Cars.com, Google at Kelsey Seattle: ‘Google’s Place in Verticals’

Google is a collaborative partner with all verticals, and generally speaking, has no interest in competing with them, per Adrian Madland, Google’s head of automotive strategic partnerships, who was speaking at Kelsey Seattle.“We love all the vertical people in the room,” said Madland. “We don’t do verticals. We try to make them better. We want to focus on search”

Certain verticals, however, have been singled out by Google as unique business units, which no doubt gives pause to competitors, however innocent Google’s efforts may be. “Automotive has been so successful for us that we have broken it out for a special focus,” noted Madland, a former exec at Ford Direct.

Madland also volunteered that there have been some misunderstandings about Google efforts such as GoogleBase, Google’s giant aggregation site. It is “not about taking over classifieds,” he emphasized. “It is about driving people to classifieds. Our goal is to partner.”

Cars.com President Mitch Golub, speaking on the same session, noted that his company, part of newspaper-owned Classified Ventures Inc., was one of those that are partnering with GoogleBase. “We participate because we want to see what Google is up to,” he said.

Golub didn’t specifically challenge Madland’s claim of disinterest in entering the vertical marketplace. But he complained that different parts of Google seem to be unaware of what the other parts are doing. “There is a complete disconnect between the people working on verticals and (those working with) business partners, like us,” he said.

Whether or not companies like Google ultimately intend to compete, Golub doesn’t believe they constitute a real threat because they aren’t really positioned to do much selling at the local level. The challenge for Google is the sales component. They can do back-end reporting but won’t get far without local sales staff. “We don’t have 700 sales people because we want to have 700 people,” said Golub.

True, Google has done well having third parties sell AdWords for it –including some newspapers. But Golub believes there is also little prospect of collaborative selling between Google and Cars.com (and newspaper sales staff dedicated to auto). “If you think newspaper people going to go out and try to sell your products, they are smoking something,” he joked.

Generally speaking, Golub added that vertical sites have a major advantage over other publishers: “Consumers love our advertising.” He added that newspapers are beginning to finally bet big on vertical sites such as his. But it might have been better if all along, traditional media had been investing three to four percent of their revenue in R&D. “The LA Times didn’t do this three years ago. They didn’t have to.”

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