Tag Archives: seo

Local Splash Focuses on SEO Template for SMBs

SEO companies are a dime a dozen. How do you stand out? How about guaranteeing a front page rank on major search engines to SMBs? That’s what Relevant Ads’ Local Splash has done.

The fast-growing SEO company co-founded in 2006 by former Local.com executive David Rodecker has built a template for SEO that it hopes to sell to thousands of SMBs on its own, as well as via third parties. It guarantees a Page 1 ranking on a major search engine within six weeks of a contract, based on an extensive business profile that it develops, triggering placements on local maps, local organic search pages, mobile screens, as well as pay-per-click.

Local Splash also provides a bevy of other services for SMBs, including loan outs of its huge roster of exclusive domain names relevant to local business (i.e. PlumberInIrvine.com.). It also provide local video ads, merging business information into short, keyword-driven video presentations. The company also registers a Facebook page for clients, and encourages them to use various MerchantCircle tools (i.e. newsletters and coupons).

A recent visit to the company’s new headquarters in Santa Ana,CA shows a buzzing and large new workplace, with telemarketers crammed tight.

The company’s model is deliberately kept simple. It is $199 for a setup fee, and then $159 a month for a standard package. This gets customers into local map and organic result via direct feeds to Google, Yahoo, MerchantCircle, Bing, Yelp, Facebook and others. Other options include $40 and $100 monthly Adwords packages (or higher custom deals).

CEO Steve Yeich, a veteran of the domain registry business, and before that, a local search leader at Overture (and Yahoo, after the acquisition of Overture), tells us that roughly 25 percent of customers take an Adwords package. Yeich notes that the company has primarily reached out to SMBs via telemarketing, although it has some premise sales.

The company’s real growth, however, is its Agency/Key Account business, which targets national brands and their agencies. These accounts currently make up 25 percent of the company’s revenue, but will soon be about 50 percent. The company also has direct sales relationships with various organizations, including the American Association of Franchisees and Dealers (AAFD), a 50,000 member group.

To us, the company may not be all that differentiated from the efforts of third party resellers such as ReachLocal, WebVisible, Yodle and Orange Soda. But Yeich believes the company has a unique offering, especially with its emphasis on map placement and mobile. Such resellers are ideal partners, he says.

‘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.

New G5 Venture: SEO Meets Real Time Reservations

Real time reservations have moved beyond restaurants,hair parlors and parking garages and are now being offered for self storage units. G5 Search Marketing, which specializes in self storage, has teamed with Centershift and United Stor-All Management to launch websites that integrate G5’s SEO and click thru solutions with unit availability, pricing, promotions and payment.

The effort allows United Stor-All to consolidate the Web presences of 80 facilities in 17 states and DC that it currently manages, while generating brand awareness and Web traffic for its storage unit owners. It is the first of several third party integrations that G5 has planned for 2010.

“Integrating at the point of sale enables us to close the loop and truly track a new customer all the way back to the origination point online,” says G5 CEO Dan Hobin “Our clients like to know that they have a managed service.” At the same time, Hobin says clients expect “full access” to their sites and want to be able to make changes at will.

MerchantCircle: 5,000 Paying Customers

MerchantCircle, which is partially owned by IAC, is apparently beginning to make some headway in selling search oriented services to small businesses. It reports that it has achieved a base of 5,000 paying customers, who buy services costing $30, $60, $100, and $250 a month. “Most of them are coming in at the lower end” – the “starter circle” package –“ but we do have customers at all price points,” said a spokesman.

The company also has 500,000 “registered” users and hopes to have one million registered users by the end of the year. Darren Waddell, VP of Marketing, estimates that 75-80 percent of its users have no other web presence. “They rely on us as their only web presence. And all the people buying advertising for us, it’s more like 85 percent that have never purchased online advertising before.”

Waddell asserts that the site’s best customer acquisition vehicle is “people bringing in others by word of mouth. Another way people find us is with vanity search. Someone searches for themselves and see they ranked highly and say, ‘who is that? Who built a web listing for me’?”

Indeed, MerchantCircle has pre-populated 15 million merchant listings, which users can enhance with MerchantCircle provided blogs, newsletters and other customer interactions. “We get their listing highly indexed with Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask.com,” says Waddell. “So we’re using search as a front door.” Next on the agenda is an upgrade of the listings to videos made with templates. Similar to SpotMixer, such video might be category specific and allow businesses to see what they can do with video as a hook.

Another way that people find the company, of course, is more notorious – an aggressive auto dialer campaign that compels people to go online to register in order to see what someone has allegedly said about them The company downplays the importance of the campaign, but many people are still apparently receiving the calls.

I have actually gotten many emails from irate business people who have received such calls and wanted to vent. Here is one email I got from “Dave” on May 15.

“I received one of the MerchantCircle automated calls in my voicemail box this morning. It said ‘Hello, this is the MerchantCircle Verification Department. We are calling regarding a customer who found your MerchantCircle page on Google. On Monday, May 12, 2008, this customer asked us to verify that you are indeed a legitimate business. To verify your business, go to MerchantCircle.com and enter your business telephone number in the blue box. Again, that’s MerchantCircle.com. Thank you.’”

But Dave notes that “we do not have a MerchantCircle Page and do not intend to have one.” He may have been unaware, however, that MerchantCircle automatically generated a page for his business. (But who is the mystery customer?)

Vertical Case Study: G5 Focuses on Self- Storage Companies

self-storage.jpg Do you really need to have raised millions of dollars to succeed in selling search solutions to small businesses? It is a question that I often ask myself.

Dan Hobin’s G5 Search Marketing in Bend, Ore., is profitable without having raised outside money. Hobin’s secret is initially focusing the five-year old, 17-person company on a specific vertical category: self-storage

Hobin’s brother is in the self-storage business in southern California. Consequently, Hobin, a veteran of numerous dotcom startups such as CyberSource and Beyond.com, knew enough about their needs to try to transition their large marketing budgets to search. These companies typically take out full page ads in Yellow Pages, and spend $1,500 to $2,000 per month on the Yellow Pages programs, he says.

G5’s search solutions typically run $300 to $500 per month. The money provides a full range of search engine optimization and search engine marketing programs, trackable coupons, dedicated call tracking via VoiceStar, and graphically rich reporting tools. The combination of SEM and SEO is critical, says Hobin. Other companies have focused too much on SEM and miss entire groups of customers.

Currently, G5 serves 30 self-storage companies with over 600 locations. These companies recognize that search is far cheaper than Yellow Pages, says Hobin. With G5, Hobin estimates that they’re spending $5 to $20 per lead, or $30 to $50 per self storage rental. With Yellow Pages, Hobin estimates it is $150 to $200 per lead, or $300 to $400 per rental. Yellow Pages shouldn’t be abandoned, but other kinds of marketing should be added, he believes.

A typical client profile shows that their search efforts lead mostly to phone calls. Sixty percent of users make a call; twenty percent want to use a coupon; and ten percent seek a price quote.

G5 provides search solutions on a wide range of services. But most of the action is with “the Big 4,” Hobin notes: Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN. The IYPs and classified service providers, meanwhile, are all described as “second tier.” “If you are an IYP, the only way you get traffic is if you are listed on Google.”

G5 is also doing some advertising on Facebook. It is a good way to reach college students, who tend to be very big users of storage facilities. But it is also very seasonal, based mostly on school semesters Texting quotes on demand is also popular with college students.

Currently, G5 is adding a set of new verticals to its initial focus on self-storage. The criteria are that categories are dominated by companies with multiple locations – ideally 20 or more. It has already added a focus on apartments. Assisted living facilities will be next. “The key is they have a high lifetime value, and that we can manage their transition” to online, he says.

WebVisible Lands $12 Million; Emphasizes Integrated SMB Solutions

webvisible-logo.jpg The small business advertising arms race has gotten hotter in recent weeks, as companies eye a chance to add Google and Yahoo search solutions, and other services to small business marketing budgets once totally contained by Yellow Pages.

First we had ReachLocal’s $305 million valuation based on a $55 million round of financing, sparking the whole marketplace. In early March, SpotRunner entered the game, acquiring Weblistic in an all stock buy to power its 30 local sales offices with solutions that go beyond its core strength in video. At the same time, Orem, Utah-based Orange Soda got on the map with Freedom Communications, the publisher of The Orange Country Register. Previously, New York-based Yodle got $12 million in funding.

Today, Irvine-CA-based WebVisible, a six-year veteran of the reseller space with 60 employees, reinforced its own position with $12 million in new series B funding from Sutter Hill Ventures and Redpoint Ventures, an existing investor. WebVisible partners in the U.S. include AT&T, Earthlink, and McClatchy. Internationally, it works with Yellow Pages Group of Canada and British Telecom.

WebVisible CEO Kirsten Mangers says the new money is going to be used to flesh out its offerings and “fully support the customers we have.” The company’s focus is all about “innovation for reaching local businesses. At the end of the day, “it is never a money race.”

A major part of WebVisible’s vision is to provide a 360 degree set of solutions for SMBs. Search solutions are an important part of the equation. But “there comes a time when the sales channel needs more display, more marketing needs. Advertising always follows the audience,” she reminds. “And the paradigm changes over time.” The key is to not to tie yourself to a single channel. WebVisible strives to be “Switzerland.”

“Statistics show that conversions will rise with an integrated media campaign,” adds Mangers. “Customers have been asking for it.” Video is not “fully baked,” right now. But it “closes the loop on the brand story,” and is undoubtedly part of a solution that also includes SEO/SEM, banners and location based services. All of it needs to “scaelable by geography; scaleable by vertical.”

With so many players in the market, one would think that the resellers would begin running into each other, much like the third parties in the automotive space that besiege auto dealers, four or five at a time. But Mangers says that almost never happens. “It is a problem I want to have.”

WebVisible’s approach, as a white label provider of solutions, is to partner with the community players that have brand equity, ranging from Yellow Pages to newspapers to chambers of commerce. “They need to own the relationships,” she says. It is a more sustainable customer base.”

But the local partners should “put a body in place” dedicated specifically to the extended SMB solutions – not just Yellow Pages or the Big three classified verticals. “They need to go out and tell an excellent story; and show new ways of using online as their lead product.” At the same time, they should “never discount the value of their brand” with bundled discounts, etc.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, for instance, has worked with WebVisible to have a dedicated account rep, resulting in a tripling of bookings in the last two months. “Newspaper reps have so many products in their bag that recommendations and fact-finding become difficult,” says Mangers.