This article was written sometime in 2006. I’m keeping it here for archival and historical purposes. By reading this article you can find out how much has changed over the past few years.
Local Search is the next “Big Thing” in search engine technology according to the major players at the recent Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose, CA. Both end users and marketers stand to profit from this technology. Yahoo!, Google, MSN and AskJeeves all intend to go after the Yellow Pages market which is a mature and slowly declining industry. Giant telecoms like SBC and Verizon have been intelligent enough to bring the Yellow Pages online with SmartPages.com and SuperPages.com, respectively.
Paul Levine, General Manager of Yahoo! Local states that the Yellow Pages market is a $14 billion a year industry which can also be addressed by upcoming search technology. This is an interesting comment since Yahoo!, also has business relationships with both SBC and Bell South telecoms.
But the major search engines and search directories plan to do the online yellow page companies one better by integrating general search, local search, yellow pages and mapping technology into one-stop shopping for the end-user.
Who’s On First?
At this writing neither MSN or AskJeeves have rolled out their local search technology, even in beta form. Yahoo! and Google, however, both have beta local search services on their websites. Right now, the Yahoo! local search engine (http://local.yahoo.com/) is more robust than the Google local search engine (http://local.google.com/).
When you do a Google local search for “laguna beach optometrists” for instance, you will find some sponsored listing at the top, the top 10 listings and a link to a Mapquest map showing those locations. Address, phone number and Mapquest driving directions are shown. Also, there is a section for Related Web Pages.
By contrast, Yahoo! Local Search carries no sponsored links and has a clean interface with address and phone numbers shown and also an area to give the business a rating. The Yahoo! SmartView map is much more powerful and user-friendly than the Google / Mapquest map. Zooming in is more precise and powerful on Yahoo!’s local search mapping technology. With SmartView you can also find local ATM’s, hotels, parking, public transportation and hospitals mapped out for you. With Yahoo! there is a My Locations button where your most recent local searches can be saved.
Some of the same listings for this search appear in both Yahoo! and Google and for this search anyway, Google seems to list more optometry groups at the top of the listings while Yahoo! lists more individual optometrists. Both offer distance from your location to the listed businesses.
What’s On Second?
AskJeeves has teamed up with CitySearch.com for a partnership with local search and content provided by CitySearch.com. The CitySearch.com site now looks to be both more robust and ad-laden than either the Yahoo! or Google local search betas. If AskJeeves adopts this same format then they will appeal mostly to buyers and less to information seekers.
If local search can also combine elements of personalized search this will make the experience so much more meaningful for the end-user. Suppose you do a local search in Newport Beach, CA for restaurants and through your personalized settings the search engine already knows you prefer sushi and sunsets. The returned results will be sushi restaurants on the beach in Newport. Now this is getting pretty specific and less clicks to get to where you want to be.
Both the end-user and marketers will profit from this kind of search. And this is just the kind of relationship the local search giants are hoping to achieve.