HOS: What's your take on local search?
Ryan: Localization is extremely helpful for small businesses. There are, of course, long, vertical directories of particular businesses, and Yellowpages.com and Superpages. com go a long way to make sure the value proposition is there. Beyond that, there are seemingly thousands of local directory sites that have popped up, created solely to harvest local traffic as best they can and collect ad revenue through searches.
HOS: How do the search engines figure in here?
Ryan: Some people think that search engines will usurp the directories shortly. But if search engines can't figure out local, and the Internet directories have a challenge with search, I think it will eventually result in a combination. Today, search has expanded into three different arenas: search engines that index Web sites; Internet Yellow Pages directories that include local business listings; and now social sites like Twitter that index conversations. All three categories have to come together at some point.
HOS: How is local search a benefit in the b-to-b world?
Ryan: Any marketer has to identify audience segments. In this category, there are many b-to-b companies with an intense local focus, such as professional services companies from accountants to zoologists and everything in between. Here, the local consultant must target and be found by specific types of businesses.
One of the top-spending verticals is the legal industry, and these people spend a fair amount of money branding themselves online and making sure they're reachable. Others, such as management consultants, are not necessarily limited to a specific geography but want to be perceived as local and be designated as a local expert.
HOS: A strong local search program also must be adept at making fine distinctions among specializations, right?
Ryan: Sure. There are the management consultants who specialize in marketing, but they're not to be confused with the ones who focus on intellectual property marketing. Not to mention that you don't want to confuse intellectual property marketers with intellectual property attorneys. Search, with very precise keyword groups, is essential here.
Marketers also must be aware of markets that might be far afield. For example, if a Seattle company is finding that most of its revenue is coming from Naples, Fla., it has to consider that market segment in its keyword groups.
For all companies, locally specific search usually means cheaper paid search marketing. The more relevant your ad is, the cheaper it will be for you. Both large and small companies are rethinking how they look at this.
HOS: One area of localization that may be overlooked are a company's resellers and channel partners. These must be identified for the local market as well, correct?
Ryan: Yes, and in those instances there isn't really a lot to be lost in testing localization strategies. You can start with a couple of small markets. One thing that is helping is what is known as “blended search,” where search queries return not only a listing of Web sites but also images, news and information, and links to directory listings. One thing is for sure, Internet users are getting more sophisticated in using longer strings of keywords to get local results.
HOS: What does the future hold for local search?
Ryan: Some people think that social media is a ticking time bomb: [that is,] the fine line between thuggish anonymity on one hand and actual credible review sites on the other. People are asking, “Is this information I'm getting credible and free of hyperbole?”
Blend results can help here. For example, often the first result in a search for a local business is the Yelp review site. But marketers shouldn't worry about that or ignore it either. Monitoring what's occurring and what people are saying about you is mission-critical. As a result, we'll see a lot of effort in monitoring the discussions and protecting company and brand credibility.