It's Google month. This time last year, I wrote that Google was moving into the local search arena with Android and other local mobile tools.

This year, much to the anger of Apple's Steve Jobs, Google upped the ante, launching its mobile phone. Among other considerations, the device furthers Google's entry into locational marketing.

So things are definitely heating up.

Search is clearly becoming an ever more important attraction in the drive for the attention of the local consumer, but I'll let you in on a secret: It ain't everything it's meant to be.

Just as Winston Churchill once described democracy as "the least bad option," so is search the least bad marketing tool. Every company wants the perfect communications tool in terms of targeting efficiency and effectiveness, but, like democracy, the reality ain't like that.

Newspaper meaning

What does this mean for us newspaper folks? Let's look at some facts, which of course vary greatly from country to country, and from culture to culture.

As I've stated before, worldwide, around 60 percent of marketing expenditures are direct, and below the line. Of the rest, the Web accounts for about 10 percent, with half from search. The balance, 30 percent, is represented by ads purchased in traditional media. By 2015, however, digital ads will grow to between 20 percent and 30 percent of the pie, with much of this being mobile related.

A third of all marketing expenditures, including advertising, are local. And even if the vast majority is nationally driven, the payoff is local execution, whether it's shopping or interpersonal transactions. Even the largest manufacturers use highly localized strategies in order to market their wares.

The implication? Location-based and contextual marketing are becoming more and more important. This is where newspapers have a major advantage, and where Google and Yahoo are falling behind.

What Google lacks

Brilliant as Google and Yahoo are, they do not easily offer two key factors that are essential at a local level. These are localized granularity and aggregation. Of course I can type, "Pizza," "Marrais" and "Paris" into the system and get a cute map, but say I want to aggregate data on teenagers' education in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Mosman, then it gets a lot more difficult.

And refining secondary searches is not easy. The search engine Fast, for example, provided a much more granulated search experience, though admittedly it took far more indexing.

Fast, acquired by Microsoft two years ago, now powers a number of excellent newspaper websites, including FT.com and Ireland.com.

Search isn't just important because it is becoming an important source of digital revenue. It's also vital for two other reasons. First, it enables disparate sites, in a common contextual framework, to leverage each other's content.

Secondly, the data behind the search provides a means of tracking media consumers' needs and interests. Indeed, Google's analytics is one of the powerhouses behind its product development. Put leverage and knowledge together and you end up with a potent tool.

Supporting each other

The analogy that I draw is that of a shopping mall. At one end is a major branded retailer - Carrefour, Macy's, Harrods. Elsewhere is a range of smaller boutiques. Consumers go to the mall for both, as well as to experience other amenities like restaurants, movies or other forms of entertainment: Their variety drives exponential leverage. So imagine the newspaper as the traffic creator, and the other partners in the mall as the beneficiaries and co-promoters, with a fair revenue exchange for both.

News will never be a revenue generator, but it is a great opportunity and traffic generator. Partners need not simply be traders. They can be local services, councils, schools, universities, doctors, local community clubs, sports centers and people seeking jobs and dates - all of whom co-promote their partners in the mall. But they require glue in the form of granulated search, locational marketing, and content aggregation.

By creating this integrated local solution, newspapers can not only create a profitable business model where the leverage of partner interactivity funds the creation of news, but they can also ally with local retailers in the mutual battle against disintermediation.

Tap into strengths

In most countries, newspaper companies still have the benefit of opportunity generation, thanks to their locality and niche focus.

However, as I've stated before, we cannot do it alone. We need to work together and establish relationships with other publishers - nationally and internationally - and other stakeholders.

Except for a few markets, such as the United States or France, partnering with others is a concept that challenges many publishers.

It's clear that search proved to be the revenue shifter of the last decade. Today, search is becoming more complex as location and context become the function's key drivers.

This is our territory. Technological solutions exist and newspapers don't have to pander to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft to find them.

We must invest to retain our advantage and continue to move forward rather than see another opportunity slip by.

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