The 2012 Local Year in Review

Posted by David Mihm

Some of you may remember my Brief History of Google Places infographic from January 2011. It's time to update that graphic with the most memorable events of 2012 to ring in the New Year!

2012 was yet another interesting year in Local Search. Obviously, the release of Google Plus Local in May will be remembered as one of the year's biggest for quite some time. But for Google, that release was the start of a long, fairly quiet period — not only for new product announcements, but also for algorithmic updates, personnel changes, and SERP interfaces. Compared to the frenzy of 2011, 2012 looks downright placid.

In fact, for most of the second half of the year, Google seemed to devote time to shoring up the infrastructure behind this new product, increasing the speed of updates to its business index, and updating its review guidelines. Some of this backend work undoubtedly paved the way for Google's other big 2012 release: a native iOS Maps app launched in December, which has been met with rave reviews.

For many in the search community, though, it was another year of playing whack-a-mole with duplicate or improperly merged client listings, missing customer reviews, and opaque "we do not support this location" messages in the Places Dashboard. Mike Blumenthal's epic late November rant captured this frustration better than any other.  

Speaking of the Places Dashboard, most of us are surprised that it still exists. The promise that a merged Places-Plus Dashboard holds is largely unfulfilled thus far, save for a couple of nice features around reviews and comments.

Surely Google will have another big Local release coming in the first half of 2013 — especially given their public pronouncement that 1/3 of all searches are Local – but their outward opacity for most of 2012 has opened a window for some of their biggest competitors to begin catching up. Yelp announced an IPO and used some of the proceeds to buy European rival Qype. Facebook also IPO'ed and released a major mobile competitor to Google at the end of the year with Nearby. And, of course, Apple made its second major splash in the Local Search arena by releasing its own (widely panned) Maps app.

As I said earlier this week on Hubspot, in terms of features, I don't see 2013 being an earth-shattering year, either for Google or its competitors. I think we'll see some consolidation and maturation of existing feature sets. The most interesting thing that I'll be watching for will be the extent to which algorithmic updates by Google reflect new opportunities for engagement by business owners on Plus.

I'd love to hear from the community! Is the updated graphic and list below missing any major events that we'll remember three, four, or five years from now? What do you guys see coming in 2013?

Noteworthy events in 2012

1. Jan 12 Search Plus Your World Goes Live - Increasing personalization and socialization of results sets the stage for coming influx of social recommendations into Local.

2. Feb 12 Plus Authorship Integrated with Places - The first stage of the natural evolution of SPYW into Local.

3. Feb 12 Venice Update for Local Released - Local takes over organic results to an unprecedented extent.

4. Mar 12 Yelp Completes IPO - Cash infusion will help Yelp scale to many more locales in 2013-2014.

5. Mar 12 Places Help Forum Transitioned - One of many infrastructure updates for Google in 2012, paving the way for unification of Places and Plus.

6. Mar 12 Google Releases Offer Rewards - Google's foray into digital loyalty programs — will this be rolled into the Plus Business Dashboard?

7. Apr 12 Adwords Express Removed from Places Dashboard - (See question above.)

8. May 12 Facebook Completes IPO - Investors think Facebook is a ~7x better bet than Google at launch, despite no real Local effort. Still a sleeping giant at this point in the year.

9. May 12 Google Plus Local Launched - Local becomes social — or more accurately, WILL become social.

10. Jun 12 Business Builder Article Appears in WSJ - Mainstream media speculates on additional features Google might be rolling out in its SMB products. Timeframe of "as early as July" wildly exaggerated.

11. Jun 12 Yelp Announces Bing Syndication Deal - Yelp positions itself even closer to the center of the non-Google ecosystem.

12. Jun 12 Mercury News Features Map Maker Reviewer - The first mainstream news article I can remember seeing about Google's backend mapping infrastructure.

13. Jun 12 Reviews Become Available in Places API - Google tries not to lose market share in the coming explosion of location-sensitive third-party mobile apps.

14. Jul 12 Google Plus Local App Launched - An incredibly boring app, but an important first effort at a native social-local-mobile experience.

15. Jul 12 Yahoo Hires Marissa Mayer - Hype around Mayer's expertise in Local and Yahoo's future appears to be overblown at this point.

16. Aug 12 Merge Process Goes Live - Businesses can now consolidate their Places and Plus pages. However, process is rife with bugs.

17. Aug 12 Frommers Acquired - Google doubles down on curated reviews after Zagat purchase a year earlier.

18. Aug 12 Google Releases Organic 7-Pack - We've had Local 7-packs for years…what's the big deal?

19. Aug 12 Furor Erupts over Plus Review Policy - Massive loss / filtering of existing Plus Page reviews. Bugs continue for Google.

20. Aug 12 SuperMedia and Dex Merge - Two of the four largest Internet Yellow Pages companies decide to combine forces. Are new products forthcoming, or just a consolidation of sales forces?

21. Sep 12 Google Maps Featured in The Atlantic - Second mainstream media article in 2012 about the back end of Google Maps, this one much bigger than the Mercury News's…part of a blatant PR campaign to head off coverage of Apple Maps.

22. Sep 12 Apple Maps Launches - Google's primary mobile competitor launches with a thud.

23. Oct 12 Google Adjusts Zagat Interface - No one understands Zagat's rating system, so Google switches to words that everyone can understand.

24. Oct 12 Yelp Acquires Qype - Yelp instantly becomes the only non-Google player in Europe.

25. Nov 12 Google Announces 1/3 Searches Are Local - More people in online marketing need to realize this.

26. Nov 12 Google Acquires Incentive Targeting - Second major indication this year that coupons and loyalty programs are likely to be a big part of the Google Plus Business Dashboard, whenever it comes out.

27. Nov 12 Plus Frustration Boils Over - Mike Blumenthal finally gets fed up with the number of problems with Google Plus and the lack of guidance provided by higher-ups in Mountain View.

28. Dec 12 Universal OneBox Display Updated - In the grand scheme of things, a minor visual update. But one more indication of Google's increasing preference for brands.

29. Dec 12 Facebook Launches "Get More Likes" - Now HERE is an ad unit that every business owner can understand (unlike Adwords).

30. Dec 12 Google Releases Native iOS Maps App - Massive praise in the tech community, but most of America tolerated Apple Maps anyway.

31. Dec 12 Google Shuts Down Punchd - Puzzling decision given the release of Google Offers loyalty earlier in the year and the recent acquisition of Incentive Targeting.

32. Dec 12 Facebook Releases Nearby - The first indication that Facebook may finally be getting serious about Local.

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January 3, 2013  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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