No. 66
January 22nd, 2008

@Search Engines: How to Improve Your Local Search Interface

(N.B., if you’re not subscribed to Mike Blumenthal’s blog, you should be. Do it here.)

Mike Blumenthal’s been all over the recent experimentation with the Google Local OneBox Ten Pack, first made public by Paul Jahn, in the last several days. Mike accurately notes that while displaying a larger number of businesses seems to level the playing field. In my opinion, this is mostly a good thing, as it helps defray some of the impact that the poor quality of Google’s Local algorithm currently has on small businesses.

Pictured above: Side-by-side screenshot below to illustrate the change (original available on Mike’s blog).

Greg Sterling commented today “the ratings disappear in this expanded view and the ratings display is valuable.” An important point, Greg, though I’d argue that until the quality of the algo improves, it’s more important to display a larger number of relevant businesses than it is to show review information for a smaller, less relevant number.

Which brings me to the point of this post:

  • Some Local users, like me, are looking for a wide range of local businesses. Because I know the area well, I’m not so concerned with things like maps and addresses, I just want to know all of the businesses located a reasonable distance away that could potentially satisfy my search query.
  • Some Local users, like Greg, are looking for what other people say about businesses in order to know which search result is relevant to them.
  • Some Local users like my friend Natasha aren’t as good with directions & locations, and prefer a larger map interface to know where those businesses are.

The solution?

Give users the option of how they’d like to display results.

Search results have gradually begun to get more personalized for the last 12-15 months. The technology is in place now with iGoogle and myYahoo such that users can log in and set preferences in terms of what items display on their homepage, how many search results show on a particular page, search histories that give preference to sites a user has already visited, etc. Why not extend that into the Local arena?

It’s great that Google is still trying to figure out the best interface for the default user, but (and this is no small point) it would seem to me they’d get GREAT data about what users actually prefer by allowing them the option to experiment on their own, while at the same time locking that user in as a “return searcher” by allowing them to personalize their interface.

Take a page from Kayak’s book.

There’s a travel website out there that ALREADY does this incredibly well, allowing registered users to sort and filter hotels, for instance, by price, user rating, distance from the city center, and even distance from a custom landmark. It’s obvious this technology took a lot of time, manpower, and resources to develop, but surely all four major search engines have plenty of know-how and wherewithal to develop something similar. Or at least the cash to license it from Kayak! And surely your UI experts can implement this in a way that is easy to understand and doesn’t clutter the page unnecessarily.


Pictured above: Kayak’s user interface showing multiple options to sort.

One bonus recommendation:

@Google: you’re under-using the plus-box stickies that you’re so fond of in your REGULAR results within your LOCAL interface.

Seems to me if Google is interested in increasing the number of businesses in the Local section of OneBox results, the map might be a HUGE, unnecessary space-eater. Why not simply list a plus box next to each business (instead of A-B-C-D…) that enables users to display that location on a map?


Above: Result for Pizza Orgasmica in Universal before clicking plus-box.


Above: Result for Pizza Orgasmica after clicking plus-box.

With this solution, you can STILL

a) include the review / star information next to the business
b) Show all of the additional information in an INLINE search result, without making users load a new page
c) Increase the number of Local listings in a Universal SERP.


Above: Proposed Google Local OneBox result.

Not that anyone asked, but that’s my .02!

I’m quite sure we haven’t seen the last of Google’s innovations within its local interface, but the fact is, Local Search is SUCH a hot market right now, anyone who can get out ahead of the curve will have a tremendous advantage in terms of capturing marketshare and publicity, both within the online AND offline community.

Getting the kids, friends, and family of small business owners an interface that they ALL love (not to mention SBO’s themselves) might be one of the most fundamental strategies to attract additional businesses to submit information or keep it up-to-date.