Business Week wrote a piece recently (03/08/07): Where Search Stumbles criticizing most of the local search engines. Greg Sterling has repeatedly pointed out that accuracy is the potential achilles heal of Local and there have been plenty of complaints elsewhere and here about quality and about complexity. But as I tell my relatives: I love you anyways.
I by no means find the quality acceptable, although I have gone on record with the opinion that it is satisfactory and will improve. I recently, though, read a post called “Its the Schema, stupid!” by a search researcher for IBM that helped me understand the bigger issues. I am not a database expert and have limited understanding of search schema or the semantic web. However his point that what is exciting about local search is that the searcher is looking for something real, struck a chord. The searcher is trying to find a pizza parlor or a car dealer as opposed to a document in cyberspace that general search might return. And that only by using a structure (schema) that is based on the real world would you ever be able to find it.
This brought home for me both the elegance and complexity of what Google, Yahoo & Ask are attempting to do with local search.
In Google, an organic search returns ranked & relevant results from a selection of web pages. They can not be judged as right or wrong just more or less relevant to the searcher and only in the aggregate.
In Google Maps local search, on the other hand, Google is attempting to return ranked, relevant AND right results. The relevance can be measured from the local searchers point of view, the rank can be disputed by the local resident and the rightness (or accuracy) can be verified to see if Google properly captured the correct phone, street address, category, neighborhood, quality, recognition of a hopefully open local business. It is judged in the very specific.
The Ask.com announcement, The New Shape of Local Search has been widely reported.
However, not many commentators have noted how cool and useful this feature really is. OK so you can draw on the map, big deal I said to myself.
Then I started drawing. When I noticed the email and permalink I thought, how long is the image stored? Can my doodles be shared?
It appears that the drawing data is captured in the link (and not stored anywhere) and when the link is shared the map doodles go right along with it to redraw the custom map for the next viewer.
Here is a sample map with my input: http://city.ask.com/city?msid=f29535c07bc94e24c4c10fd0b697730c&msuserid=eeef09e483dbd0f315991e723912e733
The fact that there is a permalink to this image and that it can be emailed means that each users custom map can exist forever for whatever purpose…a temporary rendezvous, a map for a website…and possibly many more.
Greg Sterling does the best strategic analysis that adds to understanding the big picture of Local Search. Two of his recent posts about Local Search that I found of particular interest:
â€¢Yelp Becoming a CRM platform
â€¢Local Numbers: Setting the Record Straighter
Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea also offers incredible insights on Local but from the technical viewpoint. His writings elucidate the technologies behind the scenes. His recently posted Google Local Search Glossary is a real gem.
LeeAnn Prescott at Hitwise reports: Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from January to February 2007. It appears that this increase was due to an increase in upstream traffic from Google, which occurred on February 7, according to this daily clickstream chart shown here. Did anyone notice a change in how Google drives traffic to Google Maps around this time?
This jump in traffic to Google Maps shown on the chart occurred one week after it was reported that Google upgraded the Local Onebox results on the main search results page.
m-spatial, in its most recent quarterly Mobile Local Search Index, has found that mobile searches in England, have doubled in the last quarter of 2006 compared to the first quarter “with Fast Food, Pubs & Drinking and Cinema topping the search league tables”. The report also noted siginificant seasonal shifts.
Mary Bowling at Blizzard Internet Marketing, Inc. has recently published a white paper: Local Search Engine Marketing – Profitable Tactics for the Lodging Industry.
From their presse release:
You need a strategy for Local Search and, in this whitepaper, youâ€™ll get detailed instruction on how to:
Optimize your website for Local Search using both on-page and off-page tactics.
Insure your presence across the many Local Search and Social Web platforms.
Choose the right directories to drive highly targeted traffic to your website.
Increase the return on investment of your pay per click advertising using local-specific strategies.
Standardize the information about you across the web in order to bolster your credibility with people and search engines.
The report provides a comprehensive overview of the local search industry with examples and tactics. It makes for a good read and while it is specifically written for the lodging industry, it includes a great deal of generally valuable information.
You may request a copy by visiting their website.
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?
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…
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