Here’s some tips for improving your search results when you’re looking for businesses or resources in a particular location. So many times you want to find something nearby to where you actually are or are going to be, and the Page One hit from Google for the term you’re looking for isn’t precise enough.
1. Include the zip code in your search term. Not all zips are the same size, and you might have to hunt around for a few of them when you are trying to cover odd geographies, but when this works it works really well. Google search for e.g. “car wash 48104” returns at the top a link to a map of car washes near 48104 from Google Maps. The ads that are running there look like they are aimed at owners of car wash businesses. These white page listings have categories, and so you can construct searches that result in page like this map of public libraries near 49855 (Marquette, MI).
2. Search on Mapquest by category rather than by business name. Here’s a similar search for libraries near 49855 on Mapquest, and it unearths a few places that the public libraries search doesn’t touch (e.g. the library at the National Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, MI). Note that category names are coming from a fixed list (a controlled vocabulary) so some experimentation to see what terms your index uses might be in order.
3. Search on Yahoo Local. It shows maps of search results, and includes user reviews in the listings. (Of course, these reviews can be gamed, but there aren’t 100s of them like Amazon and so at the moment I tend to mostly believe them.) A search for libraries near Grayling, MI (a typical stopping point on our car trips, and I’d like to have a place to go better than McDonalds) unearthed a recommendation for the Frederic Community Library –
I love to read and I find it very nice that we have a library so close. My Grandchildren always look forward to going there too. If there is ever a book Sandy doesn’t have in the library she will call all around and find it for you. I go to the library usually weekly and it is always a nice atmosphere there. Sandy is always friendly and ready to help in any way. Thanks again for the great library in our little town.
4. Business Week has a story – Fine-Tuning Local Search – about Skyhook Wireless’s location-pinpointing service and their Loki search engine that looks for things based on where you are now. A May 2006 review of Loki by jeepx wasn’t thrilled about the search engine itself, and since it’s Windows only I’ve never tried it myself. It claims to search for things based on where you are now, but really as these examples show you it’s almost always at least as useful to search for things based on where you aspire to be (or where you’re going to be in the next couple of days when you’re traveling).
I still haven’t figured out how to do proximity searches over a long stretch of highway, short of finding someone who has already done the work for that route. You’d think there would be travel planner / route planner / map directions tools that offered the easy way to do searches along the route, e.g. “find me a good vegetarian restaurant somewhere between Ann Arbor and Chicago within 15 miles of the Interstate”, but it turns out that you have to stumble through three pages of listings with that kind of imprecise search to find a blog entry like Vegan Diva’s Food on Our Trip where she recommends the Kalamazoo People’s Food Coop as a place to go (grocery store, not restaurant, but closer than the typical roadside Big Boy).