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Perry Evans, CEO of Local Matters, took the stage with Neal Polachek today at Local Online Media: London 08, to sift through some of the key issues in the quickly changing local search environment.

Evans, as one of the ground-floor leaders of MapQuest in a former life, took a product innovation focus in looking at where search engines and IYPs need to go to be more effective at attracting users and delivering leads to local advertisers.

Plotting the Course

Mapping, for one, is growing in importance in local search, as it’s inherently tied to local. But Evans contends that mapping should be looked at as less of a core function to single destinations and more of a value-added addition to many. As this happens, sites like MapQuest become less relevant, or commoditized, unless they focus on particular niches or use cases (driving directions, for example).

On mapping, Evans also agreed that Google has seen growth in mapping as a result of increasing screen real estate in Google SERPs devoted to local results (partially related to the larger universal search trend). This was most recently seen by the increase to 10 local results for searches that are determined by Google bots to be local. Essentially, this augments direct navigation traffic to Google Maps with a larger front door through Google-proper searches.

User sophistication is also growing to include geographic modifiers, quotes and other things in search queries. This refines searches and makes it easier for Google to determine local intent — and in turn provide more of these local-heavy SERPs (IP targeting could also be integrated in the future).

Think Social, Act Local

Evans also spent some time on social media, picking up where the previous panel left off (more on that later). The opportunity is clearly there to integrate social (user reviews) with local, though some of the conflicts with existing objectives have made it a bone of contention for many IYPs.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, the SEO benefits are clear to have keyword rich content generated from users throughout business profile pages. This SEO factor becomes more important as Google takes most of its “above the fold” SERP real estate off the table through the blended local results referenced above.

“Consumers are really becoming espoused of local reviews,” Evans said. “It’s a mistake not to grab this content from users and exploit it.”

Universal Appeal

The morphing of search engine result pages was also explored. But beyond the tiring universal search discussion, Evans added another layer to the discussion. The conceptual “third page of search” could be a more meaningful way to branch out into vertically oriented content networks that are more tied in with search results.

“We’re a long way from satisfying consumer need in the ways we should, and in supplying quality leads to advertisers,” he said. “The second page will be there one way or another and the question is, being there one layer down.”

These experiences could also extend lead generation capabilities more meaningfully to the offline world to support the inefficiencies of service industries, Evans posited. This could include integrating tighter communication with dispatched service professionals, for example.

So a plumbing outfit with employees out in the field can supply its service schedule to an ad tool that automatically generates promotions in the neighborhoods where there are existing appointments. On the advertiser end this would involve a twitter-like system to inform dispatched professionals of dynamically scheduled nearby appointments. If scaled up to a certain level, this could equal big savings and operational efficiencies.

“There is currently no advertising media that support this, but it could be a big opportunity,” said Evans.

Getting Agnostic

A more multimedia-focused sales channel has been discussed a great deal today and is a growing topic overall for publishers to capture a bigger piece of shifting online ad dollars. The oft-discussed opportunity exists for publishers to utilize existing relationships with small businesses to be trusted providers of search-based advertising.

This is a particularly notable opportunity for publishers if you look at the paradox of choice facing SMBs, which Evans compared to the early days of ISP competition that bombarded would-be internet users with a dizzying array of subscription options.

“There is so much noise that comes with all of the choices for online and search-based advertising that it becomes disorienting for the small business,” he says. “The friendly known rep, if they come to the table, can trump all of these options.”

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