By Chris Crum
We’re living in an increasingly open and revealing world where people are eager to tell you where they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Not everyone is so eager, but location-sharing is a rising trend that is not to be ignored. Naturally, the phenomenon will have a growing impact on search.
Remember when the industry was still trying to make sense of how social media and search fit together? It’s now fitting together in a variety of ways, and now we’re at a similar point with location and search.
Google Has Its Own Significant Amount of Location Sharers
At the Web 2.0 Expo this week, Google Product Manager Steve Lee revealed some interesting info about Google Latitude, the company’s location-sharing service, which has been around since long before location-sharing became such a huge trend. Foursquare – the location-sharing service you hear about most these days, has a million users. Latitude has 3 million active users, and this year it’s grown 30% per month each month so far.
MG Siegler at TechCrunch says Lee hinted that Latitude would soon have a check-in component, something that has made services like Foursquare so popular, and of great use to local businesses. He also said that Latitude has taken some time to gain ground because of iPhone’s lack of the ability to run services in the background (so there isn’t a Latitude iPhone app), but the iPhone OS will have that ability, and Android usage is on the rise (apparently BlackBerry has been big for the service as well). Over 10% of All Android users are using Latitude.
Location as a Search Signal
Google has been very open about how much emphasis it is placing on mobile, and mobile and location-sharing go to together like corn flakes and milk. Smartphone usage will continue to grow. Therefore location-sharing will continue to grow. Android usage in particular is growing rapdily.
Diana Pouliot, Director of Mobile Advertising at Google recently said a third of all Google searches via the mobile web pertain to some aspect of the searcher’s local environment. The company has also been quoted as saying it thinks of location as a “hugely important signal.”
With Google’s newly redesigned SERPs, location-based searches will increase, or rather filtering searches by location will. With the “nearby” option more visible, it stands to reason more people will use it. At this point, I’m not seeing real-time location-based info here, but that may change in the future. Google will continue making tweaks and adding features, and having real-time info here may begin to make sense.
Of course you have the Updates option as well, where you get the real-time info. There’s not a “nearby” sub-option under this option at this point, but with Twitter enabling location info, Facebook launching such a feature soon, and of course Google’s own Buzz, it would also make sense for that sub-option to appear here soon. Don’t be surprised if it does.
According to Siegler, Google has been working “heavily” on location history with regard to Latitude, with updates to this feature expected in the coming weeks. “This will allow people who run Latitude in the background to get interesting information and data about where they’ve been,” he says.
Facebook Will Likely Have Location Info This Month
According to AdAge, Facebook will be launching its location-sharing feature as early as this month. McDonalds is already building a campaign around it, and others are waiting to do the same.
Users will be able to share their location in status updates, the report says. With Facebook taking over the web in general, this will likely have huge implications, but for search specifically, it may play a significant role as well. Google of course has its real-time search, which includes publicly accessible status updates from Facebook.
With Google’s new SERPs, this feature is highlighted to a much greater extent. Before, users would generally only see real-time results for newsy queries that were seeing a great deal of current updates. Now, for any query, a user can simply go to the updates option, readily visible from the left panel, and see the results.
It remains to be seen just how important location will truly be. Despite its popularity and the rushing of companies and services to take advantage of the technology, it still freaks a lot of people out. Not everyone is going to share their info, or at least willingly. For this reason, there may always be a large part of the market MIA for any location-based campaigns. However, for search, as long as there is a substantial amount of location-related data out there (and it appears that this will only grow rapidly from here on out), local businesses stand to benefit, and so do consumers looking for location-based relevance.
It’s still unclear just how location-sharing is going to impact search exactly, and just how search marketers will specifically be able to take advantage as far as results go, but all signs point to new opportunities for targeting customers on a very relevant level – where they are, where they have been, and where they are going.
Either way, it might be a good idea to start looking for ways to reach consumers through their location-sharing habits. Without the benefit of search, there are still tremendous opportunities. As it gets more integrated into search, you’ll be ahead of the game.