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Don't Argue Local Search Semantics, Embrace Them

  |  March 29, 2007   |  Comments

Consumers aren't going to change the terms they use to search locally just to make it easier on advertisers and search engine experts.

These days, it seems you can't read a local search news article or blog without seeing some measurement of the local search market's size or a projection of its growth (this column included). Amid these huge numbers, it's worth taking a look at why there's so much room at the table for businesses that serve local searches.

Simply put, there's no uniformity as to how consumers look for local businesses online. Just consider the search terms different people use for the same thing; they can be as divergent as the regional terms we use for a carbonated beverage: "soda," "soft drink," "pop," or "tonic." Generational differences can be just as varied.

Local search businesses that can accommodate these keyword differences will be best poised for success, as these differences will continue to grow.

That's part of why we see huge numbers from experts measuring or projecting total ad dollars, unique visitors, total audience, and market share for the local search market.

Generally speaking, the numbers you'll find for these stats on the Web are pretty accurate. But they don't consider another stat no one has figured out how to accurately measure: how many local search sites are there today?

Local search sites are surfacing at an incredible rate, and it's not just because of the long tail concept I discussed last month. Growth is also spurred by incredibly vast choices for both consumers and advertisers.

Differences Create More Room for Growth

Companies that figure out how to translate consumer choices into advertiser specialties within local SERP (define) structure will prosper. That's why we'll continue to see a skyrocketing number of regional, niche, and even lesser-known local search sites.

Many readers have asked me to compile a list of these sites, but you'd need to build a new kind of search engine to do it. I collected about 100 sites for the list then realized it only scratched the surface.

For example, I searched for "restaurants" in the 90210 Zip Code on a few search engines and found over 100 sites that met my criteria. When I added "sushi" to the criteria, I got even more relevant sites. There's a difference between the way "restaurants" and "sushi" are indexed by content sites and the way major search engines crawl for content. A restaurant that serves sushi should ensure it tags that term in its profile, Web page, and the like.

I kept the search simple, using only sites with information on more than one chain of stores or franchises. This rules out sites like McDonald's, despite its locator function, because local merchants can't add information to the site for non-McDonald's restaurants.

Even without single-store Web sites, the sheer number of local search sites operating today is astounding. Why are there so many? The answer lies within consumer search behavior trends and search engines' ability to translate so many different ways of asking for the same things.

Keywords Mixed on Both Sides of Search

Consider the generational variances that affect advertisers and consumers alike for local searches. Businesses in different parts of the country or world advertise goods and services using semantics based on their points of view. Variations in search terms are multiplied when you account for consumers having their own search-term semantics.

Local search engines must find a way to translate the geographical differences often found in keywords. If a kid in the Southwest searches for something while his grandfather in the Northeast searches for the exact same thing, chances are their search terms won't look alike. Local businesses must take as many variations as possible into consideration when they advertise goods and services. Their plan must embrace as many keywords for their goods and services as possible. Tools are available to help.

Consumers aren't going to change the terms they use to search locally just to make it easier on advertisers and search engine experts. The onus falls on these two groups to take evolving, growing consumer differences into consideration.

Local search engines that do will put themselves in good position as the local search industry matures and goes through whatever consolidation might occur. When will that happen, and to what degree? It's anybody's guess, just like the total count of local search sites.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Brian Wool

Brian Wool is VP of content distribution at Localeze, a Chicago-based local search company. Established in 2003, Localeze specializes in connecting consumers with local merchants through online content collection, enhancement, and distribution. An expert in local Internet search marketing, Brian leads the distribution efforts at Localeze and is responsible for content delivery to over 35 leading search engines, Internet yellow pages, and local directories. Brian previously held various sales and marketing positions at comScore Networks and Claritas.

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