Emerging Local Search

The old “no news is good news” adage rarely applies online. In fact, one might suspect the major players in the search space are operating by the mantra, “I have PR coverage, therefore I am.” For those of us trying to keep up with the churn, it can be a challenge to decipher what’s really taking place, particularly in local search. God forbid a marketer attempting to enter the local search space should have to contend with the glut of press releases, beta features, new providers, and agencies.

If you vaguely share this sentiment, I can help a bit. I’ve pulled together some of the best and most recent overviews of the space published in the last few months.

There’s no shortage of viewpoints among search pundits, but most focus on a few key challenges for marketers. Some of these transcend the local search to broader industry issues:

  • How best to encourage a greater percentage of SMBs (define) to participate
  • How best to simplify pricing and package offerings
  • How to avoid confusion in overlapping offerings among agencies, search engines, and publishers/networks
  • How to successfully serve local information to users

Don’t expect answers to these questions here. At the very least, however, I hope these resources help you understand how the many possible solutions are taking shape.

Chris Sherman provides a good overview of the who’s who of local search. He also refers to the Local Search Guide, which is very helpful, if not a little overwhelming. It’s important to keep in mind the scale of opportunity as you plow through the lists and profiles. The guide is certainly not a one-stop solution for SMBs trying to find a simple way to break into local search.

Greg Sterling does a fantastic job illustrating some of the confusion and overlap of roles with the myriad local search providers. He sums it up nicely in five words: “messy and complex and competitive.”

Finally, John Battelle brings some perspective with specific reference to Yahoo’s flat-fee local offering and emphasis on how success will ultimately come from careful attention to how people use local information directories.

The breadth of the offerings can be confusing. The goal is to simplify the process to help SMBs gain access to local search traffic without the hassle of managing the campaigns as well as to provide useful, relevant services that address users’ needs. The problem is who will accomplish this. Kate Kaye covers some of the emerging agency players attempting to address the first half of the equation.

What’s New in Local?

Skyhook Wireless is a Massachusetts-based startup focused on using location-aware technology to target users in local settings. It’s very similar to the IP-based techniques used for geotargeting in national search campaigns, or the local results served up by services featuring local information that match a user’s IP address or stored profile data to identify her location. What’s new is mapping Wi-Fi hotspots to physical locations to target connecting users. With reportedly over 10 million hot zones covered, the breadth of the service seems substantial. Marketers will be waiting to hear the numbers surrounding service adoption.

Your GeoVector

Whatever happened to the promise of bringing the many wondrous features of Web 2.0 to a mobile phone in the U.S.? They (whoever “they” may be today) are still working on it. The hype and excitement is there, but the promises are falling short for the time being.

A good deal of coverage a few weeks ago focused on GeoVector, a new company focused on using GPS and compass data to provide street-level local information that visually adjusts on your mobile screen as you point in different directions. Sterling takes a more optimistic view, but as Jason Fry of “The Wall Street Journal” points out, the reality is a far cry from the dream.

Local marketers salivate over the possibilities, of course. Consider searching from your location for products, services, stores, and more with visual queues and street-level images that allow you to find what you want in the real world. Imagine diverting passersby from your competitor with a promotion for your store across the street. If widely adopted, it could even counter the common wisdom that location is everything.

Google Patents on Local

Mary Bowling at Blizzard Internet Marketing posted new patent applications from Google. Given it’s Google (with its fleet of PhDs), this is a bit like spotting the mailman at the post office. However, these particular patents show signs of further integration of local results into the primary SERPs (define). Although local results are already displayed in the one box section of Google’s SERPs, it’s possible Google is planning to take this a step further and establish authoritative sites by geographic location. So what’s the big deal? Every additional effort to give broader exposure to local listings in the primary Google SERPs is that much more (hopefully relevant) traffic local marketers will receive through their campaigns.

Finally and inevitably, while poking around online I’m bound to stumble across some interesting signs. Microsoft has purchased the top AdWords result for “local search.” At a time when Google can lay claim to over 42 percent of searches, it’s a reminder that he who directs the traffic drives the fate of these emerging opportunities.

Meet Phil at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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

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