Ask.com, MSN, Yahoo! & The National Cherry Festival

Each year the National Cherry Festival hits Traverse City, Michigan in the first week of July. Cherry Fest (local jargon) brings a series of challenges with it. You can participate in a variety of fun and unique challenges like the cherry spitting contest and sand castle building contest, or team events punctuated by the bed race and the milk jug boat regatta.

So why not bring another challenge to the Cherry Festival? I announce the Cherry Fest Local Search Engine Challenge. I’ll be the only judge, and I’ll make the rules as I go. Let’s see what the local search engines can tell us.

Only 3 of the 4 titans of search currently provide a local option on their homepages, so we’ll be talking about Ask.com, MSN, and Yahoo!

Over at Ask.com I clicked the local link on the right navigation. Then I entered my the word festival in the business/service search box. After that I listed my local Traverse City zip code of 49686. I was given a single listing that said National Cherry Festival. Only one listing? Hmmm, could there be other festivals in my zip code? I clicked the link expecting to go to the official site for Cherry Fest. Instead I was taken to City Search. Back on the Ask.com results page they did provide a map in case I wasn’t sure where the Fest was. They showed it down at the Open Space by the Bay. Works for me. Overall, nice job Ask.com. I like the clean straight-to-the-point results. Ask.com wasn’t too busied by ads either.

I pointed my Firefox browser next to Yahoo.com. I clicked the local link on the homepage and then entered festival in the business/services box and typed the same zip code I used at Ask.com. Kablammo. Ads galore. I received ten numbered natural results surround by Yahoo! Search Marketing ads. The map on the left side of the page was crowded with markers for each of the numbered listings. After the sponsored links there was a listing for National Cherry Festival. This listing itself was surrounded by a plethora of links. I clicked the largest one and it showed me that the festival is on the intersection of Sixth Street and Union. Hmmm, I guess you’d find your way into the festival if you showed up at that address, but no local would point you there as a first answer. Yahoo did give several other useful results, most in the restaurant arena. Good. You can get pretty hungry at Cherry Fest. Yahoo’s results were a little busy, but once you dig in they worked. I even found a link to the official Cherry Festival site.

Finally we visit our old pal MSN.com. I clicked the local link off the homepage. The next page that came up already knew I was in Traverse City. Nice. The search box simply asks the word What. This is a departure from the previous two engines I reviewed. They were essentially the same in their initial presentation. I typed in the word festival to stay consistent. Then I clicked the green button that said local. I received some unobtrusive ads at the top of the page. There was a nice list of results down the left side of the page. MSN also returned a Cherry Fest link as its top listing. Additionally, MSN handed me links to 4 other festivals within a 60 mile radius. I hadn’t even heard of two of them. This is good stuff. Only MSN showed me any festival listing other than the Cherry Festival. Anyone who knows northern Michigan knows that during the summer festivals abound. Smart MSN. Smart. I clicked the top link and was again given a map with the Sixth street address. Come on. Everyone knows the real Cherry Festival takes place in the beer tent, ahem, I mean beverage pavilion, down by the bay.

Well this concludes my Cherry Festival Local Search Engine Challenge. The winner is MSN. They gave me the best local search results for my single word festival. I never said I only wanted Cherry Fest information. The other local search engines just didn’t have enough else to offer. Do your own local search challenge sometime.