I’ve been talking with Grayboxx founder Bob Chandra for what seems like a long time — well over a year — about his approach to local search and whether it truly represents “a better mousetrap.” Bob clearly thinks it does and after spending a little time yesterday with the company I’m half way there.
Grayboxx is trying to solve the problem of missing user reviews for categories and geographic markets outside to the top US metro areas. Grayboxx has put together data from various sources — this is their “secret sauce” — that are analogous to user reviews and endorsements but are not them per se. The insight that lead to this strategy was inspired.
The beta site I saw offered a fairly clean version of an IYP/local search experience. The differentiator is the prominent “Preference Score” that consolidates all the implied endorsement data being tapped into a composite number. The company brands that scoring “neighbor recommendations.” These “recommendations” are not narratives and there’s nothing to read about good or bad experiences with this pediatrician or that painter. Accordingly, the company is mindful of what might be called the “missing color” but has some ideas about how to address this issue.
Many insiders, asked about local search, will say it’s still “early days” or “wide open.” I don’t fall into that camp. But the success of Yelp and the traffic growth of Yellowbot (based on SEO) suggests that new competitors can still enter the market and succeed to varying degrees.
Chandra and his team are addressing what they refer to as “the long tail of local search,” where there’s little content beyond the core listings information of the yellow pages database. (May the term “long tail” be stricken from the lexicon in a public ceremony.) In markets and categories where the review sites/social directories haven’t already established themselves Grayboxx may find quick adoption – almost 400,000 of its pages/results have already been indexed by Google, which is the primary way people will discover Grayboxx initially.
In other words, in the scores of “secondary markets” where there is little or no user-generated content for local businesses, Grayboxx may shine immediately.
One primary question that remains for me is the question of trust: will consumers trust the scoring and the site? Is there enough there to help me make a decision among competing vendors? As a “white pages” site, which is how 63% of consumers use IYP/local search sites (TMP Directional Marketing, 8/07) there’s no issue: people are just looking for a phone number or address. But as a category search destination I believe that Grayboxx will probably need to offer somewhat more “context” and information over time.
A great many third parties will likely want Grayboxx’s data and the company may find itself quickly syndicating its content to others (YP, newspapers, TV affiliates). That raises the issue of whether the site will succeed as a bona fide destination or become primarily a data provider to other, more established local online brands. Syndication has both positive and negative aspects.
Then there are the business model and sales channel issues . . .
Putting aside these questions, Grayboxx has made good on its fundamental promise to provide something different and to offer breadth of coverage of local businesses in markets and categories that right now nobody else can match.