Commentary

The Semantics Of Local Search

Consumers are performing nearly two billion locally targeted searches each month, representing over 25% of total monthly Web searches. That number is likely to grow, given that local search is estimated to become a $25 billion dollar industry by 2017.

These statistics highlight that accessible, accurate, comprehensive and relevant business listing content on local search engines is fundamental to increasing online local search consumer adoption.

While listings accuracy is an obvious necessity for business information being displayed on local search engines, business owners and marketing executives may not yet have embraced the concept of comprehensive listing content as it applies to local search -- many are still primarily focused on traditional website optimization and paid search. A few years back, consumers turned primarily to the Yellow Pages to find local business information. Using this method, the products and services they were looking for were only identifiable through rigid categories. Today, that couldn't be further from the case.

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Where Yellow Pages queries are category or headings driven, online consumers are free to search for answers to specific problems not just by business category. A consumer searching online for a plumber in San Francisco for instance, might type in "leaky faucet Oakland," instead of "plumber San Francisco."

While "leaky faucet Oakland" may be a difficult query for search engines to answer, imagine the consumer's frustration when searches like these turn up inaccurate, or worse, no results. The expectation of accuracy on local search engines is often higher than in general search, because most consumers performing local searches are intent on buying, or at minimum, are conducting research before making a purchase. According to comScore, nearly 90% of people will research online and buy offline. In fact, the trend is so popular that it was recently coined, "ROBO," (Research Online Buy Offline) by Yahoo's GM of Local, Frazier Miller at SMX Local & Mobile.

ROBO is changing consumers' definition of "window-shopping." Now the Internet is becoming the vantage point through which consumers gauge the retail landscape, and if a business is identifiable in local search engines through only its name or category, it is not going to be found by the things that make it truly unique. In order to appear in organic local search engine results (the storefront's virtual window), businesses must optimize for local search engines differently, focusing not just on their name brand, but instead on all the brands they carry, as well as all their services offered and much more.

Let's take a golfer, for example, searching for a PING putter in Elmhurst, Illinois. A ready-to-buy consumer with a tee-time scheduled for the next day enters "PING putter Elmhurst, IL" into the search box. Because the search site he used was able to tie the words "PING" and "putter" to a generalized category of "sporting goods" the results display the nearest sporting goods retail stores. He hops in his car and drives to the first store on the list, only to find that the PING brand is not carried there. He gets back in his car and returns home frustrated and determined to find the Ping brand in his area through another search medium, perhaps the Yellow Pages. The end result of this experience is that the consumer's time has been wasted, and the local pro shop that actually carries the PING brand missed out because they only optimized around their primary category of "golf stores."

Another great case study could be done on Crocs Shoes. Consumers have learned that you get what you ask for so a sensible way to start the search for Crocs Shoes would be to use the brand name alongside with a local geo-modifier.

However, in this instance Crocs aren't generally sold at category-specific shoe stores, they are sold at lumberyards, airports, grocery stores and even at the Lincoln Park Zoo. This is a perfect example of the limitations on category specific-searches. If each of these types of businesses only focused on their assigned local search engine category as opposed to the keywords that differentiate them, they would miss out on attracting active buyers who are looking for the very products and services they offer; in this case Crocs Shoes.

It is essential to the success of any business that the keywords that describe the products and services offered are identified and propagated in local search engine listings and to as many local search directories as possible. Optimizing in this way is a simple practice in gaining a competitive advantage and is critical to local search engine presence, as consumers are no longer simply searching through a pre-determined set of categories.

If a list of businesses appears in a local search engine query result for a product or service that you offer, and your business isn't listed, your competitor just won an active buyer. Through local search engines, consumers are asking questions first so businesses must keyword optimize both their web sites and their local search listings so that they become the providers of the answers.

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