Google Dominates Search – Google continues to dominate the general search market. Rivals have come and gone—Yahoo finally abandoned search advertising and left the field to Microsoft, which tried various approaches to competition before settling on Bing. Even now, Yahoo and Bing’s combined share of the search market is less than half Google’s.
Local Search – Local Search is a little different—while Google has the largest share of local search, it does not dominate to the same extent it does in general search. In terms of unique monthly visitors, the metric most commonly used to rank sites according to their traffic, these are more accurate figures (until the next update):
Google Local Search – When you search for a local product or service on Google—for example, “pizza Menlo Park”—you get sponsored ads at the top of the page, followed by a list of local options, with their contact info and a few links such as Google Reviews, Order Online, Menu and/or Locations. A Google map on the right indicates their locations with labeled pointers.
Below Google’s local results, links to other sites are listed—internet yellow pages (IYPs) and other sites with reviews and user-generated content like Yelp and Citysearch. Until 2011, links to these other more local-oriented sites is all that appeared. Google has greatly enhanced their own local search platform in order to more effectively compete; Google wants to give the user the information they’re looking for rather than having that user go to another site.
Google Places – If you click on the Google Reviews link of any of these Google local business listings, you’ll land on the Google Places page for that business. What appears there depends on whether you have claimed your Google local listing and, if so, what content you’ve uploaded. In any case, a lot of content is automatically pulled in from other sites like Yahoo. The amount of useful content will in turn determine whether you rank on the Google general search results and, if so, how high you rank. So, having your Google Places presence well managed can have significant positive results, without any ongoing cost.
Yelp – The most important of the customer-review sites is Yelp, which has more user-contributed reviews and recommendations that any other site, having grown to over 30 million unique monthly visitors in just 6 years. Whether you pay for advertising on Yelp, or simply claim your business page and manage the content, what "Yelper" are saying about you has to be on your marketing radar screen.
Trends in Local Search – The convergence of the IYP and review approaches vs. the search engine approach continues. Both Yelp and the IYPs now offer pay-per-click advertising based on the Google model, the IYPs even sell direct advertising on the major search engines as part of some packages, and the search engines continue to develop their local search functionality, following a yellow page type model, though with more content and interactivity.
Virtually all content on all local search sites can affect your search engine rankings. Internet users have their own search preferences and behaviors, and the more sophisticated they are, the more sources they consult. The biggest change agent in local search has been the move to social media sites with user-generated content. This is what prompted Google to launch Google Places to compete with Yelp and the IYPs, and Google Plus to compete with Facebook.
Most local businesses still do not have their own websites, and most of the local search providers strive to populate their own sites with so much content—including special offers, reviews, photos and videos—that the businesses will not ever need their own websites.