Google, Local Search entrepreneurs & sleeping with elephants

Yesterday Greg Sterlng’s blog Screenwerk hosted an interesting guest post: Google should Power the Local Web by Daniel Bower, who is part of in the UK. He eloquently argues that due to the complex nature of true local, Google should focus on providing tools for local rather than going after Local Search themselves.

His post is well worth a read and provides insight into the reality of local if it is to be meaningful in our lives. That being said I don’t agree with his conclusions that Google should (or rather would):
…further organise the sea of data and to continue to provide highly relevant ads. By abandoning its current centralised local strategy in favour such a decentralised model, it could firm up its position in the space for some time to come.

It appears to me that Google is doing both and that they have a need to do both. They are establishing their leadership in general (centralized) local search & mapping while simultaneously building out tools that can be used to “Power the Local Web” and the mobile web in the niches of the decentralized world.

The market will not be look to Google for those hyper local tools unless and until they have a dominant position in the general local search arena (maps, business search etc). Users won’t give Google the dominant position in General local search unless they feel the same warm and fuzzy about local that they do about general search. This latter state will be achieved via Google being in all aspects of their search consciousness. An example of that is Goog-411.

Some examples of Google’s tool powering the local web currently in many ways (there are more):

Map insert
My Maps

They are rolling these tools out regularly and have not yet hit their stride. Yet you can see the results in the many local vertical mashups and tools that have developed around the google Maps api.

If their goal is to dominate (which is the goal of every good capitalist) then they would need to do so on both fronts. If they don’t continue to make these gains, someone else will. It is the nature of the beast: Gobble up or be gobbled. It is naive to think otherwise. The difference in Local and local mobile search is that they are up against a broader and deeper range of equally voracious competitors (ATT, Nokia, Verizon, Microsoft as well as the GPS makers etc, etc.) than in the general search arena who want to be the gobblers as opposed to the gobbled.

Powering the local web with tools after and while they dominate the general local search categories mirrors their strategy for achieving dominant monopoly position with broader web search. Whether they can leverage their position in general web search to achieve total success (both in general local search and local tools) in local is really the question. Will they be able to hit the jackpot twice? If Greg Sterling’s recent informal survey is any indication they are off to a good start in local mobile search. You can also bet that none of the above named companies are rooting for them and that it would be unlikely for Google to “abandon… its current centralised local strategy”.

I don’t know how this will end up but it will be fun watching titans battle. For any smaller players in the local search field my advice would be: “Be careful sleeping with elephants, its very awkward when they roll over”.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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2 thoughts on “Google, Local Search entrepreneurs & sleeping with elephants”

  1. Great response Mike, and I think you’ll probably be proved right in the months to come. You’re points regarding the mobile space are also excellent.

    If you ever want to fire over some more questions feel free to do so. I enjoy keeping the discussion going.

  2. Hi Daniel

    I visited your welovelocal site. I appreciate your affinity for local businesses. Having spent much of my adult life working in, owning and promoting small retail I can understand your dismay at their demise.

    That being said, at least in the US, the march is ever onward and unless and until the underlying rules of capitalism are changed it will be the odd small shop that survives and thrives…much I fear like small businesses in the local space.

    I wish you luck.


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