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I read an interesting blog post last week at Bill Slawski’s SEO by the Sea. He takes a step back to reaffirm that search and local are a great fit for each other, especially for finding things offline to buy and do locally.

The online-offline purchase funnel, and the realization of the portion of local searches that end in offline conversions, has caused many interesting business models to develop over the past year. StepUp, NearbyNow and ShopLocal are just a few that are growing, and each hits a different segment of the market (SME vs. mid-range retail vs. big box). Coupons, product information and inventory data are all features that continue to develop at these and many other local search destinations in order to effectively drive (and track) this offline spending.

Slawski examines how a vertical strategy can be important with local search. This was a significant theme at ILM:06, and we’re beginning to see a shift toward vertical segmentation. A refined corpus of data inherent in a vertical destination ensures a higher likelihood of relevant results in the areas in which users are presumably interested (assuming they have navigated to that site for a reason  getting them there is a whole different issue and a whole different post). Clickthrough rates and intent to buy can also be higher for the same reason.

The challenge in serving many verticals, or trying to create multiple vertical experiences, is that the use case varies for each one and different rules must be applied. This challenge faces all-in-one local destinations such as Google Local. A map, for example, isn’t as relevant in a search for a plumber (because he or she comes to your house) as it is in a search for a restaurant. Yet the interface  dominated by a map in Google Local’s case  is the same across all local search categories. In some categories, user reviews and other qualitative information might be better suited than a big map that takes up most of the screen.

So there are clearly challenges for companies that want to segment local search into verticals. But the benefits of vertical search should also be weighed and examined, and Slawski is onto some good points. He also speculates on some of Yahoo!’s vertical strategies for travel and point-of-interest search.

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