Category Archives: Local Search

General information about Local Search techniques, technology and trends

Local Links of Interest

 Small Business Marketing Success Story: Avante Gardens - Matt McGee, SearchEngineland

This interview with Cathy Rulloda is a great overview of good practices. Cathy is always at the forefront of using the internet for local marketing in the very tough florist arena and she more than holds her own.

Free-411 Rolls Out Dial Directions Nationally & Jingle Goes Nationwide with Dial Directions - Greg Sterling, Screenwerks/Local Mobile

Against that backdrop Jingle needs to continue to develop, market and differentiate its service if it hopes to stay ahead of this increasing competition. One way it has sought to do that is by offering Dial Directions service, which as of today is now available nationally: any location to any other location (by address or intersection).

I see Free 411 services as a critical bridge service between the phones of today and the mobile internet of tomorrow and the services use much the same data set that we have been working with. Greg offers this interesting chart of Free 411 intents:

Free 411 Intent

How do we determine the names of things -  Mikel Maron, BrainOff.com

A mid April post that takes a fascinating look at the politics and policies involved in naming places. What we often assume is an absolute in a Map is really  a fluid, conflicted political & social battle. How does Google handle the conflicts that arise? How does OpenStreetMap do so? An eye opening and educational piece.

 

Local Links of Interest

A Technology Consortium Plans a Wireless Network – Matt Richtel, NY Times

The consortium includes a disparate group of partners: Sprint Nextel, Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner and Clearwire….

They expect the network, which will provide the next generation of high-speed Internet access for cellphone users, to be built in as little as two years, but there is no timetable on when it will be available to users and the price is not determined. The partners are seeking to beat Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless to the market.

Sprint Scores Coup with WiMax Joint Venture – Greg Sterling, Local Mobile Search

Sprint and Google have also entered into an agreement related to Sprint’s mobile services, whereby Google will become the default provider of web and local search services, both of which will be enabled with location information, for Sprint. Sprint will also preload several Google services – including Google Maps for mobile, Gmail and YouTube – on select mobile phones and provide easier access to other Google services.

Apple and AT&T to launch iPhone 3G a lot sooner than we think - Boy Genius Report

AT&T reps just got an internal email stating that they would be unable to take vacation time from June 15th to July 12th”due to projected increased traffic and an exciting new promotion/product launch.” 

The Ten Commandments of Online Marketing for Small & Local Busines - David Mihm, Mihmorandum

Step-by-step instructions for the small business just trying to get a handle on this whole internet marketing thing. (I missed this one while on vacation but it is worth looking at if you haven’t read it)

Apple’s Price Reduction & its stealth mobile computing initiatives

Fortune (via LocalMobileSearch) reports that Apple will be reducing the price of the iPhone by $200. As Greg points out at Local Mobile: Price Matters!

The new price will drive adoption of this fully functional mobile computing device masquerading as a smart phone at a faster rate. Apple’s mobile computing strategy became very clear this past month while visiting a childhood friend who had up to the moment of our visit had steadfastly maintained his Luddite approach to computing.

His wife had purchased him an iPod Touch for an upcoming 20 hour vacation flight to Bali. Upon our arrival he proudly showed me his new toy (remember this is a guy that like me, buys a new car every 15 years whether he needs to or not) and told me how he was going to listen to Dylan and the E Street Band on his long trip.

I started tapping away and noted that it would be a simple thing to hook it the internet via his wife’s laptop which he agreed to. From that point on, each morning and evening he had me implement and train on an ever increasing number of internet capabilities….he started downloading podcasts by Amy Goodman, buying a few videos for the trip on iTunes, discovering the joys of Google Maps (you mean I can look up restaurants? show me!) and incredulous that he could now read his email anywhere.

Last I heard from him was an email from the Tokyo airport about a sock that my son had left buried in the den couch.

Apple, in focusing on the killer app (either music or phone calling + music) has developed a very seductive and appealing way to bring not just the technorati but the ludderati as well into the age of mobile computing. These new users may just leapfrog the desktop that they were so resistant to and in doing so make computing (and local search) a much more integrated part of our every day life.

Searching for reviews

I am currently traveling with my family from Northern California to Oregon. We needed to book a hotel near the San Francsico airport the other night. My wife ended up booking us into the Best Western Grosvenor in South San Francisco.

As we checked in, there was an obviously placed notice that that if we reviewed the hotel on TripAdvisor.com we would be entered in a drawing to receive a full credit towards our room expense.

We went to the room, set up our laptop and proceeded to struggle with a very flaky wifi connection, calling the front desk who alerted maintenance. We finally logged on through the connection for the Holiday Inn across the street.

The next morning I got serious about attempting to win my free stay and proceeded to create an account with TripAdvisor.com and to locate their record to provide a review. About 15 minutes into the sign up/review process, the WiFi connection started slowing down and finally went bad before ever being able to actually write the review. After another 10 minutes of struggling with the flakey connection I finally gave up.

I was an extremely motivated user and between the time it took to get into Tripadvisor and navigate a buggy wifi connection, I could not make it to the end line. While checking out, we were forced to fill in the hand feedback form to enter the electronic review drawing.

The impact of the hotels efforts are interesting. The Top 10 Hotels in Google all have more than 45 reviews to their credit on the search: Hotels South San Francisco. Our hotel showed up on page 3 of Google Maps with no reviews. Its Google Maps record is unclaimed and has its name mispelled.

At Tripadvsior.com the hotel has received 126 reviews and is accumulating reviews at a run rate of about 1 per week.

It is fascinating to me that reviews have become an integral part of some hotel’s customer relations management. It is also fascinating that it could be so poorly executed as to cause my rating to go down. The lengthy process to get signed up with TripAdvisor speaks to the need for a product like LeaveFeedback.org. The poorly managed WiFi setup speaks to the importance of good execution across all of an establishment’s offered services.

It is also of note that the review process focused so heavily on TripAdvisor while ignoring their Google Maps record reinforcing the poorly thought out nature of the exercise.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Greg Sterling Responds

Greg Sterling of Screenwerks gets the last word (well other than mine of course) on the topic of whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard.

Greg: Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Whether or not it should be in a sense it already is – by virtue of the difference between Local and general Web search. With general Web results users have multiple choices in the majority of cases. If the data or answers they seek are missing or inadequate on any one site all they need to do is “click back” and move on to the next publisher.

In Local there are fewer choices typically. In some cases,accordingly, the consumer is without recourse if the data are missing or flawed. If someone is looking for a specific business location and doesn’t find it on the engine, it reflects very negatively on that site (e.g., “I was looking for restaurants and all they had were fast-food places”). Thus I believe that people do hold Local to a higher standard already – because it’s about the “real world” and their daily lives. In many cases the users are the arbiters of truth;they know what’s correct and what should be there, as opposed to general Web searches where they may not.

The central challenge then, as others have mentioned, is getting good data and making sure it’s “fresh” and accurate. This requires a mix of strategies and an approach that’s distinct from the Web crawling done by the major search engines. Getting good Local data and the objective of presenting an optimal Local user experience require much more structure and working with trusted partners. But increasingly it also means getting the distributed mass of users involved.

Google and Yahoo! have essentially opened up their databases in an effort to get the community involved. Users at large can correct inaccurate records – provided this doesn’t open the door for major spamming – and broaden the database considerably as well. Google is finding this with My Maps, where it’s getting lots of additional information, organized in interesting ways, beyond the standard business listings database.

While I don’t subscribe to unrestrained free market capitalism I think there’s a “Darwinian struggle” going on and the better products and approaches in Local will ultimately succeed. The push back to that argument is Google’s position and power in the market and the gravitational force it exercises over search behavior.

Because Google has become so important to many local businesses and because of the well-documented benefits and consequences of “showing up” or “not showing up” in Local results, there’s almost a “moral obligation” on the part of Google to do everything possible to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the database. This burden resides with the others as well. But Google is in a position of higher responsibility because of its power and influence.

Local Links of Interest

UniversalBusinessListing.Org Partners with NexxLinx to Jump-Start Local Search 

UBL is the industry initiative to help businesses create and expand their online presence. Instead of spending countless frustrating hours of trial and error, businesses create a central listing with UBL, and for a small fee their information is securely distributed to all major US online Yellow Pages, search engines, industry directories and 411 directory assistance. 

Adding A Business to MSN/Live Local Search – Matt McGee, SmallBusinessSEM

MSN’s Local Search property, Live Search Maps, used to rely on Localeze for all its business listings. If you wanted to add or edit a listing in MSN Local, that’s where you went to take care of it.

That’s since been replaced by MSN’s own Local Business Listings Center, which operates quite similarly to Google’s version of the same tool.

Western Union to Offer Mobile-to-Mobile Transfers – Laura Sydell, NPR

Western Union is teaming up with two other companies to offer customers money transfers over their cell phones. It’s aimed at immigrants, who often don’t go to banks or use the Internet to conduct business.

Rumor: eBay to Sell Skype to Google? – Sebastien, Praized.com

What it means: I think this potential acquisition/partnership makes complete sense. IMHO, call tracking and pay-per-call represents a large portion of future local search revenues and Google clearly sees that local search is where they will get tremendous growth in the next 5-10 years. By buying the Skype infrastructure (and user base) and combining it with the GrandCentral technology and expertise, they instantly get core assets to execute that strategy globally.

Call Tracking Data Reveals YP Print ROI – Greg Sterling, Screenwerks

The Yellow Pages Association has put out data from a call tracking study this morning that shows a high return on investment for display advertisers:

  • Yellow Pages sales revenue is more than 27:1 for national display advertisers and nearly 13:1 for local display advertisers.
  • 60 percent of advertisers experienced an increase in call volumes in the second year of the study.
  • Of the advertisers that experienced a growth in call volume the second year, the average increase of leads was 49 percent.
  • The median Yellow Pages local display advertisement delivers 444 calls per year at a cost per call of $29.The median national display advertisement delivers 979 calls per year at a cost per call of $15.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Bill Slawski Responds

Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea brings a deep understanding of the underlying techniques that Google & Yahoo have developed to assemble their local data.
Here is his answer to whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard:

Bill: I’m not sure that local can succeed without the actual involvement of people on a local level who have incentive, inspiration, and impartiality to verify, to explore, and to arbitrate.

I think that differences in local language usage and in knowledge of local areas can play a role in whether local succeeds or fails.

Right now, local search involves at least three different paradigms, and methods of collection of data:

1. Providing map information – with an emphasis on purchased data from data suppliers, and from information (mentions) from directories and web sites. The most authoritative site for one of these listings may not even be the web site of the business owner located at an address.
2. Providing a business directory – with an emphasis on listings from actual business owners that is verified by those owners.
3. Providing contact information for a business in Web searches – with an emphasis on identifying the best contact information from a web site. This contact information may only be shown in queries which are identified as navigational ones, where the business listed is, to use the words of the recent Google Relevance testers document, a “vital” listing in response to the query.

The potential for this information to clash is based upon the differences in data collection methods and purposes. For example, the most important information to a telecom is a phone number, and listing an actual physical address is much less of a priority. Nearness to cross streets is fine with them.

Some types of organizations have very little motivation or desire to verify their businesses. Some may not even know that if they don’t have a web site, they can still verify the location of their organization in Google Maps.

There is no set standard way to display location information on a website, and attempts to scrape a site for the “right” contact information may be hindered by multiple addresses (old, new, multiple locations, etc.), poor formatting (images, incomplete data, uncrawlable information, etc.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Miriam Ellis Responds

Miriam Ellis and her husband are a web development team in California with extensive practical experience in Local Search. She is always a voice for reason and ethical behavior and writes frequently about local search in her blog.

Miriam understands the frustration of running a small business and often speaks of the needs of small business people. Here is her answer to my question, does local need to be held to a higher standard:

Miriam: I agree with your premise of greater need for accountability. We have already witnessed too many bothersome/worrisome situations in local and have felt the dead air silence in attempting to get help or answers to these issues. Your extreme 5 step workaround for fixing an address is a good example of a system that is failing to be truly accessible/usable.

Your prediction that we’ll be using our phones for monetary transactions is especially thought-provoking. I know some people who still refuse to make ecommerce or banking transactions online because they simply don’t trust the Internet.

I can understand their reasoning, because when ripoffs happen on the Internet, laws governing such activity are vague, poorly understood and poorly enforced. “Tough luck,” seems to be the attitude when bad things happen on-line and, as in many things in life, we tend to carry on with a “it couldn’t happen to me” attitude. The more of our lives are lived online, the greater chance there is for a lack of laws and lack of personal accountability to cause problems.

My hope with local has been that the end result of searches would be dealings with neighbors. It may be a bit of a caveman mentality, but because we know where neighbors live (do business) they may be less inclined to rip us off, right? Their business rep depends on good service. But when it’s the interface that has the problem (Maps, Local, etc.) the good service is hinging on a third party, making Local less local.

I’ve felt especially bad for the Maps/Local users who are coming to the game with a YP mindset. My father worked for a traditional YP company for some years, and I know first hand the efforts he went to to take care of each and every one on of his clients to make sure that their information was accurate and that he was consistently available to them for any help they might need.

Neither Google nor Yahoo has stepped up to the plate with that kind of service. Yahoo is doing a better job, in my opinion, simply because they are providing a phone number you can call. Google’s local program feels like it’s taking place on a misty mountaintop somewhere in space. Feels like no one is minding the store.

Basically, my answer is yes. They aren’t doing what they need to to win legitimate trust, but then, so many people give their trust without a lot of discernment, so my guess is that there aren’t too many of us who are concerned about this, at this point.

I love Local. I use it almost daily. I would like to see the major players make the efforts to man the ship in a more personal, transparent and accessible way. I believe that in order to become truly Local, Google and Yahoo need to move beyond the remote, world-wide-web mentality and step out from behind the curtain to start dealing with business owners and users in a new way that is appropriate to this new medium.
——————
Tomorrow Bill Slawski will present his ideas on the question.

Making Local Appointments on line

Last week I reported on the new service, Leavefeedback.org that elegantly closes the circle of consumers and small businesses. The New York Times reports on a new class of small business products that further brings local and smb’s together: Making Appointments for Doctor or Dinner that further embeds the internet in the lives of clients and businesses. The web based appointment generating services work on two different pricing models, a monthly subscription ($20 to $30)and a per appointment transaction fee ($3.50).

Greg Sterling is quoted in the article as saying: “This is something that’s been needed for a while, but no one has been able to do it successfully,” said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Marketplace Intelligence, an online consultancy. “With these new services, there are a lot of circumstances where it can work quite well for both the business and the consumer.”

The monthly subscription model of Hourtown would lend itself to higher volume appointment scheduling that would be more likely in larger, more tech savvy cities. If a business could schedule one appointment per day via this method it would put the scheduling cost at $1 per, a very appealing price point. At this price, if the volume were there, barbers and hairdressers with a lower average transaction amount could participate.

The per transaction model offered by BookingAngel would appeal to lower volume but higher average transaction amount clients like Doctors. This would work even in rural settings, assuming that the volume was high enough to offset the learning curve.

Given the current pricing models most rural businesses would be unlikely to benefit either due to high per transaction costs or very low scheduling volume. Going foward on-line appointments services could be used by a large number of local businesses in many markets and industry segments. Assuming that these services are easy enough to learn and provide significant value to the business in the form of more business or happier clients it will be interesting to see if and when these become widespread.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Ahmed Farooq Responds

Given the recent reports (A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam) of mapspam at Yahoo that I perceived as possibly criminal, several folks responded that I had overreacted or mischaracterized the event. I started thinking about the legal, social and technical context for Local in our lives and whether if we didn’t hold it to much, much higher standards on all fronts (business, technical, social, legal) it would succeed.

I decided that I would like the opinions of others that I respect. They come from a range of technical and social backgrounds but all have something to contribute to Local Search conversation. The first responses to my question by Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith can be found here.

Ahmed Farooq of iBegin has a unique perspective on the issues confronting Local as he has created a user facing local site for Toronto and currently provides basic business listing data to a number of clients through iBegin.

Here is the question:

As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?
Ahmed: I’ve argued for a while that what gave the YP books context were the ads.
The ads gave you information on each business – are they open 24 hours? Are
they civil or criminal lawyers? Do they have seafood? And so forth and so
forth.

Having played both the consumer-side and the business-supplying side, the
reason we decided to stick with ‘core’ data is because I don’t see any way
to normalize enhanced data across the entire US. When customers of base data
(competitors and us included – I don’t claim we are perfect) are always
complaining that core data is not right, how does one even begin to think
about tackling enhanced?

The two [current] approaches both fail:

1. Silo. Buy data from one or two sources, invite communities to
participate, and sit back and watch the profits roll. Problem is that while
the community may be willing to update information, they are almost always
restricted to (1) Base data and (2) ‘Sexy’ businesses (restaurants, clubs,
etc). Updating information on a printing company? Doesn’t happen. It may
work on a micro-level, but it does not work on a macro level.

2. Aggregated. Obtain information from various sources like Google does.
While this means more up to date information, it also means a mess of bad
data mingled in there. All sites have good and bad data – mix them all up
and you end up with a lot of good and bad data!

I have no solutions. I may very well be hurting my business here (always
more profitable to sell the full US than a state), but I do not see any
full-US local search engines attaining proper relevancy and context.
Specialized local search engines per city or even perhaps per state – yes.

So to get to the core question – local needs to be held to a higher
standard, because going to a dead website is nowhere near the same horrible
experience as going to a business that has moved (phone # same, address
changed) or dead. But will there be ever one or two sites that do local well
across the US? I don’t think so.

One last point – I believe the ones best positioned to do something
country-wide are the dominant YP publishers – eg YPG in Canada, and so
forth. Their conundrum of course is that the ‘precise’ context we need only
comes via ads. If the advertiser doesn’t pay, they won’t utilize the extra
relevancy, and the end-user loses out. If they allow that extra context for
free, they lose out greatly in revenue.

Seems like I’m rambling a bit now, hopefully got some new gears moving in
your collective brains :)