Recently, we’ve seen a deluge of forecasts about massive financial opportunities associated with the growth of local search and local advertising. Whether you’re a company in the Internet search space, a yellow-pages directory, or a niche player, it is indeed tempting to get overly focused on how to earn your piece of the local search pie.
None of the forecasts mean anything, though if we as an industry don’t first take care of the local consumer. As basic as it may sound, the caveat that you cannot serve advertisers well without first serving your consumers holds especially true in local search.
Providing useful, current, relevant and well-organized content and data is not a luxury, but a necessity. Both consumers and advertisers will always value these traits when considering local online destinations.
In the coming weeks, some colleagues and I will be writing about what we believe are the important issues in local search, covering matters that impact consumers and, ultimately, advertisers.
For starters, let’s look at the notion that “more is better,” especially when it comes to sheer volume of local content.
Consider user-generated content as just one example. While the idea of enriching sites with community is certainly not new, there has been an intensifying buzz about the existing and potential applications of user-generated content to local search, whether we are talking about restaurant, hotel, and entertainment reviews or a local perspective on who the best dentist in Seattle might be.
In and of itself, user-generated content is not the silver-bullet many have made it out to be. While it is absolutely a very efficient way to generate content about local businesses and services, there are pitfalls that may be overlooked in the clamor to see who has the most.
First, sheer volume can overwhelm a consumer. For a popular local business, you can sometimes find many dozens of user-generated reviews and ratings. But at the end of the day, users simply want to make informed decisions. Few of us have the time or inclination to sift through tons of reviews.
Second, keeping current is critical. We often find dated user reviews in the marketplace that have been publicly, and at times prominently, available for years. There is also plenty of turnover in businesses, making it important that any content, whether traditional or user-generated, be reflective of reality in the marketplace.
Finally, staying focused and relevant is key. Reviews should be about the businesses more than the reviewer. If the topic at hand is a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to find a user saying they hate fish, instead of reviewing the quality of the meal at the restaurant. And reviews can veer further off-course, going from talking about a celebrity sighting at or near a restaurant to a discussion about that celebrity’s best or worst movies. User generated content? Yes. Truly relevant to the local searcher? Probably not.
The goal is not content for the sake of content. The goal is content that helps consumers make better decisions. Keeping content useful, current, and relevant creates value for the consumer. There have been noteworthy approaches, such as aggregating content from trusted sources, which gives the consumer a unified, holistic view, and gives content providers valuable distribution. And there have been interesting advances in managing the volume of content, such as review-summary features on sites like Hotels.com and the Open View technology we recently unveiled on Open List. In both, technology intelligently analyzes the breadth of content and provides a concise paragraph integrating key items from user and editorial reviews. There remains a lot more work to do in this area, especially as additional content types such as video join the mix. The progress will be interesting to track.
In the months to follow, we will expand on other topics relevant to the local search marketplace, such as how better decision tools (and a better experience) for consumers yield richer and more targeted opportunities for advertisers. The trick is getting consumers to come back to your site because they want to, not just because they need to.
Chris Linnett is director of Open List for Marchex. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.