportunities are being missed to strengthen the local economy by showing the local people that almost everything they’d need can be found right here.
Mike Blumenthal has talked to me about the eventuality of local business owners uploading their entire inventory to the web, making mobile/local search an incredibly powerful searchable database of local products and services. We’re not there yet. In point of fact, many of the businesses in my town don’t even have websites yet. Citations of their existence can be dug up in monster aggregate directories, but this does little to let you know what they are really offering.
Because of this, I continue to maintain that Google needs to put feet on the street, the way traditional YP always has. Having now filled their organic/universal SERPs with local data, they have got to do the rest of the work which will involve engaging local business owners to claim and utilize Maps, as well as getting categories sorted out so that a search for lamps doesn’t incorrectly assume I am looking for headlights. I’d search for headlights if I wanted those.
I’m documenting my let-down here because I think it encapsulates the imperfect state Maps is in at this point. It frustrates me, because I can see how it could be doing so much more for local economy and for Google users. If anyone needs inspiration or impetus for getting Google Maps into shape, just think of the gas prices these days. There’s an OSH Hardware store not 10 minutes from here by car. I could have gone there, using minimal gas, and zipped right back home with my shiny new lamp. But, I guess I would have missed out on the polkas.