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It’s an irony of search engine marketing. The more we improve the granularity of our search targeting, the more our customers’ searches seem to become more generalized.

After all, “near me search” sounds about as general as you can get. Google has trained many searchers to be lazier since the results become geo-customized without the need for a zip code or city in the search query.

Really though, the “near me search” is about as specific as you can get. Google grabs your exact latitude and longitude (your GPS coordinates) and finds businesses that meet your criteria nearby. Those businesses that take advantage of the growth of this search type have a huge opportunity to capitalize on. Let’s take a look…

Near me searches continue to grow

Since 2011, Google reports the “near me” search has increased 34X! It alone doubled from 2014 to 2015. This type of search applies to businesses across every industry from plumber, to clothing retailer to finding a cup of coffee.

Google says people submit billions of queries every month for businesses “near me” “closest” and “nearby.” The top searches are now the most generic. These include “restaurants near me” “breakfast near me” and “coffee near me”. (Coffee’s a big one and obviously important to many folks, especially those like me who travel all the time.)

Calling all local and multi-local brands

Mobile’s a big reason for this change. Through exact GPS Google can tell me where I can find the nearest coffee shop, restaurant or retailer.

Here’s another change in customer activity – convenience often trumps brand loyalty. It’s not enough to be a big brand and simply be there if you want the business. To crack Google’s new 3-pack you need to deliver a useful, relevant and frictionless experience and your content needs to be optimized for each neighborhood where your brand lives. As many large brands lack this type of hyper-local content, this has equalized opportunity for local businesses to compete with big name brands.

Driving the “near me search” revolution

Ok, when you hear about changes and trends in search, you might think Google’s driving this behavior. Not so fast. There’s no question Google plays a big role in search, but these days they’re not the only game in town.

Today, the reality is mobile devices drive behavior. For searches like these, Google’s only trying to deliver the best user experience. Another players who’s jumped into the mix is Facebook.

The relatively new Facebook Events mobile app features local music, food & drink, nightlife and sporting events based on searches within certain cities. Facebook says 450 million people use this feature every month. Right now, it’s only available in some locales, so it’s got a long way to go, a fact acknowledged by Facebook.

But Google and Facebook haven’t cornered the market in the “near me search”. Bing and Yahoo also continue to grow their presence and impact for these searches based on the users’ locale.


How to optimize and get noticed?

Based on the above, we assume you’re convinced about the importance of proximity. So now let’s shift to the question of “where should I start?”

Before you invest a dime, start with your own data. This is the offline data like where your customer’s come from. If you have the information, identify the zip codes where most of your customer’s reside. Survey your foot traffic. Dive into your site analytics platform. Once you understand your base, then you can really start to accelerate your localized targeting.

Once you’ve got a good grasp on this information, here are four ways to optimize for near me searches:

1. Geo-Customizers:

Google offers a number of geo-customizers to target your ads. This allows you to customize your ad based on location so that it is relevant to your customer’s geography. A national brand can capitalize on this feature and speak directly to the audience in the city where the ad runs without setting up thousands of micro-targeted campaigns

2. Proximity Targeting:

Proximity targeting allows you to bid based on nearness to your location. In the city, the radius might be a few blocks. In the country, it might be 25 miles. With proximity, you can integrate adwords and GoogleMyBusiness to focus on customers who search in your area and are ready to make quick transactions.

Advanced Tip: You can also set up “proximity rings” to layer bid modifiers based on proximity. This allows you to target higher bids for customers close by and still have coverage at a lower CPC as customers are further from your locations.

3. Bid by Weather:

This advanced functionality that uses Adwords scripts, Google’s business data, or an automation platform like AdShift adjusts your bid based on the weather outside. This optimizes ad spend for businesses like restaurants and retailers. For example, some know when the temperature drops below 40 degrees they don’t get much business. So they bid less when the temperature is below 40 and more when it’s warmer. But don’t forget to couple that with location…40 degrees in Chicago in January is balmy and probably increases foot traffic whereas 40 degrees in Atlanta shuts down the city. Know your markets and bid accordingly!

4. The Beacons are Coming! The Beacons are Coming!:

I predict that as beacons become more widely adopted and consumers get used to them, the tracking for in-store traffic will grow and grow fast! Companies like Yext and their recent releases like Xone make it easier for retailers to roll-out these blue-tooth beacons that communicate promotions, sales and more to customers in-store or nearby and also enable proximity based retargeting to reach foot traffic through digital channels.

The increase in “near me searches” makes proximity marketing a practical way to attract customers who are ready to buy.

At BFO we’ve built proximity targeting as a cornerstone of our offering to help our retail and restaurant clients capitalize on the local opportunity. So next time you’re out and about, give “near me searches” a try and then apply those customer-centric learnings to your business.

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