Might Local Search be Improved by Breaking it Into Smaller Topics?

Local search has the potential to become one of the most useful services that search engines can provide to us, by giving us helpful information about our surroundings that we can make meaningful use of offline.

But close looks at the complexity of local search can be frustrating because what seems to work for an topic area like restaurants may not work well for searches for car dealers or lawyers.

Might local search make more sense to searchers if aspects of it were presented to searchers within smaller and more segmented contexts that may better match some of the goals of those searchers, and the tasks that they want to accomplish?

Themed Local Searches from Yahoo

I was somewhat impressed in early December after writing about Interactive Maps in Yahoo Trip Planner, and the ways they’ve worked on making travel planning easier.

Another new patent filing from Yahoo describes a little more about how their travel related maps work, and might even be useful to people looking for new homes, and for other information about a specific area, such as earthquake faultlines and locations of sex offenders.

In this one, we learn about how they might decide which points of interest (restaurants, tourist activities, attractions, shopping, night life, parks, etc.) to display to someone who is looking at a map to plan a trip or buy a house.

Systems and methods for determining a relevance rank for a point of interest
Invented by Pasha Sadri and Vineet Gossain
US Patent Application 20060287810
Published December 21, 2006
Filed on June 16, 2005


The present invention provides systems and methods for computing a relevance rank or score of a point of interest based on its proximity to clusters of other points of interest (POI). The methods of the present invention are based upon novel approaches that use location information and weighting functions in order to filter and sort searches of hotels, destinations, and other properties or other points of interest.

In one approach, a relevance rank of a target POI at a location is determined by obtaining a plurality of component POIs that are each within the same geographical region as the target POI. Component POI scores for each of the component POIs are calculated as a function of a distance between the locations of the component POI and the location of the target POI. The relevance rank of the target POI is a combination of the plurality of component POI scores.

It’s interesting to see the ideas of identifying relevant places to display being applied to travel mapping. I was also intrigued by a hint that it could be used in other contexts:

In other embodiments, the systems and methods of the present invention are applied to other domains such as real estate. For example, the target POIs for which overall scores are calculated can be houses or apartments, and other POIs include, but are not limited to, parks, schools, highway on-ramps, earthquake faults, train tracks, locations of sex offenders, or other locations or points of interest. In such embodiments, the weight for each component POI used to compute a target POI can be assigned based on the candidate POI type. For example, for component POIs that are schools, the weight can be associated with the performance of the school.

Does Segmenting Local Search into Thematic Portals Make Sense?

These travel and real estate related applications of mapping, and ranking nearby attractions are more narrowly and thematically defined uses of a mapping system than local search, but they also seem to be more helpful than just a search box, and a map. Could segmenting local search into smaller niches, and meeting some of the specific challenges of those areas be the way that local search parts of search engines improve?

If Google or Yahoo were to launch a shopping portal, that focused upon helping people find bricks and mortar locations that offered goods, provided easy to find coupons, allowed geographically targeted advertising, and so on, would more small stores rush to be listed? Would more people use the service? Would more small businesses advertise there?

Or a separate business services portal, that focused upon providers of services such as lawyers, doctors, web designers, auto mechanics, and so on? What about a school search, where you could find pre-school through post doctoral programs, and the curriculums that they offered, rankings, ratings, accreditations, special programs, and so on?


Providing map-based searches within contexts like travel planning seems to make a lot of sense, and with Yahoo’s background as a portal, it’s not a surprise to see something like it from them instead of from Google.

But my question above about a shopping portal from Google wasn’t necessarily a rhetorical question. They described such a portal in a patent application earlier this year that I wrote about in Google’s Holy Grail of Shopping? The way they presented how that might work was pretty exciting.

Is there value in adding context that makes abandoning the simplicity of a single search box worth the effort, for both search engines, and their users? Might it provide a better user experience?


Author: Bill Slawski

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