Category Archives: Local Search

SIM Partners’ 3 Cs for Boosting Listings in a Mobile Era: Configuration, Compliance, Conversion

The evolution of the listings business from basic name and address information to one that is a prime generator of leads, targeting and business intelligence is something we’ve watched closely over the past several years. The big listings companies – InfoGroup, Acxiom, Neustar’s Localeze and Factual — have all repositioned themselves for the mobile era, enabling brands and retailers to act on social media activity and location data.

With all the new features added in, however, they don’t have the business to themselves. Yext, Brandify (formerly Where2GetIt), Placeable and Rio have all sought to carve out their own niches in what we used to call “localization.” Another player is SIM Partners, a 75 person SaaS player that has evolved from its roots as a digital agency. The company has just reinforced its efforts via its acquisition of Sycara Local, which helps companies highlight data strategies for local search.

Last week, I had a wide ranging discussion about these macro trends with SIM CEO Jon Schepke, CMO Tari Haro and VP of Product Gib Olander. In their view, listings still anchor everything for the industry. But with mobile exploding and “Near Me” searches doubling in the last year alone, the SIM execs think it is all about scaling and enhancing that data ad content. Successful companies in the space will focus on supporting what SIM believes are the three Cs of listings: “Configuration,” “Compliance” and “Conversion.”

To get there, SIM has launched Velocity, a local marketing automation platform, which includes location data management, publishing, data analytics and other data amplifiers. SIM reports that brands that increased their “listing health” score by 20 percent saw traffic to their location pages increase up to 450 percent and on-page action conversion rates increase by 216 percent.

What’s next for 2016? For many proximity marketing players, the focus will be on implementing wireless beacons. These recognize users and analyze their behavior at specific stores. But SIM is putting its weight more broadly behind a mobile wallet solution. Arguing that beacons will have limited capabilities and deployment, SIM hopes to close the loop for its retailers and brands with the wallet.

Wallets can store and redeeem location-sensitive promotions, in addition to providing consumers with one stop access to reviews and other social media. In tests conducted earlier this year, 30 percent of consumers clicked on promotions and saved them to their wallets.

Prior versions of wallets (Apple Passbook, Google Wallet etc.) haven’t been well used by retailers or consumers, beyond boarding passes. But with so much emphasis on using mobile tools, SIM is convinced there will be a near-term break-through.

On Demand is New Focus for Some Home Service Providers

Competition in the home services leads space has been heating up – and so are the tensions. Just this week, Angie’s List has filed suit against Amazon, contending that Amazon Home Services has been egregiously signing up for the member’s- only service around the U.S., and grabbing proprietary service recommendations.

On Demand home services is something that several of the companies are hoping to differentiate themselves with. We saw it with HomeJoy at our LODE event a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. Home Advisor has also been rolling out its Instant Booking on demand service.

Mizamin, an Israeli Startup with international ambitions, also hopes to get ahead with on demand home services. Its mobile app has gotten 200,000 downloads in Israel, mostly generated from a small social media ad campaign and word of mouth. CEO Yuval Aronov told us that providing home services on an on demand basis has some quirks to it. Many home pros resist keeping to real schedules and are eager to take jobs as they come up. On the other hand, certain types of jobs, such as pest control, need to be scheduled in advance.

Mizamin has built an App that enables multiple providers to receive queries in real time. When a plumbing assignment goes out to Mizamin’s roster of 40 plumbers in Tel Aviv, three-to-six usually answer, he says. The biggest channel for most plumbers have been SMS. “Some don’t use their smartphones professionally,” he says. “They are afraid to drop them in the toilet.”

HomeAdvisor Is Rolling Out ‘Instant Booking’ Nationally

HomeAdvisor, formerly known as ServiceMagic, is set to roll out its Instant Booking service in July on a national basis. The Instant Booking service, which is now live in 20 cities, represents a different business model for the company, which previously only provided leads from its network of paid professionals.

The rollout of Instant Booking is one clear example of how traditional service leads and directory providers such as Home Advisor, Angie’s List and Thumbtack hope to respond to increasingly intense competition from the likes of Amazon, Google (evidently), Pro.com, Serviz and others.

Speaking at BIA/Kelsey’s NOW conference June 12 in San Francisco, VP of Product Development Paul Zeckser said that Instant Booking has won real champions for “lower consideration” jobs that don’t require a lot of strategy and planning. Homeowners using the services are 2x more satisfied. Moreover, eight of 10 appointments become closed jobs. By August, more than $100 million of booked appointments will occur via Home Advisor Marketplace, he said.

Internal research, however, suggests that the vast majority of consumers will probably stick to the company’s traditional leads model. Instant Booking will help win the business of the 16 percent that don’t want to talk to someone first, said Zeckser. Some portion of the other 84 percent may also want to ultimately use Instant Booking, but “they want to talk to a professional before they hire them.”

Zeckser also noted that most of the professionals who respond to Instant Booking will be those that have migrated from a manual calendar or a white board to an electronic calendar, such as Google Calendar. Roughly 60 percent of Home Advisor’s service pros now use electronic calendars, up from 50 percent a year ago.

Uber’s $3 Billion Bid for Nokia’s HERE: Too Much, Too Soon

As my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe points out, Uber is apparently bidding $3 billion to buy Nokia’s HERE mapping service (which was formerly NAVTEQ.) It is a huge bid that comes out of left field. But does it make sense?

A case could be made for it. Uber seems especially eager to juice its valuation before the IPO. It wants to reposition itself as an ecommerce leaders and move away from its current reality as a collection of freelance drivers. Moreover, the number of mapping competitors that it could partner with is definitely shrinking. It comes down to Google, Microsoft and perhaps, MapQuest.

If successful, Uber would control a highly customizizable mapping service that would provide shortcuts and accuracy for its deliveries of people and it hopes, commerce. HERE’s international orientation is appealing for Uber, which is a true worldwide play.

Owning HERE would especially be helpful in the next age of driver-less, autonomous vehicles (AVs), which would be highly dependent on accurate, strategically efficient information. Deep mapping is also an area that Google and Microsoft have ID’d as their competitive advantage. Watching Yelp keep its advantage against Google while depending on its search engine is enough proof to realize that depending on Google as a common carrier isn’t an ideal strategy.

But this age of AVs isn’t likely to occur for 10 years or longer. And only small items like toothbrushes and shaving cream are being delivered by existing Uber drivers. While it has aspirations and vision aplenty, it isn’t yet an ecommerce company. When/if it becomes one, a whole new set of competitors come into play (Fedex, UPS, USPS, Amazon, WalMart , Safeway).

We applaud the vision, and don’t count Uber out at all. The competitors listed above could as easily become major partners. In fact, this could be the biggest play of all. But the idea that Uber should spend $3 billion — which would only be a down payment on the high maintenance mapping industry — seems like it is too much, too soon. Google is likely to be a perfectly good and safe partner for a number of years.

UBL, Advice Interactive Group to Merge: SEO + Syndicated Listings


UBL, a publicly-owned syndicator of updated business listings and profiles, is merging with The Advice Interactive Group, a fast-growing search marketing firm that has evolved into a full service agency. The merged company is slated to earn nearly $20 million in 2015, and is refashioning itself as a peer to companies such as Go Daddy, ReachLocal, Local.com, Yext and Factual that are either public or have attracted attention on Wall Street.

UBL will provide stock and cash in consideration of the merger. While both companies initially keep their own identities, they intend to work towards an integration of operations and a single brand. Both companies earned approximately $8 million apiece in 2014. Charlotte-based UBL has 38 employees while Advice Interactive has 85 employees in Dallas and Newport Beach.

Billed as a “combination of equals,” UBL CEO Doyal Bryant will be the new entity’s CEO, while Advice CEO Bernadette Coleman will run marketing, tech and operations. Bryant notes that the deal allows UBL to focus on a growing global market in syndicated business profiles; an area that has gone beyond search engines to also include mobile apps, GPS search and online maps, video platforms, marketing platforms and social networks. UBL currently has operations in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand and says it will soon add four more countries.

Advice, meanwhile, is set to leverage UBL’s listings/video and mobile-rich database, and provide a one stop for a wide range of activities for its business and enterprise customers. These include local search, PPC & SEM, reputation management, SEO, Web design, content marketing and social media. The majority of Advice’s customers come from local channel partners; its strength and technology platform are expected to enhance UBL’s current efforts in the space, which are not a main emphasis.

The merger gives Advice “a major edge over everyone in the (SEO) space,” says Coleman. As marketing moves to hyperlocal capabilities, it isn’t just about search anymore, she emphasizes. “Clients need to have data syndication; optimized profiles; and customized linking and meta data – all in one place.”

Advice Interactive Group CEO Bernadette Coleman is speaking at BIA/Kelsey NATIONAL, which takes place March 25-27 in Dallas.

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

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“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.

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