Yahoo Overhauls Its Local Pages; Downplays Business Reviews

Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) is overhauling the look and much of the content of its local pages. The “new Yahoo Local,” which is beginning to roll out in a handful of select markets, replaces pages that were previously dominated with photo-heavy capsules featuring business reviews, nearby events and maps, with a single, long list of local news, deals, and events. Users can sort the list — which the company is calling a “neighborhood mix” — by category. While the previous Yahoo Local pages were largely focused on cities, there are also now pages for specific neighborhoods.

The new pages bring together a number of initiatives that Yahoo has launched over the last year. The company is using what was once Associated Content in order to feature some original local content. And, the featured deals come through Yahoo’s Local Offers program, which was launched last month to aggregate daily deals from companies like Groupon and LivingSocial.

For now, the pages — which are in beta — don’t appear to have any advertising, although Yahoo says it’s “exploring and experimenting with various advertising solutions that will enable our advertising partners to reach their target users.” The old pages, by contrast, primarily featured standard display ads.

In its announcement, Yahoo says that the new Yahoo Local is “fundamentally changing how users will interact with local content, including advertising,” but at least in its current incarnation the changes don’t seem to be that radical, especially when compared to the efforts of rivals in the local market, such as AOL (NYSE: AOL), which is investing heavily in a network of local sites each manned by a single professional reporter.

Because the pieces of news, deals and things to do on Yahoo Local are all now in a single list, the juxtaposition of content can also be very jarring. The top item on the new Palo Alto page, for instance, is headlined “Wednesday, Dec. 8” (which in fact is an event listing for a rock concert), followed by “Kelly Fergusson elected Menlo Park mayor by 3-2 council vote” and “Wednesday Weed Warriors.” It’s also unclear how the order of stories is being determined.

User-contributed items also don’t seem to be targeted enough to specific areas. “Community writers” on the Palo Alto page, for instance, have written stories on very local events in Sunnyvale, Bernal Heights, and Alamo Square — none of which are in Palo Alto. An editor, however, could quickly change all of that, and Yahoo has in fact been hiring professional editors in local markets across the country for much of the last year. It is unclear what their role in the new local pages is going to be, although Yahoo does say the pages will feature “city content” created by “Yahoo editors.”

One big positive: Yahoo is downplaying the local business reviews that previously took up a large amount of the real estate on Yahoo Local. Those reviews paled in quality when compared to those on Yelp and were famously filled with spam. Users can still find them but only from the search bar on the top of the site.