The folks over at Yahoo! showed that they care about more than size when they unveiled the new version of Yahoo! Local. The idea was to create a more user-driven set of local content for cities across the United States while taking advantage of Yahoo!'s existing mapping, news and directory content.

The new local pages feature recommendations from other Yahoo! users for local restaurants and businesses and even features listings of local events broken down by areas of town and event type. Other new features include:

  • Most Popular Local Searches - Just below the "search for" box is a listing of the top searches for the week for each local area. Not surprisingly, Columbus's top search was for restaurants. The second most popular term, "thrift stores," reassured me that our sprawling mall complexes haven't left bargain hunters completely behind.
  • Search by Neighborhood - A handy feature that allows you to narrow your search results to your area of town. While I can see how this would be handy, my own local page left out quite a few important "areas" of town. They managed to hit the downtown and the university districts, and even the art district, but their choice of suburbs to list was a little strange. It's still early though, and I imagine that over time, they'll add more options.
  • View Local Info on a Map - Not much different from your standard local search fare these days. search results can be plotted on a map so that you can tell how close you are to the results. The always present option to view traffic maps and a map of Wi-Fi Hotspots is a nice addition though.
  • User Recommended Restaurants - Taking a tip from sites like Amazon, Yahoo! is incorporating user content to help beef up the usefulness of their local search. My own local listings had three excellent suggestions for quality restaurants that are popular here in Columbus. The results are listed based on the number of user reviews, which makes perfect sense.
  • Other Recommended Businesses - The Yahoo! site states that this section is there to help you find " a reliable plumber, a good dry cleaner, and a caring pet sitter" but apparently the folks in Columbus are more concerned with finding a good time. My listings were nothing but links and reviews to nightclubs. Again, it's still early in the process. I wouldn't be surprised to see some more useful suggestions pop up down the road.
  • RSS - Several new RSS feeds look to be pretty handy. You can add the feed for local events, top restaurant reviews or local favorites to your reader and pick up new content from there. My "avoid-chains-at-all-costs" mentality means that I'll likely be adding the top restaurant feed to Bloglines in the hopes of finding some new local joints to check out.
  • Browse by Category - Remember back when Yahoo! was a directory? Did you know that they still were? That's right, Yahoo! still has great directory listings and they are now making use of their regional directory to fill up Yahoo! local. That means that if you've neglected to list your business, you may want to rethink things. If Yahoo! local takes off, it's going to be well worth a few hundred dollars to get your business in front of locals.
  • Other Features - The site will also keep track of your most recent searches and will make suggestions of new businesses, restaurants and events based on those search results.

John Battelle has some great insight on the new offerings in his blog. Among his points are that Yahoo! is wise in its pursuit of consumer-driven content in order to attract local search users. He explains that "Borrowing content from the Yellow Pages (or integrating related - but not connected - content from the broader web) can only take local web search so far. The architecture of participation is what's next."

He's right. While Google did a good job of getting some nice local search relating mapping options out there, it's companies like A9 and Yahoo! that are embracing the idea of TRUE local content. That is, content generated by locals. Sites like CityPages and CitySearch have done a good job of creating localized destination sites that share reviews and insight into the community, but they are lacking the search power that a company like Yahoo! can add to the mix.

The thing that I'm taking away from this new launch is the way that it may impact small businesses and the way that they approach local search engine marketing. There has been a lot of focus recently on local search. How do you target local audiences? PPC? Geotargeting? Localized content? I think the answer is an extension of what many within the industry have been pushing forever: build good content. Give your customers what they are looking for. Not just on your Web site, but through your business. Drawing traffic from a local search site like Yahoo! Local isn't just going to be about buying the right directory listing or bidding on the right PPC term. It's going to be about making your customers happy enough that they want to tell other people about you. You aren't going to buy or optimize your way to the top of these listings. You are going to have to earn your way there.

Isn't that what good small business marketing is all about anyway?

Take a tour of the new version of Yahoo! Local.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

August 18, 2005

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.

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