It has been quite some time since Yahoo updated its pioneering and once-dominant local destination, Yahoo Local. Now the company is testing a simplified UI that streamlines the user experience and offers new content (including deals) in a number of cities.
Below are screens showing the current and new Local UIs. First the existing site and then the new beta site for Local:
Overall the new site is less cluttered and more attractive visually. However it is also “missing” some features that are present today.
The first thing you notice about the new Local UI is that it’s essentially a list, likely inspired by Twitter and/or Facebook’s news feeds. Another significant change is the absence of a map on the Local home page or internal pages. There’s a link to maps on the right, however.
The new Local beta is really about “discovery” rather than search. Yet Yahoo has also apparently removed any category navigation, which means the top tabs are the only way to browse content. And there’s essentially no way to look up specific restaurants or local businesses within the new Yahoo Local.
There’s no local-specific search box here either. Entering a query in the field at the top of the page takes you out of Local to Yahoo Search results. Yahoo seems to have made a decision that it wants to consolidate search results in a single experience rather than offer distinct experiences as it does today.
Currently there’s a dedicated Yahoo Local search experience, as well as local results that appear within Yahoo Search. Below is a screenshot showing a Yahoo Local SERP, for “sushi San Francisco,” and then the same query result displayed in Yahoo Search results:
While it has removed features and content, Yahoo has added some new things to the Local experience that aren’t present in the current version. Top Picks and News are new content areas — and so is Deals.
Deals is a by-product of a new effort by Yahoo to collect and distribute “daily deals” and related offers from multiple sources. While there’s apparently no single deals destination contemplated at the moment — there is a pre-existing deals tab within Yahoo Shopping — it appears Local will be one of several deals distribution points within Yahoo.
In addition, Yahoo is putting a new emphasis on user-generated content (UGC) within Local as part of its newly launched Yahoo Contributor Network. UGC has been present in events since Yahoo’s acquisition of Upcoming in roughly 2006. However the broader integration of locally-oriented articles is new and built on top of Yahoo’s $100 million acquisition of Associated Content earlier this year.
Despite the new emphasis on UGC, reviews appear to be gone from the new Local experience. That raises the question: where will Yahoo source them going forward? Will it rely entirely on third parties? Yahoo was the leader in local reviews content until Yelp came along.
There are now several companies in the local segment, including Google, working on “recommendations” as a way to help people discover new places. This new Local experience puts Yahoo in that camp as well.
Here’s a statement issued by Yahoo about the new Local:
We are piloting a new experience to deliver personalized local content, including hyperlocal news, deals and events to users – offering the best source for what’s happening in their neighborhood and metro area. Currently available in select markets in the US via integration on Yahoo!’s mobile and PC homepages, we are focused on combining an open technology platform with a human touch to keep users informed and drive discovery of great local content.
I’m glad to see Yahoo updating Local. Admittedly this is a limited beta designed to elicit user feedback and it may change quite a bit before more formal rollout. However Yahoo will need to think through the “push” and “pull” scenarios and various use cases involving Local.
Yahoo has done a great deal to improve “discovery” on the site but has made it less useful in several respects as a tool to research places and local businesses proactively. (Again, Yahoo may be transferring that function entirely to search.) I would also recommend a simple mechanism to save or favorite a deal or place and save it for later reference on the go (mobile).
Speaking of which, there’s a smartphone experience coming at some point. However that’s not in evidence at the moment, or I couldn’t find it at least.
Yahoo appears to be totally rethinking the role of “local” within the overall Yahoo site and search experience. The company is taking some bold risks with the new design and content. We’ll see how users respond.