UK directory publisher, and parent of Yellowbook in the US, Yell.com has acquired social directory site and Yelp competitor TrustedPlaces. According to the press release out this morning:
The combination of Yell’s database of over two million businesses with TrustedPlaces’ proven expertise in generating recommendations from local consumers represents a major shake-up of the fast-growing local reviews market.
It will drive strong benefit to Yell’s 399,000 mainly small business advertisers, through generating additional leads and providing a richer online interaction with existing and potential new consumers . . .
Initially, TrustedPlaces reviews will be added to Yell’s business listings, leading to full integration under the Yell.com domain.
The company also expects that the techniques and technologies that have made TrustedPlaces successful in the UK will be shared with other Yell Group operating companies in the US, Spain and Latin America.
Under the deal, Sokratis Papafloratos, chief executive and co-founder of TrustedPlaces, is joining Yell as head of social products in the UK.
This is a smart move by Mark Canon, Matthew Bottomley and company. It complements what they’re doing with Yell.com and provides reach to a younger and more “urban” demographic; it’s sort of like AT&T’s Buzz.com. The difference is that TrustedPlaces is an established site with an existing following.
Among the social directories in the UK, there are three main players: Qype, Yelp and TrustedPlaces. These three sites, I would imagine, had more traction in selected verticals with specific demographics vs. the more traditional Yell. The company will also have the benefit of Sokratis Papafloratos’ thinking about social media across its European properties and in the US to some degree.
I was urging Yell to do this in 2007:
Yell has pushed its digital properties in many interesting directions: products, mobile, classifieds. Though weighted down by regulatory controls in the UK, it also benefits by being the sole owner of the yellow pages brand.
Yell might want to look at acquiring or developing a property like TrustedPlaces to complement its traditional online directory product — if that isn’t an oxymoron.
TrustedPlaces had developed a strong property but was challenged to sell effectively to small businesses. I had this conversation a number of times with Papafloratos over the past couple of years. Most US local startups were in the same position; however emerging local ad networks such as CityGrid help take some pressure off by helping monetize page views and lookups.
As part of new digital-centric momentum and strategy, Yell recently did a major overhaul of its site, introducing several useful new features but most dramatically providing street-level photography to make the site more engaging and challenge Google Maps in greater London and several other UK cities.
TrustedPlaces has (or had) a partnership with the newspaper-owned LocalPeople, a network of “hyper-local” community sites. It isn’t clear whether that will continue beyond any existing contract period. It’s also not entirely clear whether the TrustedPlaces domain and brand will remain after “full integration under the Yell.com domain.” I would hope that the company doesn’t shutter the property.
Yell’s CEO and CFO are leaving the company. This is an appropriate time for a leadership change given the larger context of advertising in the UK around Yell and the shift more aggressively into digital.