Citysearch’s Compelling Revamp


Citysearch has just completed a full revamp of its product and strategy that it hopes will position it in the long-term battle for local. Elements of the revamp include a more intuitive interface, an embrace of social media, a major focus on video, some new twists in mobile, and the development of a full-fledged local ad and content network that offers an alternative to Google’s dominant position.

The IAC company’s current ambitions are to be “more local, more social and slicker,” says President Jay Herratti. “We are defensible with our breadth and depth of content. But we can’t grow unless we grow search at the local level.” All the efforts in online and mobile are geared toward achieving such growth.

Open APIs are especially emphasized as a key way to open the service to anybody who wants to tap into Citysearch’s deep editorial content, reviews and small-business information. Sites like Urbanspoon aren’t pure competitors, says Herratti. “We always try to power them. If their success is great, we’ll make money from that.”

A related piece of the puzzle is the launch of Open IDs, as well as dedicated MySpace and Facebook Connect apps. The Facebook Connect app, in particular, will enable users to develop a friends circle, based on their Facebook profile information. “It gives them a portable identity,” says Herratti. The problem with user-generated content is that people intend to publish their reviews, but in the end, eight of 10 reviews don’t get up there,” he says. The open IDs replace earlier efforts to register users, which typically resulted in 95 percent drop-off of users.

As for the new interface, Citysearch has focused on highlighting its breadth of content and converting shoppers into buyers. In this regard, the new version’s biggest innovation is a compelling breakdown of small-business information into “owner,” “editorial” and “user” comments.

The latter, which have been enhanced by the addition of Insider Pages in 2007, will begin featuring selected reviews to get away from the information overload of 200 to 300 reviews that are common in certain categories. While some sites suffer from review ghost towns, in Citysearch’s case, there has often been too much of a good thing, especially for restaurants and bars.

The breakdown of editorial comments should also help with search. Google already drives 50 percent of all the site’s usage. Citysearch’s extensive network accounts for roughly 25 percent, and its URLs account for the remaining 25 percent.

The site is also moving away from measuring distances from businesses in the maddening “point radius” configuration, which tells users they are “X” miles away from a business (but doesn’t really know where the user actually is). The new system uses Vermont-based Maponics to break neighborhoods into polygonal neighborhoods. The new focus on neighborhood information should also drive additional “long tail” searches that could drive more advertising revenues.

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