When the internet started to spread around the world in earnest, it was hailed as the Great Equalizer. It no longer mattered where you were physically located, you could reach the whole world from your computer.
In recent times, there’s been a clearâ€”alarming, in my opinionâ€”shift toward locality. Look at this:
- Web searches give higher prominence to results that are geographically close to your location.
- Websites attempt to figure out your location based on the language of your operating system and where your IP address is physically located and give you a translated version of themselves.
- People calling themselves internet marketing experts are busy extolling the benefits of high rankings in location-based searches for businesses.
- Google ads seem to favor those of businesses relatively close to you.
There’s a serious flip side to this trend.
First, local businesses might not benefit from location-based services (LBS) at all. As a Mashable article says, “most local businesses can’t consider access to a small, occasionally interested local audience via LBS to truly move the needle on revenue and profit”.
Second, the new-found idea of promoting local over national or international will harm businesses that are far away from their markets. Take myself as an example: I have no serious prospects within a 150-mile radiusâ€”in fact, they’re all in other countries. The more local searches are getting, the more it will hurt companies and individual professionals who need to be found by clients located far away from them.
Third, if I’m looking for a solution to my problem, I will want to look further than my immediate vicinity. Even more so if I’m a B2B company. For example, a Brazilian forestry company might find a Finnish solution the best, but how will that solution ever come up in searches that don’t go beyond, say, the Americas?
Fourth, although I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, I’m beginning to think the big move towards local is not something that’s being done for the benefit of the internet population. It’s something that’s being done to attract more advertisers. Think of Google, Gowalla, Foursquare. They are all making money out of selling advertising space (while we enlightened marketers are busy talking about inbound marketing…). Not that there’s anything wrong with targeted advertising, it’s just that when someone else is making my decisions for me, the decisions are usually wrong because they are not making those decisions based on my preferences but theirs.
Of course, if you operate in a densely-populated environment where even within a fairly short distance you have a sufficient potential customer base, there’s no problem. On the other hand, if you reside in a sparsely-populated location, the more local searches are becoming, the less useful they will be.
The big players in location-based services and online search are all US companies. Should the rest of the world then just succumb to their idea that they are providing their services only for US businessesâ€”and for the benefit of US advertisers?
I’m fully aware those companies couldn’t care less because they are getting most of their revenue from their home market. I do think, however, that there should be a way for us in other parts of the world to switch off the “local” aspect. Both in looking for content and in publishing content.
But how? I honestly don’t know. Do you? Please tell me in the comments.
UPDATE December 22, 2012: