While local search is a growing niche in the search industry, the reality isn't quite matching up to users expectations...at least not according to an article published yesterday in ClickZ. The article cites research conducted by the Kelsey Group and Constat that aims to rate users satisfaction levels for different types of media when it comes to providing local shopping information. Search engines ranked second in terms of satisfaction, but still managed to please just 39% of respondents. That shows that the industry has a long way to go.

The satisfaction levels for each type of media were as follows:

  • Newspapers: 45%
  • Internet search engines: 39%
  • Online shopping sites: 16%
  • Internet yellow pages: 15%
  • Local newspaper sites: 11%
  • Online message boards: 5%

What's disappointing is that despite the investments poured into local search by top engines like Yahoo! and Google, the Internet search engine satisfaction rate of 39% is the same that it was last year, meaning that despite the new offerings, users aren't finding it any easier to get what they want.

Neal Polachek, SVP of research and consulting at the Kelsey Group explains one theory for this issue in the ClickZ article. "I think there's probably been an 18- to 24-month window where the product side of this thing has developed very well," said Polachek. "Yahoo! has a great local search product. Google is pretty good. But what's underneath all this stuff isn't as good as it can be or should be yet. When I say what is underneath, I mean the data."

Polachek makes a good point and it's something that I've noticed in my own local searches. While I've been extremely impressed with Yahoo!'s new system of mixing user generated reviews with maps and business listings, the reality is that the content just isn't there yet. Until enough users flock to these systems with the willingness to take the time to write their own reviews, the technology isn't going to mean a whole lot to most searchers. After all, what good would Amazon be if there wasn't enough data there to make a book suggestion? Who would visit a comparison shopping engine if there wasn't any data to compare?

That means that the search engine's next question might not be "what technology do we offer now?" Instead, they might need to start asking "how do we attract the user generated content?"

When Yahoo! first launched their new local search interface, they ran a contest that awarded prizes to top reviewers. Other engines have tried similar stunts to drive interest from consumers, but the reality is that users will have to come because they want to, not just because a company wants them to.

Some of the responsibility for fleshing out local search also lies with business owners themselves. I still find myself almost constantly frustrated when I try to check out a local restaurant online. It takes very little time to scan a menu in and create a PDF, yet very few local restaurants have any type of menu online. Even basic information like whether credit cards are accepted, what the price range is and what the level of dress is would go a long way toward satisfying a local searcher, yet few local businesses take the time to make sure that even the most basic data is offered up on the major search engines.

I'm not sure where the solution to this problem lies, other than to say it's with the consumers. I guess that means the greater issue isn't where the problem lies, but how to incentivize the right people into solving the problem.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 28, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Local Search Still Not Cutting the Mustard