Search Marketing Influencer Series: Abid Chaudhry – Part 1

Abid Chaudhry

We’re continuing our YP Search Marketing Influencer Series today with an interview with BIA/Kelsey’s Senior Director, Industry Strategy & Insight, Abid Chaudhry to discuss industry trends influencing SEM in the local marketplace.

Abid is the thought leader BIA/Kelsey clients request to help integrate local media strategy with their operational objectives and business processes. It’s no wonder — he has proven skills in product road mapping, sales and monetization strategy with a penchant for developing new markets and revenue streams.

Prior to his time at BIA/Kelsey, Abid worked for Transition Local Media Research, Talus Labs, AT&T and Intelligenx, specializing in local SMB digital advertising and marketing solutions including search, IYP, mobile and directory channels.

Abid took time out from his current client tour to speak with T.S. Kelly and Henry Hall of The Media Strategist about his views on the local search marketplace, including it’s past and possible future.

Throughout your impressive career you have kept close watch on local marketing trends. What have been the most dramatic changes in search, specifically local search in recent years?

Over the past several years we’ve gone from a consolidated SEM approach (a one size fits all product) to one that’s more strategic, increasingly targeted to a specific industry, category or geographic location, specifically local.

As part of this evolution, a number of industry trends have influenced SEM in the local marketplace. The Top 3 include:

— Change in the number and type of buyers of local SEM

— Evolution of search engine results pages

— Growing influence of mobile

First off, Local Search is now considered a mainstream option for brands. Just a few years ago local SEM was primarily the domain of SMBs as well as local & regional brands. Flexible and abundant inventory translated into efficient CPC (cost per click) and CPL (cost per lead) performance for marketers. In such an attractive environment, local search options worked especially well for higher cost services such as dentists, lawyers, contractors, local car dealerships, etc., as well as individual shop owners located in smaller markets and rural areas.

However, growth in local search does have its challenges. The increasing value and prominence of local search eventually attracted more (and larger) brands – competing for the same advertiser space. Increased competition has prompted many smaller marketers to ‘up their game,’ evolving local search strategies to attain ‘click & lead’ traction beyond what they planned, budgeted and achieved just a few years prior.

Sounds like there’s a need (as well as opportunity) to further refine the local search marketing process, offering new targeting options, solutions, etc. for both large brands as well as SMBs.

Absolutely. Thanks to continued innovation in the space from the likes of YP and others, local SEM has never been better at supporting SMBs as well as larger brands. That leads directly to the second trend in SEM, looking at output and the evolution of search query results.

We have all experienced, as both consumers and professionals, the wholesale shift from desktops and laptops to mobile and other handheld devices. Following this trend, Google and other search players now optimize output specifically for mobile, making results more amenable to smaller screen sizes as well as users’ personalized expectations.

Search engine results pages via mobile are typically more dynamic and somewhat less predictable of where and how advertising results will appear on the page. This alters the game a bit between organic versus paid search. Though organic SEO is still a somewhat involved process, requiring some level of manual support (man hours, keyword mgmt., etc.), it has come back in vogue, albeit much more intertwined with paid search programs.

Today, to meet the demands of more dynamic results pages, a cogent and integrated organic plus paid search approach typically offers more successful lead strategies than paid search alone.

Considering stated trend #3 (mobile), I have a feeling you have more to share about mobile’s role in local search beyond changes in query results.

It’s crucial for advertisers, no matter the size, to be where customers are actually looking, even inside the home. For example – if a homeowner’s basement is flooding, they are likely using a mobile device versus going on a stationary desktop to find a plumber. Makes sense for this sort of advertiser to focus squarely on mobile versus desktop.

So there is an immediate need for marketers to reevaluate the balance of their local search investment between desktop and mobile?

Indeed. Our numbers already reveal a massive shift to mobile from a behavioral perspective.

According to BIA/Kelsey’s Local Media Forecast, Spring Update 2015, half of mobile searches possess intent to find local information or products, compared with 20 percent of desktop searches carrying comparative local intent. It’s all about higher relevance, immediacy and alignment with consumer local buying habits, all of which are more prevalent in mobile than in other digital and print media.

The shift certainly makes economic sense for many brands. Some categories, specifically those with a local (or location-centric) presence such as QSRs, retail, etc., are finding it increasingly cost efficient to emphasize mobile, even forgoing desktop investment entirely.

Millennials are the key here. They are finally becoming the prominent ‘purchaser voice’ we’ve all been expecting. Considered much more mobile-centric, the behavior of this younger cohort is helping redefine what search engines are supposed to be.

I imagine many marketers are patiently waiting for Millennials to express their burgeoning purchasing power. How are they influencing the next wave of local SEM innovation?

Led by Millennials, search is quickly moving away from ‘find & discover’ tactics for the purpose of closing ‘purchase intent’ transactions, to something more akin to an evolving ‘knowledge base’ provided directly to a results page. Consider Google Now, Siri, Echo from Amazon and other discovery-type mechanisms that implement results right on top of search.

It’s an exciting time for innovation in SEM. Over the next 5 years I expect we’ll move even further away from manual searches to a reality of common language inquiry or algorithms that auto-fill based on context and sentiment – knowing what to suggest based on observed and shared behaviors, physical proximity, history, stated likes/dislikes, relationships, etc. Marketers, especially local brands, need to be ready for it.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our conversation with Abid on SEM’s future, exploring social media’s growing influence, and highlighting how brands can best prepare for the next wave of local search innovation.

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