- Excerpted from: Times Online
Local businesses are still too hard to find on the web, but the big web companies are queueing up to help
For the most part, small businesses have been slower than big businesses in shifting marketing dollars to the internet, and it's not hard to see why: many small business owners don't have the time or expertise to learn about the new medium, and ad purveyors don't have the time or expertise to create the products and services that will work in small local markets.
Both of those things will undoubtedly change over the next decade or so. That's why a start-up company like ReachLocal can raise an incredible $68 million (£33.5 million) to position itself as the ad sales force for local online advertising.
The sleeping giants in the local ad business are the Yellow Pages companies, and they are rushing to build out their online offerings. But it's not obvious that they'll be able to translate their one-time stranglehold over sectors like plumbers and injury lawyers into similar dominance on the internet. In fact, Google and Yahoo!, with their local initiatives, are a big challenge, and lots of new players are rushing to get involved.
A new survey sponsored by a company called Webvisible shows a great deal of variety in how people do "local search." They use search engines, they use local directories, they use local newspapers, they use consumer review sites. There's a whole sector of companies - Yelp is probably the leader – whose premise is that getting a community to post reviews of businesses is the key to effective local search.
Certainly, the current experience when searching for small businesses online is often quite disappointing, with strange aggregations of generic directory listings leading to an unhelpful maze of links. A lot of money is being spent trying to do this better, but the smaller and more local the geography, the more difficult it will be for big national directory platforms to provide a good experience.
This online market, more than most, is still very much up for grabs.
by Jonathan Weber (founder and editor in chief of NewWest.Net a regional news service focused on the Rocky Mountain West in the United States; previously the co-founder and editor in chief of the Industry Standard)
The local ad market is primed for a major upgrade. Social networks will soon alter the way major consumer purchasing decisions are made.
Like Facebook and MySpace changed the social lives of high school and college students; like Craigslist introduced online/offline community shopping; soon the selection by homeowners and families of merchants, contractors and professional services will be influenced by their network of trusted friends and neighbors.