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.

Google’s Ad Chief Talks Up Local

If there were any doubts that Google is dead serious about local, those doubts were dissipated by VP of Advertising Sales Tim Armstrong during a Feb. 1 keynote address to the Software and Information Industry Association’s Summit in New York.

Until recently, local “has been a big challenge,” said Armstrong. But now, “it is probably one of the areas that is going to grow the fastest.”

Armstrong believes that local’s growth is likely to manifest itself in numerous ways. Just 170 terabytes of 5 million possible terabytes have been catalogued. Local stores, for instance, could be catalogued in terms of “physical stores,” “in-store mapping,” “co-op advertising,” and “inventory.” “Users want access to assets,” he said.

How Real is WiFi for Local Ads?

There’s been speculation that free WiFi would be used by Google and others as a carrot to target users and seize the local advertising market. That’s hard to do under any circumstances. But assuming that all the stars align, how attractive can WiFi be as a targeted, local delivery medium?

It can be “very attractive,” according to Nitin J. Shah, Executive Vice President of Feeva Technology, a San Francisco-based software company focused on WiFi ad targeting.

Shah is the first to concede the real limitations of WiFi technology. But he argues that WiFi’s adoption in laptops, PDAs and cellphones, combined with the rapid proliferation of free WiFi hotspots, “clouds” and “zones,” creates real opportunities for local advertisers and other geo-targeters.

GoogleLocal Stresses ‘Openness’

GoogleLocal is one of the biggest wildcards in local advertising, with new partners and angles being pursued for AdSense, AdWords and GoogleBase, the new self-serve directory and classifieds product.

Whatever it is planning behind the scenes, Google clearly wants to be seen as a bunch of good guys. Keynoting the Kelsey ILM conference, Google Local leader Shailesh Rao’s presentation was almost entirely data-and-content free, focusing instead on the shimmering possibilities of local information and services.

“We don’t see ourselves in your business,” said Rao. “I don’t feel your pain.” Addressing the controversial rollout of GoogleBase, Rao said it has simply been misunderstood. “GoogleBase is not synonymous with owning content,” he said. “Google Base is to the benefit of owners of content….it is a meaningful, structured (way to do) content.”

Google’s Froogle Ramps Up on Local

Google’s Froogle has been an also-ran among the giant comparative shopping sites, being out-distanced by the likes of eBay’s Shopping.com and Scripps’ Shopzilla. Indeed, Google’s apparent inattention to Froogle has been a mystery.

But this week, Google turned on the burners for Froogle. It announced that it will provide sales-and-inventory search programs for big box and local merchant retailers with ShopLocal, and StepUp, a Bay Area startup that now provides online inventory search for 1,200 retailers in 8,000 locations. Roughly 75 percent of StepUp’s merchant base, or 900 retailers, come from outside the Bay Area. StepUp also has 250 Bay Area specialty retailers, grandfathered from its acquisition of MarketSquare.

The Froogle announcement is actually the first concrete manifestation of GoogleBase, a do-it-yourself classifieds and Yellow Pages builder. While few details of GoogleBase have been released, its mere existence has caused some consternation with local media and commerce companies, who now finally understand that they’ll be directly competing with Google.

Will Google Buy Yellow Book?

Yellow Book has clawed its way to a prominent role in the Yellow Pages industry, and has grabbed 50 percent of the market for Independent Yellow Pages publishers. Now it is rumored to be in takeover talks with Google.

Would Google go for it? To be sure, Yellow Book is compelling in a number of ways. It has a national footprint, increasing market share, strong leadership, a scrappy, non-union sales force – and hardly any preconceived Internet strategies.
Google could certainly leverage Yellow Book’s sales force. It is conceivable that the search company may soon hit a plateau with the number of advertisers willing to self-provision their own ads over the Web. Yellow Book’s feet-on-the- street would conceivably boost penetration, while upselling advertisers on a number of fronts.

Yellow Book CEO Joe Walsh is happy to fan the flames of such rumors. Speaking at Kelsey’s Directory Driven Commerce conference in Denver, Walsh noted that “in a lot of ways, a good Yellow Pages business complements a geo- and- search business. I’d be shocked if you don’t see partnerships happening. It just makes so much sense.”