This renewal of the distribution relationship between SuperMedia and Local.com would be a very ordinary occurrence, normally. However against the backdrop of the closing down of the Google AdWords Reseller program it takes on larger significance. First the press release:
Under the new agreement, SuperMedia’s performance and subscription advertisers will receive preferred placement on www.local.com. The expanded agreement also includes distribution of enhanced ads and content from Superpages.com advertisers, including ratings and reviews, links to local business profile pages and videos. The expanded agreement is expected to increase the monetization of Local.com search traffic by providing an increased number of Superpages.com’s advertiser listings in response to search requests on Local.com and its distribution network. Revenue is generated when consumers connect with advertisers by clicking on their listing or calling their businesses.
Deals like this become more important for local publishers as they step up efforts to diversify traffic sources. That effort has been going on for some time of course and places those networks such as CityGrid, V-Enable (in mobile) and Where (in mobile) in a position to benefit. The perhaps temporary ending of the Google program also creates uncertainty in the local ecosystem, which had been under strain but generally stable for the past couple of years.
Google remains a critical traffic source, however once certified resellers don’t have the same privileged access and tools — at least for the time being.
I spent some time on the phone yesterday with yet another of the involved parties who gave me more interesting opinion and perspective. It was almost entirely off the record so I can’t reproduce the discussion here. However I can say that this individual speculated that a new version of the reseller program, when or if it re-emerges, will likely require much greater “transparency” among the resellers and will probably not allow them to simply bundle Google in with other sources of traffic. Again, this is pure speculation, capital P.
Previously another person opined that this change reflected the “maturation” of the local ecosystem and market and put an upbeat spin on the development. Others, however, are not quite as sanguine.
I’ve now heard from more than one source that the AdWords reseller program largely operated “under the radar” at Google, which I find surprising, given that Sheryl Sandberg (now Facebook COO) was one of the speakers at the initial Google Local Markets Symposium, which focused on the program. Nonetheless, apparently very high level Google execs recently “discovered” that resellers were marking up clicks (sometimes 100% or more) and were upset by that. Whether that had anything to do with the decision to interrupt or terminate the program is unclear — but probably.
Companies like Yodle, as a representative example, are getting roughly 50% of their traffic, depending on the advertiser category, from Google but moving increasingly to build a wide range of sources as part of a “network.” Automated display ad creation platforms (PaperG), video (Jivox, Mixpo, TurnHere, etc.) and mobile become increasingly important in this diversification effort — traditional media too.
There may be benefits and unintended consequences here. Local publishers will be pushed into developing new properties and focusing on their brands. That might make some of them stronger over the long term. Google, for its part, could find itself with more spam on its hands as some local publishers and sales channels try an push SEO more aggressively. (Let’s be clear: I’m not equating SEO and spam, but some SEO efforts do turn out to be spam-like; think press-releases.)
We’ll see. Like the advent of the reseller program and strategy behind it, a few years ago, this moment represents a new phase in the evolution of the local market, which is increasingly diverse, dynamic — and challenging — for all involved.