According to Comscore, roughly 11 million, of the current 200 million cell phone users, use their mobile phone to do local search. Of those 11 million, I believe that many are like me: “soft” users i.e. users that only use the service occasionally due to the limits of the hardware & software interfaces and the quality of the data. I am curious about how soon this local search aspect of the mobile market will become mainstream. A possible benchmark would be when it reaches 50% penetration i.e. 100 million users in the U.S.
There are many barriers to this level of adoption: limits of current phone technology, cost of the service and lack of perceived benefits by cell phone users.
We are now seeing the future of local search in overcoming the limits imposed by the current hardware & software. Google has staked out its mobile interface with Google Mobile Maps, Yahoo has its Yahoo2Go mobile application suite and Apple has created the perception of what a usable mobile device looks like. These three players may not be the winners in the cell market of 2006/2011 as it is dramatically different than the internet market of 1996/2001. However, these three will in many ways define what local search looks & acts like. These tools seem to answer the constraints on mass market adoption of mobile local search; the interface & hardware issues that have been barriers to widespread adoption.
When will we get there? And will it result in the increase in local searches that creates a truly vibrant mobile local advertising market?
Google is now presenting an enhanced local onebox that includes a map and more details from their Google Maps database. The effect of the change is to totally dominate the main search results with details about the top three local businesses. There are a number of additional options to access more information & directions from their Maps as well.
Certainly the higher visibility will increase general market awareness about their Maps product. The increased links into their local database will likely lead to an increased use of their Maps product for directions, reviews etc. (If you are like me and have already forgotten what the “old” onebox looked liked you can see it here.)
However, the increased attention will also point a bright spotlight on some of the failings of their local product and increase the small business cacophony of complaints. They are a vociferous lot indeed.
The image above clearly demonstrates one of the flaws…the inability to deliver up restaurants instead of hotels when the searcher is looking for restaurants. In a quick survey of 10 major cities, this problem occurred in 3 of them. Google’s inability to keep reviews updated and maps correct will only be more evident.
I am a fan of Google Maps but their vapid response to complaints and their slowness in delivering a mature product will wear thin quickly with this new emphasis on local results.
On 1/20/07, I wrote on the Google Blog:
Jen (Google Map Guide)
We work with a local restaurant that when viewed in Google Maps has but
one review from CitySearch dated September 2005.
There have been a number of subsequent customer reviews posted on this
restaurant at CitySearch, Yahoo and Yelp since May, 2006 and later but the
review information at Google has not been updated.
As a small business owner, they understand your use of reviews to
provide reader guidance. However, they are concerned that Google has
not conscientiously updated their information.
On 1/30/07 Google responded:
I completely understand your local restaurant’s concern about the most recent reviews not appearing with their business. At this time, I can’t tell you exactly when we’ll be getting those new reviews into Google Maps, but I can assure you that we are working to provide the most up-to-date data that we can. The best I can do at this time is ask your client to be patient, and let them know that more recent reviews should be appearing shortly.
Jen Continue reading
Bill Slawski has recently reported on a Google patent to deliver ads on your cell phone. After reading the patent, I happened to be playing with Google SMS yesterday and received my very own (obviously reduced) ad that read:
Great Hotel Rates!
Here is what Adwords has to say (my italics and bold for emphasis):
In some cases, the local business ads may also appear with relevant searches on Google Maps for mobile. Ads appearing with mobile search results may contain only two lines of text, so local business ads may show in a shortened form on mobile searches. Currently, advertisers aren’t charged for impressions or clicks accrued by local business ads on mobile searches.
The text versions of your local business ads may also appear on Google SMS queries. Due to the limited amount of space in the SMS format, your ad text may not be included in its entirety. However, your business name and contact information will be included.
I have written a number of times about the OneBox:
-Eyetracking Heatmap: How Searchers View the Google One Box
-The Google â€œOneboxâ€ on general search phrases
The OneBox, in its many forms is very important as the primary interface that Google provides to local search and thus deserves attention. Bil Slawski has just published a summary of Google’s OneBox patent at Search Engine Journal as well as listed other OneBox references. As Bill points out the OneBox is Google’s method of allowing vertical search to works its way into the main search engine results page.
Comscore has released the second part of their research about cell phone usage by age group. In the first part of their research they examined general cell phone usage patterns as well as types of cell phone internet access.
Their current conclusions:
Consumers in the 18-to-24 Age Segment: View Cell Phones as Multi-Functional Accessories; Crave Advanced Features and Personalization Options
Wireless Users in the 25-to-34 Age Segment: Most Likely to Access the Internet via Their Cell Phones
Their research does not detail specific internet usage by age group. In their previous research 44% of the users access the internet for email purposes while somewhat more than 24% used it for local search. It would be helpful to see top reasons for access by age group to see which age groups are more focused on local search vs other uses as well as the type and intensity of local search. It isn’t clear from the research summary but I would assume that the reason that the 25-34 age bracket is more likely to access the internet via cell is for job related e-mail.
Read on for more of their findings…
There is a more than a little irony in Google’s “official response” to the complaints about problems with the underlying geo-location data (italics are mine for emphasis):
== 9 of 10 ==
Date: Fri, Jan 19 2007 2:29 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”
I just wanted to let you know that your voices and concerns are being heard.
Currently because we source all of our map data from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas,
we may not be able to make manual corrections to your business locations. We
don’t currently have a way for you to submit your specific map corrections
to Google Maps.
Some business owners have reported that adding a note to the “Description”
section of their business listing has helped their customers to find them.
You can edit your listing by following the instructions at
Bill Slawski talks about a recent Google patent to improve location information accuracy. Clearly Google is working on this difficult problem. Obviously, they have yet to solve it.
A summary of interesting tidbits provided by a press release from mInfo of China:
-WAP is currently actively used by only 30-40 million of the 450 million mobile users in the country, whereas SMS has over 90% adoption
-Searches were spread fairly evenly amongst the basic subject areas of Local Search (41%), Informational Search (31%) and Rich Content Search (28%).
-Local search involves finding directory information for locations such as bars, hotels and ATMs
-The five leading search categories in 2006 were: 1. Dining/Recreation 2. Jokes/Riddles 3. Ring tones/Pictures 4. News/Stock 5. Weather forecast
-The query model for mobile search is also quite different from web search. Mobile searchers tend to use longer query strings (5-6 words/query) vs. web searchers who average about two words per query. Mobile searchers tend to input phrases with qualifiers to improve specificity in an effort to increase relevance and get more precise answers.
-The average web search session usually involves 5 or more iterations of keywords with countless clicks on the resulting links. Contrarily, the average mInfo search session requires just 1-2 queries for users to find their desired answers.
-Search diversity is much higher on mobile vs. the Web. According to traffic data from a leading Chinese Internet search engine, the top 1000 keywords account for over 70% of all search traffic. However, for mobile search, the top 1000 queries account for only about 20% of the searches
-The 19-24 year old group seemed most interested in ring tones and pictures while the 25-29 year old group was more heavily weighted towards local search. The 30-34 year old group tended to spend more time on travel and news related searches.
There is a fair bit of optimism that mobile (see Get Ready for a Surge in Mobile Search) is going to dominate local search in the very short term. The numbers are mouth watering to venture capital: 200 million cell phones in the US alone and research that 30% will use local search on their current or next cell phone. I am sure that it will happen…. someday
Research on actual current users tells a different story. Here is the data from Comscore’s recent research:
Wireless Users’ Internet Accessibility (via Phone) October 25, 2006 Â November 1, 2006
sample size = 1,708
|Source: comScore Networks Wireless Report
||Percent of Users
|Don’t have Internet option/unsure
|Have Internet option/don’t subscribe
|Currently subscribe to the Internet
|Previously subscribed to Internet option
Top Reasons for Accessing the Internetfrom a Wireless Phone
(Among those who subscribe to Wireless Internet Option)
||Percent of Users
|Ring Tone Downloads
|Local Search (i.e. YP)
Let’s do the math: 200 Million cell users of whom 17% have & use internet access and of those only 24% (lets be generous and assume some more unique users from the other categories and say 33%) do some sort of local search. Total audience:11 Million. Nothing to sniff but not yet a huge market
Greg Sterling has provided an excellent summary of local search volume and profitability by analyzing ComScore’s December data:
comScore basically defines â€œlocal searchâ€ as Internet yellow pages, the queries on the local products of search engines (e.g., Yahoo! Local) and searches on general engines with geographic modifiers (e.g., â€œDenver Attorneysâ€). comScore (7/06) estimated local search to be 13% of overall Internet search volumes….. it would mean that on an industry wide basis â€œlocal searchâ€ is today hypothetically worth just over $104 million per month or in excess of $1.2 billion per year….The local ad market (all media) is worth roughly $100 billion….So one would reasonably expect many billions in SMB and other locally targeted ad buying will flow online,
But Greg points out: But in search in order to capture more of these local dollars there need to be more local searches or those with â€œlocal intentâ€ need to be better monetized….But, fundamentally, if youâ€™re Google, Yahoo! or MSFT and want to get more local money into search, you have to build more inventory: local searches.
Ultimately despite all of the startups in local and all of the talk of delivery of ads on cell phones, the local search market won’t really take off until there are more searches by real people. Certainly the current crop of portable devices dosn’t make that easy and Yahoo and Google actively hide their local data on-line.
Perhaps the iPhone,or something like it, will allow this significant hurdle to be overcome by both making local searching easier and not requiring every website to reformat their output. Another strategy might be that if you can’t get people to come to the mountain you move the mountain to them…with a Google Kiosk in every mall. (Now that’s local search.)
For now, Local is a niche within a niche and it will remain so for a while. In some ways though, this is not such a bad thing (other than hundreds of startups going out of business), in that much of the data and the interfaces are not quite ready for prime time…when they are they will be adopted and used and the revenue opportunities will be evident.