Marchex Aims To Lead Local Search, Launches 100,000 Sites

Search and media company Marchex adds more than a billion Web pages to its content network today as it officially launches more than 100,000 vertical and local Web sites--taking aim at the top spot of the lucrative, but highly fragmented local search market.

Pages with titles such as newyorkdining.com and seattleinsurance.com include business and service listings complete with maps, user-generated ratings and expert reviews--content aggregated by Marchex's Open List publishing technology. In addition to crossing some 20,000 Yellow Pages categories, the launch also includes ZIP code Web sites like 90210.com, covering every state in the U.S.

Though the sites include sidebar space for sponsored text and display ads, the local information is "organic and constantly updated," said Matthew Berk, lead search architect, Marchex. "Open List content doesn't come from advertisers, and it can change based on how users configure it." The company is also launching a new rating system on the sites called, "I Like It," that allows users to rate and sort business listings with one click.

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According to local search analysts, the difference between Marchex's local content network and traditional "direct navigation sites" is the quality and depth of available information. Users can drill down local searches based on relevant criteria such as price or cuisine for restaurants, and vehicle type or neighborhood for auto repair.

"With so much deep content, their network has both user retention and SEO benefits," said Mike Boland, senior analyst, The Kelsey Group. "Users come back because they find good information and search engines have more data to crawl."

"There's an industry-wide realization that a vast majority of consumer transactions are beginning with online research and ending with off-line purchases," Boland added, so advertisers are shifting toward finding local channels that will lead those off-line conversions.

While research firms like The Kelsey Group have predicted the local search market to boom to $2.6 billion in four years, no clear local search leader has emerged. The search giants have tweaked their algorithms to include more local search listings, but can't afford to sacrifice the scope of their crawls for the level of detail that vertical and local search provide.

Internet Yellow Pages providers and niche-specific local listings may lead particular categories, but analysts say that overall, the market fragmentation is a boon to consumers and advertisers alike. "The competition encourages innovation from companies like Marchex," said Boland. "New features get rolled out, content providers experiment with functionality, and it all serves to benefit the user experience and the ad sales model as a whole."

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