‘Views’ or ‘Calls’? Yelp is Agnostic

Yelp is differentiating itself from InsiderPages, Judy’s Book and other review-based Yellow Pages by giving local advertisers a choice: buying a “calls program” (Pay-Per-Call) or a “view program” (Pay-Per- Click).

CEO Jeremy Stoppelman told The Local Onliner that advertisers want to set a monthly Internet ad budget. It doesn’t matter whether they reach their ceiling via pay-per-call or pay per click, he says – and in any case, many walk-in businesses aren’t judging their advertising ROI based on the phone calls they receive.

Familiarity also plays a factor. In the Bay Area, which is Yelp’s headquarters, many advertisers have already used CitySearch’s pay- per click system, which is three years old. Other sites have found that Pay-Per-Call provides a much higher return, typically in the $4-7 range. But it will be interesting to see whether Yelp sticks to its hybrid program, which seems well-thought out to me.

The Impact of AT&T/BellSouth on YP

AT&T and BellSouth is a $67 billion telecom rollup, but local advertising is involved too. The telcos’ respective Yellow Pages will be impacted by the rollup, as well as their ties with Yahoo, vendors and the Yellow Pages trade associations.

For starters, the deal makes the selloff/spinoff of the Yellow Pages units all-but-inevitable. The telcos needs tens of billions to install fiber-to-the-curb for IPTV, and it has made sense to sell off the YPs to produce some of the revenue. But this seals the deal.

As for side effects of the deal, some fallout is likely at Yahoo. Both companies sell for Yahoo Yellow Pages and Yahoo Local. And in return, Yahoo doesn’t sell against them. But maybe the arrangement has run its course.

Craigslist CEO: We’re No eBay Front

Let the conspiracy theorists have their day. Craigslist is going to continue to do things in its own merry way. It doesn’t expect to step up its activity with minority owner eBay, it isn’t worried about competition, and it isn’t especially embarrassed about its hard-to- search, thin-featured, plain-vanilla technology. All of this according to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, speaking Feb. 1 at the SIIA Summit in New York.

Buckmaster painted a picture of a company that is focused on reaching as many markets as possible and as quickly as possible – while broadening its demographics, which started with “20-30 somethings, but is now skewing older, with lots of users in 40s, 50s, even 60s.” Next up is the targeting of dozens of smaller markets.

While most of the site is free, and will remain so, Craigslist is charging $75 for recruitment ads in the Bay Area, where it has a dominant position. Buckmaster scoffs, however, at former SF Gate GM Bob Cauthorn’s SWAG that Craig has “sucked $50 million” out of the market, mostly at the expense of The San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate. “It sounds high to me,” he said.

Real Cities Revenue Up 50%

Real Cities, the national network run by Knight Ridder, has lost several key members of its executive team in recent months. That’s almost always a bad sign, especially given all the other problems that Knight Ridder faces. The network is also facing competition from Centro and others that smell an opportunity to simplify local buys for national advertisers.

But things may not be as bad as they look. In fact, Knight Ridder claims that Real Cities revenue is up more than 50 percent in the last year. Part of this is due to a general boom in national advertising in newspapers – some of which trickles down online. It is also attributable to a 25 percent boost in reach, with major sites like The Houston Chronicle newly coming on board in 2005.

How does the rise of Real Cities’ fortunes translate to its affiliates? An online publisher at one of affiliates told The Local Onliner that “Real Cities is a useful network, but we’re certainly not seeing 50 percent growth from that relationship.” Translation: We’ll hang in there until something better comes along.

IYP/Search Case Study: Morris Communications

Morris Communications is well known within the newspaper industry for being a highly entrepreneurial media company, especially in its pursuit of new, Internet-based revenues. In the summer of 2004, Morris launched Yellow Advantage, a hybrid of online search and Yellow Pages products. Yellow Advantage is branded as “a new breed of Yellow Pages.”

Since its launch, Yellow Advantage, or a similarly-branded product, has been introduced in 20 Morris markets, ranging from Ardmore, OK (circulation 10,800), to Jacksonville, FLA (circulation 167,229). It is powered by Interchange, which provides the search technology, licenses the listings, and supplements Morris’ local advertisers with an extensive network of national advertisers. (Disclosure: Krasilovsky Consulting provides strategic consulting to Interchange).

Revenues from Yellow Advantage aren’t critical to Morris’ bottom line today, although it has a positive return on investment. Strategically, it plays a more important role. It helps defend the papers from increasingly local-oriented search engines and Yellow Pages. At the same time, it extends the range of newspaper advertising to existing advertisers, and reaches out to small business customers that don’t normally advertise in the newspapers (or their websites).

How Many Local Advertisers Are Online?

It is oft-repeated that there are “300,000 local advertisers online.” But it doesn’t strain the imagination to suggest there are at least 400,000. And that’s just on the search and pay per click side. Overall, there may be more than 900,000 local businesses advertising online.

It is all guess work on our part, but here is how we calculate. Google is close-lipped, but it is thought to have over 150,000 local advertisers. Yahoo Search Marketing (Overture) might have another 100,000. And then there are the localized efforts run by the remaining portals, and many smaller players to contend with, including the contextual networks, the social networks, and various other local services.

And all this is just for search and clicks. Looking at more traditional local advertising products (i.e. enhanced listings), the number of local online advertisers swells exponentially. Why does it matter how many local advertisers are really budgeting for online? Because the higher number shows that most local sites are really underperforming.

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.