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The future of local business online and the birth of the Backyard Web…

Forget the “world wide” part of the web. With the growth of mobile and social technologies, the web will become increasingly local. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be diving into this in more detail, starting today with why the web of the future belongs to local business. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at how businesses can use the local web to greater advantage.

Search has become the killer app of the web, largely because the search engines continually strive to provide the best result for any user’s query. Soon, savvy local business owners – if they’re not already – will almost always turn up at the top of these search results. Why? Because they’re the best answer, that’s why. Or, at least they will be the best answer if they manage their online presence successfully, for the needs of both the PC-based and mobile webs. Unfortunately, too few do it well enough today. Darren Johnson gives one example of how difficult it is to find local information online. Grab your cell phone and look for others. Today, it’s a nightmare. And that’s a shame, because most local businesses truly deserve to be found.

Increasingly, mobile technology is going to allow customers to look for local businesses, when and where they are. Note the picture alongside this post. That’s a shot of the screen (complete with scrolling ads and mobile browsing) in the back of my cab in Manhattan yesterday. (By the way, did you check out the Visa, MasterCard and Amex logos?) That’s one way the web – and emerging mobile commerce – is beginning to surround us. Mobile phones are another. And yes, browsing the web on mobile phones basically sucks right now, but that’s only because:

  1. Most mobile networks make browsing the web a chore
  2. Most content for local sites doesn’t provide the right information

That will change. For example:

  1. Mobile devices will provide increasingly positive browsing experiences. The iPhone has set the bar high, but other WiFi-enabled mobile devices like the Nokia N95 (nice comparison from Scoble) and the (coming soon) Blackberry 8820 provide shiny, happy browsing experiences for their users, wherever they happen to be. Of course, this assumes that the networks work wherever they happen to be. And they will, thanks to…
  2. The efforts folks like Microsoft, Google, and others are doing to improve wireless broadband network coverage. As these networks come online, browsing on mobile devices – and the concept of a mobile, local, web – will start to grab hold in a big way.

Now, if customers are out and about browsing the web on their mobile devices, will they be ordering books from Amazon? Placing a delivery order with Dominos? Reserving a hotel for tomorrow night? No. They’ll be looking for the local bookstore, the restaurant, the hotel where they are right now. Assuming, of course, that they can locate the information they need wherever they happen to be. Today, they usually can’t. And, unless they start improving now, it’s only going to get worse for local businesses as mobile internet use increases because larger businesses will definitely work to improve their local presence.

Some might argue that it’s not worth the effort, that large businesses will have the Internet locked up tight and that it’s too hard to compete. That’s simply not so. Mike Moran offers an example of one business that has done a great job owning its local presence. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how you can too. In the meantime, what’s your perspective? What can local businesses do to make the web less world wide and much more “backyard?”

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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  1. Tim, I can’t agree with you more on the point that the majority of the mobile websites suck and don’t provide the information that you are looking for. When you are using your mobile browser it is usually done for one of 4 things… communication (like gmail), travel, news, or finding local content. After working in the hospitality industry for the past 6 years; I have been working on a mobile solution (GoTrip) that focuses on these main use cases. It’s a unique cell phone marketing & CRM platform that connects hospitality brands to their share of the 76% of the US population that travel with their cell phones. Envision extending the reach of any given brand to a mobile audience delivering highly relevant messaging and value added services for a guest while on the move.

    Here’s some examples of the branded touch points GoTrip delivers via text messaging and the mobile web:
    – GoTrip notifies guests of their flight’s status, gate changes and airport delays.
    – It can send pre-stay welcome text messages to a guest’s cell phone on the morning of their arrival, and likewise on departure.
    – A branded mobile web site delivers value added services for guests such as flight checks, weather checks, driving directions, local search etc for use on their travels.
    – Add your own unique content to the mobile site using our mobile CMS.
    – All language and messaging is customized to ensure it’s on-brand.

    John Blayter

  2. John,
    It sounds like an interesting app. Good luck with it. What’s your take on how to line up mobile with “traditional” online?

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