Yahoo Leads the Way in Local Search Functionality

MIHMORANDUM NO. 102 | June 26th, 2008Reader Comments (4)

Personalized Local Search Results on the Fly

Amidst all the negative publicity from the failed Microsoft merger (that, like the old man in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, appears to be “not dead yet”), Yahoo is proving that it still has the potential to be an innovative company.

Awhile back, I offered some unsolicited suggestions to the search engines on how they could improve their Local Search interface(s). Among them was a suggestion to take a cue from Kayak, which allows users to sort results based on price, user rating, and distance. A recent development suggests that Yahoo may have been eavesdropping…keep reading for more details.

I’ll admit, I’m as addicted to the Google Kool-Aid as much as the next guy, partly because Google drives roughly 85% of all search traffic to my own website, and to my clients’ sites. It’s good to stay on top of changes in the engine that is bringing me and my clients the most business.

And, quite honestly, Yahoo’s organic results never seem to quite measure up to Google’s.

But, have you used Yahoo Local lately?

I mean REALLY used it?

Below is their default search result for “bars in Portland, OR.” Looks fairly similar to Google’s “text view,” with business listings on the left side, and a small map on the right with push-pins to show where the businesses are located.

But note the option to enlarge the Map View, which returns the following screenshot–a smooth, Ajaxy transition to a larger map on the same page.

Letting Users Adjust the Impact of Centroid Dominance

Well, well, what have we here? The enlarged map view returns a translucent circle showing the geo area that Yahoo’s Local algorithm is spidering for relevant results. As a user, I can zoom in, zoom out, move the circle in any direction, and expand or contract the radius of the circle.

Finally, a noble use for the ‘proximity to centroid’ component of the Local algorithm! (Regular readers know it is my strong opinion that this factor still dominates others to the detriment of overall SERP quality.)

When users are allowed to select their own centroid and set the radius of the geographic area they’d like to search, that factor becomes infinitely more useful. Below is the result of my specialized search for the most relevant watering holes within a 10-minute walk of my house, not some arbitrary address that Yahoo has decided should be “the center of town” for every Portland resident.

Combine that with the option to sort by “top results,” “distance,” and “highest-rated” (which Google Local now offers to some degree, for certain searches) and you’ve got an interface very close to what I suggested with my earlier blog post.

Conclusion

Not that Google is listening, but I’ve warned that they’ve put the cart ahead of the horse in promoting the Local 10-pack before getting their Local act together (the recent Local Business Center “upgrade” is yet another example), and if Yahoo can ever get some traction with traffic, they’ve got Google beat in the most significant emerging area of search.

Google’s two-tiered “Map View or Text View” interface, which has to load a new page each time you decide to change your interest, and offers no customization options, seems paleolithic in comparison. Yahoo’s is slick, inline, and easy to use. I find the layout of their actual listings a bit too cluttered, and the graphic “branding bar” at the top of the page unnecessary, but they’re DEFINITELY on the right track with this map feature.

I’m not sure if this superior interface will get Yahoo any additional traffic, but kudos to Brian Gil and his team nonetheless for being at the forefront of Local UI.

4 Responses to “Yahoo Leads the Way in Local Search Functionality”

  1. Tim Flint says at

    I am with you Mike, Yahoo has some pretty neat functions. The problem with focusing on Yahoo right now is how unstable their future is.

    The centroid thing is pretty cool too. This really let’s you get even more relevant results. It also reduces map spam in a number of ways. However, how would they handle those companies that are local but do not handle a street address and not just a city and state? They likely deserve to be on the Map, but if they have no street address how are they able to be found in this style of a result?

    For local businesses to truly compete online do they need to include their street address, or should they input a Mailbox address.

  2. Matt McGee says at

    I’ve always, always loved Yahoo’s interface and tools much better than any other local site. Glad to see I’m not alone. :-)

  3. Brian Carter says at

    Very cool, man, thanks for pointing that out. And using the word “centroid” so much! ;-)

  4. Max Thunder says at

    For what it’s worth, I’m encountering more and more people who prefer using Yahoo! for search (epecially local search) over Google. I’m not sure yet if they’re proud not to be using Google or sincerely prefer Yahoo! – either way, they’re out there :)

    Thanks David for pointing out Yahoo!’s excellent local search interface.

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