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Update of the local search: the effects of iOS 9 on businesses

Only one week after the release of iOS 9 on 16 September, the new iPhone operating system can already be found on more than 50 per cent of all devices. Never before have so many people updated within such a short period of time. Apple customers appear to appreciate the company’s focus on stability and battery life. Naturally, iOS 9 also comes with a number of new and exciting features. Some of them will have long-term consequences for local searches.

Instead of gearing its innovations towards the media, Apple has focused its annual large-scale iOS update on the core iPhone functions. Better apps, a more intelligent Siri, improved security, easier updates, and – finally – a (slightly) longer battery life.

The iOS-internal search engine, Spotlight, has been upgraded once more. From now on, it is located on the left of the first home screen again, displaying a selection of interesting news in addition to the most frequently used contacts and apps. US-based users are also given access to the most-searched points of interest in categories such as restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and travel. In Germany, this quick selection function is not included in the map application – so far, there has not been an official explanation for its absence.

According to rumours, the POI suggestions may be exclusive to the US due to the quality of the entries. The US appears to be the only market where Apple is confident that the suggestions will direct its customers to the right destination. In order for the feature to function satisfactorily in other countries, Apple needs higher-quality map data with better information – in other words, a tool for combining the large number of available sources more efficiently. This is precisely what the US-based company Mapsense, recently acquired by Apple for an estimated sum of 25–30 million USD, has set out to do.

Spotlight is nonetheless already interesting for stationary retailers: The iOS 9 system allows its users to search for nearby locations directly through Spotlight. The results it yields are not only taken from Apple Maps, but also contributed by other apps. Following a Spotlight search, users are frequently directed to applications such as http://www.yelp.de.

The operating system also aims to include results from its map application directly into Safari search results. Here, map results are listed even before the search engine suggestions. This has significantly increased the chance of users being sent to directory entries in Apple Maps or other apps, rather than the actual business website. For businesses, this is a chance as much as it is a challenge.

Three steps towards iOS 9 optimisation

This increased focus on the results in the iOS-internal map application (Apple Maps) means that businesses can expect fewer clicks on their websites in exchange for increased visits of their online profiles in portals such as Foursquare or Yelp. These profiles can be optimised within a few simple steps.

1. Data control

The most important factor is the correctness of your business data in directory entries, especially in Apple Maps and Yelp. But it is not enough to rely on those two databases alone. As soon as more companies integrate Spotlight into their apps, users will become aware of other portals. You should therefore verify your contact data, company name, and opening hours in all directories used. Opening hours are particularly important: Apple Maps automatically labels your business as “open” or “closed”. Make sure that the information in the entries is always identical in order to make the most of search engines (cf. NAP Consistency).

2. Content creation

Correct contact information is a good start. You should now supplement your entries with additional data in order to attract the attention of potential customers. Pictures are particularly effective. It also helps to include the right amount of keywords.

3. Website structure

Even though directories are listed first, a well-structured website will be placed in the second position. When creating your website, always use so-called schemes – small units of information that are assigned to specific sections of the site. This allows you to mark a phone number in an unambiguous way, for instance, or indicate that your street and post code constitute an address. The iOS system recognises those markers and allows iPhone users to make direct phone calls or get map directions with a single tap of the screen.