Would perfect local search kill local advertising?

Thanks to @deandonaldson for alerting me to this kerfuffle: Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet. It seems some (ok – like 600 judging from the comments) have taken umbrage.

Always dangerous to boil a complex argument down – but I’d summarize it (in a mobile, local search context) like this: If I can quickly, easily and accurately find all the local information I need does that eliminate the need for advertising?

If you accept Eric Clemons’ definition of advertising…

Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.

… then I suppose it might.

But, I don’t think this is the right model for local advertising. Instead, I think of local advertising as more like a dating service that wants to find the best fit between a consumer (and their current situation, needs and preferences) and a merchant (and their skills, ability, price and availability among other things).

Here’s a couple examples to illustrate the point.

Finding a Plumber in the Print Yellow Pages

We had a minor plumbing emergency. My wife went to the print yellow pages and scanned the display ads. She was looking for a plumber that was happy to handle a small emergency in a timely manner. She sought advertisements that explicitly referenced this need.

She was surely reading ‘advertisements’. But they served an important role in the ‘dating process’ by allowing the advertiser to describe the kind of business they are looking to serve.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as Consumer Dating and Advertising

I suppose most people don’t think of SEO as ‘advertising’ because it’s ‘free’. You don’t pay anyone to bring traffic to your website.

But of course, it’s anything but free. To do it well, you have to pay a lot of attention to what you write and how to describe your business in a way that allows people to find it. You want people with a need you serve to be able to find you. And you are either paying a specialist to do this or spending a significant amount of time doing it yourself. Either way this is an investment a business makes to be found by people it can serve.

So, in the end, I think regardless of whether you call it ‘advertising’ or something else, local businesses want to be found and will continue to spend significant money on making it happen.

What do you think? Would perfect search eliminate the need for advertising?

The follow-up debate between Eric Clemons and Danny Sullivan.
Dean Donaldson weighs in.


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