Category Archives: Local Search

Home Advisor’s Chris Terrill: Poised for Growth, New Services

Almost two years ago, IAC was in a tough situation. It had a leading services referral business in ServiceMagic, whose main rival was Angie’s List, the paid subscription service. But the service wasn’t growing; had relatively low brand awareness; and seemed to be in danger of getting bypassed by a new crop of social media driven services.

In an episode of creative destruction, IAC, along with new CEO Chris Terrill, made the decision to rename the company to “Home Advisor”; and narrow its focus to home services. Terrill later refocused the company’s primary business model from pay per lead to monthly subscriptions that would include a variety of value added social media and directory services (pay per lead options remain available).

Today, the Home Advisor brand may not be as well known as ServiceMagic at its peak. It also remains under the radar in the business world. That is partly explained by the company not being VC backed or publicly traded as a separate company outside of IAC, says Terrill. “We don’t get written about as much.”

But Terrill says that the company remains one of the largest home service networks, with 80,000 service pros, two million reviews and 30 million home owner requests. It is also growing and profitable, and highly focused on “strategic sales.”

And it is focusing more on the awareness issue, conducting an ambitious TV campaign to reach more home owners. It will be spending even more on TV in coming months, with budgets that are in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

The picture looks bright going forward for Home Advisor and the entire home services space, says Terrill. Over the next couple of years, Terrill says Home Advisor will have a singular focus on growing its U.S. business.

“A lot of small entrants are coming into the space,” such as Pro.com, the service launched by former Amazon leaders (not to mention Amazon’s own entrance into the space.) “We see the local home space heating up,” he says. But Home Advisor remains a leader in the space – competing against players such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Home Depot’s Red Beacon — and continues to add building blocks, Terrill says.

Today, for instance, the company announced the purchase of Mhelpdesk, a 30-person Fairfax, VA-based company that helps service pros manage their businesses, and allows home owners to directly book services – especially over mobile phones. The service has over 10,000 service pros.

Terrill says that Mhelpdesk is a leader in a “rapidly growing space” that will prove increasingly important to the company. “It could not have worked 2,3,4 years ago,” he says, before the popularization of cloud-based mobile devices for SMB service providers. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

Watch Out AAA: Urgent.ly Goes Uber, Takes on Roadside Assistance

Urgently 4_3

“Uber-ification” has been extended to many local segments, including hotels, restaurant reservations and promotions. How about roadside assistance?

Asserting that AAA and other roadside assistance services have outdated economic models and technology, local media and commerce vet Chris Spanos (AOL, Repair.com and Seniorchecked.com ) is leading a team launching Urgent.ly. The Washington D.C.- area company, which provides flat-rate repair truck assistance rather than charging annual insurance-like fees (i.e. $99), has done hundreds of service calls and is set to go nationwide. It completed its seed round of funding in March 2014, and is in the process of closing a larger, pre-series A round.

Like Uber, Urgent.ly has a free iOS App that contains a motorist profile and credit card information. Customers can easily tap their phones for a repair truck, and a live map lets them see where the trucks are at all times in the process. An additional feature is “FamilyView,” which allows drivers to link their app to a driving-age child, spouse or parent.

Spanos says 53 million customers are currently paying $70 to $130 for annual access to AAA, but most under-use use the services. The more serious issue with AAA is that customers often have to wait too long for a tow — some don’t get served within AAA’s 90 minute window. The problem? AAA only pays tow truck companies $20-25 and they have real mileage restrictions. The low payments mean that tow truck drivers will always give preference to cash calls from non AAA members. Urgent.ly’s on demand pricing takes care of that, says Spanos.

He also notes that people use AAA for a variety of services, of course, such as discounts to Amtrak, hotels, stores, and entertainment venues. “We may put in promotional discounts for auto-related services” at some point, Spanos notes. The key, however, is better transparency. “Transparency is the future of roadside,” he says.

Urgently Consumer Web App

Wanderful Media Targets SMB Retailers With ‘Find&Save Storefront’

When it comes to search, promotion, customer engagement and just getting found, the challenge for smaller retailers is to level the playing field with larger players (i.e. Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sears). That’s the idea behind Wanderful Media‘s new Find&Save Storefront, an App that allows SMB retailers to promote sales goods, seasonal collections and other items. Several hundred retailers have downloaded the App, which is in soft launch in several test markets. A major launch is planned for October.

The Storefront is an extension of Wanderful Media’s current mission with its Find&Save brand, which currently focuses on large retailer and brand sales “circular” information, which are distributed to about 500 newspaper sites around the U.S. on FindnSave.com and apps for iOS and Android devices.

The new effort marks the second time that Wanderful has tried to serve SMB retailers. Earlier iterations of Find&Save included ads from SMB stores. These were removed from the site’s relaunch in April 2013, however, because they were not really on par, aesthetically, with the larger retailer ads.

The Storefront App, which we found easy to use, enables SMBs to automatically claim locations by their phone number. Once their site and location have been claimed, they can tie geo-sensitive promotional offers or other verbiage to pictures of items they can take with a smart phone. SMB retailers can create as many offers or sales events as they want.

Find&Save Storefront is free to download and use, except for an “Evergreen credit” feature, which enables retailers to promote products beyond the 30 day free period for 99 cents each. Other premium products will also likely be introduced. Features that are being used for Storefront may also be borrowed for other Wanderful apps, such as its sophisticated dashboards for the business and its local peers.

VP of Product Grace Chan told us that Wanderful is poised to serve consumers and three distinct customer groups: “national retailers,” “regional retailers” and local “SMB retailers.” The SMB portion is especially relevant to the company because it has local sales forces set to hit the streets via its local newspaper affiliates.

At the same time, however, Chan notes that SMB needs “may not be exactly the same” as those of regional and national retailers and brands. Local business owners, for instance, pay less attention to brand exposure. They mostly want to drive traffic to the store. They may be less interested in issuing coupons or discounts on a constant basis.

“These merchants like to make ‘offers’ to drive store traffic, not coupons,” said Chan. Or they might simply use the site to introduce a new collection of clothes, or focus on clearance goods. “‘Coupons’ make them think they are leaving money on the table,” she says.

Placing items on the App also takes some planning on the part of SMB retailers. It takes just eight seconds to build an offer, says Chan, but many SMBs aren’t ready to sit down and do that. That’s an area that requires more attention from SMBs, she says.

Wanderful Media COO Doug Kilponen is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You may register here.

Is Amazon Testing a Local Marketplace?

Amazon has been reported to be prepping a local services marketplace test in one market. If the article is accurate, this effort won’t necessarily be adopted into a nationwide product – Amazon frequently tests product concepts — but should be watched with interest.

Amazon Marketplace – or whatever its final branding – would complement existing Amazon services in local, including Amazon Local, a Groupon-like deals entity now in dozens of markets; and Amazon Fresh, which is providing grocery delivery service in Seattle, San Francisco and southern California. (Amazon also touches the local marketplace via Amazon Web Services and Amazon Payments, both of which provide digital infrastructure support for local merchants.)

If launched, Amazon Marketplace would fit into the company’s mission of making it easier for consumers to make informed decisions on purchases and to buy goods and services. It would also help source deals at the local level for Amazon Local. Amazon may be frustrated at the difficulty of sourcing deals through third parties, and the expense of a local sales force, which is mostly used to sell to local retailers. As described, Marketplace would be an automated product.

It could also fit into Amazon’s growing advertising business, which has made a big play via Kindle Offers and much more importantly, Product Listing Ad tiles at the top of search pages – monetizing photo search for the first time. Amazon made $600 million from advertising in 2013, but hasn’t yet gone into local advertising, which represents a new frontier.

According to the Reuters article, the initial effort for Amazon Marketplaces would focus on hiring local services, rather than goods. Yelp and Angie’s List are the biggest players in the space, but may have less than 10 percent of the overall market.

Amazon may seek to implement the infrastructure for Marketplaces from Pro.com, a new, 30 person service that includes 15 ex-Amazon employees. Pro.com has raised $3.5 million, including funds from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The service matches contractors with consumers and providing job estimates. But Bezos has never sold his personal investments to Amazon (unlike Oracle’s Larry Ellison and AOL’s Tim Armstrong). It seems especially unlikely because Bezos is only a minority investor in the company.

In any case, Amazon’s launch of a services marketplace would be somewhat ironic. In April, the Bezos-owned Washington Post discontinued a service which is almost exactly like what has been described for Amazon Marketplace – Service Alley. (The greatest irony of this is that Service Alley was built – pre-Bezos — on top of TeachStreet, a start up that Amazon purchased in an acqui-hire, and then discontinued).

DataSphere: Opportunity in Mobile Advertising for SMBs

The times are a changin’ when it comes to SMB customer acquisition. Non-traditional options – including the use of social media, mobile targeting and promotional calls to action – provide opportunities for SMBs looking to take advantage of shifts in consumer behavior.

Few companies have been as energetic in capturing this shift as much as Seattle-based DataSphere, which has quietly amassed 20,000 SMB accounts, making it one of the largest SMB marketing platforms.

Changing with the times, DataSphere is moving its focus away from buying ad space on local Websites. Instead, it has developed a set of services based on mobile ad networks, which can target customers on a geotargeted and just-in-time basis.

The company is also focusing on LocalSaver.com, a coupon portal; and the LocalSaver Network, a distribution network. LocalSaver goes beyond coupons to provide SMBs with enhanced features such as landing pages, updated listings designed to maximize consumer engagement and video. (DataSphere has built videos for 90 percent of its customers.)

The rise in mobile usage, in particular, has led to a major boost in SMBs’ use of geotargeting – and in the availability of geotargeted ad exchange inventory. Seventy percent of LocalSaver traffic is now lat/long enabled, says SVP Gary Cowan.

This is an edited excerpt of a new BIA/Kelsey client brief, “DataSphere: Leveraging Mobile Advertising and Changing Course with 20,000 SMBs.”

YP’s David Lebow at BIA/Kelsey: No More National Local Wall

The wall between national and local marketing is falling with tech-empowered consumers able to find their information wherever they want it, noted YP EVP David Lebow during a keynote at Leading in Local: The National Impact in Atlanta. “Traditional media companies are the only ones keeping up that wall.”

YP is very much a company in transition, like Gannett, Hearst and others, noted Lebow, a longtime media and online leader with recent stints at AOL and Internet Broadcasting. Like the others, YP’s real and clichéd task is “to grow the growing side of the business in excess of the declining side of the business. It never changes.”

“The question is: how can we be the Google of local search?” asks Lebow. “In order to do that, we need to innovate at the pace of the market.”

There is no question that YP should be pursuing local search. “We don’t want to be in directory. One is a $2.7 billion segment growing at 3 percent, while the other is a $29.8 billion segment growing at 7 percent,” said Lebow. But it is critical to attack the market in a broad way. YP shouldn’t be a content play within a vertical, like a Zillow or a WebMD, he said.

A core focus of the local search effort needs to be in SMB presence management. “Businesses really need to be found,” Lebow said. And that’s where the convergence of national local comes in. “The SMB says it needs leads and loyalty. National says it needs measurement, analytics and reporting. The needs of national and local businesses are coming into one.”

Analytics Take Center Stage: Where2GetIt Acquires Brandify

Analytics are moving center stage for many “platform” companies previously anchored in features such as maps, search, deals, store location, directions, listing updates and enhancements.

The trend – a real one — was reinforced today by Where2GetIt’s announcement that it has acquired Brandify, the Washington D.C. area based provider of analytics for 26,000 local businesses.

Brandify provides feedback on digital marketing efforts based on 200 + variables, including reputation, local SEO performance, social engagement, competitor benchmarking, reviews and comments, business listing analysis, and locator traffic. Where 2 Get It envisions Brandify “bridging the gap between its online and offline features” with “real time local insights.”

Where2GetIt CEO Manish Patel, in a discussion with BIA/Kelsey, said that many of the company’s multi location customers — ranging from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shops to Hunter Douglas shades — have been asking for a more comprehensive solution.

“They are faced with knitting together a patchwork of point products and services to protect their brand, improve visibility, local listing management, and local monitoring,” said Patel. Brandify “scores” their effectiveness in key areas, and makes it easier for them to determine how effective they’ve been.

While Brandify will continue to be developed as a standalone service for small and medium businesses, it will also be integrated into Where2GetIt’s platform for national brands and multi-location services, Patel added.

Where2GetIt CEO Manish Patel is presenting a DEMO today at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: The National Impact in Atlanta