Local search is a subject that’s generated lots of interest lately. Let’s review:
Google Goes Local
The search engine giant recently released Google Local, which it had been beta testing since Oct. 2003. Users enter geographic search terms, such as zip code or city name, and get results with physical street address and phone number, along with a MapQuest map and related links. You can also vary the radius of the search, from 1 to 45 miles.
Right now it’s free, but you can expect to see paid AdWords in the future. The company plans to include international markets in the coming months. http://www.local.google.com
Yahoo! Launches SmartView
Yahoo! launched SmartView in March, which is integrated with Yahoo! Maps and provides information on nearby businesses such as restaurants, hotels, discount stores. It does this by SmartView looking at your destination, then offering what it thinks you might be interested in once you get there.
Other categories are available in case SmartView guesses wrong, so if you’d rather shop than eat, click on “Shopping & Services” for a list of options. Choose “Malls” and you get a map with icons that represent nearby shopping areas. Pass your cursor over the icon and information pops up. It’s a great user interface, but not entirely intuitive. Instead of the map being the end point for a search, it’s the beginning.
SmartView already displays sponsored links by Overture, which of course is owned by Yahoo! Industry experts say that SmartView is only one piece of Yahoo!’s local search strategy, which it will try to aggregate in a number of different ways. http://maps.yahoo.com
Verizon recently overhauled and re-launched its SuperPages.com and became the first online directory to offer PPC advertising to national and local businesses. This allows small businesses to target consumers in a geographic region, and pay only when visitors click through to their site. Verizon will continue to offer fixed price ad placements for advertisers who don’t want to manage PPC campaigns. Search results are provided through an agreement with FindWhat.com
CitySearch is a local search veteran, having provided information about U.S. cities since 1996. The site primarily focuses on area attractions, restaurants, shopping, event listings, and recreation, though you can find any type of local business overall. Material is gathered through partnerships with other companies, such as yellow pages. Citysearch crawls the web for additional information and adds in events data. In June 2003, they launched their Cost-Per-Lead program, which allows their 25,000 advertisers to decide how many leads they want and how much they want to spend.
AOL & MapQuest Embrace Local Search
AOL’s “In Your Area” local search function lets members search for business listings, entertainment and events near their location indicated by zip code. Almost half of AOL members who logon every month search for local content. http://search.aol.com/aolcom/local_home.jsp AOL owned MapQuest.com recently started beta testing their local search engine, MQSearch. MapQuest’s 26 million monthly users can search for local businesses by name or category, plus city/state or ZIP.
Results are returned with business name, address and phone, each linked to a MapQuest map and estimated driving distance. MQSearch results can be sorted alphabetically or by distance, and the search radius can be expanded from 25 to 50 miles. http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
These are just the big ones, there are others, and they are all jockeying for position in the local search race. In addition to search engines, there are specialty local oriented sites such as www.topix.net, www.vivante.com, and www.mobilemaps.com.
All the interest in local search is in direct response to a very real demand for local information online. People like to find and buy things in their neighborhood, and more consumers are turning to the Net rather than lift the 20-pound Yellow Pages. According to The Kelsey Group, the local search-based advertising market is expected to be worth $2.5 billion by 2008.
Of course the only question remains: when will small local businesses join the party? Attempts to crack open the local market over the last few years have been less than successful. Apparently small business owners remember all too well the lessons learned a few years ago, when all the hype over getting online left them with lighter pockets and little benefits. Most seem to be taking a wait and see attitude.
In the meantime, savvy business owners who have embraced the Internet are finding little competition for local keywords. These early adopters will be ahead of the pack, and it will be that much harder for the competition to catch up.
Guest Columnist Sharon Fling is the author of “How To Promote Your Local Business On the Internet”, and creator of GeoLocal.com, the web’s largest resource for using the Internet to promote small local business online. Visit http://www.geolocal.com and subscribe to GeoLocal’s free Tip of the Week.