The Past, Present, and Future of Location Marketing

How potential customers find local businesses has come a long way in recent years. As search engines and social media platforms continue learning from users and refining their algorithms, marketing teams—especially for multi-location businesses—must continue reconsidering both strategy and tactics on a regular basis. This applies to all kinds of marketing; but especially location marketing also known as proximity marketing.

What is location marketing?

Location marketing means promoting a physical store by targeting local audiences who are most likely to buy. The ultimate goal: increase visibility and drive foot traffic through strategies like geotargeting, location based advertising and local search optimization.

Keeping up with all these updates can seem difficult unless—or even if—you’re a local SEO specialist. For example, in 2023, Google released no less than four separate updates, pushing marketers to reexamine their tactics so they would still make the grade. Moreover, they updated the platform guidelines for managing Google Business Profiles (GBPs), a key ranking factor.

While it’s tempting to focus on the future, it’s equally important to understand how we got here. The past, present, and future of location marketing can all help local SEO experts plan new campaigns and strategies from an informed position.

The Evolution of Location Marketing

In the early days of location marketing, local search experts would stuff their listings with keywords to make sure the search engines picked up what they were serving. But this not only made for a poor user experience. The algorithms soon began penalizing keyword stuffers.

Nowadays, advertisers understand the importance of relevance, consistency, and rich data.

Whereas algorithms and ranking factors were once the marketer’s be all and end all, today many see these as more of a compass to guide your local marketing journey. Rather than gaming the system, it means testing and understanding what works for your business, your industry, or your region, and also—most importantly—for your potential customers.

In episode seven of our podcast series “Local Marketing Beat”, Krystal Taing, VP of Solutions at Uberall, reflected on her decade spent in location marketing:

"I feel like everything changes so much quicker now; and that is likely due to a lot of things like and, of course, consumer behavior. There are general trends, where customers are searching for things from a local perspective. But that means all of the platforms that support them need to catch up and make it easier.”

Krystal TaingVP of Solutions, Uberall

When consumer behavior changes, platforms need to catch up with new needs fast. In a way, demand fuels platform changes, and businesses need to adapt to that reality. Like the recent TikTok trend of the “airport dad”—the guy who gets prepared to go to the airport as early as possible—that made Uber’s marketing team target these so-called airport dads within just a few weeks of the trend’s emergence.

The Role of Data Analytics in Today’s Competitive Landscape

As digital technology evolves, data analytics and insights are being used differently. In the early days of local search, CMOs were focused on immediate returns on investment.

ROI still plays a role in location marketing. But according to Krystal Taing, “there’s this unachievable unicorn” requirement to equate a click with a number of customers shopping in-store. Unless you’re tracking old-school beacons from a click on Google to someone coming in your shop door, you can’t look at location marketing data analytics in the same way as e-commerce.

Of course, you need to understand your views and your searches. But the data analytics you should focus on tend to live in the hybrid customer experience—things like a click to get directions to your store, or a click from a Google map entry to visit your website.

Tracking this type of data seems relatively easy if you’re using a suitable analytics tool. But how can you optimize for this type of data?

First of all, interrogate the keywords that Google gives you. These are actual insights into the words your potential customers are using to find their local options.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve uncovered really interesting topics within those keywords that businesses had no idea they were even ranking for, because they’re not present in your search console. But, at the same time, you must adapt to make sure your executives and stakeholders really understand what that means to the bottom line.”

Krystal TaingVP of Solutions, Uberall

Once collected, analyze your data to identify trends, patterns, and insights. And then test, iterate and learn to craft messages that make consumers take action.

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How to Be A Game-Changer: Key Considerations For Multi-Location Business Search And Marketing Strategies

To spearhead location marketing efforts, complete your location data. All of it. Every piece of information you can add to your profile—text, image, video—will help you to shine in the eyes of search engines. These efforts will help you more than jumping haphazardly on the new shiny thing (like AI!).

Maintain your location data

Without strong foundations, your local marketing tactics risk crumbling down. So ensure your data is accurate, and updated consistently. You don’t want any Generative AI system to learn incorrect information about your business or locations, or they might end up serving incorrect information to your customers.

Combine the forces of key digital platforms

Avoid putting all your eggs in the Google basket. Remember, the iPhone endures as the dominant smartphone, with Apple Maps as its native mapping app. So you need to keep on top of your Apple Business data. Moreover, there’s a multitude of other platforms that consumers use for their search and decision making.

Explore all content formats

Video can be a forgotten hero in local marketing. But if you don’t have a video strategy, then you’re already behind: videos take priority in ranking and organic results, whether pulled from TikTok or YouTube Shorts. Engaging with video will help you after the full SGE rollout, too.

Enable informed decision making

An API connector to ChatGPT can give you plenty of relevant insights for your strategy overall while improving internal efficiencies. The number of insights you can gather from tools is astronomical, but you need the right interface for interrogating the data easily.

That process doesn’t need to be time-consuming, much less difficult. Keeping things simple can improve scalability, freeing up time and focus for addressing the user experience—something easily forgotten in the race to adopt AI.

Find the right battle partner

Perhaps most importantly, choose a location marketing platform that makes your life easy. And at Uberall, we are taking our time to innovate with sensible layers of AI for our platform, all while doubling down on the basics that will remain important.

How can brands replicate neighborhood feel?

AI in Location Marketing Is More Than Just a Blog Post

With all that said, one part of the puzzle remains blurry: the impact AI will have on location marketing. It’s been a little over a year since OpenAI and ChatGPT began to influence marketing teams.

Many businesses, and especially enterprise brands, hesitate on leveraging the full potential of AI. Yet, multi-location marketing teams must ensure they’re considering all of their options. AI can do more than create content, with utilities like responding to reviews or analyzing the sentiment of those talking online about your brand. Even creating automated reports to enhance your understanding of the current state of your local search is now feasible.

For users, AI helps complete their search terms: Google will now suggest a phrase for their search based on their initial input. Multi-location businesses, on the other hand, need to understand what phrases are likely to appear, so they can work towards ranking for what’s relevant at that level, too.

Location marketing today demands that you clearly understand your challenges and goals, and then consider how AI can be leveragedif it can be leveraged. Use everything at your disposal to understand how customers feel about your brand, about your store at a certain location, and about what your competitors are doing. Work on discovering how your business shows up, because what we’ve covered here only touches the surface in terms of what search will integrate next.

If there’s one thing we have learned over the evolution of location marketing, it’s that things will continue to change, so you want a partner that will help you evolve and adapt from day one, too.

Get support throughout the future of location marketing