I started this series on Local Search by discussing the current state of the technologies, content, and user experience. For Local Search to become a significant business, like paid keyword search, much needs to change.
Google dominates the business of keyword search because they started with a great search service… easy to use, lots of content, and relevant results. At the time, the basic service stood out starkly, in a sea of busy portals, plastered with banner ads. Google.com hasn’t changed much, since those early days, other than through the introduction of AdWords. Users flocked to the service, and advertisers ultimately found the audience. Of course, Overture helped a lot by pioneering the paid search, pay-per-click business model, and showing the advertising industry how they could sponsor search results.
A important enabler of the search industry is often taken for granted. In Web 1.0, millions of web site owners took the time, and spent money to register their domain name & IP address (organized around a virtual “place” in the web) and to publish content, in a public, standardized format, so Google could index it. In a similar fashion, millions of users have created or published content on YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, and FaceBook, to fuel the Web 2.0 phenomena.
Currently, local content publishers like Yellow Pages, Newspapers and Zagat Review are still part of the “deep web” with content in structured databases or locked behind password protected sites, where search engines can’t find it. More importantly, there is currently no standard way to index, organize, retrieve and integrate this information to enable holistic search based on location context.
In keyword search, the user gets a ranking of URLs (and ads) related to his search topic and can then click through to the web site, for more information. In Local Search, the user wants relevant results from a what? – where? query, and be one click away from a business profile, a coupon, recent news, events, location specific data (hours of operation, contact information), nearby amenities (parking, ATM), reviews, and other content about a specific place of interest. The web is simply not organized this way, and there is no precedent for a single media company being able to acquire, integrate and organize globally distributed content sources, to power such an experience.
Local content and ad creation and placement are a massively fragmented and distributed businesses. As such, a viable business in paid local search will require a platform and web service that enables the publishers to syndicate their content on a similarly massive scale. More importantly, it must be fed with user generated content, like Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 and user driven context encoding.
The technologies are emerging, in RSS, Microformats, XML, Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Services, and database objects, to enable content to be physically distributed, but dynamically integrated (mashed up) in an application experience. Currently, a gap exists, related to universal standards for encoding location, and other types of context. For this to work in practice, the context must be encoded in the content.
For location context, as we have discussed in a prior post… we believe that this content needs to be organized and indexed around the paradigm of place – not simply using GeoTags (lat/long coordinates), with push pins, which results in unstructured content cluttering up all those pretty web maps.