Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Newspapers as Local Buying Guides

Local search is back in the headlines again with recent announcements by Yahoo! and AskJeeves that they are offering improved local search capabilities and content. In a "change partners" move, Yahoo! is reducing its reliance on IAC's CitySearch, while AskJeeves is touting its new relationship with CitySearch for local listings and reviews.

The Kelsey Group provides metrics that indicate that 25% of searches have a local component, and that significant proportion is what is driving the major search engines to promote their local search superiority over one another. But, attracting the searchers is only half of the equation--and it's not the half that pays the bills. To be successful, local search solutions have to attract the local advertisers. As Russell Perkins points out in an earlier posting, the complexity of bidding for placement of keywords on search engines and the increasing cost that is resulting from the growing number of bidders and the presence of larger advertisers with bigger budgets will lead to advertiser backlash--especially among small merchants that typically advertise only in local yellow pages and newspapers.

Which leads to the essence of this posting. Since local newspapers are the primary advertising vehicle for local merchants and classified advertisers for timely promotions, and since local shoppers, restaurant-goers, theatre-attendees, job-seekers, and house-hunters look to the local newspaper to discover what is currently available to them in their region, shouldn't the Websites of local newspapers be the obvious source and destination for local search? Clearly the newspaper companies have some work to do to expand and improve their online offerings. But, if they invest in local listings and build upon their existing relationships with local advertisers and local residents, they can provide a much more targeted audience for advertisers and a much richer and full-featured content offering for information seekers than could the mega search engines. To refer back to Russell's posting, newspapers could become local buying guides for consumers and the two-tier search advertising model he proposes would be a possible solution to the complexities faced by small local advertisers who want to reach prospective buyers online.

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