Update Your Feeds: Screenwerk

June 28, 2010

Soon this blog will be phased out and all the action will be over at Screenwerk.com.

Here’s the direct feed and here is the comments feed.

Head on Over to Screenwerk.com

June 17, 2010

Finally I’ve had the blog redone. Head on over to Screenwerk.com to see it.

It’s simple yet more polished, dry yet flavorful, sweet yet sour, sarcastic yet sincere:

Get the new feed here, or you can subscribe and get all my posts from Search Engine Land, Internet2Go and this blog at twitter.com/gsterling.

The content on this site will soon disappear, because it’s all duplicated over at Screenwerk.com.

NY Times Top Newspaper Online, High CPMs

June 16, 2010

Comscore has put out a ranking of the top newspaper sites online, as well as CPM rates by site category. Here are the charts:

Online newspapers have the highest CPM rates of the categories covered by comScore in the chart above. They don’t have the most impressions however. According to Nielsen and suggested by the graphic immediately above, social media (including blogs) now capture “one in every four and a half minutes online.”

The NY Times is planning to reintroduce paid access for its site. How this will affect CPM rates and traffic/revenues is uncertain at this point. While people might pay for global access across devices to NY Times content, it will be tough to get people to pay online. We’ll see how they execute the program.

Blogs and other free, ad-supported news sites may stand to gain from the Times retreat behind the paywall. And of course one of the challenges for the WSJ or the forthcoming paid version of the Times is SEO.

To paraphrase and borrow from the Times’ own Thomas Friedman: online all the news is flat. A paywall will put more pressure on the Times to maintain and even boost quality and offer more content and features. News online is largely a commodity. Many people will be fine getting it from Yahoo! or CNN if not the Times.

The Online Publishers Association continues to advocate on behalf of premium publishers with data/research and fight (perhaps a losing battle) against the the commoditization of audiences via ad networks.

Separately the Times plans, according to AdAge,  to create a “public beta testing site where it will experiment with new ideas and applications before deciding whether they deserve to go live on NYTimes.com. The Times expects to introduce the site, to be called Beta620, in July or August. The “620” refers to the paper’s street address on Eighth Avenue in New York.”

AOL Sells Bebo: What a Screw Up

June 16, 2010

In a massive case of “what were they thinking” AOL bought social networking site Bebo for $850 million; and in a case of “what are they thinking now,” the company has sold it, reportedly, for around $10 million to a hedge fund: Criterion Capital Partners.

It was stupid for AOL to pay that much in the first place and maybe naive to think that it could take on Facebook. But now, on the other end, it’s probably misguided to get rid of the site for that little.

I don’t know what the headcount and other costs associated with Bebo are. But Facebook’s privacy flap has created an opening for others to exploit. Alternatively the site could be reinvented and/or the platform could be used in various ways (a la Yahoo-Facebook) across AOL properties perhaps.

Bebo could reposition as a media-sharing site for parents or families as Multiply has tried to do. Or it could be reinvented as a mobile service. The point is there are probably several ways, now that AOL wrote off its value, to use Bebo.

I doubt the hedge fund will do much with the site. A year or so from now they’ll flip it or be compelled to shutter it entirely.

Pandora Got Greedy So I Became a Subscriber

June 16, 2010

I was getting really sick of hearing audio ads on Pandora. In addition, the company is dramatically expanding its iPad ads program:

The music service is now offering display ads on the iPad to sponsors, in addition to its banner and audio ads, and now has three big takers in Starbucks, Lexus and Budweiser. When clicked, their ads open up a new page but don’t interrupt the music. While all three marketers advertise with Pandora on other platforms, the iPad offers a richer media experience, and the company is hoping it can improve on an already-high 3.4% click-through rate.

Pandora now has more than 30 million users on mobile devices — and 50 million across all media — and the company is hoping to accelerate usage by way of the iPad. Pandora founder Tim Westergren noted that the company is signing up about 100,000 new mobile users each day. “It’s just exploding for us,” he said. “And on mobile devices, the advertising — particularly advertising with video — has been really effective.”

While the iPad ads purport to be non-intrusive my growing displeasure over the audio ads was compelling me to do one of two things: abandon Pandora entirely or become a subscriber for an ad-free version at $36 per year. I decided to do the latter because I’ve come to use Pandora on so many devices.

I understand that Pandora has to make money to make a living and pay music royalties. I didn’t mind the display ads because they were non-intrusive and I could ignore them (Pandora claims a nearly 3.5% CTR). But after having gotten used to the service without audio advertising, to hear ads for travel or the Discover card on my headphones was so jarring that it actually made me angry.

Pandora was on the brink of extinction over royalties but has come roaring back as a direct beneficiary of the iPhone and, later, other smartphone platforms. Mobile is what transformed the business.

Now Pandora directly threatens the existence of satellite radio, which may find enterprise usage but will have difficulty further penetrating the consumer market.

My own behavior in this case does suggest the viability of a two-tiered model for content services. But I qualify that statement with the following: If Pandora had not gone into mobile and had remained an Internet-only service I probably would not have subscribed as I did.

GetListed Launches in UK

June 15, 2010

GetListed has launched a UK site/service. Same principle: input your listing information and see where your business shows up or doesn’t — as the case may be:

GetListed and Palore’s AmIVisible were among the earliest of these “presence management” tools. Marchex was the first to offer combined presence and reputation management. Now most of the reputation management tools and platforms include similar functionality to varying degrees.

PwC Forecast: Internet Will Soon Be #2

June 15, 2010

In a write up of a media and advertising forecast being released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the WSJ says the report estimates that by 2014 the Internet will be the second largest US ad medium after TV. Accordingly it will be larger than newspapers:

The online ad business, excluding mobile ads, is set to expand to $34.4 billion in 2014 from $24.2 billion in 2009, according to the report, which PwC plans to release Tuesday.

Newspapers, meanwhile, continue to suffer from a decline in advertising revenue. According to numbers released by the Newspaper Association of America earlier this year, print advertising revenue dropped 28.6% in 2009 to $24.82 billion. The PwC report estimates that print advertising in newspapers will hit $22.3 billion by 2014.

PwC also predicts that mobile will grow from $414 million in 2009 to $1.6 billion in 2014.

At once this prediction is both unsurprising and shocking. And dare I say it: despite its targeting and tracking the Internet is a relatively bland, annoying and creatively ineffective ad medium. There are isolated exceptions to this, including paid search — which can be bland but has proven very effective.

So the Internet has replaced the “art” of traditional media advertising with the “science” of targeting. Maybe the world of mobile and tablets in particular can marry the two.

Here’s something that was brought to my attention along those lines: Ads on iPad Perform Six Times Better Than on Desktop.

YPG Debuts iPad App

June 15, 2010

Canada’s Yellow Pages Group becomes the second major YP publisher (after Yellowbook) to launch an app for the iPad. It also promotes other YPG properties, such as its Urbanizer iPhone app, Restaurantica and its deals site, RedFlagDeals.com. However the buttons below take users to the Internet versions of those sites rather than specially iPad/mobile optimized versions.

Overall my sense is that the app is a good start but can be tweaked improved, especially at the profile page level.

A couple of thoughts:

Three years ago I wrote about the “PC in the kitchen” that would replace the phone book. This is it — it’s where my iPad sits much of the time.

One of the simple YPG iPad app features that I like, which is relatively common across directory sites, is favorites and recent searches. This becomes an informal list of contacts — you can also add SMBs or locations to the formal iPad contacts — for quick reference. So in the kitchen this is like a phone book in a way. The potential for engagement around this simple idea is quite high.

The next step is for the iPad to become a phone, which it is with the Skype app, and integrate calling into an app like this. So when I tap the number above, Skype launches and I can call the business. YPG could track that call and get credit for delivering it. You get the idea.

The YPG iPad app is also a potentially great “deals” platform. Coupons/deals should be integrated into this app as well. One could imagine a Groupon-like local deal of the day . . .

ReachLocal Gets Bizzy

June 15, 2010

ReachLocal has built what amounts to an SMB CRM platform, undoubtedly based on its ClouldProfile/SMBLive acquisition last year. The new site, Bizzy, performs a range of functions for SMBs and explicitly links local businesses and consumers who want to receive offers and updates:

Local businesses of any kind, such as restaurants, boutiques, stores, service providers, and spas, can use Bizzy’s easy-to-use tools to drive better communication with their customers. As a local business, Bizzy enables you to:

– Exercise broad control over your profile’s content so you can easily display your business information and fresh content about your latest offers and events. If a customer posts an inappropriate comment, you may remove it from the public eye and address it in private — just like you would in person.

– Engage with your customers when they are in the right frame of mind, ready to see what you have to offer, away from the noise of other messages.

– Create the one customer list you will ever need by importing your existing customer database into Bizzy with a simple one-step upload tool, or by adding a customer on the fly by simply entering their email address.

– Create marketing messages in a snap.

Great concept, though not unique (think: “fan,” “follow”). It’s also a direction that many tools and companies are moving (see “reputation management” generally and also Perry Evans’ Closely). Now we come to the familiar “poulet et œufs” problem — usage/adoption.

AT&T is struggling with Buzz.com, which is intended to be an alternative consumer tool and distribution platform for its content and advertisers. Facebook and Twitter are both “critical mass” sites where SMBs can do some of  what Bizzy offers — although there’s more structure and guidance at Bizzy. Bizzy appears to use Facebook and Twitter to distribute its messages and offers as well.

As you can see in the above profile and press release bullets there are reputation management and SEO angles here. And perhaps SEO is the front door and primary user acquisition strategy for Reach.

I’ll be going through this later today with them to gain more insight into the strategy and answers to some of these questions (as well as my personal existential questions).

Why did ReachLocal build this? Potential answers include:

  • They saw a hole in the market and are fulfilling a perceived need for simpler SMB CRM tools
  • They are adding services to their portfolio to better serve and retain businesses
  • They need more “free” traffic to sustain or grow margins and this is one potential source
  • All of the above

Twitter Places: Wheat/Chaff

June 15, 2010

Twitter yesterday announced Places — Tweets associated with a specific location:

Starting today, you can tag Tweets with specific places, including all World Cup stadiums in South Africa, and create new Twitter Places. You can also click a Twitter Place within a Tweet to see recent Tweets from a particular location. Try it out during the next match—you will be able to see Tweets coming from the stadium.

What’s new here is the local precision and the fact that all tagged Tweets about a place (Disneyland, Louvre, The Vatican, Angkor Wat, Tommy’s Burgers, etc.) will have a dedicated page or pages. Users will also be able to search for those Tweets much more easily than before.

In addition, Twitter Places incorporates Foursquare and Gowalla check-in information. There will also be an API so third parties can take the local Tweets and use them on their sites or build apps/tools around the content.

TomTom and Localeze are data partners, providing place and business data on a global basis (65 countries). TomTom owns TeleAtlas.

Matt McGee at SEL offers some thoughts on how this might challenge Google Places. However Google might incorporate Tweets from the API into Google Places as well.

In a presentation I did — The Revolution Will Be Geotagged — I argued that we’ve gone from a paucity of local data to a deluge. The challenge now is organizing and filtering all the location-based information coming out. That will be the challenge here too, with Twitter Places.

Make no mistake, this is a major move for Twitter and potentially one that will define its “next phase of growth.” The information generated could well be of high value to users; but there will still be a great deal of garbage in the stream as well.

There will be the “fun” and informative real-time posts associated with a Place (“I’m here,” “Me too,” “Whoa, check that out”). And then there will be what we might call “utility content” — tips, reviews, helpful information that’s more evergreen. Indexing, preserving and presenting that evergreen information is what I’m talking about.

“You know what I’m sayin'”?

Third parties may actually be in a much better position than Twitter itself to organize and filter the flood of new LBS Tweets that will be generated.

Matt McGee, crediting Steve Espinoza, discusses the notion of dedicated page for locations (a la Google Places) that offers an opportunity for SMBs (and others) to claim listings and presents a structured profile. I agree. That will undoubtedly come. Either Twitter will do it itself or somebody else will. That approach could address the wheat/chaff issue.

As Steve argues in the reverenced post, it then  presents monetization scenarios for Twitter of various sorts beyond Promoted Tweets. Yet if users start to conduct local searches on Twitter because the information about locations and businesses is getting better and more useful, Promoted Tweets become very interesting in that context as well.

How all this plays out remains to be seen of course. But I regard this evolution of location on Twitter as a potentially very significant development. It will help to create a new “culture” and set of behaviors around location among Twitter users.

Twitter’s COO Dick Costello recently said that the site sees 190 million users per month (globally), who are posting 65 million Tweets daily. That makes Twitter and its UGC “firehose” a potential force to be reckoned with in local.

Yelp & Foursquare: Utility vs. Hipster Chic

June 13, 2010

I told myself this morning I wasn’t going to write any blog posts to work on a couple of client deliverables. But I can’t resist commenting on a Robert Scoble post: “Foursquare’s Yelp problem.”

Scoble makes a number of points about Yelp and Foursquare and then serves up a set of recommendations to the latter. Here’s what he says about Yelp’s recent adoption of badges:

Yelp has now copied the checkin gesture that Foursquare introduced to us all and also they added badges of their own. I already am the baron of my favorite Mexican restaurant in Half Moon Bay.

This copying behavior demonstrates to me that Yelp is definitely jealous of the attention Foursquare is getting and isn’t able to innovate on its own . . .

Yelp is jealous of Foursquare’s serendipity and gaming. But they haven’t nailed that yet. I think that’s why Foursquare’s CEO, Dennis Crowley, says that Yelp hasn’t copied the right features yet. But he’s gotta be nervous that they’ll figure it out in a couple of more months and totally take away Foursquare’s air supply.

I’m not going to discuss Scoble’s recommendations to Foursquare, which just got some new funding. But I want to offer an alternative analysis.

I don’t think, as Scoble argues, that “Yelp is jealous of Foursquare’s serendipity and gaming.” Yelp was in Foursquare’s position (the cool/hot upstart) for several years. Foursquare has usurped that position and the associated mindshare. Foursquare is the darling of the blognescenti right now.

Yelp is not threatened by geo-social gaming per se. The perceived Foursquare threat to Yelp comes from the possibility that some of Yelp’s top review writers and cool cats might be siphoned off by the newer and shinier service. In other words, the concern is that Foursquare might look like the “hipper” party. I think that’s what Yelp is partly trying to guard against with its recent moves, adopting check-ins and badges, which seek to retain those enamored by Foursquare and its features.

I also don’t think Yelp is “unable to innovate” but I do agree with Scoble that the extent of the imitation is somewhat disappointing.

Yelp is a truly mainstream site today with something around 32 million uniques. Foursquare by comparison is not (perhaps yet), with just over 2 million users:

One paradox at the heart of Foursquare is that the features that have driven success to date are potential barriers to mainstream adoption. Here’s what I wrote several months ago in a client only report on LBS and geo-social games:

Geo-social gaming services must strike a balance between their competitive and utilitarian aspects in order to gain broad appeal. The “Mayor” concept in Foursquare provides a case in point. It generates engagement and fun as participants compete to be the Mayor, the most frequent check-in at popular venues.

While this drives engagement among the most committed users it could discourage casual users from participating. However, Foursquare and its peers need these more casual users in order to go mainstream; they need people to use these apps in the same way people now use Yelp or Citysearch or a directory site – for local recommendations.

You may or may not agree with that perspective. I’ll offer a kind of ironic rejoinder to that view: Yelp, by adopting check-ins and badges, is now exposing a much larger audience to these game concepts and thereby potentially helping to mainstream them. By copying Foursquare, Yelp could be helping the site ultimately by “acculturating” people to LBS gaming.

Yelp and Foursquare share monetization challenges. Yet Yelp now has a very large telephone sales channel that it uses to sell ads. One could argue, however, that well-reviewed SMBs on Yelp don’t need to advertise — a fundamental problem. Yelp has answers for that point of view of course.

For its part, Foursquare has been busy working with traditional media companies (Bravo TV, Conde Nast, etc.) and brands but it faces some obstacles in generating SMB ad dollars.

In the first Foursquare marketer survey (n=125 SMBs currently using Foursquare to promote themselves), which I collaborated on, this was the response to the “would you pay for it?” question:

Only 10.4% said they were willing to pay for services on Foursquare. If push were to come to shove that could change; however the slide above illustrates the resistance to paid Foursquare advertising at the SMB level.

Foursquare is something of an unlikely, or perhaps more accurately, unexpected success. The next-order challenge is to broaden the consumer appeal of the service without diluting it beyond recognition for early users.

Yelp by contrast has “arrived.” Its founders may see a challenge in maintaining its “cool” vs. newer sites like Foursquare. But I would suggest that Yelp now should focus on being a better utility and cityguide for everyone and not worry so much about holding on to its hipster image.

Groupon, Sure. But Is It Sustainable?

June 11, 2010

The rapid rise of the “social commerce,” “group buying” or “social couponing” (whatever you want to call it) is sort of amazing to me. One interesting question that comes up in my mind is: Will the model that these sites offer start to “bleed” into other areas of local? Perhaps a better way to frame it is the following: will these types of sites put pressure on more traditional ad models being sold and promoted by other local sales channels, including TV, radio, print — even other online?

They’re not selling leads or clicks or even calls; they’re selling customers (albeit at a massive discount so margins disappear for the SMB in some cases). There are also others in the market like RedBeacon and HelpHive, among a few others, that are taking a commission on work actually performed. These sorts of models make “advertiser” acquisition much easier: “customers not clicks.” How widespread might this become? That’s a question I’m mulling over.

Lost Remote recently  highlighted an interview with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason in which he discussed how successful a Groupon promotion was for one particular business:

“[W]e recently featured helicopter lessons in Boston and sold 2,600 in four hours. To put that in perspective, this fellow has been in business since 1985 and in the quarter century leading up to his Groupon he had acquired a total of 5,000 customers.”

On the other hand here’s a recent article from the SF Chronicle about how one local business was overwhelmed by the demand Groupon delivered:

When Philz Coffee Inc. offered half-price $20 gift cards to users of the Groupon.com coupon site, the San Francisco chain of coffee shops figured it would get a few hundred takers. It got more than 2,000.

“I nowhere near projected the amount of people that showed up,” said Philz President Jacob Jaber, who doesn’t expect to offer that kind of deal again. “We ran out of gift cards, and we just weren’t prepared for it.”

Philz Coffee’s Jaber decided his company is established enough to rely on word-of-mouth marketing. Most of Groupon users that pounced on the gift-card offer were already Philz customers, so it didn’t provide too much benefit, he said . . .

Too much demand and many buyers were already customers . . .

There’s little SMB education or “best practices” right now on how/when to use these sites and how to “acquire” new customers who take advantage of these offers. Over time I would also imagine there will also be mechanisms for managing offers to existing customers or weeding them out entirely.

I’m also starting to see Groupon ads on marquee sites, such as this ad appearing on NYTimes.com:

Yesterday I asked LivingSocial CEO and Co-founder Tim O’Shaughnessy to pick some winners in the segment (beyond LivingSocial). He said that Groupon would clearly be one because of its scale and momentum. Then he saw Gilt Groupe as another very interesting player. He also said he thought one of the larger European companies would move into the US and become successful.

I’ve had the debate recently with several people about whether the group buying model is sustainable. Right now these sites offer new business but I’m sure they’ll expand into CRM or loyalty programs over time as well. I suspect the model is sustainable although it will need to evolve somewhat over time — and some of the flaws identified above will need to be addressed.

I would also assume that Groupon is on a course to go public. But there are plenty of smaller companies that cannot and so there will be consolidation and/or M&A opportunities for traditional publishers (YP, newspapers) and others (e.g., IAC) that want to get into the game.

Facebook is also lurking here as a potentially major player. Right now Facebook really doesn’t have a product to sell to SMBs (notwithstanding Facebook Ads). This would be one that would also be extremely appealing to consumers; it’s a natural in a way.

Can Hulu Make Subscriptions Fly?

June 10, 2010

Hulu is reportedly about to expand to a range of other devices, following in the footsteps of Netflix’s successful move to the iPad, Xbox, Roku box, Wii and now the iPhone. The price point that has been reported in the past is $9.99 per month. It’s not clear if that would eliminate commercials, however. My suspicion is no.

It appears from the recent Reuters report that Hulu will likely provider broader content access to subscribers:

Hulu, which generated an estimated $100 million in advertising revenue last year, will continue to offer newer episodes of shows like Fox’s “Glee” free of charge, but it will also charge viewers a monthly fee to see older episodes and other content, two of the sources said.

Given that consumers have long demonstrated a willingness to pay for movie rentals and cable TV, the market is arguably already conditioned, especially by Netflix, for the Hulu paid service. But given the fact that people already pay for cable there may be a reluctance to embark on another monthly subscription. Also the question arises: will Hulu expand what’s available to paying customers (as the Reuters article suggests) or will it remove some of what’s available for free, perhaps in addition to an expanded offering on the paid side. The former approach is more likely to succeed.

Mobile TV has failed in the US, because people are unwilling to pay for it. But Netflix on the iPad (and soon the iPhone) is a success. Why? It’s partly because of the brand and nature of the service and partly because of the broad array of content available on Netflix. Also the user experience Netflix created  on the iPad is terrific. Mobile TV has been very uneven.

YouTube wants to go into this area as well but it’s not clear that the site can make the transition. Past experiments with movie rentals have largely failed.

Hulu has developed a much stronger brand for “premium” content and I believe there’s at least some willingness out there to pay for what it has to offer. That same “demand” doesn’t seem to exist with YouTube, which also has less professional content.

One reason why this is interesting to me is because its a free model moving to a hybrid model. This is challenge even more acutely faced by newspapers as they try and negotiate a similar transition. However newspaper content has been massively devalued by the “commoditization” of news online. Only a few publishers are likely to be able to gain any meaningful subscription revenue from the PC Internet. Tablets may turn out to be a different story.

Then there’s the interesting angle that asks how these emerging services on TV and other devices will impact cable: Netflix + Hulu through a set-top box or Google TV (or a comparable service). There’s lots of pent up demand I believe to ditch cable for cheaper and more flexible services such as Netflix and/or Hulu on “all my devices.”

The cable companies will obviously try and block or pre-empt this scenario. Let’s talk in three years and see where we are.

Would you be willing to pay a monthly fee for an enhanced version of Hulu and at what point would you cancel cable?

Poll: Consumers Reject ‘Newspaper Bailout’

June 10, 2010

I was unaware of this but apparently the US FTC is considering some new taxes to support or subsidize traditional journalism and newspapers in particular. These could include new mobile phone taxes or taxes on electronic devices or news websites that utilize traditional news sources for much of their content (e.g., Huffington Post).

Consumers apparently don’t like this idea. I agree.

Rasmussen Reports conducted a telephone survey (sample size unknown) of US adults shows that most people are opposed to any such “newspaper bailout.” Here are the data:

  • 84% oppose a three percent (3%) tax on monthly cell phone bills to help newspapers
  • 76% oppose a proposed five percent (5%) tax on the purchase of consumer electronic items such as computers, iPads and Kindles to help support newspapers
  • 74% oppose the proposal to tax web sites like the Drudge Report to help the newspapers they draw their headlines from.

According to the survey, “10% favor the tax on monthly cell phone bills to help newspapers . . . 16% support the tax on consumer electronic devices, and 18% of adults favor placing an additional tax on Internet news sites.”

I don’t want to see traditional journalism further weakened. However I think new taxes to provide subsidies to for-profit media companies that are unable to compete successfully is completely misguided.

I no longer subscribe to print newspapers but when I travel I always look at them. I was struck the other day by how anemic USA Today looked to me. It was thin and narrow (to save on printing costs).

The cost saving measures that diminish the “look and feel” of print as well as its content hasten the demise of the traditional product. (USA Today is getting selected online articles from content farm Demand Media.) However journalism and print newspapers are not completely synonymous. There is a fair amount of overlap but the journalistic impulse and journalism will survive the decline of print.

The challenge is how to support professional writers and editors doing original reporting, rather than simply rewriting press releases or  creating “service journalism,” which is where Demand and Associated Content are playing.

While the iPad and its imitators may enable publishers to generate subscription revenues from electronic media, traditional  journalism doesn’t monetize well online (so far), making it hard to support full time reporters doing serious work.

____

See related: NY Times’ Scoop App a Model for Others

Marchex in Rep. Mgmt Deal with Dow Jones

June 9, 2010

Marchex announced a deal with the Local Media Group unit of Dow Jones. The latter will sell a white labeled version of the Marchex reputation management product to its small business advertisers:

(1) Marchex will provide Dow Jones Local Media Group with a private-labeled version of the Marchex Reputation Management product, which it will sell to its small business customers on a monthly subscription basis and/or bundled with other Dow Jones Local Media Group product offerings; and

(2) Marchex will continue to receive unique content and information from Dow Jones Local Media Group as well as from other new content partners, including CitySquares, Joy of Spa and Measured Up, for inclusion in Marchex Reputation Management, which will benefit users by broadening the local business listing meta-data footprint of the product to nearly half-a-billion items (e.g., user reviews, listings, mentions on blogs and social media).

Reputation management is becoming an essential layer of the local business product suite. Marchex was the first fully realized product in this segment for SMBs; however other companies have more recently developed competing products.

I got a quick demo of the updated Marchex product this morning and found the it had been improved and upgraded further since I last saw it. There are also a number of very interesting roadmap ideas.

Sugar Buys BookFresh and FreshGuide

June 9, 2010

Female-centric content and ad network Sugar, Inc. yesterday announced the acquisition of BookFresh and FreshGuide (also part of BookFresh):

In its first foray into providing local editorial and advertising, Sugar Inc. (SugarInc.com) today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire FreshGuide Inc., which operates FreshGuide.com and BookFresh (BookFresh.com). FreshGuide.com is an online women-focused city guide that provides access to exclusive daily offers from a well-edited selection of local businesses in beauty, health and fitness, dining, travel getaways and other relevant categories. BookFresh provides an online booking service for local businesses, such as spas and salons.

BookFresh began as HourTown and is an online booking platform for SMBs. I wrote about it and the segment previously:

FreshGuide was a second effort by BookFresh CEO Ryan Donahue and team and is a group-buying site, although Donahue describes FreshGuide as a cityguide (more fodder for TheDealMap and Yipit):

Donahue will now run local for Sugar. He said the following to me in an email exchange:

[I will be] GM of FreshGuide and run Sugar’s local business. I am excited to create a female-focused local advertising platform that will leverage the offers capabilities of freshguide and the online bookings capabilities of BookFresh. I think local advertisers with an interest in wooing women, will find that we offer a compelling combination of merchant tools and a hyper-targeted female audience.

Deal terms were not disclosed.

Local Search Ranking Factors III Now Out

June 9, 2010

David Mihm has published results of the third “Local Search Ranking Factors” survey in which he and other professional SEOs discuss the variables that affect local listing rankings, chiefly on Google. It represents a kind of consensus of highly informed (and practiced) professional opinion about local SEO.

Mihm provides a summary overview of the results on his blog. For those professionally engaged in SEO it’s invaluable. And for those even casually interested it’s worth exploring. However there is an enormous amount of detail there: more than 70 “factors” discussed at length.

Here are two lists from the survey that I found interesting:

Kenshoo Debuts ‘Call Conversion Optimization’

June 8, 2010

Search and local search platform provider Kenshoo, which competes with Marin software in the general paid search segment and Clickable, among others, in the local search realm has introduced what it calls “Call Conversion Optimization.”

The company has integrated call tracking from several providers into its automated paid search platform. Call Conversion Optimization, according to Kenshoo, automatically adjusts bidding in response to ads that are driving calls rather than resulting in mere clicks. (This theoretically could capture ads that contain phone numbers and deliver a call without generating a click.) The system thus learns to optimize bidding for those ads and keywords that are generating the phone calls.

This was something that Who’s Calling was seeking to do a long time ago, but they never brought it fully to market. Otherwise Kenshoo told me that they believe this capability is unique. Here’s how the press release describes it:

Designed specifically for organizations managing high volumes of SMB, regional, store or dealer campaigns, KENSHOO Local simplifies and automates client on-boarding and ongoing campaign management. Focusing on SMBs, who typically measure ROI from paid search campaigns by actual phone calls received, Kenshoo now empowers agencies to maximize return on the spend of their SMB clients.

Filling the gap between online optimization and offline conversions, KENSHOO CCO allows IYPs, CMRs, agencies and retailers to apply search marketing to the real world interactions of selling their products and services. By integrating with industry-leading call tracking providers, KENSHOO CCO creates a unique closed-loop feedback mechanism between the online PPC campaigns and the phone calls they generate, continuously optimizing keyword bids to maximize the number and effectiveness of phone call conversions . . .

And here is a slide provided by Kenshoo that illustrates the process (click to enlarge):

Todd Herrold, director, product management for Kenshoo Local told me that call tracking can be integrated at “any level,” from ad creative to individual keywords. I pressed him for specifics and metrics, but he said the company wasn’t quite ready to release that type of information about its clients or the product.

However he did describe some pretty interesting work the company is doing with at least one of its clients to integrate with the latter’s CRM system and factor information gleaned by live agents into the process — so moving beyond the call into a subsequent interaction with a sales or customer service rep.

Yelp Now Selling Video to SMBs

June 7, 2010

Yelp has teamed up with TurnHere to sell video to local businesses. Here’s the Yelp post:

Today we’re excited to announce that Yelp advertisers now have the option to add video to their business profile page. I’ve personally viewed hundreds of these videos and I have to say that they can really help yelpers get a sense of a business’s ambiance, personality and specialties in a very short amount of time.

Here are the options:

  • Premium Video:  Advertisers receive a 30-60 second custom video shot at their place of business by a professional filmmaker from the TurnHere network.
  • Standard Video: Advertisers receive a 30 second video slideshow made from a series of photos provided by the business with music and custom voiceover narration.

Long time in coming. Seems like there’s lots of movement coming out of Yelp right now.

EveryScape Integrates into Bing Maps

June 7, 2010

Using the new Bing Maps SDK, interior photography provider EveryScape has become one of the Bing Map “apps.” That means users will be able to access EveryScape interior photography on Bing Maps:

The EveryScape map app is being launched initially in Boston with other major cities becoming available later this year, and is EveryScape’s first partner-enabled visual guide for local search. Users can view the interiors of more than 500 Boston restaurants and explore exteriors for more than 1,300 in 3D. Interior panoramic imagery allows users to “walk around” as though they were there in person. Features include:

–Visual search for restaurants: Immediate visual impressions of more than 1,300 Boston area restaurants provide an idea of ambiance and neighborhood
–Plan a night out: Select a restaurant and then share it with friends
–Read reviews, menus and restaurant information: Panoramic images are augmented by the restaurant details section so diners can make an educated dining decision

EveryScape will now be one of the choices on this menu of Bing Map apps (though it doesn’t appear to be live yet):

You’ll be able to “enter” local businesses where EveryScape has photographed the interior:

Google has embarked on an initiative to photograph local business interiors for free. EveryScape charges money for the imagery. However EveryScape has been doing this for several years and has a big head start.

The company is also going to announce a range of other local partners in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s the Bing Maps blog post announcing “EveryScape Eats” and other Map apps as well.

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