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Measuring Local Search

  |  August 30, 2007   |  Comments

Why tracking local search is fraught with perils.

Once again Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose was well attended and chocked full of great content and networking opportunities. I caught both keynotes: Jim Lanzone, Ask.com's chief executive, and Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products.

What caught my attention at the four-day conference? Both keynote addresses and several sessions zeroed in on personalized search.

Most search engines offer various levels of personalized search by monitoring what people select from current results to shape future results based on their choices. Personalization is headed to a whole new level. Several firms are working on technologies to better enable personalization, including one that conducts eye tracking to enable personalization.

Great Source for Local Search Marketing Tricks

For the past three years, I've picked up tips at the "Local Search Marketing Tactics" session. Each year, the panelists present excellent ideas and tactics that marketers can employ to increase their visibility in local search. Panelists didn't just present powerful techniques. They also gave compelling reasons businesses with brick-and-mortar locations should adopt these techniques.

Tactics, for the most part, have remained constant through the years. One notable change: the audience's questions.

The Local Search Measurement Conundrum

This year, one question stood out from the others. Someone asked the panelists to suggest how best to measure organic listing results. This is a logical question, and I'm surprised it took so long for someone to raise it.

Panelists offered two options: insert a tracking phone number in listings or use special URLs that can be tracked. I got the impression the panelists have some trepidation with each approach.

The yellow pages industry has used these types of phone numbers for years to track calls and measure ROI (define). But a call-tracking phone number in a static, printed product is quite different from one placed online.

Why Tracking Local Search Can Be Sticky

Replacing a local phone number with a tracking phone number allows a marketer to fully measure the effectiveness of a specific Internet yellow pages (IYP) site or search engine result. But you must use one specific phone number for each site to be measured.

This method can create complications. Many search engines aggregate information from across the Web and examine the business name, address, and phone number to link information from various Web sites. If there's not a consistent link across the Internet, you may lose visibility.

Many IYPs and search engines use one or multiple data sources to build and verify local listings. By introducing a phone number that's different from what the engines and IYPs consider a priority, you may water down your local listings' visibility.

URL Tracking Requires Tradeoffs

Creating a unique URL for each site so you can measure the click-throughs can also present some issues. A tracking URL is typically a derivation of the main URL. For example, www.chicagobikes.com would be converted to www.chicagobikes.com/trce0123.

On the surface, this method may seem sound. However, there are challenges to consider.

If users locate a specific listing with a tracking URL, it's very likely they're simply looking for the phone number and won't click on the URL. Considering the first tactic, call-tracking phone numbers, this is quite ironic.

But many of the search engines and IYPs are doing such a good job of presenting the user with relative content, such as the hours of operation, brands sold, and services provided, that users are likely presented with the information they need and don't need to click on the URL.

If you stick to the fundamentals I've mentioned in past columns and the ones presented at this year's SES, you'll be better off. Local listings contained in the engines' and IYPs' local products are much like organic listings; they take both art and science to achieve and maintain a good rank. Beyond that, consider another recommendation: paid local advertising.

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


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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