I love New York City. More than any other city on the planet, New York is exciting, expansive and always interesting. As Earth’s unofficial capital city New York is home to many of the world’s largest entities, some even bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. No other city has captured the world’s imagination or harnessed its wealth to the degree of NYC. New York is also the home of over8-million people. As one of the most multicultural cities, every cultural group in the world is represented within its 301 square mile area. New Yorkers aren’t just city-folk, they define what is hip in urban living in the early part of this century. Unlike their counterparts in cities like LA, Rome or Tokyo, New Yorkers don’t fall for fads, set trends, or get giddy over the next new thing, ever. They are one of the most jaded and cynical populations and in their East Coast way, take great pride in their worldliness. That’s what makes them the perfect test market for Yahoo’s local-search engine.
Early next week, NYC Transit users will get a first hand glimpse of a clever marketing tactic from Yahoo. Yahoo plans to install bus stop kiosks featuring Yahoo Local-Search in order to test user’s responses in one of the densest urban environments in the US. The first kiosk will be installed at W. 42nd ST and Eighth Avenue. A search for a cybercafe on 8 th Avenue in NYC produced a lengthy list of all cybercafes in the five boroughs including the first reference, a short two blocks from the epicenter of my search, W.42nd and 8th. Yahoo’s local search also includes the Yahoo map feature, allowing the searcher to plan easy routes between destinations. Most search analysts feel the local-search market will become a cornerstone for both Yahoo and Google to build on as they move towards producing personalized search results for their users. Many also feel Yahoo has a slight lead on Google in the local search arena, though both firms are far ahead of their rivals in terms of usage, coverage and precision.
“It’s definitely a growth opportunity,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst for the Kelsey Group. “There’s clear consumer demand that Google, Yahoo and others are responding to.” With the paid search sector expected to grow into an $8Billion per year industry, Sterling predicts local-search will comprise about 1/5th of the market by 2008. Today, about 25% of all search activity is users looking for a specific business or service in their local area. Both Yahoo and Google are vying for dominance in the local-search market, but they face stiff competition from traditional advertising mediums such as the telephone directories, as well as from smaller search engines such as Ask.Com, A9 and others. As it stands today however, Yahoo and Google are far and away the market leaders in local-search. From this point, the only way for a smaller company to effectively enter the market is to present searchers with stronger and better branded technologies. An example would be the integration of a application like Keyhole into local-search.
Yahoo’s local search is featured prominently on their standard front page with an easily found tab-link just above the keyword text-box. The local search page asks users to type the product, service or business they are looking for in one text-box and then type geographic information such as a street name or zip code into a second text-box. Search results are displayed in groupings of 10, based primarily on the distance from the approximate center of the geographic information entered. To the top right of the results is a feature reading “View Results on a Map” that generates a standard Yahoo map with all of the businesses listed in the search displayed in their street locations. Another feature lets the searcher to specify the size of the search radius through a drop-down menu measuring in 1, 3, 5, 10, 25, and 50 miles from the center of the search area.
Listings are added to Yahoo’s local search by clicking on the link marked, “Add/Edit a Business”. This link opens a fairly straight forward form asking for basic information about a business, including the nature of the submitter’s relationship to the business. Right now, it appears that submission to the local search database is free so businesses should take a few minutes to get a listing there, especially as it is likely Yahoo will eventually charge for inclusion. Filling in the form takes less than five minutes and can only be beneficial for business.
Google’s version of local search is quite similar to Yahoo’s but feels much less cluttered. While it is still considered a Beta-test version of a local-search tool, it works quite well. One of the winning features of this local search engine is the inclusion of a map beside the displayed results, unlike the map at Yahoo which opens on a different page. Google’s local results do not offer as much information as Yahoo’s but they do include exact street addresses, and a feature that allows users to get directions from their present location. While it sometimes takes a bit of fiddling with address coordinates and zip codes, the feature produces precise directions in text and map form. Google-local also displays results in lists of 10, though they use the letters A-J on each page of results. Placement is determined by distance from the center of the geographic search area.
Businesses wanting to be listed in Google-local are asked to submit their information via email but before they do, they should check to see if they are already in the index. Google-local gets its listings from a number of sources including local Yellow Pages and telephone directories. An interesting feature of the culture at Google is their willingness to help businesses update any out-of-date information carried in print directories they get listings from. For example, if your business moved locations after the most recent telephone directory was published, the information in that directory would be incorrect, as would your listing at Google-local. Google invites businesses to email them any contact information changes ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and they will not only update your listing at Google-local, they will also pass the new information to the source that provided them contact info from your area.
In the coming years, search engines are going to present searches with a more personalized and generally a more localized search experience. What we see at Yahoo and Google today is likely going to change and improve over the next few months. With both companies looking to expand their revenue sources, local-search is going to be an important issue for search engine marketers and businesses relying on customers referred by search engines.