Local Search: A Solved Consumer Problem

It pains me to say it, but local search is a solved consumer problem. I’m in pain admitting this, because I’ve been trying to create better local search mousetraps since 2003.

Put simply, major search engines do a good enough job of surfacing local listings and phone numbers to consumers who need a specific product or service at a moment in time. The rest of the local search “opportunity,” beyond the one or two review aggregator sites lucky enough to also pop up—is all a matter of either SEO (indefensible) or arbitrage (sinking margins). In other words, consumers have accepted the solution the web search engines provide to them, not because it solves the problem in the best possible way, but because they have built intractable habit. Better local search, grounded in innovative product or technology, has little or no opportunity to break the habits the engines reinforce day in, day out, across billions of searches. The battle has been won.

Worse, for the local business, participation in the local result set is not only far beyond their control (show me a plumber effectively competing with YellowBot or Yelp on Google), but a consumer’s very decision-making process is mediated by the sites that control the most content about that business (the review aggregators). This state of affairs is an artifact of the SEO game, in which the plumber can’t hope to compete against the aggregators, often even for specific name and location searches.

So where can a die-hard local search junkie turn to scratch the itch of their burning faith in the local space? To the local business, for whom, I’d argue, local search represents more problems than solutions. The real problem that’s now worth solving is to turn the data set, technology and techniques of consumer-oriented local search to the benefit of the local business.

Last month, my colleague Eric Souder wrote about the value of rich, relevant content on a business’s web site, and the importance of marketing that content appropriately. I’d take this one step further to say that it’s imperative local businesses be just as vigilant and knowledgeable about all of the other places that information is listed across the web, if not more so. Often, a business’ digital footprint is growing without them even knowing it, not just through the propagation of often semi-accurate business details (data), but through reviews and other user generated content (opinion).

I used to claim that the future of local search was data mining, but I think I had it only half right. The future of local search is to leverage data mining to aggregate, summarize, and expose the full digital footprint of a local business, for two explicit purposes:

  1. To improve marketing. Learning how a business is talked about by the specific terms it is known for, or where spikes in online activity such as sales or consumer reviews occur, can determine which marketing efforts are working well versus those that are not.
  2. To improve operations. Monitoring customer feedback can raise awareness of customer service issues or other unknown problems within the business that perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise been flagged.

At Marchex, we’re calling this problem set reputation management, and we’re looking forward to turning local search back on its head, putting information advantage back in the hands of the local business.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is the Executive Vice President of Product Engineering for Marchex, a leading local search and advertising company that provides innovative online and call-based advertising products and services for local and national advertisers and advertising resellers.

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  • http://www.killermapp.com grpasi

    Hey Matthew thanks for the thought provoking and provocative post. But of course I couldn’t disagree with you more. The consumer has just been conditioned to the fact that he can’t get much better right now… and expectations are not particularly high. Think about how far web pages or web search has come… people were once excited just to be able to share a single picture over the web instantly with a friend in China!…. now they expect unlimited photo storage, tagging, printing and editing options… but that doesn’t mean pictures on the web was solved way back when.
    Same with Infoseek, Excite and they like… people could find the major stuff sure… but try doing a search for something further down the tail…

    Local search sucks right now… I just did a search for shoes on the upper east side of manhattan and got only three retailers above 57th street in the local results!
    How accurate do you think that is, I’ll probably pass that many places that sell shoes in the next two blocks? what kind of user experience is that? Do you think that will still be state of the art in 24 months?

    The problem is that so many people are trying to rebuild local search using the same existing elements as web search…. its like sticking wings on a bus and being surprised that it doesnt fly very well… I fully believe that there is a better mousetrap
    out there, just not sure it can be found looking at html based text and hyperlinks… think its more in the neigborhood of someone like Sense Networks data (to replicate the web linking phenomenon offline) combined with a concerted effort at more unbiquitous geo tagging of all data, and getting more currently proprietary data out in the open and searchable in a real time and acceptable way (inventory, skus, menu items, etc) .


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