Citysearch Optimizes for Paid Search

Continuing a makeover that began this spring, Citysearch launched a redesigned site Thursday with a new, streamlined look organized around local search.

“The overall site change helps the advertiser because it’s so much cleaner and there is more room for advertising and marketing,” said Andy Shenkler, VP of search and product development for the locally-focused company, which is owned by InterActive Corp . Shenkler said users will also benefit from the simpler interface, advanced search capabilities and better navigation options.

The site’s former homepage was mostly taken up with a long list of cities. The new version uses a search box instead, freeing up space for around five ads on the page, including a 120- by 90-pixel ad on the right-hand side for a featured advertiser. Additionally, the left-hand side of the page in the restaurant section includes ads along with editorial content such as “New on the Scene Restaurants.”

Originally a network of local entertainment guides, Citysearch began its metamorphosis into a local search engine in early 2003, though it still features information on restaurants, bars, hotels and the like. It was the first company to roll out local search, according to Greg Sterling, program director for the Kelsey Group, although both Overture and Google have said they plan to develop local products. The local search engine, which it launched in April, incorporated paid search, the fastest-growing sector in Internet advertising. Jupiter Research, which shares a parent with this publication, expects local search to account for $4.3 billion in revenues by 2008.

“The redesign allows them to optimize the paid search model they introduced in April,” said Sterling. This is because it makes it possible for Citysearch to expose more of its advertisers in more places to more visitors, Sterling said.

Continuing the transformation, the new site’s top level page now features a list of categories instead of cities.

“In the old design, there were three ways to access a city. You could click on a link, use a pulldown menu or go to a search box,” said Shenkler. Now the traffic is driven through the search box. “As we enable them to refine their search to be more specific, we can put relevant advertisers in those places.”

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