LOS ANGELES — In the Internet search world, neighborhoods are the new local. That's the mantra for both longtime urban directory Citysearch and AOL's MapQuest routing service. Each has been forced to change strategies because of increased competition from Google and other locally focused sites such as Yelp and Local.com.
This week, Citysearch, owned by Barry Diller's IAC, (IACI) transitions from a site with 140 city-oriented directories to one with 75,000 neighborhood guides, offering tips on where to eat and shop, along with comments from users and business owners.
AOL's MapQuest is testing new neighborhood guides to give folks more than just information on how to get to a destination. Now you also learn what to do once you're there, with links to local movie theaters, restaurants and shops.
Online local advertising has long been seen as the last holdout for small and midsize businesses, which traditionally favor Yellow Pages and mailers.
"It's the final frontier for new advertising dollars," says Peter Conti, an analyst at market tracker Borrell Associates.
"There are so many small and medium businesses still not spending online, or spending small amounts online."
Borrell projects the 2008 local online advertising market at $12.9 billion, growing to $16.5 billion by 2013.
Citysearch began in 1996 as one of the first online local guides. Today, it has competition from Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and local guides like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zagat. Most local sites are guides with maps, business information and tons of customer reviews.
Citysearch offers 2 million reviews from its 4 million registered users, but differs from sites like Yelp in also offering editorial guides. Paid writers offer "Top 10" and "Best Bet" reviews and tips, alongside the user comments. Businesses that choose to advertise with Citysearch can offer video tours of their establishments, produced by Citysearch video crews.
"I believe consumers want to have the full picture," says Citysearch CEO Jay Herratti.
"When you only have consumers talking about the business, the conversation almost becomes hijacked."
Business owners can comment prominently if they are advertisers. The minimum commitment is $200 monthly.
"Our mission is to take that voice of the owner of the business and position it with user reviews," Herratti adds. "I love it when the chef comes out from the kitchen, or the owner shakes my hand and tells me why he started his business. We believe people want to hear from them."
Citysearch's approach to business input differs greatly from fast-rising competitor Yelp, which also offers local listings — virtually all from user reviews.
At Yelp, business owners are encouraged not to respond to user comments, and they are given little space to communicate with customers.
Yelp — nipping at Citysearch's heels for the last year — "grew at Citysearch's expense," says Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
Citysearch traffic fell 8% to 14.6 million visitors in October 2008, from 15.8 million in October 2007, while Yelp grew 171% in the same period to 6 million visitors, from 2.2 million, according to ComScore Media Metrix.
The new Citysearch plays up business input more than ever with a "three voices" approach that shows reviews from the business owner, Citysearch editorial staff and site users back to back.
Beyond the new look, Citysearch also has a new "Facebook Connect" feature that instantly posts Citysearch reviews to your Facebook account, where friends can see them.
But the most dramatic of Citysearch's overhaul is its new neighborhood approach. The new strategy is sound, Sterling says.
"People don't go to dinner in San Francisco, they go to a particular neighborhood, so this makes a lot of sense," he says.
Source: USA Today