Local and Regional Search: A Primer

With Overture’s recent launch of local search listing targeting, Google’s enhancement of local search targeting, and renewed interest in Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), local search marketing is heating up. Is local search just for local businesses? How do local search providers differ? Should national marketers use local search as part of their campaigns?

These questions require in-depth exploration, much more than I can cover in one column. But because local search is new to many readers, it makes sense to do an overview of the local search space.

Each major player in local search approaches the opportunity differently. Although some differences may seem trivial, they can influence both campaign strategy and execution. Many types of local search advertising deserve dedicated columns, and I plan to get to these soon. In the meantime, this overview will point you in the right direction if you must put a local campaign together sooner rather than later.

IYPs have had a local search solution for years. Unlike the current crop of search media, IYPs started out selling search result inventory much the way they sold print display adverting. The advertiser pays a fixed cost per month on an annual contract. In the case of SuperPages.com (Verizon’s IYP), that cost was billed to your monthly phone bill. Costs were determined by ad size, format, elements included, categories included, geographies covered, and a tier. The higher the tier, the higher the listing appeared in the results. Other IYPs launched with similar plans. Many placements and plans included small graphic elements or logos. Recently, many IYPs embraced the auction-style pay-per-click (PPC) search listings. A sample of major players includes:

  • Verizon SuperPages. SuperPages listings are purchased from Verizon and powered by customized FindWhat.com technology. The tiered results are syndicated to other portals, including MSN, but the PPC listings are not.

  • Switchboard.com. Switchboard.com (recently acquired by InfoSpace) sells listings directly by category. It’s partnered with Google to show relevant ads to searchers. However, my tests indicate the Google ads shown aren’t locally targeted based on search query but instead are national directories for the category searched.
  • Yahoo Yellow Pages. The Yahoo Yellow Pages uses a tiered approach. Monthly fees are based on the tier and category. Yahoo’s yellow pages don’t (yet) use Overture’s local targeting or paid placement results.
  • YellowPages.com. This service sells listings directly by category and is partnered with ePilot.com (Interchange Corporation) to show relevant ads to searchers.
  • YP.com. Like Switchboard.com, it sells listings directly by category and is partnered with Google to show relevant ads to searchers. I did see more instances of geotargeted Google results at YP.com.

CitySearch is like an IYP, but it’s organized around content and editorial. Text listings are sold directly on a pay-for-performance basis. Overture results (standard, nongeotargeted) are also displayed.

I covered Google’s local search in an earlier column. Since then, Google has improved IP-based targeting and has empowered marketers to go beyond designated-market-area- (DMA-) and state-level targeting to polygon-level targeting. Marketers can draw a polygon around the area they want included.

The thing to remember about Google’s local targeting system is it pits local ads against national ads in search results. The IP-level targeting uses the current searcher’s location to determine if local ads should have an opportunity to compete for position and attention.

Overture’s local search advertising solution is more recent, having launched June 28, 2004. Displayed within Yahoo results for searches deemed to have local search intent, the new Overture listings allow a searcher to voluntarily select a local area for refined results. Once the searcher has selected a locality, sponsored listings returned by Overture are a mix of local and national advertisers. If the locally targeted ad listing is clicked (selected), the searcher is presented with a map page indicating the business’s location. The map also includes a link to the advertiser’s Web site.

The premise is the searcher is interested in a local result. So a phone number, address, and map are all that are needed to meet the searcher’s needs. Remember, though, the payment event for the marketer is the first click, the one that delivers the searcher to the local map/address/phone page, which includes only a modest hotlink to the advertiser’s Web site. This setup may appeal to local merchants who don’t expect to consummate business on their Web sites. But many major national marketers prefer to send traffic to their national sites before showing store locators or other local content.

Local results integrated into search results is just beginning. I’ll cover the rapidly evolving segment with more examples and case studies in coming months.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose. Also, join us at ClickZ’s upcoming AdForum.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign from July 7 through close of business July 14.

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