Tag Archives: Local Search

YellowSpaces: New IYP Focuses on Mobile-Oriented Features

YellowSpaces, a startup launched by New York entrepreneur Constantin S. Manta, hopes to differentiate itself from a glut of Internet Yellow Pages and local search applications by keeping things clean, better engaging users, and better integrating mobile channels.

The service has such state of the art, mobile-oriented features as city name guessing after just a few letters; “confidence scores” of local businesses from Localeze; Web and Wikipedia search; landmark/point of interest search; and automatic Skype calling.

I visited Manta last week in his offices, where he acknowledged the glut in IYPs. He showed me that his personal iPhone has 12 IYP apps, filling an entire screen. “I just think that the main IYP companies just don’t get it yet when it comes to getting it right for mobile,” he says.

“The core technology behind most of the IYP platforms isn’t properly optimized and/or structured to serve up quick, local, relevant and personalized search results,” says Manta. “The mobile application that will get it right will move towards a ‘personal advisor’ type system that has the ability to learn, anonymously store and predict your needs based on your search habits and have the ability to offer quick, local, relevant, and personalized information.”

Twitter is also being utilized as a big part of YellowSpaces rollout. @Yellowspaces, for instance, is gathering and reporting industry-specific news for local search and IYP. “Twitter is one of the most effective business tools on the market,” says Manta. “We listen to conversations and share knowledge, via retweeting. We also use it as a marketing tool.”

Eventually, Manta expects to take YellowSpaces overseas. His ambition? For YellowSpaces to become “the globally-branded local search destination.”

Clickable Aims Local, Focuses on ‘Scaleable’ Sales Solutions

Clickable, a third party online search manager, says that local search packages are too heavily marked up, with too little emphasis on conversions. It is re-aiming to fix these problems with a “highly scaleable” local solution for publishers and resellers. The “Clickable Platform” is supported by an 85 person team, of which 55 are dedicated to the local initiatives.

Buying into the effort is Franchise Company Solutions, which manages online advertising and marketing for franchise businesses. Clickable already works with the lawyer market via Lexis Nexis, and the classifieds marketplace via a deal with The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Philly.com. Apparently set to follow are other local media players, including local TV stations and cable TV players.

By refocusing on local – albeit mostly larger local accounts — the Clickable Platform is aimed at local-oriented segments already served by the likes of Marchex, ReachLocal, Yodle, WebVisible, Mediatraks and Orange Soda. If you measure success by churn, these companies haven’t been especially successful to date, says CEO David Kidder. Up to “90 percent of local customers are churning,” he says.

Kidder adds that a major reason for the churn is their high costs. The markup on search campaigns is so high in some cases that only forty percent of expenditures are going into the campaign. “At that price point, you give them very little value,” says Kidder. “It is a junk business.”

Kidder claims that the Clickable Platform allows for seventy percent to go into campaigns — an improved cost efficiency, by his count, of 30 percent. One reason for Clickable’s improved results, he says, is that the company is more focused on selling successful conversions in the marketplace, rather than simply soliciting a bunch of leads and clicks, which may or may not have relevance.

Local.com Revamps Site; Profitability Expected by E.O.Y.

Local.com has made its first substantive changes to the site in over a year. CEO Heath Clarke says the changes make it easier to find all the varied content on the local portal. It will also make it easier for the site to add more data to profiles and incorporate user generated content, such as reviews, which the site has already been generating.

Clarke says the site attracts 10 million visitors a month, and has 17,000 small business advertisers now – a big jump from the 5,100 advertisers it had previously garnered, thanks to the $1.2 million acquisition of 12,000 advertisers from web site hosting companies last week. Clarke says Web hosters are “natural” partners as they get SMBs just as they’re beginning to invest more on the Web. The average advertiser is paying $35.

By the end of 2009, Clarke anticipates having more than 50,000 advertisers, through both acquisition and via the company’s outsourced sales force. More than 200 sales agents are currently selling Local.com solutions, he notes. That number might decline slightly as the company irons out “all the processes,” but they should be all fixed by the end of 2Q.

Overall, given the bad economy, revenues and traffic are slightly up in Q1 and slightly down versus the year ago period, but holding relatively steady, says Clarke. He believes the company is well positioned to break even by the end of the year.

ReachLocal Adds Display to Search Offering

Clearly, SMB marketing is no longer just about local search and directory listings. While search remains as important piece of the pie, display is emerging in its own right. Marchex, AdReady, Cobalt’s Admission, MediaTraks, Mixpo and Jivox are among those companies that have been targeting SMBs and others for display (and rich media) solutions.

Now, ReachLocal, the independent sales company that pitches local SMBs on alternatives to Yellow Pages advertising, says it is going into selling display ads as well. The company has sales offices in 30 U.S. cities. It also has operating units in U.K., Canada and Australia.

The launch of ReachDisplay “employs remarketing and optimization to make customer acquisition for local advertisers a better value,” notes the company’s press release. That’s a lot of jargon, but it means two things: it is cookie-ing consumers who have previously visited a website; and using the knowledge about consumers to create ad hoc local networks.

AlmondNet actually pioneered the practice several years ago, sharing high CPMs from highly targeted advertising with media providers that allow it to take an ad and place it on a network that features similar content.

2008: The Year That Was

We’re out with our predictions for 2009. But what’s the final word for 2008? Truly, it was a very stimulating and thoughtful year for our local media and commerce industry. But speaking for myself, it’s hard to say whether it was a good year, especially with fresh layoffs that we are hearing about every day. In fact, the year was kind of Dickensian (“best of times, worst of times”).

On one hand, there has been an explosion in local content with YouTube, Twitter and Stumble Upon; and omnipresent local reviews with services such as Yelp and Angie’s List. Online video has become a real media, aided by $100 video cameras and the emergence of HD standards; and mobile has started to become a real channel, aided by GPS and iPhones.

On the small business front, search has become more widely accepted in key local segments, and has become mainstreamed in many ways, adding a useful channel to the ad mix. And the percentage of SMBs with websites or personal profile pages has crept up to 61 percent.

But what about the business? For traditional media, it was especially bad. In 2008, we had a perfect storm. Massive debt and declining circulation hit the newspapers hard – and the Yellow Pages in the same way. Sharp hits to retail, auto and real estate advertising sealed the deal. The decline in auto has not only hit traditional media. Online ad networks that aggregate local media, such as Centro, relied on auto for 30 percent of its revenue.

The result: Tribune stands bankrupt, McClatchy and Lee and others are near bankruptcy. It even appears possible that Idearc and RHD — the two public YP companies in the U.S. — could file for bankruptcy (although we are not betting on that).

At the same time, old line products such as ValPak coupons have been put up for sale, and we don’t see clear replacements for them yet. Vertical products remain compelling, but with the economic slump, haven’t proved to be the hedge that traditional media had hoped (at this point).

Moreover, third party auto sites such as AutoByTel have been put on the sales block. And vertical stars such as Zillow have begun to layoff workers, even as they form broad sales arrangements.

Local-oriented startups also got hit. Credit has tightened up. The only companies that are likely to get funding are those that can get to cash flow positive with as little money as possible. Social-oriented services seem especially poised to get hurt.

So – we have to change the conventional wisdom. The old CW: “if we just tweak things, and gradually switch advertisers over, everything should work itself out.” In fact, with the emergence of new, highly targeted ad products, we could see advertisers spending much more on marketing than in the past.

The new CW? It isn’t so simple.

We’ve learned that hyperlocal doesn’t live in a vacuum, and that there isn’t ready demand for block-by block coverage. But it is a useful add-on. Content platforms have become a commodity, but can be improved with navigation, tagging and geo-targeting.

We’ve also learned that mapping is a feature that can be greatly enhanced with personalization and advertising, and could be the basis for a new portal (but there are lots of new fronts for portals). And that mobile content shows real promise, but is still kept “closed” by the carriers, who manage 90 percent of it behind their firewalls (Although Google’s Android might begin to open things up).

Classifieds have taken a huge hit by free providers such as Craigslist, which continues to gather steam. But it is encouraging to see classifieds get extended by aggregators such as GoogleBase, Vast and Oodle, which actually started working with MySpace, Facebook and WalMart (a new local player?) – a truly interesting development.

On the “national-local” front, geo targeting has become so widespread that it actually has put a crimp into CPM rates for local publishers, which have come down from $10 to $6-7 in many cases. But we’re seeing organic adoption by regional advertisers such as supermarkets, banks, furniture store chains and lotteries. As Centro CEO Shawn Riegsecker has noted: “they’ve been spending 1 percent to 10 percent of their revenue on the Web, with no strategy.” In 2009, they’ll get one.

For “local-local,” the bottom line remains the engagement of the small business. It is greatly encouraging to see the wide adoption of free online tools by real estate agents, for instance, and ad building templates and planning by companies like AdReady, which has deals with companies such as The New York Times.

It is also encouraging to see the evolution of leads-based services, where ServiceMagic, for instance, has moved the continuum from simply providing leads to delivering jobs (i.e. installation of flat screen TVs bought at Target). Angie’s List’s “two-sided cash register” from premium subscriptions and advertising also represents a new model.

In the end, we are in an environment where we are absolutely climbing over bodies to get ahead. But the opportunities seem stronger than ever, as is the relevancy of the products to consumers. It is an important and meaningful thing for all of us to work on, isn’t it? Happy new year to all of our friends, and thanks for your support. We’ll see you in 2009.

Citysearch’s Compelling Revamp

Citysearch has just completed a full revamp of its product and strategy that it hopes will position it in the long-term battle for local. Elements of the revamp include a more intuitive interface, an embrace of social media, a major focus on video, some new twists in mobile, and the development of a full-fledged local ad and content network that offers an alternative to Google’s dominant position.

The IAC company’s current ambitions are to be “more local, more social and slicker,” says President Jay Herratti. “We are defensible with our breadth and depth of content. But we can’t grow unless we grow search at the local level.” All the efforts in online and mobile are geared around achieving such growth.

Open APIs are especially emphasized as a key way to open the service to anybody who wants to tap into CitySearch’s deep editorial content , reviews and small business information. Sites like Urban Spoon aren’t pure competitors, says Herratti. “We always try to power them. If their success is great, we’ll make money from that.”

A related piece of the puzzle is the launch of Open IDs, as well as dedicated MySpace and Facebook Connect apps. The Facebook Connect app, in particular, will enable users to develop a friends circle, based on their Facebook profile information. “It gives them a portable identity,” says Herratti. The problem with user generated content is that people intend to publish their reviews, but in the end, eight of ten reviews don’t get up there,” he says. The open IDs replace earlier efforts to register users, which typically resulted in 95 percent drop off of users.

As for the new interface, Citysearch has focused on highlighting its breadth of content and converting shoppers into buyers. In this regard, the new version’s biggest innovation is a compelling breakdown of small business information into “owner” comments, “editorial” comments and “user” comments.

The latter, which has been enhanced by the addition of InsiderPages in 2007, will begin featuring selected reviews to get away from the information overload of 200-300 reviews that are common in certain categories. While some sites suffer from review ghost towns, in Citysearch’s case, there has often been too much of a good thing, especially for restaurants and bars.

The breakdown of editorial comments should also help with search. Google already drives 50 percent all the site’s usage. Citysearch’s extensive network accounts for roughly 25 percent, and its URLs account for the remaining 25 percent.

The site is also moving away from measuring distances from businesses in the maddening “point radius” configuration, which tells users they are “x” miles away from a business (but doesn’t really know where the user actually is). The new system uses Vermont-based Maponics to break neighborhoods into polygonal neighborhoods. The new focus on neighborhood information should also drive additional “longtail” searches that could drive more advertising revenue.

Marchex Reports ‘80,000 Local Advertisers’

Marchex, during its 3Q earnings call today, reaffirmed its focus on providing ad solutions for the local and vertical search space, noting that it currently works with 80,000 local advertisers via 110 local partner relationships, including AT&T and Idearc. The advertiser count is up 5,000 from the previous quarter. By the end of 2009, the company expects to serve 100,000 local advertisers, despite worsening macro- economic conditions.

The company also continues to sign up new partners, most recently adding The Barrington Broadcasting Group of local TV stations. The broad distribution of services in key verticals is “an important factor in forming relationships with…companies like Barrington,” says CEO Russ Horowitz.

Horowitz also notes that advertisers are exposed to 33 million visitors to its thousands of domain sites, Marchex Connect profile pages, and the OpenList city site. That’s up from 32 million during last quarter.

Horowitz says that no other provider services 80,000 advertisers with campaign fulfillment and ownership of key features such as call tracking and the AdHere performance-based network of premium services (formerly known as Industry Brains). The result, he says, is an effective bundle of lead packages instead of merely selling a fixed number of clicks.

Still, while Horowitz contends that Marchex is more than holding its own against the competition, it is tough out there with the bad economy. “We are realistic about the impact of the economy on all national ad dollars, including those that are spent marketing locally.” But they’ll be less impacted because of online advertising’s “accountability and transparency.”

Horowitz added, however, that Marchex is slimming down in some areas in order to focus more on local and vertical. It made $4 million in the last two quarters, for instance, from the sale of non-essential domains (it has 150,000 domains). It also is de-emphasizing Sitebox, its third part web site optimization business.