Mar 22 2007

Local Search Frustration

People often complain about the results when they search on an online directory. When I say online directory, I am referring of course to a business directory, such as Yellow Pages, or dLook (a site which I co-founded). Not to be confused with a search engine like Google. I make this distinction because, whilst we are becoming more specific with our search engine searches, and the results are rewarding, we are often being frustrated by the results returned to us in local searches.

Sometimes it’s because the directory is flawed, other times because the search is ill defined. This is, to an extent, the fault of the searcher. Searchers are often too general with search terms, for example if a user searches for a “car”, does that mean that they want to buy a car, rent a car, or service a car. We can throw results back at the user, but chances are they won’t be the right one. Hence the opportunity to refine search results.

Another common complaint with directory searches is what happens if the user is a bad speller? You would honestly be surprised at the number of misspelling there are for the word “restaurant”. Try searching for “restrant” or “doktor” in some online directories and more often than not you won’t get a result.

A while back Cord at Marketing Hipster had this to say about the customer experience;

I do not believe that any of the online yellow pages nor local search has really hit any critical mass when it comes to giving users a great customer experience. It got me thinking, how many millions of dollars does it cost these companies to create, print and ship all these paper phone books all across the country? If one of these companies took a third of that cost and focused on developing a true experience on the web, how many millions of dollars could they save in the future by not having to print and deliver all these books?

At dLook we don’t print and distribute books, and we have only a small percentage of the budget of some other directories, but we automatically receive feedback about the searches performed on our site, and are continually tweaking the results as a consequence. I don’t think that you can have that level of intimacy on the larger sites.

To this end I have written a tutorial on how to get the best search results for the dLook directory on our news blog. Seems like obvious stuff, but I know it isn’t. (And don’t forget that you can list your Australian business for free).

How about you? What’s your beef with local directories? What frustrates you? What would make a directory search a better experience for you? Where do you go to find a local business, especially in Australia?

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Local Search Frustration”

  1. Happy Harryon 22 Mar 2007 at 9:52 pm

    I suppose those of us who decided long ago to do away with paper and do our searching online, all have our little horror stories about crappy results.

    Speaking for myself I can honestly say that in the past 6 months online searching, especially local search, has improved drastically.

    Perhaps Meg had a bit to do with that, in Australia at least, by producing the dLook product which showed the other (BIG) guys how it could be done. I now use dLook exclusively only because they made the other big directory pull it’s socks up. As a small business which distribtes nationally I also advertise on dLook.

    I must admit though that after reading this blog I picked up a couple of refinments which I didn’t know about.

    Thanks Meg for the tips and for showing me that on the internet at least, the little guy can still kick the big guys around.

  2. Megon 22 Mar 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Harry.

    I can’t take all the credit though! Obviously, there’s quite a formidable team behind dLook’s success 😉

    Glad we could improve your search experience.

  3. Jameson 23 Mar 2007 at 12:37 am

    I agree that the big yellow pages print publishers could vastly improve the IYP experience if they invested more money in the product. The problem is those books make billions, not millions, billions of dollars! IYP is still a fraction of their overall revenue, 10% or less. A full page ad in a major metro can cost $5K+. There isn’t an internet product they can sell for that much money they will provide the same results. So if they improved the IYP experience too much they will just canabalize their own revenue. However, if they wait too long there won’t be any revenue left to take it will all be with Google and Yahoo. The Catch-22 of the old phone book!

  4. Mike Mon 23 Mar 2007 at 2:09 am

    I recently did a local search consulting gig and I list the steps I took in my blog. I learned a lot from this…

  5. Craigon 23 Mar 2007 at 11:18 am

    I don’t consider myself an average searcher so most of my points will likely be moot to your users, however what frustrates me most about search is usually overzealous use of input areas, poor user interface/workflow, anything that gets in the way of results(ads), and the inability to filter them at the click of a link by date, by location, by category, by suggestions, etc to refine a search. dLook does the latter reasonably well I find.

    We all want instant results and because of that I love the new breed of find as I type searches. Giving dlook a quick glance over, I’d suggest the addition of displaying alternate search queries as a user types one. This would help all those users who can’t spell by listing options close to what they want. This can have the added benefit in that users may learn to spell but may reduce the number of page views(and developer laughs). Have a look at Google Suggest as an example. used to have this for searching archives, doesn’t anymore. :( Might be a paid service now?

    Who, what, where, how far? While a good guide for most people, I find them limiting in narrowing my searches. I can’t easily exclude certain results or aggregate multiple search queries. I’m a firm believer in one text area searching and augmenting that with links and/or list options that inject into the text area. These are great so long as example searches are given. eg. ‘flowers, 10km kew’

    Maps can be great for finding places locally for those geographically challenged or travellers. Search results as dots on maps that expand with information on hover are great for getting a geographic overview. Using a users IP address to geo-locate could narrow results.

    Small things with the interface such as making primary text areas have focus on every page load can aid usability. Or highlighting default text on-focus for easy replacement, such as “national” in the dlook Where: text box. Tooltips on features like the Quote Me button. I noticed them intermittently on the items but not the big pink buttons.

    Moving the dLook logo and duplicate slogan to the header would give you more above-the-fold room for results or obnoxious ads. The latter one of my pet peeves in searches. :) For what it’s worth; highlighting premium ads inside a premium ‘block’ with a link to ‘purchase an ad’ in addition to colour might make the premium ads more obvious and encourage other premium ad purchases thereby reducing your reliance on click-through ads and improving user experience. I kinda block the entire “Bargains Galore” block out as potential click-through ads and miss the premium ad info in the middle there. But that might just be me wanting results, not ads?

    Saying all that about dLook, my Sensis experience just then was horrible in comparison. No search tips or guidance, a list of results without street addresses, small hard to read fonts and colours. Yellowpages doesn’t even give me results, instead categories and what location I ‘really’ wanted, then the results sucked. I do like some of the features in the results page though. Still, it’s all just too fiddly and frustrating.

  6. Megon 23 Mar 2007 at 11:55 am

    Hi James

    I do see your point. I just wonder how much longer those $5k ads are going to be producing results. And do you think these results are accurately quantified by businesses? Whilst some of the smaller (family owned) businesses may well solicit and record advertising feedback, this may well be lost in a larger organisation. At least with online you can do a much better job of tracking the source of visitors.

    YP does a great job of instilling the “fear factor” – deadlines soon, don’t miss out – it’ll be another year… In Australia we have the famous “Not Happy, Jan” advert about this.

    I can see your point about the catch-22.

  7. Megon 23 Mar 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Craig – WOW! Many thanks for the great feedback – you’ve made a lot of great points there, but do agree you may not be a “typical” searcher (more the high-end user).

    One only has to look at the simplistic design of the Google search page, to appreciate the success a website can have with the minimalist approach. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t pay the bills :( I appreciate you not being too harsh on us in that respect, but I do hear what you are saying.

    With regards to the one search box – that would be great for the savvy user, but unfortunately so many grapple with the right input in the right box as it is, even spelled out for them – one box would invariably lead to disaster!

    With automatic word suggestion, that could be interesting to test, and mapping is being implemented at the moment.

    We’ll have a look at the design aspects you raised – it’s great to have feedback from “fresh eyes”.

    Many, many thanks for taking so much time in putting your comments together. I really appreciate it.

  8. Krison 24 Mar 2007 at 11:19 am

    Mobile search is about placing emphasis on location for content optimization. Location-based or proximity-based search is a very important factor in presenting search results.

    Location-based search for mobile users has broad implications for content providers and advertisers. Right now, only about 5% of small and medium-size businesses are using paid search, according to consulting firm The Kelsey Group . Geo-targeting users at a zipcode- or even better, a block-level can benefit local advertisers with higher ROIs especially, or those that have products that might be available locally.