Yahoo! Local Unwrapped

Yahoo took its local search product out of beta today, launching the service with several enhancements, a multi-channel ad campaign, and a 10-city contest.

New features include an improved relevance algorithm, additional data sources, and improved integration with Yahoo Maps. The “also try” search suggestions, recently implemented in Yahoo Search, offer related search terms that might yield better results. The search results page now has an improved interface for narrowing and sorting results by price, rating and distance.

Yahoo rolled out a multi-channel marketing campaign to promote the local search product, designed to showcase the unique “Local Finds” it can provide.

“Our objective for the campaign was to build awareness and enforce Yahoo’s leadership in local services,” said Ryan Rigoli, senior marketing manager for Yahoo Search. “Our research showed that once people tried it, they loved it. Our objective was to get people to try it.”

To accomplish this, the campaign focuses on showing how Yahoo Local can help people find things in their own neighborhood. The online component consists of ads and integration within the Yahoo network as well as ads on other entertainment sites.

Some of the more traditional offline ads include print ads in alternative weekly newspapers and radio spots in strategic markets. Billboards in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles highlight what Rigoli calls the “hero of the product,” Yahoo Maps.

“We use the billboards to show a map of the area with locations of two kinds of services, but with a Yahoo twist,” he said. “One shows the locations of the nearest modeling agencies…and diet centers. Others show yoga centers and chiropractors, or romantic restaurants and motels.”

Additionally, Yahoo is running a sweepstakes in 10 cities, giving prizes from local merchants. People searching for information in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. will see an invitation at the top of the page to enter the contest for a chance to win prizes from local merchants like Scoop in New York, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia.

Another element of the campaign is a buzz marketing campaign in those 10 cities, with “street teams” handing out cards with maps of local businesses that are offering prizes in the contest. The teams will also be equipped with wi-fi enabled laptops so passersby can try out the service.

Yahoo takes this one step further in three key markets, setting up interactive bus shelters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco where people can search for local businesses, view them on a map, and even print out the map in the bus shelter.

“We’re really trying to show people how this can help them in their everyday lives, how it can be relevant,” Rigoli said.

Yahoo developed the online and buzz marketing parts of the campaign in-house, and used its agency, Soho Square, for the outdoor, print and radio parts.

Yahoo Local search results feature paid-placement ads from Local Match, from Yahoo’s Overture Services subsidiary, launched in June. Google has had its own local advertising option since April. Overture Local Match allows advertisers to target customers interested in a specific neighborhood and present customized offers and business details to them.

A beta version of the service has been available since August, but now has been improved and linked to prominently from Yahoo’s home page.

The local search space is heating up, with recent entries from Ask Jeeves, FAST, and FindWhat.

Related reading