Start-up PremierGuide has added social networking to its local and specialty search technology, in a move aimed at adding value to searches for local businesses.
PremierGuide 4.0, which is ASP software, allows searchers to review local businesses and join together in "friend-of-a-friend" networks. This allows users to filter search results based on whether they’re recommended -- either by strangers or by friends.
Mountain View, Calif.-based PremierGuide, like competitors Interchange and Planet Discover, provides its clients with the technology to get into local or vertical search. Potential clients include yellow pages players or local newspapers, companies that traditionally have an established advertising client base of local businesses.
The six-employee firm provides search technology; ad tracking and management systems; directory data; and potentially even ad sales -- all products and services designed to help clients court local and vertical search advertisers themselves, rather than cede them to Google Local or Yahoo Local.
"We’re offering private-label Google Local to businesses -- to companies that have a local online advertising business like yellow page publishers or newspaper publishers that want to get into local search," said Malcolm Lewis, president and CEO of PremierGuide. "These are folks that have an online advertising business but want to expand."
The company’s first and most prominent customer is California-based yellow pages player SureWest, and Lewis says the firm has other clients it can’t yet name. (The company has a demo site at loqal.com.) All the deals are struck on a revenue share basis, so PremierGuide’s interests are aligned with its clients.
One important difference between PremierGuide’s system and those of Google and Yahoo’s Overture is that most of PremierGuide’s ads are currently sold on a flat fee, rather than a pay-per-click basis. That’s how local businesses are accustomed to advertising, the company says. Individual categories can be switched over to a pay-per-click system as advertisers become more sophisticated.
The new social search features are aimed at adding value and "stickiness" to clients’ local and vertical search sites, at a time when the industry’s biggest players are going after that market. Yahoo recently unveiled a beta test of its local search offering, which, like PremierGuide’s, incorporates user reviews -- though they aren’t networked. The same day, Ask Jeeves rolled out its own local search play, with content from Citysearch. Google’s offering is also currently in beta.
Though PremierGuide’s Lewis acknowledges the big players are a threat, he believes his clients have a good chance of getting a piece of the pie.
"Every single one of them thinks Google is the enemy and is trying to figure out how to build out their own local search destination site," Lewis said. "Most of the people we talk to have some proprietary content that we can leverage to help us provide a better experience. They have a local brand and a local presence. Local advertisers like to deal with a local presence."
Kelsey Group analyst Greg Sterling believes social networking features are an inevitable part of local search plays, and points to fledgling start-ups like Judy’s Book and InsiderPages, along with bigger players like Tribe, as examples.
"The social search/networking piece combined with a directory database is really about electronic word of mouth. It’s trying to bring that word of mouth component, which is an incredibly effective way to drive referrals or leads," said Sterling. "We’re going to see a number of new businesses coming out and we’re going to see this integrated much more deeply into existing models."
In the PremierGuide implementation, users can recommend a local business as "good", "very good" or "excellent". The company eschews negative reviews, feeling they might damage local businesses and therefore alienate potential advertisers. Users can filter by recommendations -- seeing, for example, only reviews posted by trusted friends. They can also sort by recommendations, so the most highly recommended business shows up first. There are also collaborative filtering functions, which let users see businesses recommended by people who like the same businesses they do.
"It’s very useful for special interest groups. A mothers’ group is a very good example," said Lewis. "Also, people with a particular religious orientation like to use businesses consistent with their particular religion. We are finding all kinds of different ways in which people want to filter their local search results."
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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