Does the size of a merchant’s SEO budget really determine how right they are for me?

Here’s one important way local search is different from web search: there is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ answer.

Web search is optimized for information retrieval and works well for this.  When I’m trying to remember how to find the norm of a matrix to help my daughter with her homework I want the ‘best’ source of information for this.  The way the web is structured and the way search engines utilize this structure means that’s exactly what I get.  The page with the right words on it, that a lot of other people have linked to and looked at in the past, really does provide me with useful information for my inquiry.

But when I’m doing a local search, the right answer depends much more on factors like where I am, what I’m doing and what I care about.  It depends on my context.  But local search engines largely do a poor job of this.  When I search for a plumber, I might get the people who have paid the most to be listed first.  Or I met get results ranked according to who is most astute at local search engine optimization and marketing.

In both cases I’m getting results ranked in large part based on the marketing investment of the merchants.  If I’m using a yellow page directory, it’s based on the size of ad they purchased.  If I’m using Google, it is those who have spent the most on search engine optimization and marketing.

Are either of these a good indicator of ‘fit’ for me?  Is the plumber available?  Do they want to do my mostly small maintenance jobs on an older house or are they really focused on doing new installations in new houses?

Instead of modeling local search after web search we really should be modeling it after dating sites!  The goal should be to match up merchants and consumers who are most compatible with each other.


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