Local UK sites now in all out war

There’s something about ‘local’ that really gets our startup juices flowing in the UK. Maybe it’s that ‘children of Thatcher’ thing? (She was a greengrocer’s daughter).

Nine-year old local search site TouchLocal has raised £7M (€9.4M) from Balderton Capital to combine a yellow pages model with a social community of recommending and reviewing users, following its Web 2.0 makeover and relaunch. Using its custom “Circles” social networking engine, TouchLocal users put other members into circles of trust that are graphically represented on screen.

The re-launched TouchLocal will be jostling for position in the ‘local reviews’ marketplace against new younger upstarts including Welovelocal, Tipped, Trustedplaces and Qype, among others. And that’s not even to go into the mobile startups – like Rummble – interested in this space.

Headed by CEO Tamar Ozmen, the site covers 114 UK cities, claims 18 million visitors a year and lists 2.4 million UK businesses. However, I’d somehow disagree with Ozmen’s view that “Facebook fatigue is already setting in” and it could be replaced by a ‘social yellow pages’ model. I’m just not that interested in plumbers, sorry.

Meanwhile, the much smaller (in size of operation) privately-backed Welovelocal has commissioned a YouGov poll into printed business directories in Britain, revealing that 35% of British adults would prefer not to receive printed business directories at home, equating to in excess of 17.5 million books. That’s a lot of recycling.

When asked which one of the following do you trust the most when trying to find local businesses / services, ‘word of mouth’ with 67%, won out by a wide margin. In the last 6 months, 51% of respondents said they had used the Internet to find local businesses / services, with printed directories on 24%. The sample size was 1,974 adults.

This research suggests that ‘social search’ really does have legs as a concept. And these latest developments are just the latest in a salvo of shots that will be fired in this battle to win the ‘local’ reviews market. The question is, who has already been on the phone to equivalent US site like Yelp to talk buyouts…?