Although Google may not be going anywhere, the future of online search will probably surprise you.
Currently, Google dominates the traditional online search market. Customers seeking information on, for example, the War of 1812 or the identifying characteristics of amphibians will justifiably run a Google search. Indeed, there is little doubt that when it comes to crawling the Web for items related to search terms and creating an increasingly sophisticated search engine, Google is a commanding force.
However, Google is limited in scope by its essentially global character. For example, when users of Google type “car mechanic”, they are probably not looking for a history of car mechanics in general. While in recent years the search giant has offered “local listings” featuring restaurant reviews and movie times, these local offerings only make up the first few search results. In response, frustrated customers are increasingly turning to local-based competitors, such as 411.ca, alongside other options such as Yahoo! Local and Moz Local.
411.ca in particular has attracted attention for its focus on search results based in Canada. This focus has enabled the search engine to compile search results featuring businesses and individuals in Canada, enabling busy local customers to find exactly what they are looking for without dealing with results from halfway across the world.
411.ca's Business Directory deserves specific attention for bringing features of the traditional phone book to online search. Residents of Toronto looking for bike shops are not interested in seeing results about the greatest bike shop in the world – which happens to be located in, for instance, Tokyo – they want to purchase bike products today, in Toronto. To serve this purpose, 411.ca's Business Directory offers searches of businesses from within 10 kilometers to up to 100 kilometers away from the customer's location and can also perform “near me” searches with an even smaller and more specific search radius.
Sites like 411.ca also help users by offering “people search” – basically, an equivalent to an online phone book. Reverse phone number searches are also offered, making these sites a “one-stop shop” for users with specifically local needs.
Advertisers also win by focusing on local search. Customers on sites like 411.ca are frequently looking to make a purchase as soon as possible. In contrast, it’s been shown that Google customers are often looking to do extensive research before making a purchasing decision, meaning advertisers could be in a position to lose money by going with Google's broader advertising options. Many localized search options also offer detailed directions to advertisers' businesses, along with a custom-made logo that attracts additional attention to the advertisement on the top of the page.
Search engine alternatives also happen to be making inroads in the app market. While Google's stable of apps include dozens of offerings, the Google+ Local App ceased to exist in 2013 due to extremely low popularity among users. Thus, there is a huge space in the market for apps that offer what people want in their area. 411.ca's offering is a simple, elegantly designed app that can help customers find local convenience options, such as grocery stores, gas stations, dry cleaners and other businesses that may not have websites of their own, alongside the traditional restaurants and movie theaters that show up in any search listing.
The new frontiers of the search market are local. Yes, traditional search engines remain king when it comes to doing what they were designed for: searching the entire World Wide Web for information. But, the future of search just may be found in “local”, curated sites that focus on serving just one country – but doing it very, very well.