May 8, 2012 What is local search and why is it awesomely lucrative?
One of the hottest trends in web and mobile tech is local search (according to Google 97% of users looking for a local business online). While the idea behind it is fairly simple, executing in a meaningful way is a complex balance of small business buy-in, mobile capabilities, well mapped data, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and a little bit of luck. *Note* I used to work for a local search data firm, so I come from the view point of an evangelist of the space. If you want to debate anything I say, please do!
What is Local Search?
Local search is the idea that a person in a specific place is looking for a specific item or service that will be bought or experienced offline in the specified location. For example, I’m looking to get a mani-pedi before an event tonight, and I don’t want to travel too far. I would search “manicure Brookline” and find listings from Google Places (we’ll discuss that latter), probably a few yelp links, maybe a few directories…anything that semantically matches (directly corresponds) to the search term.
Why Do I Care About Local Search?
I could dedicate an entire post to this question, but the short answer is it depends on who you are. The most obvious person to care is the small business who runs mostly an offline store. They usually don’t have the time or the money to compete with major franchises on traditional advertising (which they usually aren’t a fit for anyway). They need to get in front of real customers, not raise brand awareness in someone half-way across the country. Someone looking for the product o service they offer in the city they service is the exactly the kind of person a small business wants to get in front of. There will be less of this type of user, and they’re more expensive, but in the long run they’re a lot more valuable than eighty “education seekers”.
Event providers and city specific oriented activities need to pay attention because they are destination sites, the last place a local search user goes when looking for something to do. One exception, loyal users will always go to their favorite sites fist, but most local search users are not loyal to any destination site brand. By tuning into local search solutions, these providers give themselves another opportunity at the user, who may or may not have come across their site.
Publishers need to care about local search if they’re going to keep their users past reading an article. No one can be everything, and publishers run the costly business of content generation and supporting the experts to generate the content. By using a local search solution, they now can retain users who are more valuable to their advertisers, demonstrate a desire to be relevant on a personalized level as opposed to generalized national material.
The user cares a lot about local search without even realizing it. How many times have you done a search to not find what you’re looking for till page four (if you kept looking for that long)? Local search strategies and applications are designed to pull everything together so that the user can have all that they need in one spot. In other words, rather than going to yelp for reviews, eventful for events, yellow pages for the numbers, or a government page for the laws, every data point is pulled together according to the inquiry. A user worth as much as the local search user (roughly $35-80 eCPM *effective cost per millie of impressions* is worth catering to.
What makes for a good Local Search Answer?
A “good” local search answer has local business with the means to get in touch with their location and leverage themselves above the competition, relevant local information the user would find useful (local events, media, etc.), reviews of the businesses, local coupons/deals, advice to help the user to choose, and of course, relevant advertising.
Why is it hard to make a good local search answer?
Whatever platform is orchestrating the data has to keep a appropriate balance of relevant local data and ads to avoid being scammy, but remain profitable. Additionally, the relevant pieces are fragmented, and getting the pieces together involves a lot of grunt sales/business development effort to get the respective organizations to buy-in. Many organizations are afraid of collaboration because they see themselves as giving materials away, when in fact they are only making life harder for the user until another solution opts in and makes them obsolete, despite their good data.
How can you benefit from local search?
Again, it depends on who you are. A user benefits from an efficient medium to get what they want. Local businesses benefit from an increase in customers, without a large ad budget. Advertisers get to offer premium packages that do more than blast generalities. Publishers get to keep their users longer and grow their revenue.