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Local Search Finally Living Up To Its Promise

Nearly a decade ago, I believed in the power and promise of locally focused Web sites and applications. Back then, I was COO of About.com and in hindsight can say that I was a bit ahead of market adoption, to say the least! We ended up pretty successfully focusing on interest-based sites that became all the rage as the Internet “verticalized.”

This article is part of Local Search Week here at Search Engine Land, a special look at local search marketing issues in the run-up to our SMX Local & Mobile conference next month.

But today, plenty of research tells us that online consumers are now using the Internet to make local decisions more than most other applications, except maybe email. So it’s now pretty clear that the time for local is finally and really upon us.

Specific estimates vary widely, but there is a broadening consensus that the local opportunity is one that will be measured in the many billions of dollars—and that even more fundamentally, local will be an important driver associated with the growth of online advertising. Comparing today with a decade ago, when the market and advertiser readiness was nascent, a consistent realization is setting in that this local thing is for real and will arrive faster than people expect!

As more people and companies get involved, it is fun to see many familiar names and faces in the local space today, such as Search Engine Land’s own Chris Sherman: Chris and I crossed paths years ago, as he was the original About.com Guide for Web Search, a position he was obviously well qualified for. Now, years later, I find myself contributing to Chris’s new venture!

Nonetheless, I was very pleased to learn that Search Engine Land decided to dedicate a full week to examining the area of local, on top of its regular Locals Only column. Whether a sheer timing coincidence or not, Marchex just released its own 12-page report, Unlocking the Potential of the Local Internet that’s been long in development and deals exclusively with the local opportunity.

I wanted now to share some findings from the survey to whet your appetite and then I’ll let you jump into the rest of the details on your own time. Specifically we detail that:

1) The consensus is that local online advertising revenue is expected to grow five times to more than $25 billion per year within ten years.

2) No one has really yet created a truly comprehensive local information portal. This frankly is surprising as the opportunity is so large.

3) Plenty of companies are scrambling to harness different segments of this still emerging market, whether industry giants like Google and Yahoo!, directories like YellowPages.com, or more niche focused players, such as Judy’s Book. Despite everything that’s been under development in the local online space, I am convinced that the best days for local search and online advertising are clearly yet to come.

4) We conclude that companies who want to have large-scale success in local search will need to have three basic characteristics:

  • They will own a critical mass of locally focused traffic and a critical mass of local advertisers, either directly or through partnerships.
  • 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, Nebraska as it is to find a great restaurant in New York City.
  • It will be important to offer a flexible variety of products and services for local small- to medium-sized 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.

There are many other area of the report, including some concise and easy-to-reference charts detailing many of the major players in local search and local online advertising. Feel free to dig in further on your own.

This time for local is finally upon us. I am sure you will agree with me that it will be worth the long wait.

Bill Day is chief media officer for Marchex.

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