Last week, my local Yellow Pages was dropped off at the end of my driveway. It was still there this morning, abandoned and soaking wet after a weekend of pounding rain.

I can’t even remember the last time I flipped open a phone book.

These days, my instinct is to go straight to the Internet to find whatever I need. If I’m looking for a dry cleaners, Chinese food or even a real estate agent, I’d head straight for Google Local, Windows Live or Yahoo! Local before even touching a printed page.

Research shows I’m not alone, Greg Sterling reports on a recent study that found:

  • 70% had used the Internet to search for a local service business in the past three months. (Roughly 78% of the US adult population is online.)
  • 89% found search to be “somewhat effectiveâ€? or “very effectiveâ€? in finding local services in their area.
  • 68% said they would most likely use the phone number on the website to contact a vendor.

The final bullet is especially relevant when you consider Google has just launched a Click-to-Call feature on all its listings, something Windows Live did earlier this year.

This is why I think local search is going to be such a crucial part of any real estate advertising plan.

So where can you start?

Patricia Hursh from Clickz gives an excellent overview of how to initiate a local search campaign and outlines the following tactics as critical components:

  1. Geotargeted search campaigns
  2. Local keyword campaigns
  3. Ads on local search engines
  4. Ads on search result maps

Numbers 1 and 2 primarily focus on optimizing your Pay-Per-Click advertising buys and I’ve already written about targeting local search engines like Outside.In with locally relevant advertising – so I thought I’d focus on #4 and how, through paid advertising, you can ensure your business is featured prominently on the results for map based searches.

Both local search leaders (Google and Yahoo – Windows Live runs a distant third, despite an impressive product) have adopted slightly different strategies towards implementing local search. In a recent issue of AdAge, Yahoo! said Local Search is like Social Networking.

local is expanding from a look-up use case or the old Yellow Pages approach to a browse-type use case, where you want to bring in user-generated content elements to make a decision. … It’s more of a research and comparison shopping case.

Yahoo!’s search results return more like a traditional directory, but come complete with ratings and user recommended results. Results can be sorted by several criteria including distance and rating and business owners can claim existing listings or add their business using their Yahoo! member ID. Yahoo! also offers premium listings that ensure your name is seen at the top of the search results page.

Google, for their part, has a slightly different approach – focusing instead overlaying search results geographically on top of a Google Maps mashup. Local business owners can add their listings through the Google Local Business Center, sponsored links which add an image and contact number can can be purchased through their AdWords program.

At the absolute minimum, every real estate agent or small business owner in business today should be maintaining a basic (free) listing on these local search engines. Why would you want to potentially miss a hot lead?

The more adventurous out there might consider springing for a paid listing. You’ll be on the cutting edge of a new advertising medium so results might vary and hey, if you sign up before the end of the year, Yahoo! will even give you your first month free.

Me, I have to go recycle my soggy Yellow Pages.

Update: Looks like Google has had to pull Click-to-Call due to prank phonecalls. Not terribly surprising. The technology is in its infancy and will surely resurface in some other form soon.

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