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Meet the Local Search Engines

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Local search has been hot over the past year, with the major search engines jostling for eyeballs, offering new features for both searchers and advertisers alike.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference, December 13-16, Chicago.

Search for a product or service in a specific geographical area, such as "Seattle plumber" or "Chicago restaurants," and you will see local listings appear in result pages, which might include addresses, phone numbers, maps, and so forth. This session looks at new developments in local targeting among the major search engines.

Overture Local Match and Yahoo Local

Launched in June 2004, Overture's Local Match allows advertisers to target customers in specific regions or local areas. With Local Match, advertisers can select a geographic area surrounding their business (a radius ranging from 0.5 to 100 miles) and bid on keyword phrases relating to their products and services.

A business does not need to have a web site to participate in Local Match search engine advertising.

"Advertisers are giving us positive feedback about not needing to have a web site for Local Match," said Geoff Stevens, General Manager of Local Search at Yahoo/Overture. "Business owners without web sites are still able to take advantage of the ROI in sponsored search."

If a business does not have a web site, information about a business is presented on a Locator page. After searchers click on the link from a search engine results page (SERP), they are delivered to the appropriate Locator page. Locator pages contain important information about a business, including address, store hours, and map. If a business does have a web site, the URL can be included in the Locator page.

"Local search is especially helpful for those who do research online and plan to buy offline," Stevens continued. "For example, Discount America Tires, a company which has come to us through one of SEM partners, has about 600 locations throughout the country. You can certainly sell tires in an e-commerce context, but there's certainly a challenge for those customers who want tires delivered and installed right at their doorstep. Local Match addresses both customer needs: those who are doing research on buying tires, and the need of the same user who wants to buy from a local location on the same day."

The payment structure for Local Match is on a cost-per-click basis. The advertiser pays the bid amount after a prospect clicks on the advertiser's listing. Currently, there is no monthly minimum.

Launched in December 2004, Yahoo's Enhanced Listings are another local search feature. "Advertisers can submit, for free, their information in the Yahoo Local site and used the Enhanced Listings feature for additional information," said Stevens.

Enhanced Listings can include:

  • Company tag line
  • Business description
  • Promotional offers
  • Up to 10 photos
  • Performance reports

Business owners do not need to have a web site to be listed in Yahoo Local. The cost for an Enhanced Listing is a flat monthly fee. For more information about Yahoo Enhanced Listings, please visit http://listings.local.yahoo.com/.

Ask Jeeves Local

"Local search is really part of a larger category from a search engine standpoint," said Michael Palka, Director of Search at Ask Jeeves. "Ten to twenty percent of searches have local modifiers and can be interpreted as the user wanting some type of local information."

"Understanding the user's intent is very critical," he continued. "Some requests can be anywhere from a very structured query (e.g. looking for a restaurant) to a very broad query, such as the history of San Francisco."

According to Palka, local search is very different from general search. "When queries are ambiguous, as a search engine we have to prompt the user for more information and make the query more specific," he said. "As a back up, we also display regular search results along with local search results. So if we misinterpret a query, users can view the regular search results and still find what they are looking for." Ask Jeeves also offers a related search category as a back up for any near misses.

Currently, Ask Jeeves has partnered with Citysearch for local information. "We have lots of descriptions from our editors. We have user-submitted content. And we have business-submitted content from our directory," said Palka. "So when you're in local search and those words are in the meta-data descriptions, you can be found in the natural results, too."

"Our challenge is to solve queries with local qualifiers and give users the proper local information," Palka concluded. "The end goal is to provide higher relevance and give our users exactly what they need by presenting them with the proper local search in the proper situation. It's really important that we show local results as a full part of our site."

AOL Local Search

AOL has been in the local business for ten years now, with DigitalCity launching back in 1995. "AOL is in a unique position that we know who are users (subscribers) are," said Darius Pacsuzki, Vice President of Local Products at AOL. "We have 29 million subscribers worldwide, and the AOL interface is made to provide users with content tailored to their specific (requested) needs. On their home screen, local information is always just one click away."

AOL recently launched My Locations, which allows 55 million registered users (of AOL's instant messaging products) to access and save locations, and to communicate exactly where they are, down to their zip codes and billing addresses.

"For example, if you type something specific like 'plumbers' or 'pizzeria,' because we know your billing zip code, we can deliver the closest one of those to where you live," he said.

According to Pacsuzki, approximately six percent of all AOL queries are implicitly local, though there are some gray areas. "If you search for 'Office Depot,' we will provide you with results for both the Office Depot corporate web site and local locations," he said.

"We're seeing users becoming far more sophisticated with search and using local search a lot more for their daily needs," he continued. "We've seen in Kelsey Research that as many as 25% of searches online are done for information with the intent of buying offline locally."

There are two ways a business can appear in AOL's local search results. Local content is pulled from AOL CityGuide and Yellow Pages. "If you represent a local business, we recommend going into the Yellow Pages listing and update your product there," said Pacsuzki. "We also do have an ambassador program to work with resellers and businesses having franchises in multiple locations. You can send us your data and we will integrate and distribute that data for free across all of our local properties."

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Local Search: Options & Tactics discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc. and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility.

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