Category Archives: Local Search

LSA16: Thumbtack Focuses on Creating an ‘SMB OS’

Thumbtack President and Co-founder Jonathan Swanson

Thumbtack is an SMB sleeper. It has raised $275 million, using it to develop a profile-based, one click referral system. Last quarter, 200,000 service SMBs bought some level of lead bundles, which can be purchased in packages ranging from $10 to $600 per week.

Under Thumbtack’s model, service pros only buy the number of leads they want to deal with. Consumers receive a choice of 3-5 referrals per query (yes, sort of like Home Advisor.) The beauty of it: no sales force — the single greatest expense in the industry. Thumbtack simply finds its service pros via sophisticated searches and builds a searchable profile. In some cases, it is enfranchising entire new groups that don’t have storefronts and aren’t typically approached for marketing (i.e. photographers, dog walkers)

We’ll see whether Thumbtack hits a wall with the model, given that many SMBs have needed a push from a sales consultant to keep their foot on the gas. Meanwhile, the Thumbtack team isn’t waiting to see what happens. It plans to deepen its engagement with SMBs by developing a comprehensive SMB “operating system” that will connect all the dots for busy service pros that need help with scheduling, presence, marketing and back office chores.

Speaking at LSA 16 this week in San Francisco, President and co -founder Jonathan Swanson says the company is basically extending its longtime mission of moving away from the omnipresent directory model and be more Amazon-like. He calls it a “features” approach. “The more we looked at our competitors, the more they looked the same,” he says. Competitors include such companies as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Porch, Amazon, Google, Dex, Hibu and others.

Swanson says that the company’s main mission is to extend its relationship with its service pros, and make that relationship more rewarding. Churn isn’t an issue since there is no contract – just new business. “Once a professional is hired (using) Thumbtack, they stay with us forever. If they are being hired, they come back again and again,” he says.

The SMB operating system concept isn’t necessarily a new one. Groupon was talking about it a couple of years ago, seeking to enlist partners from a wide variety of niches to “close the loop” on its payments and loyalty system.

Thumbtack’s vision is to leverage its core competencies, mostly using internally developed resources. “We’re good at Adwords, payments, scheduling,” says Swanson.

With the OS in place, service pros can “open the App, tell us their skills and we can tell them what they can earn in different parts of the country. We’d help you start a small business, get a license and get customers. You focus on what you love doing, and we’ll focus on everything else.” The company, meanwhile, can also educate consumers on their bids and what they can expect to pay. Many consumers, for instance, wouldn’t realize that a quality photographer wouldn’t bid on a $500 photo shoot.

Vistaprint Adds ‘Local Listings’: Our Interview with Scott Bowen, VP of Digital Services

What’s really important to SMBs in digital marketing? SEO/SEM, social media, Websites, mobile optimization and promotions immediately come to mind. The core feature probably remains listings (and “enhanced” data related to listings such as location info, hours and photos.)

Listings are seen as the #2 offering after Websites by Vistaprint, which has just launched Local Listings in the U.S. and Europe. The $10 a month service is aimed at micro businesses and will distribute enhanced data such as business hours, locations and photos to 100+ publishers, as well as provide detailed analytics at perhaps “half the price” of competitors such as Yext, Moz, Go Daddy’s Locu, Constant Contact’s Single Platform, etc.

VP of Digital Services Scott Bowen tells us that Vistaprint is ideally positioned to reach customers that already buy its business cards and its growing list of supporting physical and digital products. The listings product, which has been built in partnership with Neustar-Localeze in the U.S. and Uberall in Europe, can boost their website traffic rates by up to 60 percent.

Even businesses that aggressively claim listings don’t often go much beyond Google, Bing, Yelp and YP, says Bowen. “The three or four dozen ‘long tail’ publishers give you that more reach and make a positive impact on your organic search position,” he notes.

Listings also complement Vistaprint’s other digital offerings – some of which are being white=labelled from other vendors. They’re anchored by the company’s website business (as low as $5 a month), but also include social media marketing ($10 a month); and email marketing (as low as $5 a month).

Currently, Vistaprint’s digital services are being offered a la carte. Some customers are already committed to other vendors for components such as domain listings. (in fact, Go Daddy looks like the closest competitor here). Bowen believes that microbusinesses will ultimately want a one-stop shop for all their physical and digital marketing needs, positioning Vistaprint as an omnichannel provider to small business owners.

While it is an intensely competitive space, Vistaprint has some advantages over the others in terms of its huge base of business card customers, and by extension, being able to populate the most up to date info in the listings template. “There is a lot of information on a business card,” says Bowen.

The service is currently live in the U.S., France and the U.K., and will launch within the next couple of months in Germany. Bowen feels that the various European markets have more potential in terms of being a greenfield, but they also have “very different competitive landscapes.”

Vistaprint VP of Digital Services Scott Bowen

Getting from Search to ‘Close the Loop’: Chatting with FreshLime’s Jay Bean

SEO remains key for SMBs in 2016, but the goalposts have moved. With a surfeit of “close the loop” technologies being added to Big Data analytics, search has become just the tip of the iceberg.

Companies like SignPost are working closely with SMBs to provide close the loop information and action for SMBs. Service lead platforms such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor, Thumbtack and others are also providing transaction marketing behavior. So are loyalty and customer acquisition plays such as Empyr Networks.

Another platform is FreshLime, a Utah-based company launched by OrangeSoda founder Jay Bean. The company has been testing results with several hundred customers.

“Getting to the transaction enables us to help the SMB gain actionable insights about their customers,” says Bean. “Transparency past the transaction enables us to see the bigger picture and completely understand the consumer. Now we provide real data to predict future success.”

Some companies focus entirely on real time data from the Point of Sale forward, but Bean notes that real time data is only part of the picture. Seeing the data from a five year period gives a fuller picture. For example, Quickbooks can offer a ton of useful data, since SMBs enter all their transactions there. So do other feedback mechanisms, such as online reviews and channels of feedback (i.e. email, phone or text). This data is largely lost when SMBs focus on signing new customers instead of analyzing previous transactions that can show them where they can win repeat business and higher revenues.

To create a predictive analytics program, “we look at customers who are not coming back; and at past transactions,” says Bean. “We see where the leads are coming from, and the cost of leads. We are mining actionable data that can actually be used. The results show SMBs exactly where they should boost spending on the most relevant types of marketing channels, such as postcards and other offline engagement.

Lots of different players continue to hold on to different data elements. “There are big pools of data that no one wants to give up, despite the fact that the more valuable data is right there and available” says Bean. “It is like Google Analytics in 2000.”

Automation of all the inputs helps make it a win-win for all partners. “SMBs are tired of clicks and calls that don’t convert,” says Bean. To help them succeed, “it is important to not only focus on the front-end of engagement, but on the longer-term marketing side as well.”


FreshLime CEO Jay Bean

Milking the Big Data Around Local Events

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No one has really been able to build much of a business around “events.” While Zvents, Eventful, GoldStar and others have built great, increasingly granular databases of events, business models have never really been developed to leverage that data.

What if the focus was on the meta data around an events database? With mobile based geolocation and wallet information, that’s the quest for Gravy, a northern Virginia company founded in 2011 that has won investments from Gannett and others.

Gravy’s thesis: consumers reveal a great deal about their behavior and psychographics in in their search for events –and that marketers generally don’t leverage event searches.

CEO and Founder Jeff White told us that Gravy never thought of itself as an events discovery platform. “We didn’t want to get into the crowded ocean of events,” he said. But Gravy is set up to capture everything associated with an events search, from points of interest to very precise times of their location and activity.

“This is for the real world,” added White. “It is no different than a Web cookie in the Web world. Sometimes, you are understanding competitive locations. Other times, you are understanding the interests and behaviors of your most loyal customers.”

“Marriott wants to understand when customers are going to competitive properties,” said White. “Wal-Mart wants to understand yoga apparel. Sirius XM wants to market a country music channel to people who have attended country events.”

Gravy, of course, doesn’t have these types of insights to itself. It faces off against a host of Big Data, mapping and mobile search companies that are also providing consumer insights (Ground Signal provides similar insights with its location based data). But what Gravy does have is an integrated offering with the Gannett papers and websites, and other partners.

My Podcast Predictions for 2016: I’m on ‘The Digital CMO with Mike Orren’

Can the daily deals model recover? Will beacons be big in retail? Why is the home services space set to soar? How will custom deals be more sophisticated in the new year? And how can marketers decide which “unicorns” to bet on and which to ignore?

Speakeasy CEO and social and hyperlocal media pioneer Mike Orren interviews me — The Local Onliner — about what’s happening in local and media in 2016 for his new show, The Digital CMO. It runs about 34 minutes….Here’s the podcast link.

The Rise of Google Now and Deep Linking: Few Rules, Big Opportunities

Deep linking was originally thought of as sordid play by Google to bypass information providers. Yelp would certainly think so. But deep linking has taken on a new context, as Google, Apple and a host of search startups seek to re-engineer the search ecosystem to get consumers want they really want. It also acts the anchors for linkable tech that ties together platforms (i.e. Internet, video), commerce and content.

At BIA/Kelsey Next in Hollywood Dec. 8-9, speakers reflected on deep linking as a new opportunity to get consumers to engage with Apps, rather than bypass them. Google’s Vera Tzoneva noted that people are only engaging with a quarter of the 36 apps they’ve typically downloaded (i.e. 9)

Google Now— –Google’s deep linking service – is seeking to energize usage with deep linking. We are “looking at your needs” and “giving you useful information at the right moment, said Tzoneva. Google has come a long way from simply posting a number of relevant search links. “We are not just telling you what is out there,” she said.

Button CRO Mike Dudas said he sees a whole new business model of connecting searched content sites to commerce. Button, for instance, connects sites such as Foursquare to a number of related commerce partners, such as Uber. Connecting to ecommerce “is an additional revenue stream, “ he said. “It’s very accurate.

But are we there yet? Not according to Yellow Pages and search Vet Paul Ryan, who is the founder and CRO of Quick.ly, a new mobile search site. “It’s still wide open” with few rules, he said. “Android is the Wild, Wild West.”

“We’re back to 1999,” when it was still about search and discovery, added Ryan. “There’s buffers of content, but everyone is going to the home page. The major part is getting people to the content or action they want accomplished.”

At BIA/Kelsey NEXT: Local’s New Linking Technologies and Intersection’s LinkNYC

We always like to call out the “laboratories” of locals, and efforts to embrace and leverage the latest technologies. At BIA/Kelsey’s NEXT conference Dec. 9-10 in Hollywood, we heard a lot from the laboratories, and their various goals.

Interestingly, most were not focused on simply extending media properties, or making them more efficient (except, perhaps, the automation and programmatic guys).

Instead, we saw a heavy focus on the new linking technologies, which take data from everywhere; personalizes it; and pushes it out across different channels, especially mobile. Google Now, Facebook, Microsoft, Groupon, Mogl, Intersection, Button, Orange, Quick.ly, Workwave, Retailigence and Wanderful Media were among the progressive companies presenting (and Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland talked about Apple’s new focus on extending Apple Search across all its media and commerce channels). The linking efforts would ideally produce “a Tesla” from the combination of cost value, experience value and platform value, noted Cisco Research Fellow Andy Naronha.

Intersection – a new company formed by the merger of Control Group and Titan, and invested in by Google’s Sidewalk Labs — certainly has its eyes on the prize. CSO Dave Etherington said the company’s LinkNYC is a prototype project bringing data and media to the 3.5 million New Yorkers who don’t have access to broadband by transforming 7,500 payphones throughout the five boroughs to broadband machines. They’ll each feature a free gigabyte of Wifi, and access to digital services.

Intersection has a 15 year contract from New York for the project, which is projected to be funded by ad sales, and lets the city “reimagine real estate, technology and value…..wherever there is real estate. The more value you can bring, the more people will use it,” says Etherington, noting that the effort is working to “democratize the city” and will inspire new efforts by schools and hackathons. At the same time, ad revenue sharing is projected to bring in over $500 Million to the city’s coffers over the project’s first 12 years.

If it all works, it is definitely a better deal for New Yorkers than giving Disney the keys to a large part of 42nd street to help redevelop it, or Donald Trump the keys to the Commodore Hotel on a tax free basis to build today’s Grand Hyatt.

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Intersection’s Dave Etherington and Cisco’s Andy Noronha