Winning the Local Search Battle

The local search marketplace continues to grow rapidly. Local is growing at a faster percentage rate than general search. Additionally, changes in search patterns show that consumers are becoming better and smarter searchers, moving from simple one- and two-keyword searches to more specific four- and five-keyword searches.

053008emarketer-chart420x193
Source: e-marketer

The progression also shows important insights related to higher conversion rates for local search. The good news: consumers signal a higher purchase interest based on the number of keywords contained in their search query. In many cases, these compound search queries include explicit geographic local search terms.

In short, the more specific a consumer is in the search query, the higher propensity to purchase. The consumer is shifting from "what to buy" category searches (e.g. plumbing, drain cleaning) to "where to buy" phrases (e.g. draining cleaning in Austin, Texas).

So with all of these search-empowered customers, let's take a look at the publisher side to see who's leading the local search charge.

Publishers and Local Search

On the local search front, we continue to see forward momentum from Google powered by the Google Maps product. Year-to-date traffic is up 21 percent, based largely on Web site and mobile usage increases. Google's Local Business Referrals program, announced last year, seems to be in a state of pause as it gains momentum.

A spokesperson from Google stated, "As more and more people use the Internet to search for local goods and services, it is increasingly important for locally-based businesses to establish a visible online presence through free local listings. To help with this (Local Business Referrals) effort, Google is contracting with individuals in U.S. cities to visit businesses in their area to collect information including location, hours of operation, and digital photos. This program will help people find local information using Google and Google Maps and help businesses take advantage of the Internet even if they don't have a Web site or online store. This is currently a pilot program intended to help local businesses in the U.S."

Interestingly, when I visited Google's Local Business Referrals Web page and tried to sign up for the program, I received notification that "response to the program has been so positive that we (Google) have enough representatives for our current needs."

053008lbr420x346

In a slightly different tactic, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL continue to leverage their distribution arrangements with Internet yellow pages (IYP) partners to yield local search volume.

Of the stand-alone IYP providers, recent usage figures from comScore show that competition for usage on the IYP side of local search continues to heat up. For the first time in many years, Idearc's Superpages.com has fallen from the number one position, knocked off the hill by AT&T's Yellowpages.com. This can be attributed to recent shifts and additional distribution partners. It should be noted that the top two IYP networks (Superpages.com and Yellowpages.com) rely heavily (approaching 50 percent) on distribution partners for overall local search traffic.

For advertisers, it's important to understand these distribution partnerships, as they can greatly affect lead flow volume and conversion metrics of IYP campaigns. In terms of capturing local content, traditional yellow pages publishers have a huge advantage based on their historic large local sales teams that are "feet on the street" that visit local merchants to pitch their advertising products.

The battle for local search dominance is being fought on many fronts: consumer usage, advertiser content, and access to local sales forces. The potential payoffs are considerable based on the fast rate of growth from this segment and because the vast majority of local businesses have yet to test the waters of online advertising and, more specifically, local search.

Next week, we'll take a look at local advertiser strategies and describe some best practices of advertisers leveraging the local search market.

About the author

Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales.

Read more of Gregg Stewart's columns at ClickZ.