Local search is still a fundamentally crummy experience

Paul Kedrosky had a good post last weekend illustrating his frustration with site spammers continuing to jam Google’s organic search results.  I have a similar frustration with local products and services in Google’s (and just about anybody else’s) results.  Local search, in my opinion, is still a big fat fail.  I recently re-discovered this as I was looking for a local business to repair a cracked window pane.

Kedrosky notes that content spammers are the culprit for mucking up organic results for the search he was making for dishwashers.  My gripe is different and involves the paid side of the page.  Very often paid local search results will yield national intermediaries whose only purpose is to take your contact info and pass it along to a local merchant in your area.  And often, their keyword bidding is so bad that they are bidding on areas where they can’t even provide a referral. (inevitably, the user finds this out only after providing their contact information).

The net result is wasted money for the advertiser (from the paid click), an awful experience for the user, and a strategic vulnerability for the major search engines if someone else can finally crack this tough nut.

I like Yelp and use it to read reviews about stores and restaurants, but it also wasn’t much help in my search for a window repair specialist.  In fact, it gave me not a single location in Manhattan.  I finally found someone using Google, but I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t have gotten better, broader, and faster results from – clutch your mouse – a phone book.

Selling local advertising is hard.  Really hard.  It generally takes “feet on the street” or an incredibly competent “dialing for dollars” team, and your advertising model has to work with the assumption of very high customer churn and relatively low revenue per signed contract.  You would think that internet advertising would solve a lot of these issues, but we just don’t seem to have done it yet, and the big companies struggle as much as anyone to figure this out.  When I worked in sales strategy at AOL 10 years ago, the local sales team was reorganized at seemingly every full moon.

Companies like yodle are working on this by developing simple, turnkey, scalable systems to get local businesses online. They seem to be growing quickly and I hope they (and similar models) continue to penetrate the local market.  As an end-user of local services, I find this is a market need that is still massively under-served.

6 responses to “Local search is still a fundamentally crummy experience

  1. Agree with you. The problem is that most businesses out there (not only in local search) are only exploiting part of the benefits that Web 2.0 tools offer; namely, broader distribution and lower costs. They are not exploiting relevance. As you say, if I wanted any glass repair shop I could get that faster through a phone book and there would be actually a better chance that the local merchant I find on the phone book is a more reliable one of that I find on the web.
    Peer to peer recommendations, relevance through beahvioural tagging need to be integrated into the search logic to enable better results. That is where we are heading, fast.

  2. Good points, Andrea. I’d also add that there’s value in seeing how a local business describes and represents itself. This is what ends up getting masked by the national intermediaries who often dominate local search results with generic, “lead redistribution” sites. They also drive up keyword costs to levels some local businesses can’t afford. I’d much rather see a simple, 2 page site from “Joe’s window repair” in my neighborhood.

    Interesting about the buzz today surrounding Yahoo & Yelp. I guess the M&A team at YHOO read my blog entry Wednesday and decided to jump into action. 🙂

  3. I think Google acquiring Yelp would be a good deal for both parties. Not a game changer but a very solid deal with potential for growth.
    p.s. You meant to say Google instead of Yahoo or did I miss something big today?

  4. Weird. I swear the story showed up under YHOO’s ticker today as “Yahoo in talks with Yelp”…but now it’s gone. Or, maybe my first cup of coffee just hadn’t kicked in yet. Anyway, looks like GOOG is indeed the buyer.

  5. I wonder why the local search is so hard to get right when it seems like such a simple problem.

  6. Pingback: Smart move by Yahoo to partner with Gannett for local sales « Bits of Kelly

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