Local search has long been an overlooked sector of the search market. In years past, you had to type in your address or zip code in the search box itself in order to find local results. Nowadays, Google & Bing do a much better job at incorporating your physical location into their search results, but oftentimes these local results lack the community input provided by sites and apps like Foursquare and Yelp.
Or at least that’s how Yahoo sees it: Yahoo aims to leverage Yelp’s user-centric model and create new standards for how we go about searching for whatever it is we want to find in our general vicinity. That implies that the existing standards of local search are broken, something we at Brandify tend to agree with.
The goal is to tame the boundary-less nature of the web and replace it with a much more useful set of results that are informed by algorithms as well as human elements such as reviews or pictures. You could see the current situation as a bit of an arms race for tackling the local search market.
Yahoo’s partnership with Yelp can also be seen as a big bet on local search becoming its own phenomenon. Smartphone adoption continues to grow at a decent pace, and mobile search is beginning to mature. If Yahoo can lock down local, then that will be a good way to differentiate itself from Bing while chipping away at Google’s overall dominance.
There are a couple of trends working in Yahoo’s favor. First, 2013 was the year in which we saw social search really come into its own as a viable alternative to traditional web search. Google’s reliance on big data and emotionless algorithms is in stark opposition to the millions of conversations and user-created reviews that Yelp provides. Yahoo might just see a third path that combines powerful algorithms with the human touch of Yelp’s community.
It’s certainly too early to tell if this is a winning formula, but Yahoo’s not alone in betting on Yelp. As Erin Griffith at Fortune has pointed out, the Yelp-Yahoo arrangement may see competition from a Bing-Foursquare alliance. In both senses, the two major also-rans of the search market are hoping to incorporate social into their existing search portals. We may need to wait a little while until we see the fruits of any of their labor, but in the meantime we can only suspect that local businesses will have the most to gain if Silicon Alley’s top people commit themselves to improving local search.