Local search is the use of specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographically constrained searches against a structured database of local business listings. Typical local search queries include not only information about "what" the site visitor is searching for (such as keywords, a business category, or the name of a consumer product) but also "where" information, such as a street address, city name, postal code, or geographic coordinates like latitude and longitude. Examples of local searches include "Hong Kong hotels", "Manhattan restaurants", and "Dublin car rental". Local searches exhibit explicit or implicit local intent. A search that includes a location modifier, such as "Bellevue, WA" or "14th arrondissement", is an explicit local search. A search that references a product or service that is typically consumed locally, such as "restaurant" or "nail salon", is an implicit local search.
Local search sites are primarily supported by advertising from businesses that wish to be prominently featured when users search for specific products and services in specific locations. Local search advertising can be highly effective because it allows ads to be targeted very precisely to the search terms and location provided by the user.
Local search is the natural evolution of traditional off-line advertising, typically distributed by newspaper publishers and TV and radio broadcasters, to the Web. Historically, consumers relied on local newspapers and local TV and radio stations to find local product and services. With the advent of the Web, consumers are increasingly using search engines to find these local products and services online. In recent years, the number of local searches online has grown rapidly while off-line information searches, such as print Yellow Page lookups, have declined. As a natural consequence of this shift in consumer behavior, local product and service providers are slowly shifting their advertising investments from traditional off-line media to local search engines.
A variety of search engines are currently providing local search, including efforts backed by the largest search engines, and new start-ups. Some of these efforts are further targeted to specific vertical segments while others are tied to mapping products.
Various geolocation techniques may be used to match visitors' queries with information of interest. The sources and types of information and points of interest returned varies with the type of local search engine.
Google Maps (formerly Google Local) looks for physical addresses mentioned in regular web pages. It provides these results to visitors, along with business listings and maps. Product-specific search engines] use techniques such as targeted web crawling and direct feeds to collect information about products for sale in a specific geographic area.
Other local search engines adjunct to major web search portals include general Windows Live Local, Yahoo! Local, and ask.com's AskCity. Yahoo!, for example, separates its local search engine features into Yahoo! Local and Yahoo! Maps, the former being focused on business data and correlating it with web data, the latter focused primarily on the map features (e.g. directions, larger map, navigation).
Search engines offer local businesses the possibility to upload their business data to their respective local search databases.
Local search, like ordinary search, can be applied in two ways. As John Battelle coined it in his book "The Search," search can be either recovery search or discovery search.
This perfect search also has perfect recall - it knows what you've seen, and can discern between a journey of discovery - where you want to find something new - and recovery - where you want to find something you've seen before.
This applies especially to local search. Recovery search implies, for example, that a consumer knows who she is looking for (i.e., Main Street Pizza Parlor) but she does not know where they are, or needs their phone number. Discovery search implies that the searcher knows, for example, what she wants but not who she needs it from (i.e., pizza on Main Street in Springfield).
In February 2012, Google announced that they made 40 changes to their search algorithm, including one codenamed "Venice" which Google states will improve local search results by "relying more on the ranking of (Google's) main search results as a signal", meaning local search will now rely more on organic SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
Google can show a business' information in mobile or desktop google search results, or/and in mobile and desktop google maps results. Local search results displayed by google often include a local pack, that currently displays three listings.
Major search engines have algorithms that determine which local businesses rank in local search. Primary factors that impact a local business's chance of appearing in local search are proper categorization in business directories, a business's Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) being crawlable on the website, and citations (mentions of the small business on other relevant websites like a chamber of commerce website).
In 2016, a study using statistical analysis assessed how and why businesses ranked in the local packs and identified positive correlations between local rankings and 100+ ranking factors. Although the study can't replicate google's algorithm, it did deliver several interesting findings:
Traditional local media companies, including newspaper publishers and television and radio broadcasters, are starting to add local search to their local websites in an effort to attract their share of local search traffic and advertising revenues in the markets they serve. These local media companies either develop their own technology, or license "private label" or "white label" local search solutions from third-party local search solution providers. In either case, local media companies base their solution on business listings databases developed in-house or licensed from a third-party data publisher.
Local search that incorporates internal or external social signals could be considered social local search driven. The first site to incorporate this type of search was Explore To Yellow Pages. Explore To uses Facebook Likes as one of the signals to increase the ranking of listings where other factors may be equal or almost equal. Typical ranking signals in local search, such as keyword relevancy and distance from centroid can therefore be layered with these social signals to give a better crowdsourced experience for users. More recently, social media sites Facebook, Foursquare and LocalMate have become more directly involved in local search by updating their mobile apps with features to help people discover new businesses to visit.
Several providers have been experimenting with providing local search for mobile devices. Some of these are location aware. In the United States, Google previously operated an experimental voice-based locative service (1-800-GOOG-411) but terminated the service in November, 2010. Many mobile web portals require the subscriber to download a small Java application, however the recently added .mobi top level domain has given impetus to the development of mobile targeted search sites are based upon a standard mobile specific XML protocol that all modern mobile browsers understand. The advantage is that no software needs to be downloaded and installed, plus these sites may be designed to simultaneously provide conventional content to traditional PC users by means of automatic browser detection.
Electronic publishers (such as businesses or individuals) who would like information such as their name, address, phone number, website, business description and business hours to appear on local search engines have several options. The most reliable way to include accurate local business information is to claim business listings through Google's, Yahoo!'s, or Bings's respective local business centers.
Business listing information can also be distributed via the traditional Yellow Pages, electronic Yellow Pages aggregators, and search engine optimization services. Some search engines will pick up on web pages that contain regular street addresses displayed in machine-readable text (rather than a picture of text, which is more difficult to interpret). Web pages can also use geotagging techniques.
On May 30, 2012 Google launched Google+ Local, was simple way to discover and share local information featuring Zagat scores and recommendations from the people you trust on Google+.
On June 11, 2014 Google launched Google My Business which replaced Google+ Local. Google My Business has more features and connects with AdWords to make an all-in-one small business online management center.
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