Yahoo! Local today announced a redesign and series of upgrades to its site. Many of these changes represent a new effort to bring out user generated content, and to motivate users to participate in user reviews, according to Brian Gil, lead project manager of Yahoo! Local.
To augment this effort, the company has also modified its relevance engine. It will include the (hopefully) growing corpus of reviews content in its index with the intention of serving better local search results.
"We've always considered ourselves to be a social utility with a core focus on relevance and accuracy and depth of content," says Gil. "We're shifting the site design to spur more active engagement from the community, and we also modified our relevance engine to bring the best and closest results to users' [queries].
New features in particular will allow users greater access to existing reviews, such as commenting whether or not they were useful, and also put in their own two cents. This higher degree of interaction is hoped to grow the reviews content, in line with the aforementioned goal; and also expand the feedback loop and level of interaction among users.
The new site will also include a city guide tab which will represent the new face of Yahoo! Local and a new new jumping off point to local search. This will feature and delineate a few content verticals, which it would like to accentuate for both local searches and also, as mentioned above, ratings and reviews generation. These include special sections for Restaurants, Health & Beauty, and Home & Garden.
“This reflects that we are not just a dining guide or just focused specifically on arts an entertainment,” says Gil. “Of course it's a popular category and we strive to have the best content. But the types of demographics that we cater to and the types of experiences we're trying to provide go far beyond that. The focus will shift more towards homeowner demographics with a variety of different local purchasing needs.”
The redesign will also include a new "weekender" page which lists movies, events and activities that users can use to find stuff do do over the weekend, or whenever they can fit recreation into their lives. Initially this this will be geo-targeted only, but could develop according to Gil, to be personalized and behaviorally targeted to registered users.
There is also a buzz cloud, which joins many of the other new features in giving the site more web 2.0 appeal. This is likewise geo-targeted to show the most popular searches in a given community. Avatars and pictures are also included with user reviews and "MyLocal" personal profiles, similar to what Yelp has done with its successful reviews engine.
Overall there is nothing revolutionary about these enhancement, but they do represent a good evolutionary step for Yahoo! Local, which has a leading position in the local search world to protect, according to comScore data, and a legacy as one of the first online local search players.
More analysis of the social dimensions of the new Yahoo! Local to come in next week's vertical search expert column.