For a while it looked like Foursquare was well on its way to defeating Yelp as the local social network. Now, in a powerful alliance with Apple, Yelp will become the default option for millions of iPhone owners. This puts Yelp in a position to rival Google Maps as the go-to option for local information.
While Yelp powered business reviews on the initial release of the iPhone 4S, its visibility wasn't all that great. But the new iOS 6 is being rolled out, giving prominent brand placement to the local network. This represents a major move, considering that Apple sold 37 million iPhones and 15 million iPads, exceeding already ecstatic expectations, during their first fiscal quarter.
This change means that an already fascinating local scene just got a whole lot more interesting.
It's Anybody's Game Now
Google+ Local, Yelp, and Foursquare represent a trifecta we're not seeing anywhere else in the tech scene. Google dominates search (despite Bing chipping away 5% of their market share over the past year). Facebook dominates social. Apple dominates tablets and smartphones.
Local is different. All three players appear to have a shot, and none of them currently seem to have any specific feature that puts them at a tremendous advantage. This is important, because many suspect that local is the future of the web, especially with augmented reality just around the corner.
What it Means for Local SEO
With not just two, but three networks competing over the future of local search, we can't expect a great deal of stability in the local scene. That's not to say local marketing is a risky investment, because the entire local market share is virtually guaranteed to boom. Instead, local strategies may prove volatile for marketers that aren't thinking ahead. Here are a few things to think about.
Check-Ins - Google, Yelp, and Foursquare all feature a check-in feature. This means a few citations in the Yellow Pages aren't going to cut it anymore. Your business is going to need actual humans beings who walk through the door to start letting the world know. This is something you're going to have to encourage with great customer service, incentives, and subtle reminders.
Reviews - Ditto for reviews left by human beings. With consumers empowered to rate and write about your business at a moment's notice, it's time to start treating anybody with a phone (that's everybody) like royalty.
Events - Consider hosting events and letting people in for free if they check-in or rate the event. Events aren't like products. They can't be mass produced or bought online. This gives your local business an edge over purely online retailers.
Keep in mind, check-ins and reviews from mobile phones can't be faked, at least not easily. Unlike a spam profile, these require the existence of an actual phone that is physically located inside of an actual place. That's not the kind of thing an XRumer style "tool" can create for you.
Expect a decrease (but not an obsolescence) in the importance of "elite" rating institutions like ZAGAT and the Better Business Bureau. (Even ZAGAT is now teamed up with Google+ Local's rating system.) The empowered consumer is going to play a primary role in your online reputation, as well as your visibility in the local search results.
Where do you think the future of local is headed?
Image credit: William Hook