A Local Search Roundup

Every two weeks, I focus on new developments in local search. The rest of my time is mostly spent sifting through opportunities that will provide adequate scale for national advertisers with multimillion-dollar search budgets. My job is to deliver bang for the buck. That typically involves scale.

Local opportunities aren’t about a $10,000 per day spend. They’re the long tail of highly targeted, small volume opportunities. They’re being produced as quickly as they’re being defined, and most are barely proven as effective marketing vehicles. The very nature of local flags an exciting opportunity for small marketers to get in the game before the big guys figure it out and begin to dominate.

So what’s happened in two short weeks?

Interesting new stats from Bill Tancer at Hitwise pick apart Google Maps’ scale of opportunity and how big local really is for Google. He supplies a traffic ranking of the major search engines’ local properties. It’s interesting to see maps and local products at all the major engines encompass less than 1 percent of their total share. True local search adoption will likely only occur through successful integration into primary organic search results and other relevant properties. The comparison of map properties demonstrates MapQuest’s enduring dominance, with Yahoo a distant second at 20.5 percent, and Google Maps trailing at 7.5 percent. It would be interesting to see this trended over time to see how market share might be shifting.

Despite all this, local search is barely out of the gates (unsurprising to anyone in the space). There was an interesting confirmation of local search’s complexity and challenges when Jason Lee Miller covered the Yellow Pages Association Annual Conferences. A panel discussion on local search suggested campaign complexity is prohibitive to local search’s broad adoption as an advertising channel. No surprise for most of us who attempt to run campaigns in the space, but, as Miller suggests, it’s a clear signal to the search engines to simplify their products.

For agencies and in-house marketers alike, I recommend spending a few minutes going reading Hollis Thomases’ interview with Greg Sterling.

So What Is New?

Yahoo has simplified its pricing schedule to a flat fee, based on a combination of region and the category of the advertiser. There’s good coverage from Pamela Parker and Loren Baker, and Yahoo offers details. With any luck, Yahoo will have the magic formula to make local search easily accessible to small businesses that are baffled and intimidated by previous offerings.

Microsoft has upped the ante in maps with the acquisition of Vexcel. It reportedly integrates street-side and 3-D imagery, and potentially more. Local advertising is reported to be a part of the package in ways we haven’t yet seen. There’s even mention of Windows Live Local having 12 or 13 million unique visitors each month, with a quarter spending up to 30 minutes on the site. How this translates into successful marketing campaigns remains to be seen.

TrueLocal now offers a local traffic estimator. Company president Jake Baillie stated, “We want our advertisers, no matter how big or small, to maximize their ROI, and this tool will allow them to see the best search categories and Zip Codes for their business.” The real benefit is getting some insight into targeting local audiences beyond what TrueLocal offers.

“The estimator provides such information as map clicks, or listing views, in relation to the most popular categories and nearest Zip Codes to the searched term and location,” Baillie continued. “For example, a user can type in ’shoes’ in ’60612,’ and the local traffic estimator determines the three most popular categories for this search and the five closest Zip Codes to 60612. This allows businesses to accurately asses which categories and Zip for which they should bid.”

Ingenio continues to add new directory-assistance ad placements, most recently in SMS (define). We’re running some of the audio directory-assistance ads for one of our clients. It’s too early for results, but, based on earlier successes with Ingenio, we’re optimistic. Ingenio currently places pay-per-call ads on mobile phones via AOL’s mobile local search and go2. This kind of innovation has incredible potential.

One of the most interesting developments in targeting local shoppers reverses the equation a bit. Amazon Japan provides a service that allows mobile phone users with built-in cameras to scan barcodes and search the Amazon catalog. In other words, stores offering products available in Amazon’s catalog could begin to face competition from price comparison and online ordering via mobile phone.

Google Local Sponsored Listings Emerging

While searching for a mattress store over the weekend, I inadvertently stumbled across my first local sponsored listing in Google Maps. The small asterisk/star/flower thingy on the map (really, guys, you’ve got to improve the icons) is a local sponsored listing for Bedroom & More Mattress Center. A quick click on the icon provided a quick message, a link to the site, and address and phone number. When I perused the natural listings on the side, that store was on the third page of results. So clearly (despite the bad icon), sponsored listings can improve prominence in local search. The larger question is whether this results in sales. It did get me on the Web site and I called for the hours, so they’re definitely in my consideration set.

Another good example is Maison Nouveau Real Estate Services in San Francisco. A search for “real estate agent” produced few results, none being Maison Nouveau Realty. However, it now enjoys an icon, and when clicked you see its logo. In the competitive, tech-savvy San Francisco real estate market, having the only house icon on the map could be a real edge. A third example is Masa’s, a local San Francisco restaurant with a local sponsored search listing.

I wonder if Google will work up an icon for “missed connections” classified ads. A few weeks ago, I spotted a locally targeted ad for a man seeking a woman he missed at the San Francisco airport (there’s someone who truly appreciates local relevance). I wonder if the ad was effective. My favorite result while scouring the headlines for local search news, though, came from a local Michigan television station. Until I saw it, I never realized how Jimmy Hoffa may actually be the ultimate local search result — assuming he’s actually been located.

What icon will Google have for him?

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

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