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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ provided this doesn’t open the door for major spamming â€“ 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.