Yahoo is making its biggest update in the last two years to its local search site, allowing customer reviews and proximity to influence results.
To start with, the Yahoo Local site gets a whole new look. It's better organized and more visually appealing than before. The home page shows a customized skyline for 20 cities (in San Francisco it's the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid Building), along with local weather.
The top center portion of the site features rotating links to the most popular reviews, events, maps and buzz, or the most popular search terms used on the site. There is a section listing recent reviews for local spots and the ability to browse by category. Up at the top is a link to a new Weekend Guide page that offers a package of information to help people plan their weekend, including movie and DVD releases, Flickr photos, and events from Yahoo's Upcoming.org database.
Not only do user reviews influence the search results, but users also now have the ability to comment on each other's reviews. "When a certain percentage of opinions are positive that affects rank," said Brian Gil, senior product manager for Yahoo. The search algorithm "also takes into account the distance from where the user is searching."
Reviewers also can now upload a photo or avatar to accompany their postings. An icon appears next to reviewers who are associated with you via Yahoo Messenger or Yahoo 360.
With its huge customer base Yahoo is smart to allow for even more user-generated content and to provide linkages to its disparate social media services, said Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence. Those are key to helping Yahoo compete against the popular people-powered reviews site Yelp, he said.
"Yahoo is the incumbent in local search, other than the Yellow Pages. It's their market to lose in some sense," Sterling said. "They are to local search what Google has been to general search."
In a separate announcement, local guide site Citysearch said it was offering access to menus through a partnership with MenuPages.com.