Why does local search get so little respect?
Local search receives very few mentions and little analysis from the mainstream media or analysts relative to the dollars it generates and its potential growth. So why does local search get so little respect?
First, people have been waiting for several years for print yellow pages and newspaper revenue to fall off a cliff, and online advertising was expected to become the major benefactor. There's certainly been no cliff, just steady growth online and constant decline in many traditional advertising media.
Second, most people don't understand the full implications of online local search for their businesses. Earlier this year I wrote a column on some recently launched technologies and products to enable local search advertising. Looking back, that column barely scratched the surface.
Most people still think of local advertising as the local results on the first or second page at Yahoo or Yellowpages.com. These sites are top of mind and certainly represent the lion's share of today's local search market. But it's a very limited view of what local search is and what it will be in the near future.
Both Yahoo and YellowPages.com offer free directory assistance products. Consumer adoption has been relatively small, but once consumers use these services traditional directory assistance, which costs as much a $1.50 a call, will be a thing of the past. Whether you have one store or 1,000 and you want to be included in these results, you must be sure your locations are contained in these companies' databases.
IPhone's Maps application, powered by Google Maps, is another great example of marketers not fully understanding how they can optimize their locations in this new, growing marketplace. If you want to show up in the iPhone's search results, you must be sure your listings are represented in Google.
But it's not that easy to produce successful SEM (define) with Google. For example, the iPhone displays only 10 listings and there's no "next" button to click. Talk about ultra-competitive. If you search for "pizza" in the top three metro areas, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, there isn't one reference to the top pizza chains, like Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's. This also holds true for smaller markets I tested.
In the case of Maps on the iPhone, this goes back to a column I wrote earlier this year about local search's long tail. Google's algorithm weighs all the information it has for pizza places all across the Internet, not just what you submit to Google.
There's a geographical component to local search, of course, but my informal tests in smaller markets support the broader point of large chains missing the local search opportunity. If the only step you take is to submit your listings to Google, you may not drive any business through the iPhone. Based on test results, the top pizza chains don't understand this or don't know how to leverage their retail footprints in local search to a higher degree.
Marketers should also look to Facebook for a local search opportunity. Many of the long tail sites are already plugging into Facebook through reviews and many other local applications.
If you write a review at Yelp, for example, you have the option -- through Facebook's controversial Beacon program -- of sending the review to your Facebook profile for all your friends to see. The social network touts more than 55 million active users and is growing at a frenzied pace. But you can't leverage this incredible local search opportunity if your retail footprint isn't in the long tail marketplace, which is actively building applications that can put you in front of millions of consumers in a more personal manner than ever before.
Last week, many of the search engines published their lists of top searches for 2007. Interestingly enough, the seventh most searched term at AOL was "maps," which is as local as local gets. Other top 10 search terms included "weather" and "white pages," which are very local as well.
Consumers get local search, want local search, and are engaged. Now we just need the rest of the marketplace to catch up.
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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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