Tag Archives: Court Cunningham

Web.com Buys Yodle; Moves Deeper into Value Added SMB Services

A chapter in local commerce ended today with Web.com’s agreement to purchase Yodle for $320 million. The deal is expected to close by the end of 1Q.

The companies will complement each other well, with Web.com’s huge 3.45 million SMB base being driven up the value chain from domain registration (via its Network Solutions division) and websites and presence management to Yodle’s higher priced and more complex services, including SEO, leads, office based automation and CRM.

Yodle currently has 58,000 subscribers and an average revenue per user of $300 per month — a figure driven higher by the 9,000 franchise locations it serves for 200 customers. Its integration will have a large impact on Web.com averages, moving Web’s average customer earnings from $167 to $226 per month. It also will provide Web.com with a large, 700 person local sales team.

The sale price, of course, has got to be a major disappointment for Yodle backers. It was less than two years ago that Yodle had been talked about as a $1 Billion + company on the brink of a planned IPO. Its positioning at that time suggested it had finally broken down the wall in local between acquisition and relationship marketing as Yodle invested in CRM, cloud-based software and leads.

But Yodle never pulled the trigger on the IPO amidst a tough market for tech IPOs, There was speculation that the company simply could not withstand the exposure of publishing its churn and customer acquisition rates, which like the rest of the industry, would presumably be very high. And then there was the damning Wall Street Journal article on April 16, 2014 on poor customer service and poor values that focused on Yodle and Reach Local; and an apparent slowdown on efforts to sell enterprise level CRM and cloud based services to top franchise companies, or “brand networks.”

Right now, the battle to sell marketing services to SMBs includes a shrinking number of players. High acquisition costs and churn rates continue to plague the industry. But the potential rewards are rich for a group that not only includes Web.com but also ReachLocal, Endurance/Constant Contact, Vistaprint, Main Street Hub, SignPost, Deluxe Corp., Hibu, YP and in some verticals, DemandForce, which was just sold to Internet Brands.

SMB Digital 2012: Yodle’s Cunningham Takes on ‘The Experts’

Yodle CEO Court Cunningham, in a well received presentation at SMB Digital Marketing this week in Chicago, told attendees to constantly adapt to actual conditions in the marketplace, not what the “experts” tell us.

The gist of Cunnigham’s comments were that experts are too often conflicted by their limited access to data and doing what is convenient. Long term, adaptation happens along the lines of Charles Darwin: and of course, only the strongest survive. What really needs to be analyzed are what impacts the “three pillars of local success: sales, service, and marketing ROI,” he said.

Experts for instance, would have you believe that you can’t link content back to your website without taking a hit from the search engines; that map optimization is a simple one time affair; mobile optimization only has an impact for restaurants; and single search terms are about as good as plural search terms.

But Yodle’s 50 data analysts – studying three million weekly search queries and other data linked to its 30,000 customer base – have found that content can be linked back without any real hit.

They also found that map optimization is a highly tuned issue caused by constant changes in the map alogorithms; mobile optimization has a major impact on a wide swath of sites; and plural search terms are much better than single search terms.

Mobile paid search, in particular, is critical for all businesses, drives great economics and should be treated as a unique outlet, said Cunningham.

Yodle CEO Co-Authors ‘Local Online Advertising for Dummies’

I like the “For Dummies” series a lot — more than 1,700 different Dummies books have been published since 1991. But it never occurred to me that there could be a volume geared towards Local Online Advertising. It occurred to Yodle CEO Court Cunningham, who has now co-authored “Local Online Advertising for Dummies” with business consultant Stephanie Brown.

The book is a good reference for our industry. It is easy to understand, full of practical tips, and leaves no stone unturned. Every time I’d say “I bet they forgot that,” the next page would prove me wrong. I like also that the book is a straightforward guide, and plays no favorites.

I imagine Yodle will pass out a zillion of these to its small business clients. It isn’t a bad idea for any of us to give to people who would like a practical guide to our industry. It isn’t, however, designed to be a book for industry insiders. Here’s the Amazon link.

The Berry Co. Picks Yodle for Websites, SEO/SEM

The Berry Company, the SMB sales giant with 260,000 SMB clients, has partnered with Yodle for Web site creation and search engine marketing and optimization. The deal gives Yodle access to Berry’s 42 state reach and 885 print publications. Yodle, which is in something of a horse race with SMB resellers such as ReachLocal, WebVisible, Marchex and others, currently has a presence in 25 markets.

Berry, which calls itself “your local leads expert,” was sold to Local Insight Media last year. It is also an authorized reseller for AT&Ti’s Yellowpages.com, so it is essentially going to be splitting its sales products. SMBs will be offered online listings and video advertising from YellowPages.com, and websites and SEO/SEM with Yodle. Berry is also an authorized reseller for Google AdWords.

Yodle CEO Court Cunningham says the deal with Berry, Ma Bell’s legacy sales company, has been “a long time in the making.” Tests began in May last year, and the arrangement is now live in some markets, with “methodical, region-by-region” rollouts likely to be completed by the end of summer. He also notes that Berry now becomes its largest partner, but that Yodle is private labeling solutions with “four or five” other companies as well.

‘Yodle Organic’ Focuses on Boosting Search Rankings

Yodle, the third party SMB reseller, has now divided its business into “Yodle Sponsored” and “Yodle Organic.” The formation of the latter division, which has been live for a month with 150 clients, is a recognition that SMBs are increasingly relying on organic search as much as paid search – and they need help driving exposure to their websites, blogs, YouTube and social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

For $400 a month, with six month initial contracts, Yodle Organic is set to pump up its clients’ organic search rankings. It will provide personalized consultations, design and code websites to maximize search rankings; help create and syndicate video; distribute local business profiles to search sites and directories; and provide a dashboard that allows SMBs to measure goals.

Yodle CEO Court Cunningham says the timing feels right. “SEO’s price-per-lead and price-per-click is substantially lower than SEM. But it isn’t ‘either-or.’ They complement each other,” he says. “SEO takes time to build your site so it becomes visible and builds authority in the eyes of the search engines. It is about building equity in a brand that is long lasting.”

The challenge is to properly scale the effort for each client and make money – Yodle gets an average of about $1,000 per month from its 7,000 paid search clients. “No one has productized and automated and put clear accounting” around something like this, he says. But “we’ve been building websites for three years. We’re experts in automation.”

Still, it is an on-going experiment as Yodle works to get clients non-paid traffic in such new areas as maps, article sharing sites and even Google’s 7 Pack. “We look at these things as organic distribution,” says Cunningham.

Content production is probably the biggest question mark for Yodle (and for any company entering this space). Out of the gate, Yodle is using a combination of external contributors, internal editors and curated content from other sources. It hopes to provide at least ten fresh pieces of content a month to each client.

ILM:09: SMBs Benefit from More Competition to Google, Search Preferences

Yodle CEO Court Cunningham says that a major shift is occurring in SMB marketing as Google starts to give preference in rankings to merchant sites rather than to directory listings. “There are many, many more merchant sites” than there were a year ago, he noted on a panel at ILM:09 that also featured WebVisible CEO Kirsten Manger and LA Times Senior Director of Sales Andy Vogel. “That’s a potential threat to people who are directory oriented, while it is a boon to people producing rich media like Yelp and others.”

It is also shows a shift to third party sales sites as possible substitutes for directories – or so third party sites hope. It is especially important as small businesses shift a disproportionate amount of their spending on marketing from traditional media to the Web as the economy recovers.

The sales challenge, however, is that many SMBs don’t always fully understand what their expectations should be and continue to churn at uncomfortably high levels. WebVisible CEO Kirsten Mangers cited an “inflection point” in month four of a contract. Once an SMB reaches it, their churn level is likely to dramatically reduced among SMBs.

Mangers also noted that SMB sales is positively impacted by the diffusion of Web-based technologies. “Whatever happens in national will make it to local in the next eighteen to 24 months,” she said. Video, for instance, has arrived in a major way. SMBs get a five to thirty-five percent lift in conversions by including video with their website.

Yodle’s Cunningham echoed Mangers on churn issues. “After six months, people are very, very loyal. Customer lifespans may be three or four years,” he said. And they should be loyal, he says, since third party sales groups do so much for SMBs. “They need the power of our ten person marketing department,” and so forth, he notes.

Cunningham and Mangers also said the search environment is getting more competitive and probably cheaper, as Google gets more competition from the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft Bing. Mangers noted that the efficacy of Yahoo is up 123 percent from last year as better technology has been applied. With relevance up significantly, “we can spend more money on Yahoo,” added Cunningham.

Money can also be spent on other marketing products. “It is not a one size fits all approach,” said Cunningham. Search advertising doesn’t make sense for every restaurant, for instance – especially is acquisition ends up costing $30-$50 a pop. If they’re smart, they’ll take a restaurant.com coupon-like approach, he said.

The LA Times’ Andy Vogel, meanwhile, said his paper has been making a different kind of pitch to SMBs, mostly focused on its broad, increasingly involved, 92 percent reach, which includes the flagship paper and its related verticals, as well as The Tribune’s other area radio stations, ethnic media, community papers and local blogs. Vogel noted that ten of the 50 most read blogs in the U.S. originate from a LA Times Media Group Brand.

“We produce tons of hyperlocal content,” he said. Tribune’s community paper in Newport Beach, for instance, produces more content and has a higher level of readership than any other local media.

On a sales level, that will be reinforced in 2010, as the sites integrate advanced mapping and geo-spatial applications. A new iPhone app, for instance, allows users to create programs and sell ads on specific streets, all nicely plotted for advertisers. “Small things like that can help customers absorb it better,” he said.. The site has leveraged this capability by adding a “geo-proximity celebrity” watch that users can tap into to report sightings of favorite stars.

Vogel also says that Tribune sales efforts are triply reinforced, thanks to a recent restructuring. “We have a sales force that includes ‘hunters,’ ‘farmers’ and ‘customer service reps,’” he says. That means “we have three people always thinking about your business.”