SearchTHIS: Local is as Local Does

Imagine what the world would be like without interactive driving directions and access to online information systems about local businesses. Most of us can remember a central telephone system in the pre-regulation days that allowed us to access points for finding local information, dial up information and telephone directories.

Today's digital generation has no such boundaries, and the developing local world has everyone guessing about the future of the connected, geographically relevant local experience. There are a multitude of choices in how we access the local commerce information. Some are more familiar than others. New applications of the old yellow pages still hold a great deal of promise, but a few bizarre twists in accessing local information should have advertisers sitting up and taking notice.

Yesterday, Google announced acquisition plans for dMarc Broadcasting a radio advertising firm with technology that helps connects advertisers to radio stations. Meanwhile, last week sponsored listings began appearing on Google's maps. Blogs were buzzing recently with the rumors of Verizon and Microsoft expanding their existing relationship with new advertising options, and Yahoo! recently announced plans to expand its relationship with YellowPages.Com.

Is it yellow pages or local search? What's the difference? How will live audience testing affect the relationship consumers have with their trusted information resources? Let's take a look at recent developments in the local world and try to make sense of it all.

The Google way
Google's planned acquisition of dMarc Broadcasting signals an entirely new direction for reaching out to audiences, shifting the directional local model from customer retention to new customer acquisition. The essence of local search lies in the nature of users seeking information about services in which they already have a need.

While Google did not release information about how ad implementations were to take place, a Google representative suggested the vast network of advertisers in the Google network would benefit from the acquisition. dMarc's technology has applied a new level of connectivity and accountability for advertisers, and it is only natural that contextual relevancy would make radio a smarter play for advertisers.

The race for local advertising intelligence saw the limited geographic test placements of sponsored listings in the context of map viewing last week with a short list of advertisers making an appearance. Also in the works and possibly coinciding with map placements is the advancement of pay per call advertising in the Google network.

One has to wonder about the impact of the untested human guinea pig model of introducing new services, but we'll get to that in a minute.

MSN and Verizon

Verizon and MSN have a large scale partnership in place for local advertising in the mobile environment. Web-enabled Verizon mobile devices have access to MSN Messenger and other MSN services such as Hotmail, news and weather. While the mobile device playground is decidedly chaotic, a bigger development on the local search front is worth a closer look.

MSN and Verizon have had a long standing partnership in the Yellow Pages arena with Verizon advertising populating MSN Yellow Pages. Last week, local business advertisements from Verizon's began appearing on Microsoft's local search pages.

A delicate mish-mash of pay per call, pay per click and flat rate advertisements are now appearing in local search results with an apparent priority given to ad units with performance-based potential. Since the pay per call format has yet to see mass adoption, it is yet unknown how consumers will react to a multitude of choices in response action. The real test of targeting capabilities would be integration into MSN's AdCenter platform, which allows for targeting by more traditional audience segmentation like demographic and psychographic information.

Yellow Pages and Yahoo! -- oh my!

Last year, the dominant directory domain was acquired by telephone company giants SBC and BellSouth. Tried and true methods of directional advertising met a popular domain and the collected resources of these big firms came together. The biggest benefit of a yellow pages advertisement lies in the inherent trust consumers have in the Yellow Pages as an information resource, as opposed to an advertising medium.

Recently, Yahoo! and announced a plan in which advertisers will receive placements in Yahoo! Local. Once again, partnerships have been in place since before the new millennium with the Telco's and Yahoo! both sharing advertiser revenue, as well as the highly coveted business listing data.

Listing accuracy has been a problem for local business information providers since the industry was deregulated, and the ownership of business addresses and telephone numbers were lost in the shuffle en masse. Though we can expect the pattern of telephone service providers and internet portal partnerships to continue, the much larger issue of re-establishing the trust consumers have with the big yellow print directories must be addressed.

The human test

In the old days, we would test new products and technologies with developers, reach out to specific audiences with potential changes in very small controlled doses to uncover flaws, potential legal complications and other unforeseen disasters long before mass-consuming audiences were allowed to digest our new offerings. In short, we had a very good idea what we might encounter long before a new concept was introduced.

Today, the beta concept has shattered or removed the old practice of preparing the product for mainstream before large scale distribution.

The problem? The public lacks the time to adopt technologies and adapt their own behavior to new resources. Exacerbating the predicament is the constant ebb and flow of mergers, acquisitions and shaky partnerships that last only a short while.

The success of each new development is contingent upon its ability to scale up and secure advertising dollars. With the possible exception of early adopters, few advertisers are willing to place their brand equity on the line with an untested form of advertising. A better plan for hopefuls in the space might be taking a break from the local rat race and spending some time getting it right before introducing it to the world.

Consumers and advertisers will thank you.
iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Ryan is Managing Partner at
Kinetic Results.