Free-411: The Local Search Killer?

Free, advertiser-supported Directory Assistance, launched six months ago by the likes of Jingle’s 1800Call411 and Infeeda’s 1800411metro, appears to be here to stay. Free DA’s emergence promises to have a significant impact on the $8 billion DA marketplace, which is roughly 1/3 mobile, 2/3 landline. It will also indirectly impact the market for local search and Internet Yellow Pages.

But will free DA mean higher volume or less? More money or less? And what’s the timeline before traditional directory assistance sees pricing pressure? Looking forward, how much time will it be before technology factors such as voice recognition, wireless and email coupon delivery, and text and video delivery play a convergence-like role? All these variables were the subject of debate at The Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down conference in San Jose.

George Garrick of Jingle Networks, the producer of 1800Free411, claimed to be sitting on research showing that 85 percent of consumers would rather hear a 15-second ad than pay $1 or $1.50 for ad-free directory assistance. Rather than eating into existing DA revenues, he made the case that Jingle (and others) was transforming it by switching to a targeted advertising model. “Users are making five times the number of DA calls than they used to,” he said.

Rashtchy: Local Search Disrupts Ecommerce

Local search will disrupt today’s ecommerce channels, as consumers increasingly find what they want in local stores, according to Piper Jaffray’s Safa Rashtchy, who addressed Kelsey’s Drilling Down conference. “Local search could consume as much as 50 percent of all purchases online, he told attendees. “The first phase is the addition of real time inventory,” […]

Superpages Head Talks Google, New Directions

Verizon SuperPages will leapfrog the increasingly stagnant Internet Yellow Pages space by focusing on “co-opetition, personalization and risk-taking,” said Internet Division President Eric Chandler in a wide-ranging address at Kelsey’s Drilling Down on Local conference in San Jose.

It isn’t the first time that SuperPages has attempted to remake itself. Two years ago, SuperPages was hellbent on becoming the Web’s ultimate shopping portal. But going forward, Chandler acknowledged it would be folly to stick with an ecommerce strategy.

Chandler’s big news at the conference, in fact, was the announcement of a sales deal with Google – enabling SuperPages to join rivals such as Yellowpages.com and Dex as salespeople for the marketing behemoth. For the past couple of months, Chandler revealed that SuperPages tested a Google package on 400 advertisers, and saw an incremental spend of $173 per customer.

ShopLocal Sees Shift to Local by 2007

ShopLocal, the women-oriented sales service from Tribune, Knight Ridder and Gannett, is breaking through on local and will see revenue from smaller, local stores outpace revenue from larger, national stores such as Target by 2007 , CEO Brian Hand told The Local Onliner.

Hand notes that the site gets 25 million unique users a month, and has been ranked by ComScore as one of the fastest growing sites anywhere on the Web. The traffic boost is the result of free print- and- online advertising from its partners, as well as carefully-placed SEM and SEO efforts.

Currently, the site has about 20,000 local advertisers. It is pushing to boost the count via local services directories, powered by Planet Discover. It is also getting heavy sales efforts by its newspaper partners. The site also benefits from additional distribution from IYP/search sources such as Switchboard, SuperPages, Local.com and Froogle Local (and consequently, GoogleBase). In all, it has 400 distribution partners, including 150 private label sources. “I don’t care if they know ‘ShopLocal’ as a name,” said Hand.

WashingtonPost.com to Launch ‘Express’ Classifieds

Classified aggregators like Oodle and Edgeio have begun to transform how users look at classifieds. These players have put all the classifieds in one place, and levelled the playing field — a bit — among newspapers, alternative weeklies, business journals, TV stations and others.

A few years ago, newspapers would have rather died than participated. But the rise of Craig’s List as an alternative channel has made them take chances. The new feeling is that sites like Oodle, in particular, don’t hurt. Oodle relies almost entirely on passive Google revenues from the traffic, brings in new users, and link back to the newspaper site.

But now, WashingtonPost.com is going from passive to aggressive. In a few weeks, The Post will launch “Express,” a local classifieds product that will integrate Oodle’s API, according to Director of Local Product Development Henry Tam, who spoke at The Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down conference.

Newspaper Sites Boost Political Advertising

Online political advertising remains high on the agenda of newspapers, with separate seminars held this week by The Washington Post and The San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOn San Diego. The Washington Post seminar was coordinated with The Laredo Group as part of a sales training effort, while the San Diego event was put on by The E-Voter Institute (which I serve as an advisor).

At the San Diego event, Tacoda leader Dave Morgan touted the incredible addressability of online sites via issue-based targeting; life stage targeting; message segmentation; re-targeting and the ability to combine ad campaigns with demographic targeting, thanks to newspaper registration efforts. Through New York Times Direct, he marveled, “The New York Times sold people who are particular to particular columnists,” such as Republican moderate David Brooks or Liberal Paul Krugman.

But the political consultants, ad agencies, and vendors gathered at the San Diego meeting didn’t seem convinced that tele-democracy has arrived – except for fundraising and communications. UCSD Professor Thad Kousser, for instance, joked that “you should raise all your money on the Internet, and spend it all on direct mail.”

Cox, Landmark Trade Vertical Holdings

Cox Enterprises and Landmark Communications have traded shares in their jointly-owned online and offline properties. The trade allows each of the media giants to focus on specific verticals: Cox with autos, under the “Cox AutoTrader” brand; and Landmark with real estate, recruitment, automotive services, boats and RVs.

The trade is a significant one, and will result in real changes in how the businesses are conducted. For instance, with sole control over its destiny, and a maturation of the marketplace, Cox will end its long-time policy of separating online and offline sales. Previously, the only bundled operations between Auto Trader.com and the offline publications have been residential For Sale By Owner listings in several markets.

Cox is also likely to fold in Manheim Auctions, the largest wholesale marketplace for used cars. It may also offer a package of all its online and offline auto services to local media partners, including newspapers, TV, radio and cable.