10 Local Trends That Greet The New Year

Year-end reviews are always kind of arbitrary. For sure, a lot of overlap occurs from year-to-year. So much of what we consider “the ‘60s,” for instance, really happened in the early ‘70s. But clearly, r/evolution is happening in local, the Internet’s last frontier. Here are ten things we all saw in 2006.

1. Google and Yahoo have most certainly broken out a lead in local search, with a 70 percent combined share. All the others belong in a subset. But the subset, of course, can be lucrative too.

2. Local search isn’t everything, by a long shot. The key question: how fast will Google and Yahoo migrate beyond local search, impacting classifieds, brand/display and Yellow Pages. It ought to take awhile.

HopStop Pushes Transit as ‘Urban MapQuest’

The power of road mapping and directions sites like MapQuest and Yahoo Maps is now being channeled by HopStop, a New York-based startup providing the same type of complete info for walkers and subway and bus strap holders in major cities. In addition to standard mapping and direction info, the site hosts city guides and enables users to share tips on construction delays, rate various lines, and so forth.

The ad-supported site is being financed by IDT Ventures, a VC firm. It launched in January 2005, and has been syndicated on a co-branded basis to The New York Post and AM New York. It now claims 750,000 unique visitors per month – 95 percent in New York.

The site has had some agency support for nearby businesses and urbanite brands, and its advertiser roster now includes Wachovia Bank, New York Times, Volkswagen and Dewers Scotch. Wachovia, for instance, uses the site to promote a $50 metro card to customers opening new accounts at branches next to subway stops. In addition, Amex is using the site to promote its InNewYork imprint.

Geosign Invests in Go2 Mobile Directory

Geosign, a privately-owned publisher of dozens of local and vertical services, including TrueLocal, has teamed with Go2 to get a foot in the door of the nascent mobile directory marketplace. Go2, founded in 1999, was a pioneer in mobile directories, employing over 100 people and forming relationships with key directory players. But it crashed and burned in the dot com implosion of 2002, and went through a bankruptcy-type proceeding that left the company firmly in the hands of founder and CEO Lee Hancock. (disclosure: I was a consultant to the company at that time).

While funds have been short, and Go2 subsists with just 15 employees, it has been swept up in the general interest surrounding mobile content. Today, it attracts one million unique visitors a month, coming on at the rate of two times a month, and registering 20 million page views, says Hancock. He notes that the site has “several thousand” Yellow Pages advertisers, and “50 to 100” regular advertisers. It also drives mobile traffic for Yahoo Search Marketing. Geosign itself attracts 35 million unique visitors per month via its sites, and has 130 employees.

The deal with Geosign provides Go2 with an unspecified amount of cash. A press release vaguely says that cash and financing arrangements total $13 million, but details are scant. In any case, the plan is to stabilize Go2’s finances, and have the companies team up to pursue new types of content and services, and also flesh out Go2’s online site, which has been getting more interest.

Hearst Invests in Jingle’s Free DA Service

Hearst Corp. is listed as a lead investor in Jingle Network’s new $30 million financing round, along with Goldman Sachs. Jingle is the two-year old provider of 1(800) Free-411, an ad-supported, “free” directory assistance service. Other investors are repeaters from earlier rounds. They include Comcast Interactive Capital, Liberty Associated Partners, IDG Ventures Boston and First Round Capital. The new round of financing comes on top of earlier rounds, including $26 million from Liberty Associated.

Free DA is currently something of a black hole. Most of Jingle’s new money will probably need to go to subsidize money-losing calls, while the company perfects its automation, and builds up the market, market share and its targeted inventory. Many calls to 1(800)Free-411 today, for instance, do not have any advertising. In addition, many calls revert to live operators, which is good service but highly costly. Earlier this month, the challenge of building the marketplace claimed InFreeDA, the provider of 1 (800)411-Metro, one of Jingle’s highest profile competitors.

Hearst’s investment suggests that it might seek synergies for free Directory Assistance beyond the national advertisers that currently dominate the category (and which it reaches via its magazines). Hearst’s local properties include Hearst newspapers and White Directory, an independent Yellow Pages publisher.

Cool Names for Location Services: R U ‘Geo Jam’n’?

Location Based Services for mobile haven’t been given the marketing-friendly monikers of say, “iTunes.” Some solutions were presented this week at CTIA Wireless Entertainment in L.A. by Joe Astroth, AutoDesk’s Executive VP of Location Services. Astroth proposes the following: • POtainment for the point of entertainment (e.g. W Cities enhanced content). • Geo Jam’n for […]

Local is ‘Critical’ for Free DA

Local advertisers who sponsor free Directory Assistance (DA) services are
seeing high conversion rates, as consumers happily accept “steal away”
messages from competing businesses offering audio coupons, expedited delivery and other promotions when they call in for a specific number, according to Jingle Networks, which operates 1(800)Free-411.

The company says that a local locksmith got 21.9 percent conversion rates, an online ticket broker got 13.4 percent conversion, a cable and telecom provider got 10.6 percent conversion, ServiceMagic got a 10 percent conversion, a national pizza delivery company got 6.8 percent conversion, and a local automotive services company got five percent conversion. The release quotes a Service Magic executive as saying that his conversion rate is “double” the four-to-six percent that the company might have gotten on a search engine.

Jingle’s release coincides with the release of “Advertiser Paid Info Services: Understanding ‘Free’”, a groundbreaking report by my colleagues at The Pierz Group, which is probably the leading authority on All Things DA. The report projects that Free DA will constitute 25 percent of today’s 6.1 billion DA calls by 2010.