Donna Bogatin has put a $31 billion value on local search and online classified advertising in the US. Greg Sterling has a thoughtful review of some expert opinions and is less bullish, although the figures are still very high. However he feels that it all turns on the 20 million or so SMEs (small and mid-sized enterprises) and whether their promotional spend will migrate online. Although the infrastructure now exists to bring a substantial number of SMEs into paid search and other forms of online marketing over time, he feels this is being hampered by the ambivalence of the traditional media, which have the most hooks into the local market.
I believe there is a huge pent-up demand here. Current local search methods don’t work very well in either the traditional media or online. Think of your own experience in trying to find some local supplier or restaurant. At its best it’s only passable. Often it’s a frustrating failure.
That’s why there is so much effort on the part of the major search engines to get it right. It’s good to see a new entrant, Ask City, come on the scene. With more competition, there’ll be even more effort put into this, perhaps the most important area for search.
The majors still have a way to go. Here is how Greg Sterling would rank them in terms of overall usability, data, features and functionality:
- Yahoo Local (imperfect but the overall winner; weakness is absence of ratings density)
- Ask City (not as complete as Yahoo Local)
- Google Maps (fast and smart, but lacking in some helpful features)
- Windows Live Local (lots of bells and whistles here but lacking in some basic usability areas)
This is not to say that it’s easy. William Slawski has an interesting post on a Microsoft patent that illustrates the complexity. For example, most searchers for Kentucky Fried Chicken are not looking for it in Kentucky. Such efforts are undoubtedly the smallest tip of the iceberg of effort that is going in to get the winning solution. Donna Bogatin in the earlier reference questioned whether Google would be the winner in this race, and indeed it’s not obvious. Google may be the best at cataloguing the cyber-universe, but that isn’t needed when you come down to local search.