The Local Search Landscape

Local search, and local online media in general, is one of the hottest topics in the industry right now. Analysts are falling over themselves to predict just how many billions of dollars in revenue local will represent in five years. New local advertising options seem to appear every day from a major search engine, specialty local search engine or local city guide, yellow pages provider, or local newspaper.

The challenge for search marketers is knowing what offerings are available for their clients, and which ones are most appropriate. They also need to understand the market enough to put it into terms their clients can understand. That's the goal of a new report from Marchex, Unlocking the Potential of the Local Internet.

The document is a 12-page primer on the market, according to Matthew Berk, lead search architect at Marchex. Berk, a former search analyst with Jupiter Research, joined Marchex last year when it acquired Open List, a local search technology company he founded.

"We wanted to clear the air, and get realistic about the local space. There's been a lot of rhetoric, and it's hard for marketers to make heads or tails of it," Berk said. "We looked at the things that might confuse a marketer, and tried to simplify them."

The report breaks search destinations down into five categories:

  1. Search Engines – Major search engines account for about 75 percent of local searches, according to a recent report from comScore and TMP Directional Marketing. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask have each built up local search tools, with comprehensive listings and advanced mapping features.
  2. IYPs and Directories – Internet Yellow Pages and directories, like Yellowpages.com and Superpages.com, get the next-highest amount of traffic after search. Their strength is efficient look-up, and many provide city guides and some user-generated content.
  3. Local Guides – Sites like Citysearch, Yelp and Marchex's Open List provide deep local content across many categories. Most local guides bring in community elements, reviews and ratings.
  4. Online Newspapers – The companies that have provided best-in-class local editorial content are attempting to find success online by incorporating more social features and multimedia to retain their reader base and attract new readers online.
  5. Local Niche – Specialty sites like kudzu.com, or Marchex's network of thousands of direct navigation domains, like NewYorkDoctors.com, target specific geographic areas and try to provide rich content and some community elements to those areas.

The differences between the different models comes down to four variables: content, data, search and functionality. There is no "best" combination for all sites, Berk said, but there are ideal combinations for a particular niche or site. How well a site manipulates these variables to suit its goals will shape the consumer experience on the site, and determine how successful they are, Berk said.

The most important task a local site must accomplish in order to succeed is to build a critical mass of both advertisers and of local traffic. "Building traffic is easy. Building relevant traffic is difficult," Berk said. "To have traffic and a network of advertisers is very hard to achieve."

Berk outlines seven types of local advertising providers in the report, some of which are the same as the local destinations:

  1. Search Engines – The major search engines vary in the kinds of products they offer specifically for local advertisers. Google's "starter edition" and Yahoo's "assisted setup" options cater to the needs of busy small business owners that don’t have the time or know-how to delve deeply into search marketing.
  2. IYPs and Directories – Most offline Yellow Pages now have an online counterpart, that the same salesforce can sell to existing advertisers. Some are also offering turnkey PPC programs, where the advertiser pays a set monthly fee, provides some keywords, and lets the IYP handle the rest, usually through a fulfillment partner.
  3. Online Newspapers – Many online newspapers now offer contextual ads or directory listings on their sites, fulfilled through partnerships with ad providers.
  4. Independent Local Search Marketing Firms – Some SEMs target local businesses specifically, while others take on national as well as local clients. They work directly with clients to plan and implement campaigns.
  5. Local Search Fulfillment Agencies – Companies like Marchex, WebVisible, and ReachLocal work with local media companies to offer click-based or fixed-fee PPC packages to advertisers. Many are white-label services, which can be branded by the local media provider to its advertisers.
  6. Pay-per-Call Platforms – Ingenio, eStara, and Marchex's VoiceStar all offer ads that deliver phone calls to advertisers instead of clicks. Some providers sell directly to advertisers, while others white-label their packages for IYPs and other local media companies.
  7. Online Video Platforms – Companies like TurnHere and Spot Runner are helping local advertisers create and syndicate short videos about their business to video networks.

Again, Berk said there is no one right answer. In fact, the key is to offer a broad range of products, to meet the needs of the many different types of local advertisers, he said.

"One local merchant may want clicks to their Web site, but another only wants to get phone calls. Just like there are lots of use cases for consumers looking for local information, there are lots of use cases for local advertisers trying to bring leads in from online advertising," Berk said.

For search marketers, Berk suggests that education is important, first for the search marketers themselves, so they know what is available in the market. The educated marketer can then go to a client and offer them a combination of services that meet their needs, he said.

To help provide that education, Marchex has launched a new blog, LocalPoint, written by Berk and others involved in local search at Marchex.

"Education is the biggest part of what's going to make this meaningful for both the advertiser and search marketers," Berk said. "They need to know what to say to a local business about the Internet, and they need to know what that local business wants."

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