Local search is a great opportunity for marketers: Marchex

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Companies that want to have large-scale success in local search will need to have three basic characteristics: a mass of locally focused traffic and advertisers, comprehensive local content, and a flexible variety of products and services, according to a study conducted by Marchex.

"This is an exciting time for marketers interested in local, as it will be a key driver in the overall growth of online advertising," said Mark Peterson, vice president of public relations at Marchex. "The local opportunity is real and is upon us now."

Companies need to own a critical mass of locally focused traffic and a critical mass of local advertisers, either directly or through partnerships.

Next, they will need to provide comprehensive local content and information across all locales, meaning that it would be just as easy for consumers to find a licensed locksmith in Lincoln, NE, as it is to find a great restaurant in New York.

Finally, it will be important for leaders in local search to offer a flexible variety of products and services for local small- to medium-size business (SMB) advertisers, as they are becoming more sophisticated about local search and will need the same sorts of products and services that larger national advertisers can leverage, such as analytics services and pay-per-phone call and call tracking capabilities.

Whatever the approach, there are four essential variables that local information sites can manipulate: content, data, search and functionality. How a site deals with each variable is what defines the consumer experience it offers and can ultimately affect its success.

The problem consumers have with local search is that the content is usually highly fragmented across a myriad of sites and is not optimized for decision making.

As a result, consumers often have to visit several sites to gather the specific information they need to make an informed decision about offline services.

"Bringing this wealth of content together can benefit users by unifying the process and reducing the time spent researching," the report says. "To this end, local search destinations are augmenting their content strategies with third-party content in the form of trusted expert reviews and user reviews and ratings, with photos and video, and by encouraging local businesses to update and enhance their own business listings."

This contributes to more robust content in a central location.

As the Internet continues to evolve as a growing source of local information, so will the size and composition of local advertising.

A profitable local search business model can be taken from general search, the study found.

In the general search market, Google and Yahoo emerged because they were able to build a mass of traffic and advertisers.

There are dozens of local traffic or local content companies, dozens of technology providers, dozens of local agencies and local aggregators.

"We believe that in the end only a small number of relevant local companies will remain," the study said.

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