As reported here and elsewhere, Marchex recently launched more than 100,000 local and vertical Web sites. This involved aggregating and organizing millions of pieces of data, crafting refinements to help users pinpoint businesses, designing sites to support the variety of use cases involved in look up and discovery of local businesses, and the other couple things we needed to do to generate more than a billion pages of useful local content. Comfortably on the other side of our launch, I have identified a few observations that ought to be interesting to others in the local space.
As a preface, anything on a scale of 100,000 sites or a billion pages is a qualitatively different task for the very reason that it is quantitatively different. But most people working in the local space have plenty of large numbers of their own to manage—such as the 15 million businesses in the U.S. distributed across 20,000 yellow-page headings. So there are lessons learned and beliefs reinforced through this project that are every bit as relevant to developing one site as thousands.
First, we all know content is king, but data is the dauphin. And this son of a king travels with his vast entourage of names, addresses, phone numbers, amenities and awards, business types and brands, cuisines and credentials. These are things not easily counted, spread on a desk, or even organized in Excel because they quickly exceed the maximum number of rows. And while data is held in high esteem, no one source provides authoritative data on all things local. In addition to our own efforts, sites like Zillow, Expedia, and others have shown that there can be value for all involved in effectively aggregating data from disparate sources and providing a useful taxonomy.
Engage the community.
Data on this scale will always have errors. Businesses open, move, change, and close every day. Viewing this as an opportunity, communities can help paint a more accurate picture of the local scene. Allow users to participate, to write reviews, to provide updated information. Consider extending that participation beyond the brave and bold minority who write the majority of reviews, by offering other means of expression, such as a one-click rating system. Community participation can be an effective mechanism for generating fresh content, building user loyalty, and growing your data set; and the wisdom of crowds and the intimacy of locals will keep it accurate.
Organize The Data.
This vast amount of data and content also needs vast amounts of organization. For example, providing an intricate set of refinements to filter result sets will help users discover businesses that directly address their specific needs. And as businesses rack up reviews, offering an overall summary and rating will help users make an easy determination to peruse deeper or move along to a more appropriate business. The goal of data and content is to help users make better decisions about local businesses, and participation by the site owners will increase the value and utility of this information.
Local is extremely diverse. Despite oft-heard cries of the homogenization of the American retail landscape, there is still incredible diversity across the majority of businesses. Exposing specific local and vertical slices of businesses on targeted sites will help showcase this diversity and highlight these businesses. Finding and integrating information about all categories of businesses and providing deep refinements to navigate it will help users discover local businesses they may not have even known existed. And enabling the community to rate and review every business will create a wealth of information that will help the next user make an even better decision about a local business.
Oh yeah, and remember to focus on the customer.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.