Tag Archives: SMBs

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.

Amex Teams with Facebook for Small Business Saturday

American Express has recently been leveraging its powerful relationship with SMBs on the Web, including a tie to search engine marketing and lead generation via a deal between American Express Open and Clickable.

Now Amex is going deep with social media, specifically Facebook. It is giving up to 10,000 SMBs up to $100 of customizeable Facebook advertising.

The giveaway is on top of two other promotions tied to “Small Business Saturday,” which is designed to drive traffic to SMBs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. These include a promise to donate $1 every time someone likes Amex’s Small Business Saturday page on Facebook (up to $500,000); and a $25 credit card refund for Amex consumers who shop at a Amex-accepting SMB on November 27.

It isn’t clear whether there is an official relationship between Facebook and Amex. But the program looks like a mutual winner for both. It kind of reminds of us of earlier SMB promos, such as one between Google and Intuit.

Facebook execs Emily White and Tim Kendall will discuss Facebook’s local initiatives during a presentation on Day 3 of ILM 2010.

ReachLocal Adds Presence and Reputation Management Via SMB:LIVE

As it readies its expected public offering, ReachLocal is branching out beyond its roots as a third party SMB reseller for Google and others. First, it started selling display.Now it is set to offer improved search optimization, digital presence and reputation management via the acquisition of SMB:LIVE.

Other companies in the space have made similar moves to branch out beyond their reseller roots to solidify their relationship with SMBs. Marchex and Yodle for instance, have major organic search and reputation management initiatives underway.

The acquisition of SMB:LIVE will enable SMBs to use Reach to publish multimedia content from a single interface to a business profile page, as well as to local directory sites, search engines and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook. In addition, Reach will monitor local review sites, social media sites, and local blogs for references and comments related to the SMB.

SMB:LIVE occupies a rapidly evolving space that also includes such companies as Google, Yahoo, Yellowbot, MerchantCircle, ShopCity, Brownbook and various IYP sites. It started out providing upsellable free websites for ISPs that had separated from their Yellow Pages Business. A couple of years ago, it launched operations for BT TradeSpace. Last year, it also launched TelMex.

The company has continually added features, such as video and blogs. But the company has recently focused on scaleable cloud profiles that are entirely Web based and enable “write once, publish many times” functionality.

SMB:LIVE’s Cloud Profile also enables SMBs to publish updates using email and SMS text messages – tools that they’re already comfortable with. The service also includes a “virtual coach” to remind and encourage SMBs to regularly update their profiles and engage prospects in online conversations.

ReachLocal’s S1 Filing Provides New Details About Company

ReachLocal’s S1 filing to raise $100 million includes valuable details about the company. With grosses of $146.7 million for the first nine months of 2009, and operations in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, the local search and display reseller has become one of the biggest bets in local.

According to the S1, ReachLocal, which was founded in 2004, has 14,500 active advertisers and 17,600 active campaigns. Most advertisers spend between $500 and $3,000, and represent a wide swath of local verticals, including home repair and improvement, automobile sales and repair, medical and health services, legal services and retail and personal services. “Our target market is SMBs that spend at least $5,000 per year on advertising,” notes the company.

A little more than two-thirds of revenue – 68 percent — comes from ReachLocal’s sales force, while the rest comes from over 350 third party agencies and resellers. But the direct sales force is more profitable, and the company’s intent is to focus on bringing in more sales consultants.

Sales consultants that survive the first year (“upperclassman”) bring in substantially higher revenue than new consultants (“underclassman”), who spend much of their time in boot camp (one week) and other training activities. The company says that 438 sales people in North America and 87 sales people internationally, and roughly 40 percent are “upperclassmen.” The pool of upperclassmen is a little shortchanged right now, however, as the company slowed down new sales hires in 2009 on account of the recession.

The company suggests that its costs and search costs in general could go up as the economy recovers and more advertisers increase their quotient of Internet advertising. “An increase in the cost of media in these marketplaces without a corresponding increase in our media buying efficiency could result in an increase in our cost of revenue as a percentage of revenue even if our business expands.”

It also notes that its media costs have already gone up from 52.7 percent of revenue to 55.6 percent, mostly as the result of Google’s 2008 action to terminate its publisher rebate program in North America. Google gets the lion’s share of ReachLocal’s spending, although the company also works with Yahoo and Microsoft, and has recently begun providing display ads, and expects to move into mobile ads as well.

Looking forward, the company says it will work aggressively to “address new segments of an SMB’s marketing activities, such as digital presence, reputation management and customer retention.”

The Angry Plumber: ‘Don’t Misappropriate My Online Listing!’

A flurry of business lead services have cropped up, each a variation on the model that has been successfully developed by ServiceMagic and others. They basically provide a directory, information, leads and marketing services.

One of the new crop of lead services is HelpHive in Seattle, which recently launched and was profiled here. It provides a basic directory. It also provides several tiers of SMB services (including customizeable home pages, leads, SEO, multiple ways of contacting businesses, and free video).

HelpHive, however, has inadvertently brewed some controversy by putting in a dedicated phone number for EVERY business listed – not just those that opt-in to its system. Evan Conklin, who owns a plumbing and heating service, is absolutely furious at the practice, and has been venting at the company via calls for class action suits, letters to government officials and bloggers like me.

Conklin raises some important points about the practice of building an alternative directory with proxy phone numbers that might be used as a substitute for “neutral” Yellow Pages. Here is the gist of them.

1- HelpHive uses an SMB’s trademark without permission.
2- The customer may think that HelpHive’s dedicated telephone number is real. “When nobody picks up the phone and they are told we are unavailable they think that we are not paying attention to our phones.”
3- “They call you on your real phone number and try to sell you an upgrade to improve your position in their listings or whatever.”

“I have yet to find one business owner or individual that did not react negatively to the idea of some unrelated third party posing their name or business with a false telephone number on the Internet or any other public space,” says Conklin.

I shared Conklin’s comments with HelpHive’s Karim Meghji , who is getting very familiar with Conklin via phone conversations, Web postings and other communications. It is Meghji’s strong belief that HelpHive hasn’t crossed the line in any way at all. He also says that HelpHive is completely transparent, and emphasizes that SMBs have full opt-out rights.

“Yes, we do have a HelpHive phone number on each business listing,” says Meghji. “We do this so we can provide a low-risk, low-cost, performance-based model to businesses interested in generating referrals and business from HelpHive. Our business approach is ‘we get paid when the business is getting paid.’ In order to do this, we employ a proxy phone number to track and report to business referrals that originated from HelpHive and HelpHive customers. This is not like other approaches where evaluating the return on investment can be challenging at best.”

Meghji also confirms that HelpHive did call Evan Conklin. But it was not a sales call. In fact, it was “only as a followup to questions that Evan Conklin POSTED via our customer services system about how the contact information on HelpHive works. It was not, nor was it intended to be, a sales call.”

As for misrepresenting whether a business is available to answer phones or not, Meghji says that when a customer calls a business via HelpHive, “the first thing they hear is a welcome from HelpHive and then a request to enter the HelpHive extension of the business they are trying to reach.”

My view: It is kind of harsh to pick on HelpHive specifically – there is no reason to doubt that it sincerely wants to help SMBs while building its own business. In fact, it has a lot of good and helpful ideas that provide a lot of value to SMBs. But we are living in an era where new directories are aggressively soliciting SMB business, and sometime misrepresenting themselves in order to better engage with the SMB (and sell them). In the interest of consumers and businesses, there probably needs to be strong disclaimers about directory information when proxy numbers are used without specific opt-in. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily hurt the new directory.

Angie’s List Crosses One Million ‘Member’ Threshold

Angie’s List, the Indianapolis-based premium services directory that charges members to access and participate in reviews of local service businesses, said it has crossed the one million member mark. The threshold has been reached after a major ad campaign on mass media outlets, the launch of many new markets, and continuing efforts with member referrals (which come with a big bag of M&Ms and entry into a sweepstakes).

The company had 650,000 members at this time last year. While the company does not disclose how many actual paid accounts it has, it has historically had an average of two members per paying household. It also had a number of free trials that it counted. Ultimately, it had 280,000 paid accounts. If the 43 percent ratio were to hold firm with one million members, the company would now have 430,000 paid accounts. But many of the variables, of course, have obviously changed.

Angie’s List, which also has advertising revenues, is currently preparing a separate revenue stream from its medical reviews, which represent 150 of Angie’s 425 categories.

MerchantCircle Tries to Get Stickier with ‘Neighbors’ and ‘Answers’

MerchantCircle is seeking to transform itself from a source of search engine leads for SMBs into more of a destination site that consumers and businesses will use over and over again.

The company reports 20 million unique visitors, which if calculated in a certain way, would make it the fifth largest Internet Yellow Pages. It also has over 900,000 small businesses that have “claimed” a page and may use the company’s robust tool sets and features.

While MerchantCircle already provides a number of features, such as Yelp reviews, just a small percentage use the site as a reference site, akin to an Internet Yellow Pages. Company officials now hope to change that with two new programs: “Neighbors” and “Answers.”

Neighbors — not to be confused with Yahoo! Neighbors, which also launches today — enables consumers to “follow” local businesses, Twitter style, for the latest promotions, coupons and announcements. Business owners can use the feed to communicate directly with their customer base and share information on deals and other things. Deals, especially, reflect one of Merchant Circle’s strengths, since its merchants use the service to publish thousands of coupons.

Answers is a consumer advice service, similar to ones we’ve seen with Yahoo Answers and vertical sites such as Avvo.com (lawyers) and Trulia (real estate). Merchant Circle’s idea is that small businesses will become more bonded to the service if they regularly communicate with potential customers. It says it has already had excellent response rate in a month of trials.

One would think that MerchantCircle may not be ideally positioned to provide such a core consumer service. But company officials note that its strength is not in the Yelp markets such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, but rather in small to medium-sized markets, perhaps up to 150,000 population, where it has achieved a viral effect of businesses recommending each other.