Local Search: Getting the Basics Right

I was on the phone this morning with a friend who had a lunch meeting in San Francisco. He was asking me for restaurant recommendations near convenient parking. I gave him a couple suggestions and then started searching online and, to my surprise, found it surprisingly difficult to find good restaurant recommendations near parking.

On some sites you can identify a location (parking lot or garage) and then search for surrounding restaurants. Those include:

  • Yahoo! Local
  • Google
  • Switchboard
  • SuperPages
  • Yelp
  • Microsoft Live Local

However, I know San Francisco well and in almost every case the restaurant listings produced (using the “search nearby” methodology) were limited or inadequate because the database lacked listings or the manner in which they were presented showed only a few choices. In some cases places I knew existed didn’t show up among results. And in some cases I wasn’t able to sort results by rating to separate decent places from undesirable ones.

Sites like Citysearch and YellowPages.com didn’t offer the “search nearby” functionality and, surprisingly, it was not fully intuitive on Ask (though you could do it). Also in that latter category (“not intuitive but the capability exists”) is Local.com.

Right now it’s far more effective to simply know where you’re going to park, or choose a neighborhood, and then do a straight-ahead restaurant search. In those cases, sites like Citysearch and Ask do much better; and sites like Yahoo! Local and Open List (or now Boorah) give you many more choices than the “search nearby” method.

I realize that I’m being somewhat unfair in grouping sites together and making broad generalizations but I didn’t want to spend an hour documenting all the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among sites. There was, however, considerable variation among sites in terms of ease of use.

Overall, it wasn’t as easy or as effective to search for a parking lot and then surrounding restaurants as I thought it would be. But this is a basic use case for local search and everyone has to get it right. It’s a combination of getting the functionality and UI right and having accurate and (more) complete data, which is the greater challenge.

I’m sympathetic to the difficulties behind solving these problems but I was surprised that it wasn’t easier and quicker to get a good list of choices.

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Related: I’m starting to see outdoor ads for MSFT’s Maps.Live.com in Oakland and Berkeley near where I live in the SF Bay Area. What you’re able to capture driving by is the URL and the image of an urnban downtown. Some number of people will probably be motivated to go to the URL and check it out.

One Response to “Local Search: Getting the Basics Right”

  1. Yair Zehavi Says:

    The more specific your need is, the harder it is to get relevant results, chances are you would spend too much time doing calls and online research to find a relevant restaurant matching your need.
    Considering the endless variety of what can be a specific requests, it is hard to believe that predefined DB based search engines will be able to provide only the relevant results anytime soon.
    But hey, there is an alternative – what if all the good restaurants’ hosts nearby were immediately asked if they have a convenient parking (+ if you wish, a table for 6 with a good view to a screen showing the Super Bowl)… and you get to see only confirmed results of such restaurants that can fulfill your request.

    After all, searching is just the tool for finding,

    disclosure: my company provides a patent-pending find-inC2: a real-time interactive response search engine SaaS platform for local search players

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