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Local Search Marketing
by Enrique De Argaez - webmaster

A couple of months back local search was considered an important and powerful driver for the paid search market in a very interesting article by Greg Sterling, Managing Editor of The Kelsey Group and local search expert. He mentioned a "mixed message" about search engine marketing out there in the Internet. One message was that paid search growth was starting to slow as the market "matured." The other version was diametrically opposed and stated that search was still in its early adolescence and was going through growing pains, to extend the metaphor.

The following article is a comparison between the reference article and a look at local search evolution today. Greg's complete original article can be found in the Searchenginewatch.com website, further information and stats on local search marketing may be found at www.sempo.org.

Consumer Local Search Usage Is Growing

At a high level there were two principal barriers to SME adoption of geotarged search engine marketing: the perceived lack of local search usage and the complexity of campaign set up and management. Both of those issues have now been addressed—at least in part—and the way is cleared for growth in both consumer and local advertiser adoption, according to Greg Sterling.

Paid search however needs to tap the small business marketplace to fully realize its potential. The central problem is attracting local advertisers to the search marketing arena. Right now it's like a "chicken and egg problem" — not enough local traffic to attract advertisers and not enough local advertising content to attract users. However, data from two rounds of Kelsey Group-BizRate.com consumer surveys, as well as from Nielsen and comScore, show that awareness and usage of local search is growing.

New Kelsey Group-BizRate.com data from a survey of 3,887 online consumers, conducted in early September/2004, on a broad range of shopping and search-related topics revealed the following:

* More than 74 percent of survey respondents said that they had conducted local searches

* Among local search users, 27 percent of their total search behavior is for local information

* Approximately 45 percent of local searches had a buying intent

* The survey also found that 20 percent of all searches among this population are local

By contrast, Nielsen//NetRatings found, in July/2004, that 24.4 percent of searches were local. comScore found, in February, that 61 percent of Internet users conduct local searches, but that local search constitutes 6 percent of total search activity.

Regardless of whose numbers you accept, Sterling points out, consumers' use of the Internet (and search engines in particular) to find local information is growing. That will only continue as search engines add and refine local offerings for consumers. This is now extensive in the three main search engines that exhibit much activity around local search, and many other websites that have embraced local search in their 2005 strategies.

SMEs Now Get It—Conceptually

In one broad sense, states Greg Sterling, the growth associated with local search is simply a reflection of the growth and usage of search engines and, beyond that, the rise of the Internet as a daily utility in people's lives—at least for the broadband set. SMEs are themselves Internet users and are very much aware, if only anecdotally, of the fact that more and more of their customers are online and searching as a way to find products and services is often in the local area.

However there's a gap between this recognition—and even what might be considered a pent up demand for access to online marketing channels—and SME behavior. As mentioned, they haven't boosted or shifted their ad dollars commensurate with their desire to be in front of online consumers.

Kelsey Group-ConStat SME advertising data from June 2004 reflects a 10 percent jump from the same time last year in the perception of the Internet as an important marketing medium. Simultaneously, however, the percentage of SMEs using the Internet as an alternative to traditional media was flat versus last year.

The second barrier to small business adoption of online marketing and search is a little bit of complexity and confusion. Setting up an effective search campaign takes time. There's obviously a learning curve. And that doesn't even get into provisioning a campaign across multiple paid search networks. Even if you're committed to figuring it out, there's potential for confusion and frustration.

In recent research to measure the understanding of online advertising, TKG asked 500 SMEs to rate themselves on a 10-point scale according to their grasp of Internet marketing. Almost 60 percent indicated fairly high levels of confusion about online advertising.

There's tremendous inertia among small businesses and most don't have the time, as a practical matter, to learn about search. SMEs want to be in front of online consumers. But the search engines haven't done a particularly good job of educating SMEs, although they are starting to make much more of an effort. In fairness, this is partly because they don't have a channel into the local market. But that is now changing, courtesy of yellow pages and others.

Local Search versus Yellow Pages

Yellow pages and city guide listings offers to put your business in front of more than 30 million people every month, this is local search right in your own Internet backyard! Whether they're searching for a printing company, a restaurant, or a daycare center, more and more people are turning to the online yellow pages and city directories for products and services from local providers. Take a look and try your own local search on Yellow Pages here.

An extensive Local Search Guide is available online, sponsored by the Yellow Pages Association, along with supporting partners comScore, SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) and The Kelsey Group.

But there are new options for local search, Google Local Search beta is here, for finding local businesses and services on the web. Google Local locates neighborhood stores and services by searching billions of pages across the Web, then cross-checking those results with Yellow Pages data to pinpoint the local resources you want to find. This innovative approach gives you access to the most – and most relevant – results for your search.

To use Google Local Search, just include a zip code or the name of a town or city (in the United States), with your regular search terms at Google Local Search. Your local results will appear at the top of the results page. You can also go directly to the Google Local home page to view only local results, see results on an area map, or limit your results to listings within a set distance from your starting point. For Local Search in Canada, use the Google Canada search engine. For local address search and driving directions, Google offers Google Maps.

Yahoo is also featuring Local Search in 2005, together with local maps that show traffic information for most cities across the United States. See your results graphically in Yahoo that offers an innovative way to view your search results. Click on the "View Results on Map" icon at the top of your search page. Rather than simply seeing your results in the traditional list format, you'll see them graphically and in relation to each other on one map.

In MSN Search a separate "
Near Me" button restricts your search to your local area. MSN determines your location based on the IP number of your computer or connection or your MSN country/region setting. MSN Local Search works in close relationship with City Guides. Choose "Near Me" when searching and MSN Search will deliver results that are geographically close to you with just one click. No login or personal settings required.

Last but not least, Amazon is also into
Local Search with its A9 Search Engine that brings Yellow Pages to life by adding 20 million images. Using trucks equipped with digital cameras, global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and proprietary software and hardware, A9.com drove tens of thousands of miles capturing images and matching them with businesses and the way they look from each street.

Small Businesses Can Now Invest in Local Search

New companies are being created to help small business to establish successful Local Search marketing campaigns. One of these companies is ReachLocal that is working with hundreds of small to midsize businesses on targeted local campaigns. Its technology provides local businesses with prominent placement in local search results while limiting the display of the ads to users living within designated geographic areas.

Although this list is far from complete, this article should provide you with some basic guidelines to assist you in developing a successful understanding of the current status of the local search online marketing business.

Copyright © Enrique de Argaez.

About the Author:
Enrique De Argaez is the webmaster of the "Internet World Stats" website. Since 2000 he has been collecting Internet Usage Statistics, and publishing statistics for over 233 countries and regions of the world for free use by the academia, the global business community and the general public. For Internet usage and world population data, please visit the page: www.InternetWorldStats.com/stats.htm

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