Local Search – one area where blekko results are sorely lacking

by geek on November 4, 2010

I like the blekko concept. That’s because – with the use of slashtags – blekko lets me refine my queries in a way that no other engine or add-on that I’m aware of does. Additionally, blekko provides both canned slashtags and customized slashtags, as well as slashtag suggestions for certain queries. Adding something new and useful to search is not common, and blekko deserves recognition for its accomplishment.

While I like the blekko concept, I don’t see the product, in its current state, making waves any time soon. I agree with Andy Beal’s spot-on assessment of why blekko fundamentally won’t work on a grand scale. Andy marshals two reasons, both having to do with blekko’s differentiator: the slashtag. However, in addition to the slashtag issue, blekko will have to surmount another massive obstacle in order to be usable: serving up its own highly relevant results for searches. While I’m sure blekko’s results will be changing substantially over the beta period, the quality of the search results will, ultimately, decide whether blekko gains traction. After all, what good is a slashtag if it’s slashing mediocre quality results? And, one area where blekko’s results are sorely lacking is in local search. (It’s worth noting that I think that the quality of blekko’s non-local non-slashed results, particularly for long-tail queries, are also less-than-the-best, primarily because they seem to prioritize well-optimized pages over pages that are more likely to serve the searcher’s intent. However, all things being equal, the non-local non-slashed results for short and popular terms are at least good.)

Use blekko to search for some specific or category venue in a location and you will see what I mean. Consider a search for [Cracker Barrel Columbia SC]. One performing this search likely intends to find menus, prices, reviews, locations, hours of operation, and business contact information for Cracker Barrels in Columbia, SC.

On blekko, the first ten un-slashed results for this query are:

blekko search for Cracker Barrel Columbia SC

p>Incidentally, none of the first page results are pages on a Cracker Barrel domain, and most of the page-one results point to various hotel websites. Several of the pages in the results only have incidental references to Cracker Barrel.

Compare these results to those generated by Google for the same query:

Google search for Cracker Barrel Colubmbia, SC

The first result goes to Cracker Barrel’s corporate site and presides over Sitelinks which will serve the intention of many searchers: menu, contact us, and store hours. Next come three local listings for Columbia area Cracker Barrels, each with relevant Place page as well as address and phone number. Every Place page has even more information specific to each Columbia, SC Cracker Barrel, including hours of operation, average price, address, and customer reviews. And from both the individual Place pages and the right gutter map on in the serp, maps and directions are also available. The remaining first-page links go to major local, yellowpages, and review sites.

It would bore me and you to slash through numerous different examples of blekko failures in local search; the results are all very similar to those in the example above. However, here are some of the other queries I used in order to reach the conclusion that local is a weak spot for blekko.

[Greek restaurants Georgetown, Washington DC]

[Great Clips Trenton NJ]

[Subway restaurant Knoxville, TN]

[gun shops Kansas City]

[proctologist Princeton NJ]

I was just having a little grade school fun with this last search, but a listing in blekko’s results, which were far inferior to Google’s and Bing’s, made me realize how SEO could transform something that is otherwise hopelessly embarrassing into a genuine asset.

So, what is blekko to do if it wants to resolve its problem with local results? Well, it could just give away the local piece to another provider; it currently has a built-in slashtag that plugs into Bing Maps’ api. Appending /maps to any of the searches above lists all of and only the Bing local results along with a Bing map. Each result links to the Bing local page for that listing. And while this is a fine solution in the interim, blekko can’t hope to sustain a model in which users are encouraged to use a competing engine for searches that make up 20% of the total queries on other engines.  If blekko wants to compete with the big boys, it needs to implement a local strategy which identifies decidedly local queries and serves up blekko results.

However, if it isn’t blekko’s intent to compete with the likes of Bing and Google, then it may be able to ignore local or continue to hand it over to another provider.  And, to be sure, I certainly see potential in its becoming a niche search player, particularly given the share-ability of slashtags.  Additionally, a blekko search application which applies the slashtag functionality to Google search engine results would be an easy sell to me.

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