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GeoSearch Comes To Northern Light

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Northern Light debuted a new geographical search capability in April. It allows users to filter results so that only matches relating to a particular "real world" address will appear. For instance, imagine you wanted to find all the pizza places near your home. Using Northern Light's "GeoSearch," you can enter the word "pizza" and your zip code, then any pages that contain the word pizza and which also seem to be related to where you live will be shown.

GeoSearch is a nice alternative to entering geographical keywords, especially in that those keywords can be too limiting. For example, say I wanted to find pizza places near Newport Beach, California. I could do a "normal" search such as "newport beach pizza," and that might miss out on pizza places that are located in the neighboring city of Costa Mesa. In contrast, GeoSearch might find them, because when you give it a zip code or postal code, it knows all the geographical keywords relevant to that code, for the radius you choose.

To use GeoSearch, just select the "Geo Search" link that appears below the search box on the Northern Light home page. A special form will appear, where you can enter your search word plus additional location information. You must at least provide at least a zip code or a telephone area code, and you can specify a geographical search radius up to 100 miles. Searches are currently limited to US and Canadian locations, but more worldwide support will be coming later this year. After doing a search, you can use the small use the "Edit this search" option to the right of the results page search box to refine your query.

I did a few head-to-head tests of GeoSearch against "normal" searches at Northern Light using geographical keywords, such as the pizza query above. I found that often, the normal search was just as good if not better than the GeoSearch results. Vicinity, the company behind GeoSearch technology at Northern Light, said one reason may be that not all the relevant pages within Northern Light's index have yet been geocoded. When that happens, you would expect the GeoSearch results to improve.

You may recognize Vicinity as the company behind the popular MapBlast mapping and directions web site, though that's just part of what Vicinity does. For GeoSearch, the company has developed "address recognition" software that teaches spiders how to recognize common address formats that they may encounter on web pages. If an address is found, the page is then "geocoded" when placed in the search engine's index. That means the search engine will store an appropriate real-word latitude and longitude for the page, as well as the usual cyberspace address information. If there are several addresses, then the page is assigned to multiple geographical locations.

Vicinity is also talking with other search engines, so it seems likely that GeoSearch may become a more common option. Given this, there are a few things you may wish to consider to ensure your pages are accurately geocoded.

Most important is to include geographical addresses on any relevant pages. For instance, if you ran a local restaurant, having your address on the same page that describes your restaurant might help you rank better if someone did a GeoSearch for restaurants in your area. Similarly, if you ran a chain of electronic stores, having a list of addresses along with a general description of your store could help ensure that you come up well for relevant GeoSearches.

Remember, success will come out of having both your geographical address and a description that includes the terms people might be searching for. You need them both. Imagine that restaurant situation. There might be a page about the restaurant, with a link on it to another page with the actual address. This would be bad, because the separate address page might not actually have the word "restaurant" on it. In that case, it wouldn't be found if someone geosearched for "restaurant."

As a rule of thumb, you might consider listing your geographical or postal address across the bottom of all your pages. That will ensure some geographical information is available to work with the varied content on all your web pages, or certainly at least on your home page. Also, don't forget to also include your web address. Significant numbers of people go to search engines and enter domain names to locate web sites -- MSN Search recently said about 15 percent of their queries are this way. By including your web address, you increase the odds of ranking well when people search for you this way.

Combined together, that means your pages might have a footer like this:

MyCompanyName
123 Plaza, Newport Beach, CA, 92663, USA
http://www.mycompanywebaddress.com

By the way, the actual format of your address isn't important. You don't need to use commas to separate the street address from the city, nor must you spell out a state or province name rather than using abbreviations. The key is to use your zip code or postal code, then keep your address information relatively near this. Vicinity's technology looks for these codes first, and they are what give it the primary information to know where you are located at, the company says. The address recognition software will also quickly scan near the zip code or post code for the other address information, so keeping it nearby is helpful. In short, use any standard address format you prefer, but just make sure that you include your zip or post code.

How about one more stat? Vicinity currently estimates about 15 percent of the web's pages contain some type of geographical information on them. It is these pages, and only these pages, that then become available when doing a GeoSearch.

Overall, GeoSearch seems a good tool to have for those times when you want to find information that could be situated in one of several locations. Similarly, some people may prefer using it rather than trying to think of appropriate geographical keywords. Another plus to using GeoSearch is that any addresses found on a web page will appear below that page's listing, along with a link to map for those addresses.

Northern Light
http://www.northernlight.com/

Northern Light GeoSearch Page
http://www.northernlight.com/geosearch.html

Vicinity
http://www.vicinity.com/

MapBlast
http://www.mapblast.com/

Whereonearth.com Signs Agreement With Yahoo
Whereonearth.com, April 10, 2000
http://www.whereonearth.com/press/press_yahoo_10_apr_2000.htm

Yahoo's classified and yellow pages sections are to receive their own form of GeoSearch, through a new partnership with Whereonearth.com.


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