Had the opportunity this week to sit down (virtually) with Jeff Porter (VP / General Manager DexKnows.com at RH Donnelley) and some of his team members to go through the various features/functionalities of the new DexKnows.com site. The new site was designed and built by the Business.com team (which was acquired by RHD in 2007). It’s using Lucene open source search technology. The site is currently in beta and offers multiple improvements over the last few versions.
Main areas of improvements include
- A simplified user interface (more search engine-like)
- A clear focus on breadth, depth and quality of local data
- Better drill-down results both from a hyperlocal and hypervertical point of view
I jotted down the following random notes on what struck me as interesting with the new site:
- Introduction of geo-taxonomy (love that word!). The site offers users different levels of geographic drill-down including metro, city, neighborhood and landmarks. One of the challenges of local search sites is “guessing” the user geo-intent. Is the user searching for the specific city or for the metro area? In this case, the team decided that they would return multi-city metro results in a refine page showing users additional geo-refining options. For example, a search for Pizza in Seattle assumes by default that you’re doing a metro-area search. It leads you to a metro page showing you very basic listing information and all the metro city options. Those simplified basic listings remind of Google local search results. Depending on headings (think restaurants or lawyers), you can also drill down on “specialties” (think “family-friendly” for restaurants or the types of lawyers). If you select individual cities within a metro area, you get to a city page with more detailed business listings. You can then drill down to specific neighborhoods.
- Category suggestions based on keyword entered (not the same as keyword suggestions!). It allows for a better mapping between unstructured keyword search and structured results.
- As usual, each business has a profile page. I really like the integration of Google Street View in there. Makes me think this business profile would be tremendously valuable in mobile situations (think Dexknows iPhone app).
- If you search for service categories where work is usually accomplished in your home (plumbers, electrician, etc.), you get a service area map instead of the specific location of the merchant. The scope of the merchant service area is determined by the print directories in which they advertise.
- You can do brand search (try “Nintendo in Denver“) but you can’t combine keywords (try “Nintendo used games in Denver”, it should return you this merchant but results in a failed search). It’s really the only place we’re I was truly disappointed with results.
- I have to mention they have a very nice admin section for their advertisers where they can manage their listings and profiles, view their different products and get an estimate of the traffic they should be getting.
What it means: I really like what the RHD team has done with their new site. In the online directories arms war, the game seems to be focused on two main elements: simplified usage and quality of data. And the RHD online team is definitely focused on those elements, the same way we were at Yellow Pages Group when I was there. But it also made me realize that the industry is still very much looking at Google (or Yahoo or MSN) as the local search benchmark. Instead of doing incremental innovation, how do you leapfrog search engines? In other words, what is keeping Google up at night? The answer to that question leads to a possible new strategic direction. Community, humans, social interactions, marketplaces are what’s keeping Google up at night. Facebook and Linkedin (for example) have built up amazing identity and social graph connection systems, which they can (and will) leverage as much as they can. And we will get to ask ourselves the age-old question: who do we trust most? Man or Machine?
Update: the official announcement.