27 March 2007
Local Search: Users First?
Bravo to Rae Hoffman for taking Merchant Circle to task for "doing their best to rank in the search engines with the sole goal being to charge businesses to control their listings." I blogged about Merchant Circle's fright calls to florists last fall and it's dismaying to see them at it again.
We claimed our business name there last October and I can attest they "haven’t really targeted to the consumer community to come to us as a search portal for businesses” since we've had but a single referrer link in five months. ;-)
Unfortunately, MerchantCircle.com isn't the only local search source willing to put profits ahead of the user experience. Rae uses Yahoo Local as an example of a "*true* consumer portal" but I doubt she'd feel that way if she were a florist. Take Chicago, for example:
The first natural result is a real flowers shop (and a darn good one at that), Ashland Addison, but the rest of the page is front-loaded with out-of-state call centers posing as Chicago florists. The listings including local phone exchanges forwarding calls thousands of miles away, phony map points and fake local addresses - all added to fool consumers. The net effect for Yahoo Local users is that about 40% of their dollars will be removed from their purchases when these flower orders get sent FTD or Teleflora back to real Chicago florists for fulfillment.
Unknown is whether the placements are being purchased through data provider YellowPages.com or if Yahoo Local is directly overseeing the bogus listings themselves. What's clear is this phony data is protected since none of the info on these fakes can be corrected by users.
Reviews calling out some of the fake data have been deleted. In this aspect, how is that different than Merchant Circle?
Yahoo's solution to real local florists to help them be found? Buy an ad slot on Local for $300 a month, of course.
A recent story about the Kelsey Group's downward revision of their local ad sales forecast mentioned part of a very real problem:
"The small guy can't get in there, and as a consequence, if you do florists, everything is 1-800-Flowers," he said. "You don't get any local retailers there. What we think has happened is these local guys have been shoved out of the way."
Uh-huh. It's not just 1-800-Flowers and includes all the national flower brands and their 'online' only' order gatherer affiliates. Why should local mom and pop florists pour dollars into honest ads when publishers are so willing to place phony local florists so highly in their results?
Kinda makes me wonder if paid placements influenced Bill Slawski's New York pizza results in his Yahoo Local vs Google Maps Beatdown . Using Yahoo Local's user recommended link yields rave reviews for real local pizzerias like Presidental Pizza and Lombardi's, but neither company is even listed in the first five pages of regular results. (At least Yahoo Local has a 'user recommended' link but I wonder how many people actually use it?)
Rae nailed it when she said consumers should shun and shame a site when it "doesn't give me what I want or expect and doesn’t state what I feel is their complete bias." In the local space, sadly Merchant Circle isn't the only one.
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