How Made Lemonade Out Of Local Search Lemons

I always thought that’s local search tool on the site was a model for other newspapers to replicate. However it appears that “local search” on was something of a failure. According to a story on the Nieman Journalism Lab site it never really took off:

The reality is that’s local search never caught on. Traffic lifted a little after launch, but then it plateaued. “It’s been a flat line almost since we started in terms of use,” said Bob Kempf, vice president of product and technology at “It hasn’t really grown.”

The apparent conclusion reached internally at was that the audience didn’t and wouldn’t think of as a “search” site; rather it was and is a “news and information” site:

They eventually reached a diagnosis: Local search was fighting a losing battle against the audience’s expectation of what could be. “We’ve done so well over the last 14 years as a news and information site,” Kempf said. “That’s what people are accustomed to getting from us.”

Consequently there was a conceptual shift and the paper started using its search assets to assemble content pages that were more consistent with what the public perception of as a news and information site, rather than a search engine:

The shift from search product to search platform required acknowledging the site’s strengths and weaknesses — and accepting that it was unlikely to convince users to turn to instead of Google for search. Newspaper sites can’t — and shouldn’t — fight that notion. But it meant acknowledging that a user will visit for trustworthy local information. The product team realized it could use’s big, robust search platform to deepen the relationship with that visitor.

This is not unlike the approach taken, at least at a broad level, by Kosmix (a search engine that had to shift in the face in face of Google dominance). Kosmix used search technology to assemble and present federated “topic pages” for different queries or subjects.

Beyond these content pages, used its search platform and capabilities to build “hyper-local” sites around neighborhoods, which mixed editorial and algorithmic input. Another instance of making lemonade out of a local search lemon.

We might have a healthy debate about whether different positioning or other strategies could have made more successful as a local search site. Whatever the reason, however, it apparently wasn’t. So it was both lucky and wise that the site used its search assets — partly because it had already invested considerable money and effort into the project — for these other purposes to enhance and improve the existing mission and user experience on

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | Search Engines: News Search Engines


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • lthorell

    Nice story on redirecting strategy on an expensive investment. Reading your post and the original Nieman Labs piece- i was looking forward to seeing some mention of any data behind this “success story”, i.e. increase in audience reach, or repeat visits from hyperlocal neighborhood users. Perhaps too early for this — but is there anything even qualitative which supports the view that this redirected strategy is working?

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