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Surviving the Search Wars - Local Directories

 

Innovation in the competitive search engine and directory
markets: how the internet is the perfect medium for David to
take on Goliath. 
 
The pursuit of online information has become an increasingly
dynamic and competitive marketplace during the past three
years. Global heavyweights such as http://www.google.com,
http://www.yahoo.com and http://www.msn.com are backed by
massive resources, making it nearly impossible for new
companies to even attempt to compete. It would seem for new
start directories it is almost impossible to aim for the "catch
all" approach, as there are simply bigger companies out there
with larger budgets - who are going to dominate the market for
years to come. However, there are still a number of innovative
directories evolving which are capable of surviving in this
ultra-competitive landscape. The key to this survival is
undoubtedly focusing upon a niche and making sure your site
stands out from others.
 
When performing a web search, users have the choice between
search engines and directories. Directories tend to be
categorised by webmasters or a group of subject experts - such
as the directory http://dmoz.com. When using such a directory,
the user has the option to either type in a word to facilitate
a search through the directory listings, or they can choose a
subject heading, for example "travel". After clicking on this
category, users are faced with lists of several subtopics such
as "hotels" which would then be further split into geographic
regions, then the individual hotel names.
 
In contrast, a search engine uses automated programs called
robots or spiders to search through its database of websites.
The user types a query into a provided dialog box in the form
of a keyword, or string of keywords. The search engine then
uses the robots to follow links and indexes of various websites
in order to form an organised list of results in the user's
browser. The world's most popular search engine, Google,
currently has a database of 8,058,044,651 web pages.
 
With this colossal searching power, it is amazing that any
directories are capable of surviving against the heavyweight
search engines. The solution is perhaps to avoid trying to
compete in the first place. For example, if a local directory
run by people familiar with an area is marketed properly, then
it can offer a real service for users, as one of the main
problems people have with search engines is the difficulty in
finding local services relevant to them.  
 
Usually this problem stems from a lack of understanding of how
to use search engines correctly. The majority of surfers
searching the web for products/services will expect to find a
local supplier just by typing a generalised term, and then
cannot understand why they are faced with 300,000 results -
many of which are based in a foreign country. This is where a
regional directory can offer more relevant results, without the
searching knowledge required to make best use of the larger
directories, and hopefully provide the information the person
was looking for. Instead of performing a basic search, users
are guided step by step through the categories.  
 
One new directory which is taking a very innovative approach to
the market place is the-best-of.com ( http://www.thebestof.co.uk
) which promotes itself as a "UK directory run by local people
for local people". The idea is that individual people will take
control of a geographical area which they know well and provide
users with their "local knowledge" on local businesses and
services. Although still in its early stages, this is an
example of a directory which has found a niche in terms of the
service it offers and isn't trying to tackle the big global
players - a strategy which has destroyed many directories
before they have even started.
 
It is perhaps as a result of this market gap that Google has
recently launched the beta version of "Google Local". Google
Local's results are a combination of using business-directory
information from third-party providers and integrating it with
information about individual businesses from Google's existing
database of website information.
 
When using this new service, users type both the product they
are looking for and their geographic location. Results are then
displayed in three columns, including business name, address,
and URL (if relevant). Clicking on the link to a business name
displays a business reference page with details about the
business, a map, a button to get driving directions, and Web
pages related to the business found in Google's main index. The
new service also offers a degree of personalisation, allowing
users to specify a home location, which is stored on a cookie
set by Google.  
 
Overall, it seems that that the ways and means we search for
information on the web is set to continuously evolve over the
coming years. This landscape is almost certainly going to be
dominated by the big players such as Google and Yahoo. However,
it is clear that as long as you have a quality, comprehensive
directory that doesn't cast its net too wide then it is
possible to survive and even compete in this dynamic
marketplace.
 
Resources:
http://www.thebestof.co.uk/ (Regional entertainment and
information in the UK)


About The Author: Robin Richmond is a researcher for the
internet marketing company Optimiser and a regular contributor
to discussions on search engine marketing and directory
building. http://www.optimiser.co.uk/about.html For further
information contact: Robin Richmond - E-mail:
robin.richmond@bigmouthmedia.com - Phone: 0845 130 0022