The Internet has opened the door to a huge global audience for any organization advertising products or services. But what if your target audience is a local one? Two of the most popular Internet search engines have developed tools that give online visitors the ability to perform local searches, so they can find exactly what they’re looking for nearby.
Google has developed a local search service within its Google Maps feature that presents visitors with not only a map, but also a link to local businesses. Most people are already familiar with Google Maps; you simply type in an address to see the location on a map. You can switch the map to a satellite view or a street map, or a hybrid showing both views together. Now, thanks to Google’s local search feature, there is a “Find businesses” link at the top of the page. Clicking this link takes you to a text field where you can type in the name or type of business you’re looking for. For example, you could type in “hair salon” or “pizza parlor” and click the Search button. Advertisements matching your search terms will appear in the left column.
Using Google’s local search tool is simple, as long as you ensure that you use Google’s Local Business Center to register your business. Sign up for a Google AdWords account to develop an advertising campaign that is targeted to your specific local area. By setting up this type of campaign, your ad will appear on Google’s search results page whenever customers in your local geographic area search for businesses in your industry, but it won’t be displayed when anyone outside your area searches for the keywords you have bid on. Google’s geo-targeting strategy is quite good, and can help businesses ensure that local customers see their ads.
Yahoo also has a local search service that is integrated into several elements of the Yahoo network, including Yahoo maps, yellow-page listings, user reviews, and user-generated content. According to Yahoo, they have the largest market share of all the online local search destinations on the Internet. Yahoo’s search allows people to enter what they are looking for and where. Yahoo also shows a default list of local content to help users start their searches—favorite restaurant reviews, ads for other local favorite businesses, and solicitations for users to add their own Yahoo Local reviews. The local search experience on Yahoo also includes RSS feeds and links to a variety of local business categories.
Yahoo’s local search results are pretty much the exact opposite of Google’s, because the search results space is mostly devoted to business listings and the displayed map is quite small. As a result, paid ads are more prominently displayed in Yahoo’s results than they are in Google Maps.
However, Yahoo is not as adept at ad targeting as Google is. For instance, when a user searches for a business that is somewhat obscure, Yahoo continues to display paid listings that have nothing to do with the search term. Google’s paid listings are more relevant to the search terms requested, but not always accurate in terms of the location, and the map takes center stage in the search results page.
Marketing using local search targeting is a new strategy that is quickly gaining steam, and the various approaches are still being tried and tested to improve accuracy and usability. Local search tools are available on a number of high-profile sites including MSN, CitySearch, Yelp, Insider Pages, InfoUSA, and Merchant Circle. For small business owners looking to get in on the ground floor of the Local Search market while it is still being developed, now is the time to begin investigating the options available. No one knows yet which of these approaches will be the most successful in the long run, so savvy marketers will begin considering every opportunity and including them in their overall search marketing strategies.