Newspapers can still win at local search

I’ve mentioned before how poor most local search is, how it can’t do the simplest things like find me the best Italian restaurants in town or a well-recommended plumber or a pediatrician. I’ve also argued that user generated content (UGC) isn’t going to be the magic fix because — even backed by powerful brands — it just doesn’t generate the necessary critical mass of helpful local commentary.

There is, however, one player that could easily grab the lead in the sorry local search game thanks to a treasure trove of information and that is the local newspaper. In most cities, the local newspaper has reams and reams of unmatchable content sitting idle, either locked away in paid archives or, for some other reason, hidden from search engines and unfindable. This content is just waiting to be organized and used to attract readers, build rank and, yes, even provoke some user generated content to complement it.

Take the case of the Gazette, the only English paper here in Montreal and one, whose reporters and critics have, for the most part, a lot of credibility. Yet when I search for Italian restaurants, the first page of results returns nothing from the Gazette‘s much talked about fine dining critic Lesley Chesterman.

The results are, in fact, the kind most users dread: ugly compilation pages with no name or brand recognition. It’s not clear who’s behind them, whether they’re ads or sponsored content, and why things are listed in the order they’re listed. In short, the top-ranked sites — many of which are produced by companies that run similarly unhelpful sites in all the other major North American cities — are useless . They are vehicles for ads and the idea is to generate ad revenues not to provide quality information.

The local newspaper, however, has plenty of quality information about Italian restaurants, which, as an experiment, I am going to use, as copyright law permits, to create an Italian restaurant page and see how fast, it moves up in the Google rankings. It won’t be an authoritative, comprehensive page, but it will demonstrate the value of local newspaper content when it comes to local search. The page will be up later today.

Update: The experiment has begun with my page starting off on page 7 of the Google results.