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Social Features Key to Yahoo Local

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As it has done in other areas of its network, Yahoo has recently been putting more of an emphasis on social media and user-generated content in its local search product.

"We're spending a lot of time thinking about social media at Yahoo. We want to add value to users and merchants by having user contributions," Frazier Miller, director of product management at Yahoo Local, told Search Engine Watch.

Yahoo began pushing user-generated content in its local search in 2005, when it expanded its city and neighborhood pages and expanded its ratings and reviews.

Social features came to the fore again in September 2006, when it added "collections" of user-generated lists, such as "The Bay Area for Kids," a collection Miller created while researching outings with his family.

Last month, Yahoo added another user-generated content feature to Local, Consumer Submit. That feature allows users to add or edit a business listing, updating contact information, store hours, or identifying businesses that are no longer open. The modifications do not change the listing permanently, but appear as notes that can be reviewed by others, who can agree or disagree and build a consensus on the accuracy of the information.

User-generated content has always been at the core of some other local search products, as well as social networking/directory hybrids such as InsiderPages, Judysbook and Yelp. IAC's Citysearch has long featured ratings and reviews, and added more social search features last year. That content is now featured more prominently in Ask.com's search results and in its new AskCity local search product.

Yahoo views these features as "social utilities" that harness the always-present offline word-of-mouth that friends and neighbors use to find a contractor, pick a restaurant, or choose a mechanic, Miller said.

Last fall, Yahoo commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a poll to gauge users' likelihood of posting ratings or reviews of local businesses to Yahoo Local. Overall, 67 percent of respondents said they would be likely to post a review, with 9 percent of respondents more likely to post a review that was negative, 8 percent more likely to post a review that was positive, and 50 percent likely to post a review either way.

"The data supports the idea that local is going to become a very active space. People are eager and willing to rate and review businesses, and they're fairly even-handed about it," Miller said.

The Harris poll also asked users about the effect ratings and reviews might have on their decision to patronize a particular business. Overall, 79 percent of respondents said they'd be likely to be influenced by a rating or review on Yahoo Local, with 9 percent of respondents more likely to be influenced by a review that was negative, 23 percent more likely to be influenced by a review that was positive, and 47 percent likely to be influenced by both positive and negative reviews.

For merchants, the data highlights the necessity of getting out ahead of issues by proactively seeking out positive reviews from satisfied clients. It also underscores the importance of handling problems quickly and effectively, since the likelihood that an unsatisfied customer will post an online review is growing, and the effect those reviews have on potential customers is substantial.

"Like it or not, UGC is here to stay, and it will soon become a standard feature of local search, online shopping and even IYPs," Mike Boland, senior analyst at the Kelsey Group, recently wrote in his blog. "One argument in favor of local UGC forums is that they not only represent a relatively inexpensive (when compared with professional reviews) sources of content, but also possess a certain appeal in the inherent trust perceived among users of peer-written reviews and community interaction."

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