What Drives Local Search Directories?

Many models for building a local search directory have sprouted across the Web over the past couple years. At its core, each directory model faces the same two critical factors: technology and content.

Local search directories’ future depends on how a couple questions about these factors are answered: Is one factor more critical than the other for a directory’s success? What other components are needed to build a successful product?

Many in the local search space are already betting they have answers to these questions that will get consumers flocking to their directories. Their answers are working in many regards; consumers are finding these local directories in the major search engines’ SERPs (define).

Let’s take a look at the answers the industry’s finding to the foundational questions of local search directories.

Local SEO Begins with Speed

What technology components are required by a local search directory? First, it must be fast. Google emphasizes a search for “dentists in chicago” takes 0.15 seconds. Now that’s fast. We like it like that. Both Yahoo and MSN return the same search just as quickly, but MSN doesn’t publish the time it takes to deliver results.

I’ve been told by Google insiders that consumer behavior changes when longer search times occur. People have come to expect lightening-fast results.

Translate Consumer Intent

A good local search directory makes correct inferences or suggestions when a consumer searches for terms that are ambiguous, vague, or obscure. Often when I search for something, the site returns a business listing that publishes a term that isn’t exactly what I was looking for.

For example, I searched on “scuba lessons,” and one site returned a listing for a local business that advertised “dive instruction.” Not exactly the same thing but practically the same. You say “deep dish pizza,” I say “stuffed pizza.” Take it from a Chicagoan — there’s no actual difference.

Local search directories recognizing equivalent terms such as these is a great example of technology extending and leveraging content use.

Other local search terms can be just as important for a directory to recognize as a product or service name. In urban areas like Chicago, New York, and Boston, neighborhoods have names, like Lincoln Park, SoHo, and Beacon Hill. Many local directories allow you to type in “lincoln park,” a relatively small area compared to Chicago.

Searching Chicago for a dentist returns thousands of listings. Searching Lincoln Park narrows it down. People use services and buy products within a 10-mile radius of their homes. In an urban area like Lincoln Park, the circle is even tighter.

Put Business Content Within Easy Reach

I looked at ShopLocal, a joint venture among many leading newspapers. They use technology to leverage a tried-and-true advertising vehicle — newspaper free standing inserts (FSIs). For ages, FSIs have been part of Sunday papers; they’re the Best Buy inserts and grocery store coupons you find tucked in the middle of the classified section or in their own bags.

ShopLocal does the noble task of bringing all this information online, making comparisons and specific product searches much more useful and expedient for users.

What about local search content? In most instances, the technology brings content to life. In the ShopLocal example, content leverages technology, although some might argue it’s the other way around.

The Next Big Thing in Merchant Content

There’s so much great online local content but still not enough. According to Localeze sources, approximately 50 percent of local businesses have online content that describes their business, hours of operation, products sold, services provided, brands offered, and other information along these lines.

Interestingly, it’s mostly these same businesses that have strong consumer reviews, as well as editorial and user-generated content describing their businesses.

This underscores the need for local merchants to take ownership of their online listings. There’s an obvious reason businesses with descriptive content are the same ones with reviews: they’re the ones being found and used by consumers. Every local directory product has a link offering a free or nominal charge to update your online listings.

For the most part, local businesses aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity. Yet how many local businesses would turn down a free half-page advertisement in a local yellow pages directory?

Advertising is sold, not bought. We can debate what’s more important, the content or technology, but it all comes down to selling advertising locally. To remain competitive on that front, local search directories must build strength in both content and technology.

The concept is catching on. It’s probably why the likes of Yellowpages.com, R.H. Donnelley, SuperPages.com, and Yellow Book are investing as much as they are in local directories.

Their efforts to sell adverting locally will yield the next wave of content, much as it has for a portion of the first 50 percent or so of content found on the local print directories. Technology must keep up to bring all this great content to life.

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