Meeting customer needs with local search

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Meeting customer needs with local search
Meeting customer needs with local search

Historically, Internet yellow pages providers have been category-based providers of local listings, while search engines return mass Web results. Today, we are at an intersection where consumers are searching for more local content, regardless of whether it's through an IYP or search engine.

According to Forrester Research, Google might dominate Internet search from both the consumer and advertising perspectives, but it's far from being a leader in the highly fragmented local search market, where different players are emerging as leaders for different types of local search and at various points in the buying process.

A search engine will provide results of businesses that have a Web site, whereas as an IYP will deliver results for all local small businesses with or without a Web site. Search engines have started to be more inclusive with the results they are providing, but they still lack the local sales force and the comprehensive business listings that IYPs offer.

The goal is to determine how IYPs and local search providers can meet consumers' needs.

Current consumer needs fall at the intersection of IYPs and local search, and the winners in local search will find a way to adapt to those needs. But how can providers offer a locally focused site that has rich content, where the consumer experience is personalized without expecting the user to login, also provide results relevant to them? Some examples of how IYPs and online providers are starting to address those needs, include user-generated content and mass personalization.

User reviews are the vehicles on Web sites such as Yelp.com and Angie's List that enable users to comment on products, services and experiences. In 2005, 76 percent of Web shoppers said they used product reviews when they shopped online.

Superpages.com began offering user reviews in 2005 to enhance local content surrounding service- based businesses.

User reviews are an extension of word-of-mouth marketing and, when read by consumers, help drive a consumer's buying decision.

Personalization features provide consumers the opportunity to tailor the local site to their tastes and preferences. It simply means localizing the home page to the user's home location or remembering their last viewed theaters, apartments and bridal shops, where localized sites can then offer movies, movers and florists, respectively, upon a return visit. Customizing the content provides the user with a more personalized experience and a reason to come back to the site.

Consumers are not always motivated to personalize sites they visit. Less than 10 percent of online consumers personalized non-portal sites, according to Forrester. Registration also poses problems for collecting content. When writing reviews, a portion of reviewers do not complete the task when asked to register or login. Mass personalization enables a site to tailor results to consumers without requiring registration.

Consumers are searching for more local content from online providers, and bringing together user-generated content and personalization helps meet their needs and make buying decisions easier. At the intersection of IYP and local search, traditional players are constantly evolving, adapting and innovating.

Robyn Rose is vice president of marketing at Idearc Media Group's Superpages.com, Dallas. Reach her at robyn.rose@idearc.com.

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