Category Archives: Local Search

General information about Local Search techniques, technology and trends

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 :)

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith Respond

I have been thinking about Yahoo lately (big surprise that eh?) and have been mulling over in my head what is what in the world of Local.

Thinking that I needed some more voices to compliment what is rattling around in my brain I wanted to hear what others had to say. I sent the following off to a number of individuals, each having different expertise that they bring to the world of search that I respect, looking for their thoughts.

I asked them if they basically agree or disagree with the premise and if they would answer the following question:

Premise:

The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.

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?

Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith responded first so they will be first to go:

Danny: Well, fair to say Mike, I don’t think the standards are very high in local. There seems to be a large degree of trust over community contributions and edits, simply because I don’t think the companies want to expend the people power to clean things up. And I think they also feel most people still look more closely at web wide results, which they pay more attention to. But as local gets used a lot more, I think those standards will have to rise, especially if the players want to gain or keep market share.

Chris: I think it’s a great question. Data quality is one of the biggest issues in local search and IYP, and it seems to not be getting as much play as it really should.

We’re all so dazzled by the whiz-bang interfaces brought to us by Google Maps, iPhones, and other systems that we’re not asking the big questions about whether the data behind it all is reliable. A huge percentage of the time, it simply isn’t.

There have been many times when I’ve sent family and friends to a business, only to find it had closed. I’ve also used online maps many times only to find the pinpoints incorrect — the very worst instance was when I made the maps in printed instructions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending dozens of cars full of hungry friends and family to an incorrect location (streets often have both north and south or east and west numbering systems, and interactive maps sometimes pinpoint them wrong when online addresses don’t include the cardinal qualifier).

It’s all the more ironic if you know that I spent the earlier part of my career as a professional cartographer — I’m at an extreme end of expert users of maps and shouldn’t be messed up by charts and directions as frequently as I have been by online maps. Even knowing the high percentage error rates involved in the services doesn’t help me much — other than if I sense a reason to question a map’s accuracy I may call ahead to get verbal confirmation from a business or other info source.

Quite a number of years ago, John C. Dvorak did a little informal survey of yellow pages results from the major IYPs, and on the basis of it he beat up on Superpages quite a bit for incomplete or erroneous info. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair because I thought he should’ve taken our data suppliers more to task or should’ve done a broader sampling than one or two searches, but his point was pretty salient and our company beefed up data quality improvement efforts. But, here we are five-plus years out and local search and IYPs would still likely fail his informal test. (Dvorak later stated that he was giving up using 411 and using Superpages instead, so I’d guess he eventually forgave us for sometimes having bad data.)

Inaccuracy in local search info is a really big, complex beast, and there’s no quick cure for it. But, it would likely help if the industry had a lot more transparency as to what they’re doing about it — this is an area where we should have them show their cards in the consumer interest. What if each provider was to set up an info page outlining how they deal with: removal of listings for closed businesses; capturing and updating business info that has changed; criteria for choosing which data source trumps another data source if the two have disagreeing info; computation of map pinpoints; and quality improvement of address locations on interactive maps.

From my perspective, it’s time for each of the major players to stop passing the buck on quality, and work on it more intensively than the cute graphic interfaces.

What if we started rating the various local directory providers by how complete/accurate their data is? It would probably start exposing the fact that the local search emperor has no clothes.

Local Links of Interest

Dash’s Car Navigator Gives Smart Directions, if Others Participate – Walt Mossburg, WSJ

I have not really been following the Dash but after having read Mossburg’s article in the WSJ it struck as quite significant that your car would act as a data “probe” to provide real time traffic information to a community of users. Very Cool.

Announcing LeaveFeedback.org, Free Service for Local Businesses – Michael Jensen, SoloSEO

This is very useful product that I will hopefully have more time to write about later. It vastly simplifies the process by which a small business gets reviews from his/her customer. It is the last 50 feet of local and creates a “virtuous cycle” with benefits for all.

Facebook Pages & Local Search Engine Optimization – Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide

I am not a facebook maven but this technique appeared to be valuable.

Global Temperature Trends for Google Earth – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

I never ceased to be amazed at the wondrous information that makes it way into a map these days. This is one of those cases and what you see in Google Earth today, you will see in Google Maps tomorrow (not literally but you knew that).

Google Maps for mobile gets native on UIQ – Sean Cooper, enGadgetMobile

I recognize that this is old news that I meant to post a while ago. When you combine this effort to claim prime real estate on your cell phone screen with the reports of a new interface for Google mobile I see Google maneuvering to become the habitual choice in the world of mobile with or without the carriers.

Mapping Marketshare: Maps Up, Mapquest Down & Yahoo Local is UP!

Google’s addition of the Local 10-Pack piqued my curiosity about its affect on Maps visitation. As I reported yesterday, according to Hitwise, visitation has gone up on the order of 21% since January 23rd.

This begged the question of, at whose expense was this market share gain by Google. In the past MapsQuest has suffered in direct proportion as Google has gained market share in the mapping world. Yesterday, Heather Hopkins, Hitwise provided a current chart comparing market share of Mapsquest, Google, Yahoo & MSN:

hitwiseyahoo1.jpg

•Google’s market share has increased 1.98% since the January 5th.

•Mapquest’s share has declined 2.03% in that same time period.

•Yahoo’s share has increased .05%, mostly since March 6th.

Clearly, the 10-Pack had its desired affect for Google of passing more users into Maps and away from Mapquest. That was to be expected and had been seen in most previous Google “upgrades”. The rate of change though, if it continues, is alarming and could portend a Google leadership position in the mapping market sooner rather than later.

More surprising to me was the upward bounce that Yahoo received from their March 6 Local announcement (see: Yahoo! Maps Updated With New Data and Functionality!) and the obvious effect that it has had on MapQuest’s market share.

Yahoo Local had been in a steady market share decline for the previous year. This upward swing indicates that it is still a 3 horse race and that MapQuest needs to be looking over their shoulder for both Google and Yahoo. Perhaps Yahoo can stem the general downward trend in their market share with their promised upgrades in 2008.

A 2% loss of market share in less than 2 months does not bode well for Mapquest maintaining its market leading position if its makert share erodes with every upgrade from both Google and Yahoo.

Here is the January 5th Market share chart from Hitwise chart for comparison:

Continue reading Mapping Marketshare: Maps Up, Mapquest Down & Yahoo Local is UP!

Local Links of Interest

Google’s LBC: Now With More Fiber- Mike Boland, Kelsey Group

A good summary of how the inclusion of video in the Google LBC can benefit local search marketing. Interestingly, he points out that Google was allowing (c)ompanies such as TurnHere and eLocalListing were already uploading this content for their SMB clients via direct partnership, but this essentially makes it possible for more firms to do it with less friction.

State-of-the Art: Trends in Mobile Search – Jeff Quip, AimClear Blog

An good summary of the session at SES New York 2008 search marketing conference. Outlines in broad details the history & future of the mobile search market and why it makes sense to be there now

Google search plug-in for Windows Mobile promises more of the same – Tim Conneally, BetaNews

Notes the availability of a plug-in for Windows Mobile devices, which provides a shortcut on the home screen to Google’s search. He also provides anectdotal reports of Google mobile search dominance and how this supports that dominance.

New comScore IYP Data – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

The numbers indicate that Yellowpages.com network have a significant share of the IYP searches. But it is hard to tell since as Greg points out “(t)hese traffic data don’t capture local search on the main search engines, which is where much of the local query volume is.”

700MHz Non-Surprise: Verizon & AT&T Win Auction Blocks – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

Google’s wireless-auction loss called possible win – Eric Auchard, Reuters

Google Inc’s losing bid for coveted wireless airwaves may prove a victory for the Web search leader as it still stands to get access to mobile networks without spending tens of billions of dollars to build one, analysts said on Thursday.

Wall Street analysts said the Silicon Valley Internet search and advertising giant has succeeded in forcing open network requirements upon winning bidder Verizon Communications via Google’s apparent strategy of “bidding to lose.”