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Comparing the Big 3 Local Search Products -

Posted on 10.17.2005

Google-local, Yahoo-local and MSN-local

Yes, there are barriers to entry for small businesses interested in local Web marketing and advertising. The companies WSM reviews herein are very focused on attracting more local advertising dollars in the search arena because 1) consumers are increasingly using the Web to find solutions to their needs, and 2) many experts suggest that local paid search will amount to a 2.5 billion dollar market by 2008 – and nobody wants to miss out on that. While there appears to be plenty of room for growth in the local search market, there also appears to be plenty of room (and an obvious need) for educating small local businesses on the benefits of local search advertising.

Schooling Small Business: When it comes to educating small business owners on the value that can be derived from local search marketing, the mistakes many local search providers have made include relying on the same arguments used to sell other marketing solutions – namely, greater exposure for their brand instead of what is really important to small business which is more customers at a lower cost per acquisition. When the providers of local search products can properly express this, the search market may see an influx in the consumers of local advertising solutions. At this point, they have failed to do so. Yes, there are barriers to entry, some technical some simply come down to dollars and cents – but the fact remains that the early adoption of marketing solutions typically leads to a higher return on investment than a delayed adoption.

What are we looking for? We need to alter a suit for the Managing Editor for his debut at the upcoming Ad:Tech show. WSM staffers searched the following three search engines - Google, Yahoo and MSN using their local search offerings and here is what as found.

Google Local: Google serves results based on the users IP address and by looking at search terms – meaning that this is easily the most complex barrier to entry for a small business (figuring out the Google algorithm). Google advertising however enables small businesses to target by region or city so its customized targeting features allow advertisers to indicate where their business is located - either with a postal addresses or latitude and longitude information. The results: Fifty percent of the results came from superpages.com (offers a free listing and opportunities to visually enhance listings, add categories, expand geographic area and improve placement to the top of a category), thirty percent from citysearch.com (pay for performance clicks and pay for performance calls) and twenty percent from hellochicago.com (of the popular HelloMetro.com network - listings available for ten dollars per month).

Yahoo Local: Yahoo features a very robust local search and local search advertising solution. While some of the information is provided by InfoUSA, local advertisers can list their sites for free or pay ten dollars for an enhanced listing which provides a unique domain name, an advertising free site, flexible design tools and 24-hour support. When searching for alterations in our area code using Yahoo’s local search product, surfers were able to sort by distance, name and ratings provided by other local users. Results from Yahoo! Local were preceded by sponsored listings from Overture (Yahoo! Search Marketing) so if you're not pleased with the traffic you are receiving you can pay (through a bid for placement arrangement) for premium position.

MSN Local: MSN Search Local product is still in Beta and for good reason - there is simply no way to see more information about a particular site, review ratings or any of the like provided - which in that respect it is most like Google Local without the links to outside web pages or websites. MSN Local did provide driving directions and an immediate phone number. With the pending mass release of MSN's advertising platform, there may be quite a few developments in the works that will appeal to consumers and in turn the advertisers looking for local search solutions.

Opportunities Currently Presented With Local Search: There is a lot of discussion about local search and for good reason - there is still an enormous amount of room for growth. What we found was that the barriers to entry for a small business are relatively low but the results generated from local search have yet to be expressed correctly to advertisers or the consumers of that advertising and marketing. Of the big three, only Yahoo! is actively providing a service for website owners to generate some attention within a business owner’s local area for free. Getting in to the Google Local side is just as difficult as their natural listings unless you pay for placement on the sites they have indexed for their local products. MSN is so far behind the other two that they might just want to start over from scratch. When it comes to a cost/benefit analysis of local search products for small local businesses if you have a few dollars to test out various Web marketing methods, give it a try. Otherwise, you may want to wait until there is a little more competition in the market so that you are really getting only what you pay for.

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