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Sep 28 2006
Local Search on the Rise ...
... according to comScore. Here are the latest numbers. As we've pointed out in the past, actual local searches could be greater.

Local searches are defined in this study as "searches conducted by consumers on the local or directory (Yellow Pages) sections of leading search sites, and other searches identified as having local intent." The "having local intent part" is usually defined as some sort of geographic modifier in the search term. So this leaves out a number of possible searches such as "halloween costume" that could be the first in a series of steps that end in a local offline purchase.

Adding to this is that "47 percent of local searchers visited a local merchant as a result of their search behavior, while 41 percent made contact offline," according to the study. As local search is growing and a large piece of it results in offline transactions, these are important trends that should drive local search models and emphasize the importance of leading (and tracking) offline purchases effectively.

This is being developed by online coupon providers, as the last post noted, as well as companies like ShopLocal, StepUp, NearbyNow and others.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Mike Boland at  17:26 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [3]

Sep 28 2006
A Conversation With ZiXXo: Part II
Today I had the chance to sit down with Mike Hogan, CEO of online coupon platform provider ZiXXo, to follow up on a discussion we had at DDC. We previously wrote about the company here. ZiXXo is working on a few different fronts to make its platform more attractive to Yellow Pages companies, newspapers and mobile carriers, among others.

Most notable is the opportunity to tap into the SME market, which is currently under addressed by coupons providers. This is simply because it isn't cost effective from a channel perspective to offer coupons to a fragmented base of privately owned small businesses. Many SMEs also don't know quite what to do when it comes to creating a coupon ("how much do I offer?").

For the sales channel issue, ZiXXo's API can be used by directory publishers to input data (business name, address, heading and e-mail address) and automatically generate customized coupons that can be blasted out to thousands of businesses.

A restaurant, for example, will have five or so coupons automatically generated and delivered in an e-mail push, each containing different restaurant-appropriate offers (such as specials during non-peak hours or days). There is also a map automatically generated on the coupon, and offers can be modified by any business that bites. This can be an effective onramp for many small businesses to start using coupons because it takes the first step for them and eliminates some of the confusion that can be a barrier to adoption. But there remain questions about a Yellow Pages company's willingness to launch such a push marketing campaign on its customers and how this will resonate with SMEs in e-mail form.

For companies that don't know quite what their coupon should say, an automated tool generates recommendations based on the category and selected options of business objectives (e.g., fill empty seats, move remnant retail inventory, sell more blue widgets). ZiXXo charges SMEs when a coupon is printed (this gets closer to an actual conversion than charging for a click does), and it shares the revenues with its distribution partners.

Building this network of distribution partners is the other vital component of its business model that the company is working on. Hogan couldn't give me any names but says he is talking to major newspaper publishers, directory publishers, local search players and companies in the mobile space (a whole separate discussion) to integrate ZiXXo's coupons with local listings.

The 15 percent it offers to these affiliates is considerably less than paid search rates (Google shares upwards of 50 percent with AdSense publishers). But, as Hogan pointed out, conversion rates will be higher for a coupon that a user takes the time to search for and print, than for the average text ad � for which conversions are traditionally more nebulous. This makes sense, but we'll have to wait and see if this proves to be an attractive value proposition for publishers. In the meantime, the company continues to build up its content library of SME coupons.

There is a lot more to the company�s model, which we�ll get into at another date � especially the mobile possibilities. Keep watching this space as online coupons will become an increasingly important part of local search.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Mike Boland at  16:50 | permalink | comments [4] | trackbacks [1]

Sep 28 2006
The End of White Pages?
OK, that headline is a little bit ahead of the facts, but the question is a legitimate one for the Yellow Pages industry. As we report in this week's Local Media Journal, Canada's Yellow Pages Group has moved its publishing timetable for residential White Pages from 12 to 18 months.

As we note in LMJ, this move is one that almost any directory publisher would adopt if it could in order to reduce costs and the clutter of directory titles that are now a fact of life in many global directory markets.

If YPG's experience offers a positive example, the question will be whether other publishers will begin pushing for the relaxation or elimination of requirements to produce print residential White Pages directories. This has already happened in Brazil. My view is we have already seen the beginning of the end of a product that has been losing relevance for some time now.
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  05:19 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [3]

Sep 28 2006
To Sensis, 'Yellow' Says It All
In this week's Local Media Journal, we write about Australian publisher Sensis' recent decision to drop the "Pages" from its "Yellow Pages" brand, thus reshaping the brand into one that is truly platform agnostic. Along with this re-branding comes the launch of several new products, most of them online (including a new wireless application and a home improvement oriented Web site).

Sensis has also joined the growing ranks offering either mini-directories or their cousins, pocket or on-the-go directories. Sensis' take on this genre is called Yellow In The Car. The glovebox-size directory will be distributed to 500,000 residences in Sydney and Melbourne and will include headings that are of interest to consumers when they are away from home.

Sensis is a company with very ambitious objectives (some critics have argued too ambitious), which are reflected in its pace of innovation.

The Kelsey Report has been producing a series of Advisories profiling the online Yellow Pages product efforts of major publishers around the globe, and Sensis, with its complex and ever-changing portfolio, is among those we plan to profile in the near future.
Blog: Global Yellow Pages Blog
posted by  Charles Laughlin at  05:08 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [2]

Sep 27 2006
Revised: Merchant Circle Complaints
For the past couple of days, I�ve been besieged by �comments� that look like they are from small businesses that are complaining about Merchant Circle�s aggressive voicemail promos. Merchant Circle is a new company that is designed to generate small-business traffic via SEO/SEM, free DA, enhanced listings and other state-of-the-art techniques.

When someone posts a review about a business in Merchant Circle, the company�s system automatically calls the business about it, hoping to generate interest in signing up for its service. To date, Merchant Circle tells me 40,000 businesses have signed up for a free level of service. Of those, a "very small percentage" have converted to a pay tier. No wonder the company is getting more aggressive, right? And those calls are apparently alienating people all over the U.S.

Here is a comment from "Cathy," who I've learned is a legit florist in Anaheim:

�A fellow florist received one of your �negative review� calls today and expressed concern as to how she could possibly have deserved such a comment. Thankfully this blog spells out the marketing scam. I took a look at Merchant Circle and found the same erroneous data for my city and category as the widely seen in most Yellow Pages; fictitious �local� listings for out-of-state call centers and the mis-categorizations of a number of businesses. No where does the site explain the source of the merchant ratings or make the raters accountable for their blemishing of the reputations of some excellent local businesses. No where can a company defend itself except the forced �claiming� of their tattered honor and goodwill. That�s not marketing � it�s ransom. Unbelievable that the Chandler family or Disney would endorse these tactics.�

Here is a different sample from "Holly�:

"We received this call today too, with a recorded message that said we had "negative information". Went to the site and did not see any comments under our name. Glad I found this string of messages and know I am not alone, and it is definitely SPAM! Everyone should report them at: Click on "File a Complaint" and report them. After searching Google I found Merchant Circle's phone number: 650-352-1335. Hope this helps!�

This is awful, right? But not so quick. While the problems appear to be very real, some of the comments � not all � may not be. For one thing, the e-mails mostly come from people with just one name, just like the proud Afghani people: I send my regards to "Lisa," �Lynda,� �Ginger,� �Robert,� �Steve,� �Cindy,� �Erin,� �Matthew� and several others.

While the commenters typically have return e-mail addresses that have different ISPs and domain names, some have different IP addresses. Most tend to be �too interesting,� but have the same voice. Moreover, when I sent out three test e-mails for verification, none responded. (Yes, I should have done more). Moreover, few have phone numbers or Web sites attached to them.

The last straw was when I Googled �Merchant Circle.� This kind of grassroots campaign would typically have a call to action posted somewhere. But it doesn�t. The only thing you see is an article that I wrote a few months ago, when Merchant Circle launched.

It just doesn�t make sense that I am suddenly getting tons of comments from around the country for such an old article. Here is my take. Merchant Circle, a Rustic Canyon project launched by Ben Smith, the creator of Spoke Software, is dedicated to helping small businesses be successful on the Web. It has been very entrepreneurial, and has really thought through what small businesses need to get noticed on the Web.

I don�t know if it will be successful � and I have made no secret of being dismayed at the low level of security on the system for changing business information. But if it had some success, it would be good for the entire local online advertising industry.

Maybe it has been too caustic about the Yellow Pages industry in its attention-getting promotions and blog comments � who knows? I can�t imagine that a Yellow Pages executive would do something like this.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  14:43 | permalink | comments [6] | trackbacks [0]

Sep 26 2006
Spot Runner Signing Brands for Local Co-op Ads
Spot Runner, the year-old company that uses the Internet to inexpensively produce and place local TV ads for small businesses, has revealed some new directions. While it is still pursuing ad campaigns with local businesses, which number �in the thousands," it is also going after national brands that can partner with local stores or agents and split costs on a co-op basis.

According to VP Tim Lambert and business development executive Sanjay Sharma, Spot Runner has specifically landed co-op deals with two brands: Ortho-Clear, a �transparent dental alignment� provider that partners with local dentists and tooth-care companies, and DeBeers, the diamond company that partners with local jewelers.

Separately, Spot Runner is working with Cendant, the holding company for Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Sothebys and ERA, to resell TV campaigns for its assorted Realtors. Cendant, however, is probably acting more in a reseller capacity than providing co-op support, since it sees agent support as a profit center in itself. Whatever the arrangement, packages, including consultations, use of ad library video and customization, begin at about $500 a month. Entire campaigns can be done for about $1,500.

In addition to TV spots, Lambert and Sharma say the company is planning radio campaigns, since audio tracks have already been produced as a byproduct of the TV ad. Internet-based TV ads are also �definitely� being looked at. The company has about 120 people in its New York and L.A. offices, with the vast majority of those being �creatives� who customize the ads.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  13:54 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Sep 25 2006
Long Live Classifieds? Some Reader Feedback
The partisans have come out of the woodwork to defend the future of classifieds � and specifically, newspaper-dominated classifieds. Following are short takes from comments sent to The Local Onliner. (It is worthwhile to look up the full comments.)

Jay Schauer, who heads Ad2Ad, a self-provisioning classified system for community and college papers, grouses that he�s �heard the hype� about Google Base killing off classifieds. �Here�s what GoogleBase isn�t going to kill: Classifieds."

The thing about 'classified ads' is that they are CLASSIFIED," notes Schauer. "You can quickly find a category (like 'Seasonal Items') and a classification (like 'Halloween Costumes') and hey-presto, the ads there are for those items and ONLY those items. What a concept.� Searches on Google Base, complains Schauer, often return a load of irrelevant links.

Schauer (a sometimes client) goes on to compare "the Death of Classifieds to the Paperless Office of the 1970s. Offices now use 10 times as much paper as in 1970."

Jeff Rapson, VP with Contraco's Search Initiatives, which is trying to help newspapers get into the SME space (like the rest of us), seconds Schauer�s views. �Presumably we�ll end up somewhere in the middle with a vendor that has successfully figured out B2C, C2C & B2B. Munging together the best of a shop/newspaper classifieds marketplace with the best of a IYP directory offering. TBD.�

Meanwhile, Tom Britt, publisher of At Geist, an online shopper/city guide in the Indianapolis area, thinks it is less an issue of newspapers vs. Yellow Pages than online vs. print. He also suggests that the success of online is going to hit Yellow Pages even harder and faster than newspapers.

�I think YP is in trouble,� writes Britt. �Their brand has been diminished somewhat because of competing print publications, not so much because of online local listings. Print is print, and people that use YP generally don�t think 'hey, why am I pulling this out of the kitchen drawer when I could run upstairs and search Google local listings to get the same information?'

Britt says he has found this to be the case with his own print publication, a monthly newsletter that is mailed to residents. On the other hand, his online newsletter attracts a totally different crowd, beyond the mailing list. "People either trust print or online, not typically both,� he writes. �That�s why I think online classifieds are important. To Meg�s point, classifieds are 'entry level e-commerce', but they also help in the web�s adoption by older, YP, consumers.�
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  18:34 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]

Sep 25 2006
My Primer on 'Classifieds and YP Convergence'
Yellow Pages companies are increasingly eyeing classifieds as the final piece of a �local advertising hub.� The �inevitable� convergence of classifieds and Yellow Pages was explored at Kelsey's Directory Driven Commerce conference in Los Angeles Sept. 19-20. I gave a 10-minute primer on the state of the industry, and was joined on the panel by execs from Oodle, YPG of Canada and AdMission (formerly iPIX).

Here�s a quick rundown of my Top 10 points:

1. Newspapers have traditionally dominated the classified marketplace, but face deteriorating market share due to competition from vertical sites (i.e., Autobytel), niche sites (i.e., real estate brokerages), social sites (i.e., Craigslist) and especially, aggregators (i.e., Google Base).

2. Local fragmentation is getting so intense that Borrell Associates recently determined that major market newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer may only count on winning 15 percent of local usage.

3. The emergence of numerous competitors means that newspapers often lag behind the competition in the number of listings they provide. Ultimately, the ability to provide not only the most, but also the most relevant listings will be classifieds� real currency.

4. To maintain usage levels, newspapers will have to develop new classified products and team up with other media and with aggregators like Oodle. A prototype arrangement might be the deal made this week when The New York Times agreed to provide its classifieds to The New York Sun, a free metro paper.

5. Where search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft fit in the mix hasn�t really been established. But they�ll seek to become master aggregators of free classifieds, while providing enough extra findability and tech features to upsell advertisers to a premium platform.

6. Technology enhancements are probably classified providers� best weapons against relatively primitive free sites like Craigslist. Microsoft's Windows Live Expo, for instance, announced a $19.99 deal this week that will enable advertisers to upload photos and be searched based on numerous criteria.

7. EBay is another contender in the mix. But while CEO Meg Whitman says that she only sees classifieds as �entry-level e-commerce� and doesn�t envision adding a transaction capability, it seems inevitable that eBay will eventually go there. The ability to find an item, promote it with coupons and then buy it is the true future of many classified categories.

8. Against this backdrop, we see shopper pubs (like PennySavers) and specialty products (like home and car publications) being sold to traditional local media, including Yellow Pages. The challenge with these types of pubs is they generally have weekly or monthly frequency. This doesn�t necessarily position YPs in a medium that will be defined by the ability to be up to the minute.

9. Shoppers et al are doomed to be the first victims of the new Internet sites. They'll have trouble with their premium advertising models. But exceptions will occur when they win strong online distribution and can provide synergies with existing advertising (i.e., auto listings and auto services). Generally, this is what the YP players hope to accomplish by partnering with them in their �local ad hubs.�

10. It remains to be seen whether the power of YPs' distribution, brand and sales forces will add enough extra oomph to �rescue� these pubs, which are all about micro-level marketing. But they do give YPs a base to build on.
Blog: Local Media Blog
posted by  Peter Krasilovsky at  12:49 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]

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