Greg Hartnett – Local Search Interview

For this interview we’re going to be talking with Greg Hartnett of Best of the Web.

Hi Greg why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and your company for people who might not know you.

Hi Michael, and thanks for this opportunity. I am the president of Best of the Web, the Internet’s oldest directory. Our goal is to categorize all of the information online, both topically and regionally. Originally started in 1994 as an awards site, BOTW now serves the online user with the web directory, blog directory, and our enterprise software directory – the first of our vertical platforms.

Additionally, I serve as the CEO of Hotel Hotline, an online hotel reservation conglomerate. We own and operate hundreds of discount hotel reservation sites. We started as an affiliate, and went upstream with that in 2001 to a proprietary merchant model program.

My business partner, Brian Prince, and I recently started a third company with an offering that’s almost ready for a beta launch. It’s a brand monitoring service, which we’ll be introducing to the hospitality industry at first, with plans to introduce it to new markets as conditions permit. It was a busy 2006, and ’07 looks like more of the same.

Let’s talk about you for a moment. What type of local searches do you do? I know you also recently moved – did you find yourself doing more local searches when you moved to a new community?

I use local search a lot even more so since my recent move. Local search is the best way to find brick and mortar businesses, and I use it to find everything from where to get an oil change to finding a landscaper. It’s really been indispensable to me in getting to know my new neighborhood, and the businesses that service it.

Unfortunately, there are still many, many businesses that are not accessible online, but I think that’s an issue we’ll see some smart companies tackling in the years to come.

From a high level what are some ways I can get the most out of a directory listing for a local business.

If you are looking to maximize your local exposure for the listing, I’d suggest submitting your site to the most relevant subcategory within the Regional branch of a directory. Most general directories have a Regional branch, and if you dig around within those branches, you are bound to find a category that represents your business.

Submitting to these types of categories provide another example of regional relevancy to spiders. When a search spider visits a category in an authority directory, they should trust that when they find a site in the Boston/Restaurants/Pizza category that the business is a pizza place in Boston. As long as the directory is doing it’s job properly, these types of listings provide another citation and affirmation that the site is indeed what the spiders expect it to be. I wrote about specific examples of this back in Dec ’05 on the BOTW Blog (see BOTW Blog » Blog Archive » Regional Listings and the Future of Search).

Now let’s talk about BOTW.org – let’s say I’m a local Real Estate or Insurance Company. What are some benefits to being listed in a regional section as opposed to a more general category?

The most obvious benefit would be the increased relevancy. If you were a real estate agent that specializes in homes on Long Island, wouldn’t you want to be listed in an area that will bring you relevant traffic? As opposed to a more general category that will bring less targeted visitors? But that relevancy is a double-edged sword. There is an inverse correlation between relevancy and volume “ you may receive less traffic from a more relevant listing, but each visitor will be more targeted and more likely to convert. And that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?

Additionally, by being listed within the most relevant Regional category, you get the benefit of having your listing surrounded by other relevant, high quality listings that share your geographical area. With the advances in latent semantic indexing, this should provide additional fodder for the spiders, and help with your overall online marketing.

I’ve also heard you’re going to be announcing a new service for local businesses. Anything you can tell us about?

We are in the process of finalizing our latest offering, BOTW Local. As a complement to our Regional branch, the service offers brick and mortars an opportunity to get their businesses online, even if they don’t have a website. Each business will receive it’s own page on the BOTW domain where the business owner will be able to list information about their company including location, phone number, hours of operation, etc

In an effort to reach critical mass, we are providing the basic service free to all businesses. The basic service will enable business owners to provide the nuts and bolts of their entity for no cost. For business owners looking to maximize their online presence, we’ll be offering an enhanced version for a nominal fee. The enhanced version will include additional information, pictures, product offerings, and a link to the website (if applicable).

The offering will be available to brick and mortars only “ you’ll need a physical location in order to receive a page. With over 24 million businesses in the US alone, there is no shortage of opportunity. We are pretty excited about the chance to enter the market, and I’m confident that the BOTW Local offering will enhance the user experience and provide additional value to the business owner “ which is what it’s all about for us.

Let’s take a look into the future, where do you see the local search space heading?
I think local search will continue to take mind-share away from traditional print yellow pages and classified advertising, and the number of companies servicing those businesses will continue to grow. I would expect a rush of companies trying to capitalize on the surge of dollars coming into the space. The industry should see strong growth for the next five years as more businesses discover the power of local search and additional users turn to their computers to looks for businesses locally.

Moreover, as the number of computers in the average household continues to rise, eventually we’ll see mass adoption of the kitchen computer “ once that happens, it’s goodbye yellow pages.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today Greg. To learn more about using local directory listings for your company visit BOTW.org.

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