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9 things Google needs to fix in Android Wear immediately

Not quite ready for primetime

Google’s smartwatch OS has finally arrived, and Android Wear is probably the best wearable platform that’s ever hit the market—although, considering the horrendous state of past smartwatches, this alone isn’t a remarkable achievement.

Android Wear does a lot of things right even at this early stage in its development, but there are glaring usability problems too. You can’t use a Wear watch for more than a few minutes without getting annoyed by some of Google’s decisions. Let’s take a look at the things Google needs to fix in Android Wear before it’s going to be ready for primetime.

Starting apps can be ridiculous

Apps install to Android Wear automatically from your phone over a Bluetooth connection. It’s a handy way for developers to add Wear functionality to existing apps, and distribute standalone Wear apps through Google Play. However, actually opening those apps on your watch can be a challenge.

Starting apps by voice is fine most of the time, but if you’re in any situation that makes shouting at your wrist awkward or impossible, you have to open the search screen and scroll all the way to the bottom to get to the app list. It’s a really unintuitive, inconvenient location.

No card history

The main Android Wear interface is a series of vertically scrolling cards—essentially smartphone notifications and Google Now alerts brought over from your phone. However, this scheme also suffers an annoyance of the Google Now interface: You can’t recall a card that you’ve already swiped away. Wear doesn’t even get the short-lived “undo” popup.

Sometimes the lack of a card history isn’t a huge deal. If you lose an email notification, you can just check your phone later. But may the gods of technology help you if you swipe away the weather card. It’ll come back in about a day, when Google Now decides to show it again. There really needs to be a way to reinstate dismissed cards because cards define the entire interface.

There’s no way to start a new Hangouts conversation

If someone sends you a message via Google’s data-only Hangouts chat system, you can reply by voice right from Android Wear. However, you can’t start a new Hangouts conversation. It defies logic, but for some reason, there’s no voice command to send a Hangout message in Google’s universe. Your only choice is to send a new SMS from the watch, which depending on the app your friend is using, could be seriously confusing.

Navigation is a mess

Android Wear automatically produces a card when the connected phone is doing turn-by-turn navigation, which is pretty neat. Just glance at your wrist and see the next turn.

However, the distance to the turn doesn’t show up when the screen dims—only the road and direction display. This makes it much harder to use, and sometimes the street name is so long that even the full card cuts off the distance. Think you’re off the hook if you’re walking? Nope. Initiating navigation from the watch will always start driving navigation, and there’s no way to change it.

You can’t choose the top card

When you’re looking at the Wear watch face, one of your cards will always be peeking up from the bottom of the screen as a visual cue that you can swipe downward. It’s a great place to show important information—like who sent your most recent email, or the current weather—but you don’t get to decide what goes there.

Android Wear uses some befuddling system to determine which card gets to be at the top of the list, and there are no settings to change it. It would be fabulous if you could simply make the weather card hang out at the top, for example.

The message sending timer is way too fast

This should be an easy fix, and it’s one Google should make immediately. Despite its surprisingly accurate voice recognition, the system will still make bizarre errors on occasion. That’s why Wear lets you review a message before it is auto-sent.

The problem is that the delay is far too short: You get barely two seconds to read over your words. If you need more time, you have to tap on the screen to pause and then send manually, which rather defeats the purpose of hands-free voice input.

No user-defined screen timeout

Wear pulls in messages from any app that adds a notification to your phone, and sometimes that means a lot of text. To actually read more than a sentence or two, you basically have to touch the screen repeatedly.

Unfortunately, the screen automatically dims and goes back to black-and-white mode in about three seconds, and there’s no user-configurable option. This is a power saver on the Gear Live with its AMOLED display, but not so much on the G Watch. All you have is always on, or not always on. There really ought to be an option to set your own timeout.

Custom watch faces are busted right now

Developers have been turned loose on Android Wear, but not all parts of the SDK are complete. For example, all custom watch faces right now are essentially hacks. They don’t work very well and aren’t able to call for “shorter” peek cards on the watch face screen. This means that top card is going to cover a big chunk of the watch face all the time.

The stock watch faces have the access required to shrink that card, so you can actually see what time it is. Google has said the watch face API is coming, but developers don’t seem to be waiting… although they really should.

Settings are buried

Let’s say you want to change the brightness level of your Android Wear watch. You have to tap to enter the search screen, then scroll past half a dozen suggested commands, and there you’ll find the settings. It’s not very convenient, and there are no shortcuts to common functions like brightness. For a device that doesn’t have a light sensor, that’s a big pain point.

Windows Phone’s next update will support smart cases and giant devices

Windows Phone 8.1 may have only just reached the general public, but it’s already in line for a surprisingly large update. Microsoft has posted developer documents (sign-in required) for Windows Phone 8.1 GDR1, a tweak that fills in a few key hardware and software gaps. Aside from previously revealed folder support, the upgrade will allow for smart cases akin to HTC’s Dot View or LG’s QuickCircle. Phone makers will get to run special apps when the cover is closed, and specify what happens when it’s open. This seemingly simple addition could be important, since The Verge claims that HTC is preparing a Windows Phone version of the new One — such a device would need smart cover features to perform the same tricks as its Android counterpart.

The revision should also enable more of the tablet-sized phones that are all the rage in some corners of the globe. It’ll support a 1,280 x 768 resolution on screens as large as 7 inches, and there’s a new 1,280 x 800 option useful for larger devices that use software navigation buttons. Other upgrades are smaller, but should be important in the long run — the update should bring high-quality voice over LTE, higher-quality Bluetooth music (through aptX) and manufacturer-defined custom lock screens. There’s no confirmed schedule for when GDR1 would arrive, but Microsoft is clearly getting close. It won’t be surprising if the next big wave of Windows Phones ships with the new features built in.

Lessons Learned On App Design For Fast-Growth Markets

One of the typical mistakes developers make is thinking that because they’ve had success in one corner of the globe, they should be able to employ the same strategy to drive adoption elsewhere. The truth of the matter is apps that are wildly successful in the U.S., Europe and Japan often fail to gain substantial traction in areas like India, South America and the Middle East; these problems go well beyond simple translation issues and lack of cultural understanding.

Something I faced when speaking with our early investors was that they sometimes could get too obsessive with the Western world and overlook the high-growth markets – often referred to as the “next billion markets.” That was a challenge for us, as our growth and data were pointing to the developing markets, and the VCs were pointing to the developed markets. It was a difficult choice for us to make, but we followed where the data pointed. Today it has shown that it was the right path for us to take in order to grow fast.

If your business is facing similar questions and app success relies on international expansion, here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to compete and win over the next billion consumers:

Stop Building Just for “Ferrari Phones”

Mobile app developers usually have a top-of-the-line phone or tablet like an iPhone 5S or a Galaxy S5. This is the device they use their app on day-to-day, but it’s not representative of how most of their users are experiencing their product or service. Lower-end phones are much more commonplace in fast-growth markets than they are in the U.S. or Europe. For example, smartphone penetration in India is only 13 percent, compared to 56 percent in the U.S., according to Google’s Our Mobile Planet study.

Americans and Europeans love to complain about their cellular data caps of a few gigabytes a month, but the situation is far worse for those living in countries where prepaid plans dominate.

The takeaway here is that you should not create an app that just works well for a small percentage of potential customers. This is the equivalent of automotive designers only focusing on their company’s top-of-the-line cars, rather than what most of their customers are driving.

It’s important to pay close attention to the types of devices that reside in the hands of a majority of our users. Truecaller’s app, for instance, often runs smoother on low-end Android phones in India and the Middle East than the operating system itself. Simply maintaining a quality experience – rather than one that chugs along and takes forever to start on most phones – can do wonders for audience retention and repeat usage.

Think Small When it Comes to Design

Bigger doesn’t always mean better. It’s true that phone screens are getting larger in the U.S. and Europe, though in many countries, smaller screens still have a powerful hold. According to Google, 85 percent of U.S. smartphone owners have a phone with a large display (iPhone size or larger) – compare that to Brazil, where just 61 percent of smartphones have a large screen, or Indonesia, where only half of smartphones do.

Although it may be tempting for designers to utilize all the extra screen real estate, this shouldn’t be done at the cost of the user experience. Designers can be too eager to cram their UI with fancy bells and whistles, leading to an ugly, awkward layout for those looking at it through smaller screens.

Much like programming for low-spec phones, accounting for a small screen size is key to improving the overall customer experience.

Don’t Take Data for Granted

Americans and Europeans love to complain about their cellular data caps of a few gigabytes a month, but the situation is far worse for those living in countries where prepaid plans dominate. Prepaid customers have to be extra conscious of their mobile data when every extra megabyte means a higher phone bill. In India, as an example, users often turn off cellular data on their phones to prevent apps from using it in the background.

This is very much in contrast to the average Western developers who typically build their apps with the assumption that their users will have a constant Internet connection, even if the core functionality of the app doesn’t require one. This is a recipe for poor adoption. In fact, Google’s data shows that only 43 percent of Indian smartphone owners use a Wi-Fi connection for their smartphone at home, while nearly three quarters of Americans do.

This may sound limiting, but there are ways to use this to your advantage. For example, Bollywood music streaming service Saavn gives paid subscribers a feature allowing them to save songs on their phone to play when they don’t have access to data. It’s an effective way to reach the widest possible group of users while still giving them the most value from the service.

Seek Out Carrier and Device Partnerships

Only a few years ago, original equipment manufacturers paid license fees to app developers to develop for their smartphones. But today, partnering with carriers and OEMs in foreign markets can be a major boon to all involved. For app developers that don’t have a great deal of brand recognition outside of their home country, joining up with a well-known local brand can be an inroad to reaching millions of new customers. App placement has become real estate developers need to fight for. With a robust partnership, carriers and OEMs can differentiate their increasingly commoditized phones and cellular services and your app gets exposure to users you otherwise might miss out on.

Developers across the spectrum have successfully increased their worldwide user numbers by working with big local firms. For over a year in India, Nokia’s low-cost Asha line has featured a dedicated WhatsApp button and a free lifetime WhatsApp subscription. Evernoteaccelerated its international expansion by offering a year of premium service to Vivo cellular subscribers in Brazil. Bubble Motion has long partnered with Asian carriers to bring its service to feature phones, which represent a large majority of its audience. Coordinating with device makers and operators is essential for maximizing audience reach in fast-growth markets abroad.

Examples abound of apps becoming more successful by being more accommodating. WhatsApp didn’t get its colossal user base just by targeting those with the latest phones.Word Lens, a translation app recently purchased by Google, owes much of its popularity to the fact that it does not require an Internet connection, making it perfect for international travelers. Similarly, VoIP service Rebtel was able to create an entirely new revenue stream by launching a mobile top up service Sendly, which gained widespread appeal in India by addressing the mobile minute transfer needs of customers in a country where prepaid mobile plans dominate.

To fast track your app for success, do not simply pay attention to making it the most sophisticated app in the category. Rethink your app’s design for approachability and maximum reach. Most importantly, make sure you have conducted extensive user testing to identify and work around major consumer annoyances that can inhibit your app’s growth, virality, and reach.

The online freelancing industry in the Philippines is bullish and shows no signs of slowing

Popular online staffing sites Elance and oDesk merged in December 2013 to become Elance-oDesk. Though they each continued to maintain their separate platforms, the deal made effectively created the largest online company for freelance services in the world, dwarfing competitor Freelancer.

Among other benefits to the merger, the Elance-oDesk partnership gives the public greater insight into the state of the online freelance industry in the Philippines. In a report the company released today, the company reveals how the freelancing industry remains as robust as ever.

According to the report, Elance-oDesk boasts of more than 8 million freelancers spread across 180 countries. One eighth of those freelancers – a full 1 million people – hail from the Philippines. These freelancers perform work in a wide range of fields, from design and programming to administration and marketing.

Elance-oDesk freelancers generated more than US$750 million worldwide in 2013, of which US$76 million (3.3 billion PhP) was produced in the Philippines. From January 2010 to April 2014, the country’s freelancers have earned more than US$207 million (9 billion PhP). In 2013, Elance-oDesk’s top performing city was Metro Manila, which is the country’s financial capital and most populous region.

Freelancers in Metro Manila earned US$29.9 million (1.3 billion Php) for the year. The next top earning cities were Illigan at US$7.8 million (342 million PhP), Bacolod at US$5 million (221 million PhP), and Davao at US$4 million (174 million PhP). The slide deck provided to Tech in Asia did not mention the average annual or monthly earnings of an Elance-oDesk user.

However, the two freelancers who earned the most money on both Elance and oDesk in 2013 point to the potential of working online. One freelancer, from Gingoog, earned US$60,000 (2.6 million PhP) on Elance. His counterpart at oDesk earned US$172,000 (7.5 million PhP), all from his hometown in Cavite, a province just outside Metro Manila. The minimum daily wage in the National Capital Region is set at US$10.73 (466 PhP).

Amidst boom in Aussie outsourcing and freelancing, Elance-oDesk launches in Australia Keeping Filipinos in the Philippines Of course, these success stories are probably the exception rather than the rule. But even if most freelancers on Elance-oDesk earn healthy, if unremarkable wages, the company’s steady growth in the country illustrates how the internet can enable Filipinos to earn revenue from their native home.

For a country that faces a labor drain both among skilled and unskilled workers, that ought to provide further long-term benefits. But they still attest to the fact that Filipinos can successfully compete in a global marketplace with people from all over the world. If Filipinos take note of these success stories and brave the digital divide at Elance or oDesk or even another competitor, the country can lose fewer of its best and brightest to the brain drain.

Amazon investing $2 billion more in India as online retail booms

Amazon.com is investing US$2 billion more in India, which is witnessing an online retail boom.

The online retailer has been expanding in India, and earlier this week said it was setting up five new fulfillment centers in the country, which will double its total storage capacity to over half a million square feet (over 46,500 square meters).

The investment announcement comes a day after a top Indian online retailer, Flipkart Internet, said it had raised $1 billion in new funding.

India’s online retail spending is forecast to reach $16 billion by 2018, an eightfold increase from 2013, according to Forrester Research. “Mobile Internet access will be a catalyst for the growth of online retail in India,” wrote Forrester analyst Jitender Miglani in March.

India will be Amazon’s fastest country to reach one billion dollars in gross sales if current growth rates continue, Amazon said Wednesday.

The company did not say how or over what period it will make the investment.

“We don’t comment on any future plans,” a company spokeswoman said. “We are committed to aggressively investing in growing the business and relentlessly focus on raising the bar for online shopping experience in India.”

As a result of Indian government restrictions on foreign investment in online retail in India, Amazon set up a marketplace last year, Amazon.in, which offers sales and order fulfillment services to Indian retailers, but does not sell directly.

The company also operates the Junglee.com website, a search and comparison site for Indian shoppers who can browse for a variety of retailers, including offline sellers and vendors of second-hand goods.

The Amazon marketplace offers over 17 million products from thousands of small and medium-size businesses.

12 Characteristics of Successful IT Professionals

I was at a networking meeting the other evening and was asked the typical question What do you do? I answered with my normal turn of phrase I teach leadership and soft skills to IT people. How about you, what do you do? The returned reply was not what I expected. Instead of the person launching off on a description of his chosen profession, he replied by saying Wow, my daughter just graduated college with a degree in Computer Science and landed a job with an insurance company in their IT department. What makes an IT person successful? I answered with the expected list of characteristics such as having a deep understanding of the technology, business acumen, being a team player, etc.

Upon returning home two hours and a glass of wine later, his question still resonated with me. Upon deeper thought, I settled on these twelve attributes.

1. Loves technology

When a person is doing something that he/she truly enjoys, its infectious. People can feel it and want to be involved and get swept up in the experience. From an IT perspective, this can be your boss, peers, clients, or staff. Equally, if not more important, is that when you do something you love, you do it better. This shows in the quality of your work, your commitment to the task, and your willingness to take on challenging assignments.

2. Understands data

Data is the life blood of an IT organization and the business it serves. Having a deep understanding of a companys data provides insights into how all the major software applications are connected. Additionally, from a business perspective, if you understand a companys data flow, you will understand its internal processes and business model.

3. Understands the business

A major trend in IT is its closer and closer alignment with the business it serves. Even at the CIO level, you cant just be the head techie, you must be a strong business professional who happens to know quite a bit about IT. This business understanding allows you to better serve the business community and be more innovative on their behalf.

4. Can speak both techie and non-techie

Do you want to watch a non-technical persons eyes glaze over? Talk to them using technical acronyms and/or start describing a technologys features instead of its business benefits. The problem with this scenario is that the business users are the people you are trying to support and, as a result, may have input into your next performance report.

5. Is a mile deep in primary expertise

If your primary expertise is business analysis, then you should be the best Business Analyst you can possibly be. If you specialize in data communications, you should know everything there is to know about Cisco routers and other data communications hardware and software in your data center. If you are a Project Manager or IT Manager, know how to lead projects and lead people. It doesnt matter what expertise you choose, IT professionals respect competence. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, such as organizational fit, your ability to perform will be noticed.

6. Has a working knowledge of related technical areas

The complexity of todays business processes multiplied by the complexity of todays technology doesnt allow you to be a one trick pony. While, of course, being proficient at your primary technology, you must also be knowledgeable in the technologies that touch it. For example, if you are a Java programmer, you should also have an understanding of database design and database stored procedures. On the less technical side, if you are a Project Manager, you should have a general knowledge of software development, software testing, and the other professional disciplines needed to make your project a success.

7. Shares technical knowledge with others

Part of being a team player is a willingness to share your knowledge with others. Helping others helps your manager grow his/her staff, enhances your professional reputation, builds loyalty toward you in those you help, and positions you for higher levels within the company. Also, teaching others actually enhances your understanding of the topic because it makes you look at things from other peoples perspective.

8. Loves to learn

One thing about technology is that it keeps changing. Hardware and software vendors continually upgrade their products. New IT megatrends miraculously appear, become the primary industry workhorse, and eventually fade away as an out-of-date legacy. You must love to learn because the tools of your profession are continually changing.

9. Is a team player

There is an old African proverb that to go fast, travel alone to travel far, journey with others. A profession spans many years and is a marathon, not a sprint. Being a team player and an ethical employee, in the long term, far outweighs the short term advances gained by unsportsmanlike conduct. It eventually catches up with you. As the expression goes, friends in your life come and go, enemies accumulate.

10. Thinks outside-the-box

Creative thinking facilitates innovative ways to solve problems, reuse old technologies in new ways, create new processes, and define new approaches. These types of activities can enhance your professional brand as both a thought leader and indispensable company resource.

11. Sees problems as learning opportunities

It is a wonderful feeling when technology and business processes run smoothly. While everyone, of course, does their utmost to reach this state, there is great value in viewing issues as opportunities to learn more about technology and how to use it effectively. Over time, your willingness and ability to fix production problems combined with the deep insights they bring can truly make you a techies techie and go-to person when issues arise.

12. Loves a technical challenge

The willingness and ability to define and architect solutions to seemingly undoable technical challenges can broaden your technical knowledge, increase your understanding of specific technologies, deepen your problem solving ability and gain you the notice and praise of your peers, business users, and management. A love for technical challenge causes you to theorize potential solutions while standing in the shower at home, walking the dog down the street, and sitting in front of the TV with pencil and paper in hand. This may sound extreme, but for anyone who has done it, you understand that your most creative thoughts and innovations most often come when you are relaxed and doing other things. Its the love of the challenge that keeps it in mind.

Hangouts Now Works Without Google+ Account

Say what you want about Google+, but it incubated two great products at Google: Hangouts for video meetings and Google+ Photos. While Photos is still deeply integrated with the social network, Hangouts is starting to grow up and it’s shedding some of its Google+ past today.

Update: Google had given us early access to its blog post about today’s announcement. In it, the company specifically referenced that anybody with a “Google account” could now use Hangouts with needing a Google+ profile. The final copy of the blog post changed that language to “any Google Apps customer account.” We regret the error. 

Until now, you had to have a Google+ account to use Hangouts if you were a Google Apps user. Starting today, that requirement is gone. Anybody with a Google Apps account will now be able to start or join a meeting from their desktop or their dedicated Chromebox for Meetings device. For now, however, the requirement is still in place on mobile, but Google says that’s going away soon, too. The only other restriction for those who want to use Hangouts without a Google+ account is that they won’t be able to use Hangout apps other than Screenshare or Chat and that they won’t be able to use Hangouts on Air to broadcast their chats to a larger audience.

“Google Apps customers have been taking advantage of both Google+ and Hangouts for long enough that we recognize the separate use cases for both,” a Google spokesperson told me when I asked about the reason for the change. “The goal of [today‘s] launch is to make it easier for employees and businesses to communicate by video. Our customers recognize the value of connecting face-to-face and are driving this demand.”

As part of this move, Hangouts is also now coming to Google Apps for Business. While users on Google’s paid accounts could always use Hangouts (assuming their admins allowed it), this change means that Hangouts is now covered by the same SLAs as the rest of Google’s services like Gmail and Drive. Google’s uptime guarantee for all of these services is 99.9 percent. Apps for Business users can now get 24/7 phone support for Hangouts and by the end of the year, Google Apps Vault will support Hangouts as well.

With its Chromebox for Meetings launch earlier this year, Google was already aiming its video conferencing systems at businesses and today’s move clearly strengthens this commitment.

Google is also partnering with a number of other companies to give Hangouts access to their systems. Blue Jeans Networks, for example, will now allow users on its traditional H.323 or SIP-based videoconferencing systems to join video meetings on Hangouts and InterCall will make it easier for its users to join Hangouts through its audio-conferencing bridge.Chromebox for meetings users will now also be able to dial out from their systems to add participants who still use their smartphones for basic audio calls.

A Beginner’s Guide to Local SEO for Small Businesses

As a small business with a physical location, you’ve probably heard about “local SEO” or have been told that you should really be optimized for local search.

In return, perhaps you’ve had a confused or overwhelmed look on your face, wondering ‘what exactly is local SEO?, ‘how’s it different from your existing SEO efforts?’, and ‘how exactly do you get started?’

Not to fret, this is the first of a series of posts outlining how your business can be optimized for local search engine marketing. As a subset of a broader SEO marketing practices, basic local SEO encompasses the following three factors:

  1. Local Listings and Citations
  2. Online Reviews
  3. On-Site Local SEO optimization

I’ll be providing an introduction to each of these three components in this post and providing more in-depth posts in the weeks to come. If you’re ready to start cashing in on greater local search visibility, you’ve come to the right place. But first, we’ll look at how the modern day consumer searches and shops in today’s world.

Let’s dive in.

The Modern Day Consumer

Not too long ago the primary means for consumers to discover local businesses was through flipping open a Yellow Pages catalogue, then turn the pages to the relevant category, find the nearest business of interest, focus in on the address and phone number, pick up their home phone, and call.

Sounds a bit archaic by today’s standards, right?

In today’s landscape, more than 125 million US consumers walk around with smartphones, representing 54% of mobile subscribers. Here’s a high-level breakdown of how they use their smartphones to access local information:

  • 47% of consumers use their smartphones to search for local information
  • 29% of mobile users are open to scanning a mobile tag to get coupons
  • Nearly 50% will research a product from their smartphone before buying

Or think of how many times you’ve searched for a keyword followed by your city? For example, instead of just searching for “pizza,” you instead have searched for “pizza toronto”?

MOZ Local highlights the following stats to give small businesses an idea of how often consumers are searching locally:

  • 4 billion desktop queries in the US have “local intent”
  • More than 50% of mobile searchers have “local intent”
  • Almost 15-20% of all searches are mobile

What they were then able to extrapolate is that there are approximately 7 billion unique local searches per month on Google in the US alone.

Okay, so now you agree on the importance of having your business optimized for local SEO, here are a few places to get started.

Local Listings and Citations

There are literally thousands of places to list your business online, and fundamentally, creating local business listings is the key component of any local SEO campaign. But let’s take a step back for a minute and look at why this is important.

To better understand the importance of listings and citations (a concept I’ll explain below), let’s look at the motives and experiences of two very important variables: the search engine and the consumer.

Consumers are overwhelmed with the number of options they have available to them, whether it’s places to eat, places to shop for underwear, or places to fill up on gas. So search engines make life extremely easy for them by allowing them to enter a few keywords, and return a host of options ranked and filed based on a number of factors that make it easier for consumers to choose and be satisfied at the end of the transactions. If the recommendations or results prove satisfactory, consumers will return to the search engine and use it again, allowing them to monetize through advertising.

To ensure satisfaction, search engines process massive loads of data to be able to serve up the most relevant and best-reviewed option sorted by geography. Now the quality of this data that’s used to process the information can make or break a service, and is precisely how Google broke away from the pack early on, through serving up better and more relevant search results.

So how is the quality of this data ensured? Through cross-referencing each data point across the world wide web. However, there are three major data brokers whose data powers the likes of Google, Bing, Yahoo, Apple and more when it comes to their small business listings, and they are:

The data these giants provide is then cross-checked with more popular business listing services like:

  • Google+ Local
  • Yelp
  • Bing Places
  • Yellow Pages
  • Yahoo Local
  • Foursquare

Essentially, the more often your business listing is consistent across the multiple data providers, the more likely it is to be trusted, and the more likely it is to be served up by Google or any of the other search players when someone types in a keyword. Quality and relevance above all is the key to remember.

This graphic by getlisted.org (Now MOZ Local) provides a good visual overview of the local search ecosystem:

Now in order for you to qualify for a local business listing in any index, MOZ Local notes that your business must meet the following four criteria:

  1. Have a business name or DBA
  2. Have a local phone number that matches your city of location
  3. Have a dedicated physical street address
  4. Make face-to-face contact with customers

Next, let’s look at the two factors that heavily influence how search engines and the other web services find out about your business:

  1. The number and quality of links that point to your website and tracking the sites where those links appear
  2. Tracking the number of citations of your business and on which sites these citations appear

On first glance, you’re probably thinking, I get links, maybe you’ve even done a link-building campaign in the past, but then you’re probably wondering, ‘what the hell is a citation?’

Simply put, a citation is a “mention” of your business name on webpages other than your own, followed by your address, phone number, or both, regardless of whether there is a link to your website or not.

An example of a citation might be an online directory, like Yellow Pages, where your business is listed but not necessarily linked to.

When it comes to creating your business listing and getting citations, you have a couple of options, you can either go the DIY approach and list with all the major players, you can hire an agency, or you can turn to a location-based content management system (CMS) where you upload your address once and then use the software to push your listing to everywhere you want to be.

Some of your CMS options include:

Each platform and option has its own pros and cons, in addition to the cost associated with it. So do your due diligence and pick the solution that’s best for you.

Reviews

According to Search Engine Land, 72% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, while 52% say that positive online reviews make them more likely to use a local business.

Reviews not only drive a higher click-through rate to your site, but are listed on search engine page results (serps) and according to an extensive study conducted by Digital Marketing Works, reviews play a critical role in determining inclusion and ranking for Google’s local “carousel results”, that appear at the top of a serp.

Needless to say, if there is one thing small business owners can’t afford to ignore in the digital age, it’s their online reputation.

The two core activities when it comes to online reviews are:

  1. Inviting people to actually leave a review
  2. Managing your online reputation

Getting people to leave a review can be a straightforward as having a call-to-action at your physical or digital check-out counter, or bringing it up while conversing with customers. While managing your online reputation is putting out fires in the form of negative reviews as soon as they flare up, and promoting your online reputation as social proof for your product or services.

Experts also attest to the quantity, diversity, and speed of reviews to play determining factors in how reviews are used in search algorithms. Hopefully, this gets you started in thinking about the importance of reviews and how they factor in your local search marketing plan, I’ll be doing a more extensive post to do the topic justice given its importance. In the meanwhile, for a comprehensive look at getting positive reviews on Google Places, make sure to read this post.

On-Site Optimization

Finally, let’s take a look at getting the most critical component of your online presence, your website, optimized for local search, or the humble beginnings of it anyway.

I’ll start with a term thrown around quite a bit in local SEO speak, and its NAP, which stands for:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number

It’s recommended to have your NAP or local information listed on every page. If you have multiple locations, you can either use multiple landing pages, or have them all listed on a single “contact us” page, which is a popular approach. Experts at MOZ recommend testing to see if your NAP is crawlable by Google, as it is sometimes included as an image as apposed to HTML code.

Check out this example from Toronto men’s fashion retailer GOTSTYLE:

You’ll also want to optimize your site for local keywords over more competitive and broad-stroking keywords to rank better in local search results and is something you can accomplish through basic keyword research. For example, “book store Toronto” over just “book store.”

Those optimized regional keywords can then be included in the following facets of your website based on your discretion and in consultation with someone well-versed in SEO:

  • Your URL
  • Page Titles
  • Meta Descriptions
  • H1 and H2 Tags
  • Sparingly throughout your site content

In addition, another key component which you’ve also heard many times before is the importance of having a mobile-optimized site. What’s the point of increasing your rankings in local search results when your website isn’t accessible on-the-go, when users and potential customers actually need to access information. In fact, 73% of mobile search triggers additional action and conversion like:

  • Research (36%)
  • Visit a store (17%)
  • Sharing information (18%)
  • Call a business (7%)
  • Make a purchase (17%)

Enticing enough for you? Hopefully so, bridging the online and offline experience has to be a top priority for small retail businesses in order to survive in today’s world. Focus on these three core tenants of business listings and citations, online reviews, and on-site SEO for optimizing your local search marketing efforts and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits.

As IoT changes how carriers make money, Ericsson is buying new smarts

Ericsson plans to acquire MetraTech, a vendor of billing systems based on metadata, as service providers eye new services using the Internet of Things.

The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, will give Ericsson a set of products that let customers quickly set up new types of billing, customer support and financial arrangements, the companies said. MetraTech is based on Boston, and the acquisition will include all of its 140 employees and contractors. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.

MetraTech’s software can manage billing for both subscription and usage-based services. Its flagship products are MetraNet, available as on-premises software or a managed service, and the Metanga SaaS (software as a service) platform.

Ericsson already makes OSS (operational support systems) and BSS (business support systems) products for service providers. The Stockholm-based company said the MetraTech deal would expand both its billing technology and its presence in the U.S.

MetraNet’s customers span financial services, transportation, software and other industries, and Ericsson said the deal will allow it to serve multiple industries. Ericsson cited new revenue models emerging in IoT and in XaaS, a catch-all acronym for all types of technologies offered as a service.

Ericsson’s interest in MetraTech may have been piqued most by the needs of its traditional telecommunications customers as they gear up for the age of IoT. Carriers have long relied on fat monthly bills from subscribers who pay for voice, text and data services on a mobile device or a home phone and broadband line. In developed countries, there aren’t many more new customers to sign up for those kinds of services, so carriers now want to make money putting myriad new devices online.

Those IoT devices, such as sensors, appliances, cars and factory equipment, will call for new and different types of billing arrangements. While connected machines individually may generate less traffic than a smartphone, they could be lucrative in large numbers. It’s likely that carriers will have to navigate new types of billing arrangements to make these new businesses work for themselves and their customers.

Meanwhile, Ericsson and other network suppliers are pushing technologies for carriers’ data centers, such as NFV (network functions virtualization), to make it easier to quickly develop and activate new types of services.

Gear VR leak shows how Samsung’s headset works

At this point, it seems like a given that Samsung is working on a virtual reality headset, with several reports indicating a partnership with OculusVR.

But how would the so-called Gear VR work? A batch of leaked images from SamMobile give us an idea.

As reported previously, the Gear VR will be powered by a Samsung Galaxy phone that snaps onto the headset. The phone will provide the processing power, the display and a camera for viewing the outside world, while the headset will provide the optics and a set of controls.

The new images show a touch pad near the user’s right temple for navigating the Android-based interface, along with a back button just above it. Long-pressing the back button turns on the phone’s camera, providing a window to the real world, and pressing it again takes users “back to VR world.” (An earlier report from Engadgetsaid the camera view would be too laggy for augmented reality application, so it’s really just a quick way to look outside without removing the headset.)

The Gear VR could have some other input methods as well. Users may be able to launch apps by saying “Hi Galaxy” and the name of the app they want to run, and may be able to highlight objects on the screen moving their heads around.

Most amusingly, a supposed image of the Gear VR settings menu shows an optional “warning alert” that can pop up every hour. Perhaps Samsung is worried about people getting lost in virtual space.

Both Engadget and CNet have reported on the motivations behind a Samsung-Oculus team-up. The partnership basically involves Oculus trading its software expertise for Samsung’s access to high-quality OLED displays. As a result, Samsung gets an early jump on the VR market, while Oculus gets the parts it needs to build its own PC-based headset.

If all goes to plan, Samsung could reveal the headset at the IFA trade show in Berlin this September.

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