Archive for the ‘Local Search’ Category

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.

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.

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.

See related posts:

4Square & SMBs: First Survey Data at SMX

June 6, 2010

Will Scott, Matt Siltala, Chuck Reynolds and I collaborated on the first survey I know of that polls SMBs using Foursquare to promote themselves. This is not a random group of small businesses that may or may not have heard of Foursquare, this is 125 SMBs currently offering rewards and incentives on the LBS site.

We had a call about the survey results on Friday and they’re very interesting.

In some ways these businesses are very typical SMBs and in other respects they’re absolutely not. Will and Matt will be presenting the data as part of the #SMX panel “Location Services: The New Local Search?” on Wednesday.

Almost 50% of these respondents have a marketing budget of less than $2,500 per year. But the overwhelming majority have websites and Facebook pages. Another interesting fact: these businesses are geographically distributed all over the US, not just in the “broadband metros.”

Lots more interesting stuff on Wednesday.

Print YP Will Eventually Be ‘Opt-In’

June 6, 2010

AT&T started it but now Canada’s Yellow Pages Group has decided to stop delivering residential white pages directories:

The Yellow Pages Group has ended automatic delivery of the residential phone directory in seven major cities.

“An increasing number of Canadians, particularly in urban areas, use our online and mobile resources YellowPages.ca and Canada411.ca to find residential phone numbers,” Marc Tellier, president and CEO of YPG, said in a statement . . .

That move is expected to result in a reduction of more than five million copies – about 3,500 tonnes of paper – a year across Canada.

In the affected markets – Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, the Ottawa-Gatineau area and Quebec City – delivery of the Yellow Pages directory will continue on an annual basis.

Right now most YP publishers offer an “opt-out” policy with print yellow pages. If users don’t want to receive them they can request cessation of print YP delivery.

Yet the public doesn’t make the same distinctions between yellow and white pages that the industry does. White pages, for most publishers, are a “cost center” and deliver little or no advertising revenue. (There are some publishers in Europe for example that do make considerable ad revenue from print WP.) Print yellow pages generate the lion’s share of directory publisher revenue.

However consumers at large likely view white pages and yellow pages print directories in a very similar way. As I’ve argued in the past, pushing opt-in white pages means that relatively soon consumer, environmental groups and individuals will be calling for opt-in print YP (some already have). There’s a logic here that’s almost inevitable.

Regarding the white pages initiative, publishers are seeking to be good “corporate citizens” even as they act in their own self interest to reduce costs. I’m not trying to say that they shouldn’t make WP opt-in.

What I am trying to say is that they need to be mindful that the longer term impact of this move will be a similar call for opt-in YP. There are several things they can do in the interim:

  • Advertise the value of print YP both to the consumer and as a source of economic value to the community
  • Continue to invest in the directory to improve its utility
  • Integrate the print and digital products in several ways (websites, email addresses, SMS/QR codes)
  • Prepare for the coming day when print YP becomes opt-in. It may be three years; it may be seven years from now but it is coming

___

Update: California State Senator Leland Yee just tried unsuccessfully to do this very thing. Yee accused AT&T of behind behind the defeat of the bill, which would have made home delivery of YP opt-in:

Yee, D-San Mateo, in February had trumpeted introduction of the bill, which would end home delivery of phone directories unless customers opt in to receive them. But when SB 920 came to a vote Thursday, eight senators decided not to weigh in — including the bill’s two co-authors and a few members who’d voted for the bill in committees. One of those earlier “aye” votes even turned to a no.

Yelp’s ‘Hidden’ PPCall Opportunity

June 6, 2010

Pay per call is not something that Yelp currently sells, to my knowledge. However this little bit of data caught my eye in a Yelp blog post last week:

Last month, over half a million calls were made to local businesses directly from our Yelp iPhone App. That’s about 1 call every 5 seconds to a business as a result of Yelp.

Imagine if Yelp were to start to monetize these calls. There are several challenges in doing that of course (e.g., they’d be intercepting calls going to those businesses arguably anyway). But the volume suggests the company has an opportunity with PPCall.

And when other smartphone platforms are included the call volumes could approach a million monthly calls.

__

Related (though nothing about the data above): Mercury News interview: Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp CEO

RedBeacon Poised for National Rollout, Growth

June 4, 2010

I was an early critic of RedBeacon when it first launched. I  thought the site’s founders had created an elegant platform but were naive about the small business market. Here’s what I wrote last year:

I’ve got nothing against RedBeacon and wish them well. But they will find, like many others before them, that the local space is much much harder to crack than it appears from a distance. There are many failed startups in local. In most cases they failed because they didn’t realize how tough it would be to get businesses to advertise or sign up.

Since that time there have been many changes at the site and it has evolved considerably. I’ve been impressed with these enhancements and the “sensitivity” to the market shown RedBeacon’s management. I also recently compared RedBeacon to other lead-gen type sites (including ServiceMagic) and found it, while imperfect, to be overall the best of the several sites I examined.

Today after several weeks of trying I spoke to Ethan Anderson, RedBeacon’s CEO. What I learned in that conversation convinces me that RedBeacon has Yelp-like potential in the market and, as it prepares to close a funding round and roll out nationally, is poised for tremendous growth.

IAC-owned competitor ServiceMagic is on track to do $150 million (or more) in revenue this year. I can imagine that RedBeacon could approach those numbers in three years.

Anderson told me that the site is going to shortly announce some major partnerships and a self-service widget strategy that will enable any publisher or developer to embed a contextually relevant widget/lead-gen form on its site.

RedBeacon currently has a very generous revenue share that comes out of a 10% commission on the value of jobs actually performed. There’s another model that charges a flat fee to up to three businesses when an on-site consultation or estimate is required, in more complex jobs.

One of the keys to RedBeacon’s model is that it doesn’t need to sign up that many businesses in each category to reach “liquidity.” The company qualifies 12-15 businesses in major categories that the site feels are the best in the group — they do this by looking at other sites. Then they reach out to these businesses with a CPA pitch: you only pay a commission on jobs actually performed. “You’re buying a customer not a click,” is the essence of the conversation. This is analogous to Groupon’s pitch and model but the SMB doesn’t pay 50%; in this case it pays 10%.

This relatively small number of businesses required to populate each category means that each job request will receive several bids. Anderson told me the average is five. In my two experiences with the site (landscaping and fencing) I received more than that.

Anderson also told me that 50% of consumer come back and use RedBeacon within a month after booking a previous job. The company is also considering a loyalty program.

There were several other roadmap features and developments that Anderson described, but I don’t want anyone visiting me in the middle of the night so I’ll restrain myself.

Regarding the issue of communication between SMB and customer — an area of particular skepticism about the model from me and others — RedBeacon recently implemented chat on the site. Anderson said that about 70% of consumers are utilizing it. There was obviously a need for more direct, real-time communication with service providers and RedBeacon has accommodated that need. In addition SMBs and customers can communicate through email facilitated via the site to ask and answer questions as well.

In terms of whether SMBs “get it” or are sophisticated enough to take advantage of this platform, clearly enough of them do. Right now it doesn’t matter if 80% of the market doesn’t utilize or can’t utilize the system. Anderson just cares that there are a savvy group in each category and city that can.

He even told me that some SMBs have gone out and bought iPhones or Android devices so they can respond to RFP request from the field. RedBeacon has SMS notifications but is also working on mobile apps.

As the tone of his post suggests, I’m no longer the skeptic I was when they launched. Had the site not changed and evolved my criticisms would have remained, but RedBeacon is rapidly improving the service in anticipation of the coming national roll out.

As a final matter I asked Anderson about use of the phone and call tracking: would they consider it? He said they wouldn’t totally rule it out but right now he didn’t think they needed to implement it. Despite the fact that defies conventional wisdom, he may be right.

I would all but guarantee that a year from now (or in less time) the site will have several suitors hoping to buy it.

NY Times’ Scoop App a Model for Others

June 4, 2010

The NY Times now has four iPhone apps: its main site, real estate, crosswords and a new city and entertainment guide “The Scoop.” In my relatively quick perusal of it The Scoop seems to be a very useful New York restaurant, bar and entertainment directory.

It uses the paper’s editorial content and selectively extracts those listings and reviews that are relevant to the app, also taking advantage of location-awareness on the iPhone. Here are some screens:

This kind of app will give UGC sites a genuine run for their money. And, as you can also see, there’s great ad inventory for contextually and locally relevant advertisers — including rich media.

Other newspaper publishers could equally create mobile apps along these lines. For example the SF Chronicle should build an app around its popular “top 100″ restaurants guide.

Yelp Integrates OpenTable

June 4, 2010

In a way I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier. But Yelp announced that it has integrated OpenTable reservations:

Beginning tonight, logged in Yelp users will be able to easily make a reservation without having to leave the site or create an OpenTable account. Yelp users who already have an OpenTable account will automatically receive credit to their OpenTable account, for their reservation — no need to log into both sites.

It’s not live so you can’t find it on the site yet. But here’s a screengrab from the Yelp blog post:

Yelp will presumably get an affiliate payment for every reservation it delivers.

Yelp competitor Urbanspoon recently introduced its own challenger to OpenTable called “Rez.”

WebVisible Documents ‘The Great Divide’

June 3, 2010

But for the mentions of “yellowpages.com,” “Yahoo” and “Facebook,” it plays like a commercial for Google. WebVisible’s “documentary” shows the gap between some small business owners and consumers in terms of how they find one another.

Some of the local business owners in the short film reference traditional media and yellow pages, while the consumers and a later group of SMBs interviewed only discuss smartphones, search engines, the Internet as resources they use to find local business.

WebVisible is also running a contest in association with the release of these shorts. The SMB winner will get three months of free ads.

Addafix Rolls Out in Denmark

June 3, 2010

Social caller ID and next-gen DA service Addafix (formerly Yellix) has launched in Demark. The company also operates in Austria and Germany. The caller ID function integrates with Facebook but also identifies numbers not among the user’s contacts through a look-up via a directory partner. In Denmark the partner is publisher De Gule Sider.

The business model is a revenue share based on local business lookups. As mentioned, in each country there’s a directory (yellow pages) publisher partner, which provides advertiser listings to Addafix for distribution.

Here’s Addafix’s discussion of how the business model works:

The caller unsuccessfully calls a pharmacy for instance, a pizza delivery service or a craftsman and receives additional data of the recipient such as other mobile or fixed line phone numbers. Furthermore, three alternative companies are displayed which are located within direct geographical vicinity of the dialed phone number. If a user dials a number of a plumber in Copenhagen and can’t reach the company because the line is busy, ADAFFIX will show additional contact information as well as three other plumbers nearby within seconds. Another call is initiated simply by pushing a button, contact details of companies can also be added to the contacts list on the mobile phone.

I asked CEO Claudia Poepperl if she could provide any additional color or data on how things were developing. Here’s the note I received:

All I can share with you at this point is that in the countries where we are live adaffix is one of the top mobile search traffic drivers for our publishing partners…it’s running in the background all the time and continuously generates local searches as phone calls happen…and a lot of phone calls happen all the time.

As I’ve said before it’s something of an unlikely success but the service has now won multiple awards and seems to be doing quite well.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 130 other followers