Local Search

Andy Beal chats with Arnaud Fischer, previously AltaVista product manager from 1999-2001 and currently leading search product planning for InfoSpace’s Search & Directory division. Excerpts:

Inktomi, Google, and others already serve country-specific search results today and geo-targeting at a more granular level will unlock a tremendous amount of value for local advertisers, in addition to serving more relevant content to end-users. The traditional yellow pages market is roughly a $25 billion a year global industry. Many small businesses are awakening to the efficiency and predictability of online marketing, increasingly shifting marketing budgets to Web search and Internet yellow pages. Unlocking that opportunity is no easy task, though.

Search engines are developing ways to disambiguate and adequately address location-specific queries. Geo-targeting Web search content, both organic and paid, requires search engines to better understand users and queries, inferring local intent by extracting geo-signals and leveraging implicit and explicit user profiles. Taking local search marketing services to market is also very different than selling paid listings to online businesses. The vast majority of local businesses still don’t have a Web site, nor the time and expertise to invest in managing sophisticated auction-type listing campaigns.

Sending local content such as yellow page listings, directions, maps and business ratings to mobile devices just makes sense. I remember looking up on my cellular phone the nearest ice-cream parlor from the park a couple years ago with my kid. It worked! The experience was far from optimal, though, scrolling through about 10 to 15 screens I could barely read. Personalization features, geo-based services, faster networks, better handset resolution and color displays should significantly improve the experience over time. The navigation schema, whether search or browse modes, will be critical to make cellular phones a viable platform for both end-users and IYP advertisers. About 90% of mobile phones will be Web-enabled by 2006, making it a more attractive platform for content providers, developers, and information architects to invest time on.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.