As an interesting segue to my VoiceStar/Marchex blog post from last week, MediaPost offers an interview with Bill Day, their new Chief Media Officer in which he talks about the importance of local for Marchex. “Kaufman Brothers analyst Sameet Sinha questioned the company’s heavy investment in local search at this moment, after the announcement it would buy pay-per-call ad provider VoiceStar. It happened to be the first official day at work for new Chief Media Officer Bill Day, most recently at WhenU, but also a co-founder of About.com and one of the online pioneers of the ’80s at Prodigy. He was nothing but optimistic about the opportunity for local.”
Q: Why is the time right now for local? When we did it at About.com, it was too early. The interest area was the place to invest. Things have changed. First of all, many more people use the Internet. If you want to have a pro-sumer model, you need one that scales to be very comprehensive. Marchex is a leader. It already has thousands and thousands and thousands of sites. You also need a model that can get really really deep within those localities. I did a lot of diligence coming in and with the Yellow Pages advertisers now coming on, it suggests it really is a good time to invest in local. You have to invest to reap the rewards.
Q: What is the first thing you’ll do in your new job? The first thing is to focus on the continued rollout of our open list technology populating businesses down to the ZIP code level (editor’s note: e.g. 90210.com). I’m also talking to media companies in the local space. There’s a lot of business development I need to do to get the ball rolling.
Q: Who is doing local right? There are certainly sites that get parts of it right. I can’t point to one network that gets it right consistently. I don’t know anything countrywide. The sites that tend to do that are using very stale and automated generic content that is not good enough to get repeat visitation. I’ve looked at some of the WashingtonPost.com sites, what Sidewalk’s done for Digital Cities. We’re in a pretty open space for starting to do things that haven’t been done so far on the net–to truly create a broad, deep network of sites.
What it means: Marchex believes online revenue action in the future will happen on the local and hyperlocal front. They’ve acquired web real estate (local URLs) and local content. They have solid search engine optimization (SEO) expertise and they now want to introduce user-generated content. Using all of these tools, they’re building a large-scale local ad network. The only thing I would question is the quality of traffic coming from SEO, as not all clicks are born equal. Measuring ROI will become key when evaluating the quality of local search traffic but, as I believe a good chunk of the revenues in local will happen around pay-per-call in the next 5-10 years, the acquisition of VoiceStar makes complete sense strategically. That’s a great way to measure and prove local search ROI.