Will Local Search Matter More on Yahoo?

With former Googler Marissa Mayer firmly installed as Yahoo’s new CEO, a number of observers have speculated about the changes she’s going to bring. To be fair, it’s been less than a month since she landed her new job. Still, given her background, one assumption seems fair: local search will start to matter more at the venerable search engine.

At least that seems to be the conclusion drawn by Stephanie Hobbs over at Search Engine Land. She pointed out that Mayer was most recently involved at Google with heading up its local, maps, and location services. Her hand was evident in Google’s purchase of Zagat, the launch of Google+ Local, and even in the development of Google Maps. As Hobbs explained, “Mayer lives and breathes local, knows the increasing importance of local search, and is an expert in creating innovative user experiences in the space.”

So what does that mean for Yahoo? Let’s consider Yahoo! Local for a second. It was potentially on the chopping block in April, but survived. Check it out; it’s a gorgeous, information-filled platform that anyone looking for something to do in their area would find helpful.

When Yahoo followed up its decision to keep Yahoo! Local with launching Yahoo Marketing Dashboard in May, that may have seemed to many like it solidified the company’s commitment to local. YMD, in case you haven’t tried it out, is a free service aimed at small business owners. It offers a number of services, including tools to track your online reputation, business listings, traffic and campaign management, and more.

Just because you get a good-looking experience when you visit Yahoo! Local doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Already, 22 million visitors appreciate it every month – but that’s much less than Yelp’s 71 million monthly users. So what changes is Mayer likely to make here?

Right now, businesses wanting to be listed on Yahoo! Local must choose between a free basic listing with phone number, address, hours, and products and services; or a paid, enhanced listing with logo, tag line, photos, and detailed description. Mayer understands the importance of the user experience – and the major role that well-organized content and information plays in that experience. Hobbs expects her to get rid of the paid listing, and strongly enhance the remaining option to “to allow businesses and users to add much more content ranging from menus to videos.” Look for the ability to create much richer business profiles on Yahoo! Local.

Mayer won’t be able to immediately reproduce Google’s purchase of Zagat, but she might manage a partnership with a local review site. This would allow Yahoo to add more reviews, deals and social features to its local search. Mayer has said before that you need great reviews to get local search right. Odds are that some kind of deal with Foursquare, or a site like it, may already be in the works.

Likewise, according to Hobbs, Mayer will also be thinking in terms of integrating even more social media into local search. The new Yahoo CEO played a major role in Google+ Local, so she understands how important it is to get this right as well.

There’s something else Mayer did at Google that we can hope to see her do at Yahoo, particularly with Yahoo! Local – clean up the design. Hobbs expressed her own hopes for a visual makeover at Mayer’s new company. “Right now, the site lacks the clean and streamlined design that many credit Mayer for championing at Google,” Hobbs noted. “We might expect Mayer to lead a major redesign of Yahoo that would extend into local…and vastly improve the ability of businesses to share content and users to find it.” To be fair, Yahoo has always presented a more “cluttered” interface than Google; how much Mayer can change that and still have the site still feel like Yahoo remains to be seen.

Hobbs goes into greater detail on several other areas she thinks Mayer may look at improving at Yahoo! Local. But I’d say the most telling point she makes is in Yahoo! Local’s demographic. It’s older and wealthier than local search on Google. “According to Nielsen data provided by our friends at Bing, more than 30% of Bing/Yahoo searches come from users in the 55+ age demographic, and more than 20% have household incomes greater than $100,000.”

That’s a pretty sweet target, especially when you consider that you can reach it with less expensive ads than you would be if you were trying to use Google. In that case, we’re talking supply and demand; Google’s local ad market is more saturated than Bing/Yahoo’s.

Does this mean you should start adding Yahoo! Local to your marketing plan? Well, you don’t need to do it right away, but you should certainly keep an eye on where Mayer’s going with her plans for the company. Depending on how it goes, it could make a lot more sense – and dollars – for you to shift some of your advertising budget in that direction. Good luck!  

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