OK, Let’s Talk about Local Search

There was strong reaction to the “Local Search Is Solved” posts. This was a typical response:

Dominance and “solved problems” are two entirely different thoughts. Agree that The Google has achieved dominance. Have they solved the problem for consumers? Fork, no. I am pretty confident Google would admit they are 10% of the way to some elusive definition of “problem solved”.

Most people who responded to that post did not agree by any means that local search was “solved.”

So I want to challenge people . . . What does 50% solved or much better than we have today look like? Is it mobile only? What’s the content? How does it function? Where is community or word-of-mouth in the process?

I think it’s easy to say “we’ve got a long way to go” toward some vague future where local search is more fulfilling but what does that “look and feel” like in a concrete way in your view?

I’m also interested and willing to let people who want to articulate their visions more fully do so in guest blog posts.

17 Responses to “OK, Let’s Talk about Local Search”

  1. David Mihm Says:

    Greg, as you know, I am currently working on another guest blog post! So this will be short.

    Local Search Solved from a business owner standpoint:
    – All primary business data on the web matches exactly what they think it should say
    – Moving beyond single-category-based taxonomies to something more like a tag cloud
    – Ability to specify (and show up for) service areas
    – The ability to update product and service inventory in real-time
    – Ability to consider businesses that are old standbys in the offline world but don’t necessarily cater to an iPhone-packing demographic
    – All consumers know immediately to leave a review for the business somewhere online if they’ve had a positive experience
    – No spam

    Local Search Solved from a consumer standpoint:
    – All business data on the web is accurate
    – The ability to see product and service inventory in real-time
    – Differentiation of service area results based on business category (i.e. coffee shop–10 blocks vs. golf course–50 miles)
    – Instant word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources (we’re almost there)
    – No spam

    As you can see, I think there is a large degree of overlap between what is ‘solved’ for consumers AND SMB’s…

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks David for being concrete as well.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    In addition to what David said, solved for a consumer:
    – search for items, not for locations (eg: peanut butter, not safeway)
    – no need to input my address
    – smart sorting incorporating user recommendations, and intelligence enough to know if recommendations matter for my search, eg: I don’t care where I buy Coke, i’ll happily buy it at a 7-11, but I would never buy sushi from a 7-11 unless a trusted source told me they were orgasmic, and safe.
    – the ability to sort by price. It’d be nice to input my shopping list and have it recommend a shopping trip involving multiple stops, but weighing the cost in time against the actual money saved. (i don’t need to make an extra stop to save $0.02

  4. Daniel Jaeger Says:

    First off, I think “local Search” is an Industry term, as a problem definition it’s useless. Much more useful is connecting people who are looking to buy a service or good with people who are selling said good.

    If we look at it that way it becomes clear that the problem has been around for thousands of years. Solutions have become better and they will continue to become better until people can think of something they want at it is delivered to their doorstep the very moment they express the desire to have it (purchase it).

    Before we had cars, people thought horse carriages were good enough. Before we had the iPhone, people thought existing smart phones were good enough, before we had power tools, people thought regular screw drivers were good enough.

    There are logical problems that can be ultimately solved but for anything that involves complex human behavior and goals, there is no “final” solution; solutions are evolving and will continue to evolve. Without doubt “local search” is solved much better than it was 2 or 5 years ago but it certainly will be solved even better another 2 or 5 years down the road.

    My 2 cents.
    Daniel Jaeger

  5. Ed Kohler Says:

    I’d add hours of operation for local searches. Where can I get what I need nearby right now?

  6. MiriamEllis Says:

    I just have one to add to the great lists above:

    – Local Business Data Keepers (G Maps, InfoUSA, etc.) are totally, easily accessible to the business owner, by phone.

  7. Martin Lawrence Says:

    Hi Greg,

    Really great question.

    I would agree with others that Local Search is not nearly solved.

    I agree to the above observations, in particular comprehensiveness & quality of data and advanced taxonomies. However, these discrepancies are merely the “hard work”-part of improving existing ideas.

    The “trusted source” or “social search” is most important in my view, and this is where Google is not even close to a solution.

    As a consumer, I am happy to try out restaurants, hotels or the like that a fair number of strangers have voted for.

    However, when it comes to doctors, lawyers, craftsmen etc., I would never base a selection on Google’s search results alone – I would always ask friends.

    Given that Facebook (king of social) and Google (king of search) are not exactly on speaking terms🙂 this leaves the two parts of the puzzle unconnected.

    Aardvark is on to something – meaning integrating Yahoo-Answers like functionality with Real-Time, mobile Apps and the Facebook social graph.

    Another area that Local Search companies have hardly begun to think up solutions is in capturing a customers opionion about a provider when it is most most present. As in “the moment you leave a restaurant after a good (or bad) meal”. Or “the momment you hang up the phone after calling a support-hotline”. No company I’m aware of is really engaging with this.

    That much said, Foursquare is definitely on to something. Integrating Local Search / Local Experience with a game-like experience is really smart.

    I think the coming years will be most exciting in terms of where Local Search is going.

    Regards, Martin

  8. Ben Saren Says:

    So I was giving this quite a bit of thought this morning and finally think I have my own answer – Local search is not even 20% solved. There are still so so many things I cannot get online right now, and still there are so so many places across the US that local search leaves much to be desired. This is my brief answer, because if I were to expand on this it’d go on forever. In a nutshell, I still cannot find what I need online. Period, plain as that. I still cannot find businesses that I’m often looking for (yesterday, as a matter of fact) and I certainly cannot find local products at these local retailers. Local search may be much more “solved” in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, maybe more than 20%, but certainly not solved in 90% of the rest of the populated areas. Local search is still very much a frustrating experience that leaves much to be desired. We’re not even close.

  9. Neil Street Says:

    Matthew Berk wrote:
    “Worse, for the local business, participation in the local result set is not only far beyond their control (show me a plumber effectively competing with YellowBot or Yelp on Google), but a consumer’s very decision-making process is mediated by the sites that control the most content about that business (the review aggregators). This state of affairs is an artifact of the SEO game, in which the plumber can’t hope to compete against the aggregators, often even for specific name and location searches.”

    To which I have to say, excuse me? What on earth are you talking about?

    If I may substitute “caterer” for “plumber” (a reasonable substitution, I hope), and search in Google for “caterer, Westport, Connecticut” here are the results (verified by SEOMoz RankChecker to avoid personalization issues):

    the #1 organic result is canteringcaterer.com, the # 2 is canteringcaterer.com/blog, and the #7 result is the Cantering Caterer’s Facebook page. That’s 3 out of 10 on page 1 of Google for this local business, which I am very familiar with because he is a client of mine.

    Far from not being able to “compete against the aggregators”, he is whupping their butts. The same search shows gatheringguide.com (an aggregator at # 3; another real local caterer at # 4, Yahoo Yellow Pages at # 5; Decidio.com, a vertical aggregator at #6, showing my client’s listing; Yahoo! local at # 8; hospitality.kellysearch.com, an aggregator, at # 9, also showing my client’s listing; a vertical aggregator at # 10.

    By holding the # 1 and 2 spot, this shows that an organically well-optimized local business website can still outperform the aggregators. This, IMO, is because Google prefers to list a local business, if the site is well-optimized, above an aggregator. If the local site is well-optimized, it can also be the site that is the focus of the aggregator result! Upshot: in this example, a well-optimized site has no less that 5 out of the top 10 listings.

    Local search results are from from solved. They are full of garbage. But to say that a local business has no chance against the aggregators, as Berk seems to be saying, is flat-out incorrect. What a local business usually should do is get some good old-fashioned SEO going on their site, and they will do really well in local search. This has been true for many years, and is still true today.

    The biggest problem on the horizon for local businesses is not aggregators. It is the upcoming new offering from Google, of some sort of specialized “sponsorship” paid clicks, which will reduce the amount of organic space that shows to the user. Google of course is not really interested in the user experience as much as it is interested in putting more money in its pocket. But the page will be really crowded with paid ads, and that will make it harder for local SEO to work so well.

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks for all these comments, I’ll be presenting them as part of a panel discussion in London tomorrow.

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  12. Cory Forsyth Says:

    There’s also more to local search than just locating businesses and products. Local search for news has a lot to offer as well. For instance, when I see a bunch of police cars with their sirens on rushing down the street to a building, I would like to be able to search news about that building to see what happened there.

    Same goes for local but not recent news, for example: How much crime has happened on my block in the last two years?

    • Ben Saren Says:

      Cory, I couldn’t agree more. Local Search historically and traditionally implies the local business/market opportunity. That definition is going to change, if it isnt already, it has to. There’s SO much more to “local” than just businesses. Any new definition has yet to also imply a business or market opportunity.

  13. Greg Sterling Says:

    Cory:

    There are local crime stats on sites such as Everyblock.

  14. Greg Sterling Says:

    But there’s almost no way for a single product to offer everything in local that we all want. It’s a question of priorities and emphasis.

    • Martin Lawrence Says:

      I agree. Unless, of course, local search fragments into disparate applications for individual target-groups.

      I think it is not improbable that, in the coming years, we will see Local Search apps for teenagers, young urban professionals, road warriors and housewives.

  15. Greg Sterling Says:

    Martin:

    I agree that the demographic approach is very interesting. There are a number of local sites that slant toward women, including Center’d.

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