Archive for the ‘Small Business’ Category

MyRepMan: Yet Another Strong Reputation Tool

June 1, 2010

My tour through the various SMB presence and reputation management platforms continues. Late last week I spoke with Pete Ryan and Damian Rollison of Moon Valley Software. They showed me their MyRepMan product, which has been in development for the past couple years. Another impressive product, it appears to me to be the broadest one I’ve encountered in this growing area.

Among the things it does, MyRepMan identifies the presence or absence of business listings on relevant local sites and scores each business. It provides detail from individual directories and search engines. It captures mentions and reviews and also seeks to integrate paid advertising placement into the dashboard.

Here are some screenshots to illustrate most of this functionality (click to expand):

Like the YellowBot reputation product, StepRep and maybe even Yext, MyRepMan has more “horsepower” than most SMBs can be expected to utilize. Indeed, a tiny subset of the overall population will take advantage of all these tools have to offer. The primary audience for most of these products may turn out to be sales or account reps working with SMBs and not SMBs themselves. Moon Valley in fact developed MyRepMan as a sales aid for one of the yellow pages publishers.

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Moon Valley’s Damian Rollison offers his own overview of the MyRepMan product and its capabilities.

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Free Speech & Defamation in Local Reviews

May 31, 2010

A new sushi place opened in my neighborhood recently. I was pretty excited; we’ve had only a mediocre Japanese place that mysteriously remains in business despite its low quality. I’ve often thought it must a front for criminal activity, how else could it survive?

Initially the new restaurant got very favorable reviews on Yelp but then a second wave of unfavorable reviews appeared and dragged down its overall rating from almost five stars to three. I was surprised but when I looked more closely the critics seemed to be complaining about two main things: it took too long to get a table and the fish wasn’t as good as expected — likely based on the earlier reviews.

In other words, positive reviews had helped create the crowds, which the second wave of reviewers complained about. It also created very high expectations that the second group came to dinner with. There’s something strange and even vaguely unfair about that; the early success fueled wait times and expectations that were disappointed. (I haven’t yet been there so I can’t comment on the quality of the experience or the food.)

I admit I felt frustration and event a tinge of anger. This second group was threatening to kill the place before it really had a chance to get going or before I’d had a chance to get there myself. I empathized with the business owner and was able to feel in a vicarious sort of way the resentment some SMBs have of amateur reviewers.

While there’s often valuable feedback in reviews, most people writing them have little or no idea what’s involved in running a small business. In addition some of the most frequent Yelpers, for example, are often writing for one another (sometimes with a heavy helping of snark) rather than objectively reviewing the restaurant or other local business in question. There’s often only limited thought given to the potential impact on the business itself.

I am very glad that Yelp had established its Small Business Advisory Council. I think this will only be good for the site in the long run. It also addresses and redresses the perception of imbalance and unfairness that is partly responsible for fueling the litigation Yelp is now defending against.

Of course, one could argue that a well-run business will ultimately garner more favorable reviews than negative and everything will take care of itself. And there’s truth in that argument.

Some businesses that believe they’ve been wronged by negative reviews (mostly unwisely) take legal action against online critics. This should only be done where it’s entirely justified and only in the most extreme cases.

The New York Times has a nice article on this subject, When Online Gripes Are Met With a Lawsuit. It frames the issue in the larger context of defamation vs. free speech and Slapp, “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” The article’s hook is a defamation suit brought by a towing company against a guy who set up a Facebook page against the company after his car was incorrectly towed:

After a towing company hauled Justin Kurtz’s car from his apartment complex parking lot, despite his permit to park there, Mr. Kurtz, 21, a college student in Kalamazoo, Mich., went to the Internet for revenge.

Outraged at having to pay $118 to get his car back, Mr. Kurtz created a Facebook page called “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing.” Within two days, 800 people had joined the group, some posting comments about their own maddening experiences with the towing company.

T&J filed a defamation suit against Mr. Kurtz, claiming the site was hurting business and seeking $750,000 in damages.

Is this a business that has been wronged or is it a company using strong-arm tactics to silence a critic. In this case it’s almost certainly the latter. The article goes on to discuss various anti-Slapp laws and pending federal legislation that would make it harder for litigation to be brought against consumers simply voicing their opinions and experiences online.

One of the more interesting discussions in the article is about a tactic that some doctors are using to control negative reviews about them online:

Recognizing that lawsuits can bring more unwanted attention, one organization has taken a different tack. The group Medical Justice, which helps protect doctors from meritless malpractice suits, advises its members to have patients sign an agreement that gives the doctor copyright over a Web posting if the patient mentions the doctor or practice.

Dr. Jeffrey Segal, chief executive of Medical Justice, said about half of the group’s 2,500 members use the agreement.

Presumably then the doctor can simply contact the directory — InsiderPages for example — and say it owns the critical review in question and ask for its removal. I’m not so sure, however, that these agreements are legal. Patients probably don’t understand that they’re signing away their right to criticize the doctor. It probably also qualifies as an illegal prior restraint on free speech. And then there are the review sites’ fine print, which often assert they own the review copyright as well. So there’s a tangle of legal issues that have yet to be sorted out by a court.

Given how influential reviews can be SMBs need some way to respond. Yelp and other review sites do provide mechanisms, to comment upon and clarify the context of a review and/or to contact the unhappy individual and try to make good on the problem or bad experience. But on balance the system as it currently stands is far from perfect — and most SMBs simply have to do their best and hope that people are basically fair and honest.

Geotoko: LBS App Marketing Tool for SMBs

May 28, 2010

BrightKite created master consumer check-in tool Check.in, which enables users to check in to multiple LBS apps simultaneously:

Now in a parallel way Geotoko seeks to make it easier for SMBs to utilize multiple LBS services and contests for promotional purposes:

Survey Results Show SMB ‘Ambivalence’

May 27, 2010

Earlier this month I missed the release of an SMB survey from FedExKinkos. It contains a few interesting findings (based on 500 “interviews” of SMBs that have 5-100 employees and more than $100K in revenues). You can click to expand any of these images below.

Remember that the division of FedEx that conducted this survey is a printing company so take these results with that in mind. However there are some interesting things and contradictions in these findings. There’s apparent ambivalence being expressed about both print and online by these respondents.

As one example, these SMBs said that online spending (website, SEO, “banner ads”) is the top category (first chart) that they’re going to invest in. However most of these respondents also report that they perceive “traditional marketing” as more effective than “Web-based marketing/advertising” (third chart). Then immediately above that third chart you see that 62% of respondents are characterizing “printed marketing/advertising tools” as only “somewhat effective.” The survey spins that result by combining it with the 25% who say that print is “very effective.”

Why would you be boosting investment in an area (online) that you believed to be less effective than other marketing methods? But then they also aren’t so sure about print either.

SMB marketers appear to be saying they’re “hedging” or diversifying their marketing spend across media because, perhaps, they don’t really know or understand what’s working or what’s going to work.

Behind some of these answers, remarkably, is probably persistent discomfort with the Internet’s lack of “tangibility” (if you will). Print is something you can “see” and hold in your hand. It’s very simple and direct in that sense. And there’s still an element of black magic in online and digital media for many SMBs.

Anyone have any different interpretation of these data?

YPG Promoting Video Advertising

May 27, 2010

Yellow Pages Group in Canada is making a push for video advertising — on third party sites (e.g., Yahoo.ca) on traditional TV and in newspapers.

The print newspaper ad promotes a free on-site shoot and low $77 monthly hosting price point.  Each of the ads show a phone number and point to a dedicated site promoting video advertising on Yellowpages.ca: GetFound.Yellowpages.ca.

On the site there is an image of a Yellowpages.ca profile page which hosts/houses the video but no mention print yellow pages that I could find.

The article (linked above) that alerted me to this campaign contains a quote from YPG corporate communications director Annie Marsolais, saying that it’s directed at non-YP advertisers:

While 40% of Canadians businesses have advertised with Yellow Pages, the campaign is aimed at the other 60%, said Annie Marsolais, director, corporate and marketing communications for Yellow Pages Group.

Consistent with YPG’s efforts to remake itself as a digital advertising company that happens to also publish a directory, it’s interesting to see the company emphasize and market a product without any reference print.

Yellowbot Offers Reputation Tool Too

May 26, 2010

Unknown to me until recently, Yellowbot has been offering a reputation management tool to the SMB market. Last week I got a demo and was impressed by its capabilities and flexibility.

Here are some screens that reflect features:

The interface isn’t quite as slick as Yext’s tool introduced yesterday. However this is a powerful system that offers merchants the ability to update and correct listings, monitor competitors, see mentions from a pretty comprehensive list of sources and track “buzz” by date ranges. The latter ability provides another sort of analytics tool for SMBs in addition to reputation and presence management.

One could use it for example to track the efficacy of traditional media: did a coupon or direct mail drop result in a spike in online activity? One could also use this in a similar fashion to test the relative performance of different local sites. However those scenarios are probably beyond the scope of what most SMBs are going to do with this platform.

Indeed, the issue as I see it is that Yellowbot’s platform may be too powerful for many time-starved SMBs who won’t exploit its full capabilities. But that doesn’t take anything away from the platform and the true users of this will likely be the sales channels and publishers with SMB advertiser relationships.

Right now, as I understand it, Yellowbot has several partners that are selling the platform. With Yext’s free tool — and MerchantCircle certain to upgrade its free tool — can stand-alone pricing survive?

Live From Happy Hound: An SMB Story

May 26, 2010

Well, not exactly live but I was at Happy Hound yesterday in Oakland for the press event associated with the release of Google’s Economic Impact report.

Owner Suzanne Gotter has been a case study for Google AdWords for several years. At the event Google spoke and then Gotter spoke and told her story, which was impressive. She had a background in sales and marketing and so was, arguably, not the typical small business owner out of the gate. However confronted with an empty warehouse she used Google and AdWords to grow her business to 33 employees and now is opening new locations.

She said in total sincerity that the overwhelming majority of her new customers came from Google. How did she know? She asked them all.

Gotter said that when she opened several years ago she tried multiple forms of advertising, including magazines and, yes, yellow pages.

After the end of the press conference, I asked her about how the yellow pages performed. She said she took out quarter page color ads in three books. She added that it was expensive and while she did get calls and some walk-ins, she said the customers misunderstood the nature of her business (she’s not a kennel) and also didn’t want to pay and/or weren’t able to afford her services.

She initially managed her own Google AdWords account but now has an agency do it for her; she also no longer looks at her analytics because she’s too busy.

She spends about $400 per month on AdWords but now also ranks very highly in organic results:

She said that organic CTRs were about 5X AdWords clicks and Google confirmed that as a general matter. She was asked, “Now that you rank so well will you still buy AdWords?” Her answer was yes because she’s expanding her services and now adding locations. For awareness of the new services and locations she felt she still needed AdWords.

The agency she’s using now for search marketing is the same local ad agency she spoke with when she started the business. She told me they wanted to sell her a bunch of expensive, high margin offerings including outdoor. She couldn’t afford them and was skeptical. Back then the agency didn’t talk to her about search. Now that’s all they do for her.

Yext Launches Rep Mgmt Platform

May 25, 2010

Today Yext launched a reputation management platform that it hopes will be broadly adopted by not only SMBs but also some of its competitors. Here’s Yext’s description of its new Yext Dashboard:

The Yext Dashboard is a one-stop destination to manage online reputation and advertising services. The Yext Dashboard contains a real-time feed that shows the constant flow of reviews, tweets, Facebook wall posts, alerts and other information, allowing business owners to monitor and manage how their reputation is being affected in real-time. The Yext Dashboard also allows third–party providers to develop tools and services that integrate into the Yext Dashboard and feed.

The interface is elegant and simple. There are basically three views:

  • Feed (all activity from covered sites, including Facebook and Twitter mentions)
  • Rep (this shows the sources of the various mentions and reviews)
  • Ads (this can show ads and/or calls if you’re  a Yext subscriber)

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The interface allows users to sort by source, time and locations (if you own a multi-location business). There are also some non-traditional sources. SMBs can filter by specific source, as mentioned, to see only the comments coming, for example, from Yelp or Foursquare or Superpages, etc:

Like other comparable products SMBs can see where there listings appear and where they do not — and go right to those sites to update, add or correct them.

The “Ads” view will hypothetically show ads from any third party site, but will also show “calls” (recordings/transcripts) from Yext. Yext hopes that it will boost advertiser adoption of Yext but CEO Howard Lerman  also said that he hopes others, including Yext competitors, will write apps that can appear in this dashboard.

Many reputation management products now in the market, including Marchex, Yellowbot and Steprep, among others, are being sold directly or bundled as part of premium packages. The Yext Dashboard is free.

I’ve had three calls in the past 72 hours with companies offering reputation and/or presence management products for SMBs. It’s very clear to me that reputation management and related services are quickly becoming a mandatory part of the SMB offering.

PaperG Bringing Automated Display to SMBs

May 23, 2010

AdReady couldn’t do it. Google and Yahoo! haven’t been able to do it. And Facebook hasn’t done it either. I’m referring to dramatically simplifying the process of display ad creation to reach the small business market. However, PaperG’s PlaceLocal it appears has achieved that lofty goal.

PlaceLocal was the subject of a profile in the NY Times on Friday:

New software called PlaceLocal builds display ads automatically, scouring the Internet for references to a neighborhood restaurant, a grocery store or another local business. Then it combines the photographs it finds with reviews, customer comments and other text into a customized online ad for the business . . .

Then PlaceLocal takes over, gathering basics like telephone number, hours of business, maps and directions, and adding positive comments extracted from local blogs. Samples of ads may be seen at www.paperg.com, the PaperG Web site.

PaperG’s program is up and running on 32 local media Web sites, including Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago, and on 29 network TV affiliates owned or managed by Hearst Television, said PaperG’s chief operating officer, Roger Lee. The company has also signed up the McClatchy newspaper chain and will soon be on some of its Web sites, he said.

PlaceLocal/PaperG is undoubtedly part of the mix in the Gannett Local offering as well.

And because CPM inventory is cheaper than paid search I would expect more local online marketing platforms to incorporate this with or without the knowledge of local businesses. It could for example be a part of a traffic arbitrage strategy or sold directly to SMBs as a product or part of a product bundle.

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Related: PaperG Challenges AdReady, Expands Reach

Newspapers Step Up SMB Outreach

May 23, 2010

A number of newspapers have been offering SMB marketing packages for some time. Chief among those is McClatchy, which has had a long-standing relationship with WebVisible.

Now Matt McGee is reporting at SEL that Gannett’s local marketing arm (“Gannett Local“) is offering a new suite of marketing tools for local businesses, which includes SEO, email, web presence, display and other online marketing:

With the power of Gannett, the company behind USA Today, The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, we can jump start your advertising. What can we do for you?

  1. Build traffic to your business and your website by getting you great placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing
  2. Help your customers find you by getting your business on Google Maps
  3. Ensure you stay top-of-mind through attention-grabbing advertisements in The Arizona Republic, the largest local newspaper in Arizona

Matt points out that the service is being fulfilled by OrangeSoda (which is now partly or majority owned by IAC). However there are likely other fulfillment partners in the mix as well, given the range of services above.

With the more aggressive entry of newspapers into local online market a noisy market grows louder for SMBs who are getting calls from ReachLocal, Yodle and WebVisible, as well as yellow pages, Groupon, and now newspaper sales channels.

One question is whether the local newspaper will be “trusted” or perceived as more credible by local businesses. OrangeSoda has a very strong reputation for SEO services and so the SEO core of the Gannett Local product could be effective.

ReachLocal, which just went public raised approximately $54 million out of an anticipated $100 million. The stock has gone up somewhat since last week and the company now has a market cap of $414 million.

Eniro Plugs in RFQ, Story Corrected

May 21, 2010

This story was originally incorrect. Swedish directory publisher Eniro has implemented its own RFQ solution. It is NOT working with Quotify. The information was sent to me by Quotify CEO Ben Ross and I didn’t look closely enough at it. My apologies for the confusion this may have created.

Here are some screens that illustrate the implementation:

Many publishers are implementing or considering implementing online booking and/or some version of RFP functionality. In the US Superpages recently launched vertical sites that include this capability. AgendiZe and a few others also offer online booking.

Quotify CEO Ben Ross put this in an email to me regarding the issue of potential “cannibalization” of the traditional revenue model:

I asked Jesper Karrbrink (CEO of Eniro) how they manage the cannibalization of their subscription revenue, with the introduction of this performance product and his response was “There is no cannibalization – because the advertisers need to a part of our database (ie. an existing subscription customer) and we offer it to them it as an added service, in fact, the advertisers pay 4000kr to be part of the RFQ program and it is helping them to grow their business…. they are happy to pay because the payback is tremendous, in fact we had over 1000 companies sign up in the first few weeks of launch”

Dex Contest Promotes Weddings Vertical

May 21, 2010

Dex is running a contest to promote its recently launched weddings site:

And this week 40 finalists were announced:

Selected from more than 1,000 entries, the finalists are comprised of brides and grooms seeking to win $10,000 by sharing how they plan to keep wedding costs low without sacrificing style and quality.

Now it’s up to the public to select the final four couples who will take home $10,000 apiece. Public voting is taking place from now until May 28, 2010 on the DexKnows Weddings website and on the site’s Facebook fan page. Winners will be announced June 2, 2010.

Celebrity wedding planner Yifat Oren — who has produced weddings for Kevin Costner, Mariska Hargitay, and Jason Bateman, among other high-profile clients – selected the finalists based on their creativity and inspiring alternatives to traditional and often costly wedding items.

It’s a smart idea and way to promote the site.

Next up, a reality TV show?

WebVisible: People Prefer SMBs to Chains

May 21, 2010

A new WebVisible-sponsored consumer survey (n=1,000), conducted by Synovate, found that most US consumers would rather buy from an independent local business than a chain or big box. No real surprises there.

According to WebVisibile:

More than 4 out of 5 consumers – 83 percent – choose to patronize a small, local independent business over a larger chain, and their top three reasons for doing so speak to values that have long characterized small business:

  • I want to support my community
  • The local merchant is more conveniently located
  • The service is more personal

Just 17 percent of American consumers say they don’t choose to patronize a small business over a larger chain.

Source: WebVisible (n=1,000)

The top overall reason was service, following by convenience. There were some demographic differences in the responses, however.

From the release:

Seniors  (over 65) were the only ones to put [service] at the top of their list of reasons to shop local.  That same group was more likely than any other age group to put “knowing – or being known by – the owner or an employee” at the top.

The youngest respondents were far more likely to cite convenience among their reasons to shop locally – 60 percent of those 18-24 placed it among their top three, while 48 percent of total respondents did the same.  Those in the 18-24 group were the only ones to give convenience the top spot overall, with 30 percent saying convenient location was No. 1, compared with 17 percent of the overall population.

A few demographic groups went against the norm to place “knowing – or being known by – the owner or an employee” among their top three reasons.  They were respondents who earn less than $25k a year, those with high school education or less, and respondents who are self-employed.

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Related: WebVisible signs three-year deal with Sensis to provide SEM services to 600K Sensis advertisers.

Is the ReachLocal IPO Imminent?

May 18, 2010

I recently ran into someone from ReachLocal at a conference and asked whether the company had pulled its IPO. That had been the rumor circulating. I was told no that it was still a go.

This morning someone emailed me and asked if I was going to buy any ReachLocal stock when the IPO happened “later this week.” Beyond the fact that I don’t own any stock in any company I write about I said I hadn’t heard that the IPO was imminent. The person I was emailing said that he was being told by some friends in Wall Street firms that it was coming very soon.

Here’s the original S-1 filing from December 2009 and some interesting data about the company:

At September 30, 2009, we managed 17,600 Active Campaigns across 14,500 Active Advertisers, a substantial majority of which we calculate spend from $500 to $3,000 per month with us. Our clients include SMBs in a number of industry verticals, such as home repair and improvement, automobile sales and repair, medical and health services, legal services and retail and personal services. Since inception, we have delivered to our SMB clients more than 250 million geographically targeted clicks and 20 million phone calls. We employ 525 IMCs in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom and work with over 350 third-party agencies and resellers that use the RL Platform to serve their SMB clients. We intend to expand our IMC sales force both in existing and new markets.

We generate revenue by providing online advertising solutions for our clients through our ReachSearch, ReachDisplay, Remarketing, TotalTrack and other products and services. We reported $146.7 million in revenue in 2008 as compared to $68.4 million in 2007, an increase of 115%, and $143.3 million in revenue in the nine months ended September 30, 2009, a 37.5% increase as compared to the same period in 2008.

It will be great to have a public company as a kind of barometer (beyond the YP companies) for how the local segment is doing. However I think ReachLocal has several challenges:

  • Growing the advertiser base at rates sufficient to satisfy investors (though that’s arguably a formula that the company now has “down”)
  • Retaining advertisers (this is more challenging though Reach says its churn is lower than others)
  • Attracting and retaining quality sales staff at lower commission rates and salaries than they were making in YP positions

Public companies are subject to brutal pressure from the whims of fickle investors. The executives at Reach have worked hard and I wish them well. But I’m glad in a way that I’m not in their shoes.

Update: Joe Tartakoff at PaidContent just pointed me to confirmation that it is happening this week.

The Rise of SMB Reputation Management

May 17, 2010

When I was at the CA governor”s conference on entrepreneurship a couple of weeks ago I was struck by how many small business owners in the session I attended raised their hands when asked about how many used Google Alerts to track what was said about their businesses.

Given the rising awareness among SMBs of review sites and social media it would appear there will be growing demand for presence/reputation management offerings. Indeed, there now appear to be a range of reputation management tools in the market or entering the market.

Marchex had the first formal tool, following MerchantCircle’s early rudimentary one. Then came Palore/AmIVisible’s “presence management” site and GetListed and Chatmeter, which offers SEO and reputation tools.

ClickFuel also has a tool as part of its suite that does some version of reputation management. Yodle also has an offering and so does ReachLocal (through the SMBLive acquisition).

Now I’ve become aware of reputation management offerings from VendAsta and Yellowbot. It makes sense that more companies would offer these tools because of the rise of social media and reviews.

The question is do these tools enable business owners to do anything other than see what’s being said about them and/or where they appear online? One of the nice things about Marchex’s platform is that it enables business owners to retweet or post selected reviews to their followers.

Are there other reputation management or presence management tools out there that I haven’t mentioned?

Update: Add SIM Partners to the list. And Marchex’s reputation management product is a finalist for “‘New Product or Service of the Year’ category of the 2010 American Business Awards…”

Yelp Announces SMB Advisory Council

May 17, 2010

This is something that Yelp should have done three years ago but better late . . . The company formally announced the members of the Yelp Small Business Advisory Council last week:

Yelp selected these folks from a reported 700 applications submitted. This is what they’ll be doing:

  • A trip to Yelp HQ in San Francisco, CA for meetings with Yelp’s executive team.
  • Participation in a monthly conference call that will provide early access to product and business updates, as well as the opportunity to offer feedback on features under development.
  • Ongoing meetings with Yelp’s individual business units to provide valuable input on existing features and policies and act as a sounding board for those in development.
  • Serve as a resource for other business owners who have questions about the services and tools on Yelp.

This is a very smart idea for all sorts of reasons: word of mouth, product development and so on.

Get to Know GetListed Local University

May 11, 2010

Several years ago, probably about five or six now, someone who was a “higher-up” in a branded local publisher approached me about starting a conference targeting small businesses, helping educate them about online marketing. I was at The Kelsey Group at the time and he was at his company. The inertia around what we were doing was too great to pursue this idea. But I knew it was a very good idea.

Now David Mihm and crew have essentially created that conference series with GetListed Local University. This is a road show, a one-day intensive for SMBs on . . . online marketing. Right now it’s being underwritten in part by Bing and Google. The folks that are behind it are supremely ethical and they’re not pitching anyone’s services, nor would they.

But if you’re a local publisher or interested in SMB ad dollars (and you know who you are) it might make sense for you to think about participating in these events if only indirectly.

You can reach David Mihm at davidmihm [at] gmail.com. (I get nothing for promoting this; it’s just a good idea.)

kgb Launches Multi-Country Deals Site

May 10, 2010

kgb, which offers the SMS-based mobile Q&A service, has just launched a group-buying site at kgbdeals.com. I’ve discovered that there may be as many as 90 to 100 sites that are doing some version of “groupoing” now — with more to come undoubtedly.

kgb competitor ChaCha also offers couponing but only in a single market for now. By contrast, kgb has leveraged its international reach and is doing this across several non-US markets:

Undoubtedly these deals will also be pushed into mobile and via the “traditional” kgb service.

SMBs Need a Lot of Help Online

May 10, 2010

I attended The [California] Governor’s Conference on Small Business and Entrepreneurship last thursday at the Oakland Convention Center. One of the sessions I sat in on was about social media and online marketing. It was the mirror of an identical session in the morning that I was unable to attend.

The panelists included representatives from Google, Yelp, Twitter (where I got the sticker), Cafe Press and the California Restaurants Assn. Each panelist got to talk for about 5-10 minutes and then there was a Q&A session.

While there was some sophistication, the Q&A session revealed just how much help most SMBs need. Yelp’s Vince Sollitto, who was on both panels, said that the earlier session had a higher level of sophistication and greater engagement.

I took a lot of notes but I’ll summarize and provide a few observations.

More people in the room had a facebook page than were AdWords advertisers. But about 3/4 of those in the audience were on LinkedIn.

Google’s Claire Johnson spoke repeatedly about claiming listings on Places and about search marketing. It became clear however that most of these folks were very far away from search marketing.

Most of those in the audience were familiar with and used Yelp as consumers, but only a few had used the business tools. Yelp’s Sollitto said Yelp had 31 million uniques and 10 million reviews. He addressed the issue of negative reviews by saying, “negative reviews are an authenticator” and provide credibility — ironically. Not sure if those in the audience bought the argument. When he cited the URL, biz.yelp.com, however, lots of people wrote it down.

Francesca Helina of Twitter talked about tweeting “on the go” and discussed Twitter apps as the best and most convenient way to tweet. She hinted at a number of services for SMBs to come and discussed Twitter’s window sticker. She briefly mentioned Promoted Tweets, but focused on the free service. She referenced two accounts (@smallbiz and @Francesca) where marketing on Twitter and best practices would be showcased.

John Goddard of the California Restaurant Assn said that 73% of CA restaurants were independent. He talked about how many have adopted social media and Twitter in particular. “A lot of chefs are blogging” and building social media strategies around their blogs, said Goddard.

I was somewhat surprised to see how many in the audience were using Google alerts (roughly 1/3) as a basic form of reputation management and review monitoring.

Café press extolled the virtues of search marketing saying “30% of our business from Google search.”

The moderator, a woman from Palo Alto Software, threw around tips and jargon that were generally way over the heads (from my perspective) of the audience. Indeed, most of the discussion from the podium was more advanced than the people in the room — sometimes painfully so.

This is an extreme example, but one woman asked for advice on what types of content would make her website (which she hadn’t developed yet) interesting. This reflected to me the very basic level of understanding — or lack thereof — of online marketing possessed by some small businesses.

One older woman, selling Japanese medicinal herbs, talked about her frustrations with consultants who made big promises about SEO and high rankings (There’s a ton of that going on out there.)

I conduct surveys of SMBs and talk about their issues frequently in the abstract. But it’s very helpful to be in a room like this from time to time to see the challenges they confront in a very direct way. For them the world is only getting more complicated and, while there is growing awareness and sophistication in some quarters, the smallest SMBs need a lot of help — a lot.

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Related: Google offers a co-branded (with the SBA) site/tutorial on online business marketing fundamentals.

Citysearch Plans Reputation Mgmt Offering

May 10, 2010

Kate Kaye of ClickZ interviews Citysearch’s Neal Salvage about CityGrid and the general SMB ad offering from Citysearch. From my point of view, here are the interesting parts of the article:

According to Neil Salvage, Citysearch’s EVP of advertising, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number or offerings and sell them on a flat-fee basis rather than a performance-basis . . .

Citysearch currently allows advertisers to update their company profiles displayed across the Web through the platform associated with its CityGrid listings distribution system. They can also respond to reviews posted about their businesses using the platform.

“In the next quarter, we will be expanding our capabilities to offer merchants even more robust reputation management capabilities such as reviewing reviews from across CityGrid, sentiment analysis and more,” explained Salvage.

The SMB online ad market is bifurcating somewhat, with a movement toward performance products in some quarters — Yelp just (re)introduced CPC — and fixed fee products otherwise (Citysearch). The group buying sites arguably represent the ultimate in performance-based marketing for SMBs.

Beyond this, some version of “reputation management” (an elastic category) is coming to most if not all SMB ad sellers/channels. It will ultimately be like SEO, just a part of the package.

Right now the most developed product is the one offered by Marchex. However AmIVisible (presence), Chatmeter and ClickFuel also have offerings with varying degrees of functionality.

If there are others out there, please let me know.