Dex One to Distribute its Ad Content in the Citysearch network

Dex One Corporation (…) today announced a distribution agreement with Citysearch, an operating business of IAC. Dex One advertisers will now have the option to have their listings appear across CityGrid, the largest content and ad network for local, as well as DexKnows.com, Dex One’s popular online local search site.

via Dex One and Citysearch Partner to Feature DexKnows.com Advertiser Listings across CityGrid.

What it means: It makes complete sense strategically for Dex One to expand their product portfolio, leveraging their sales force to sell into Citysearch CityGrid network. On a related note, Dex One had signed a content agreement with Yelp about three weeks ago. In the future, we’ll see more and more of these reciprocal agreements featuring content aggregation and sales channel.

Dave Swanson: "Facebook and Twitter are Both an Opportunity and a Threat to Directory Publishers"

This is a post about the Kelsey Group’s DMS ’09 conference which happened last week in Orlando.

Dave Swanson Photo

Day two of the DMS ’09 conference saw a brilliant keynote from Dave Swanson, Chairman and CEO of R.H. Donnelley (RHD). After hearing sobering thoughts from European Yellow Pages leaders at the EADP conference in May (see The Wake-Up Call: “Unless We Change, on the Long Run, We Are Doomed to Disappear” (EADP 2009)), I was really looking forward Swanson’s keynote given the situation RHD found itself in (they filed for Chapter 11 protection in May) after having an amazing stock market ride in the last few years. the Kelsey Group “wanted someone who has had his butt kicked” for this keynote, someone who could explain what happened and what’s ahead for the industry and he didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what happened according to Dave Swanson:

  • The economy
    • “It changed everything for everybody. If you look at the timing of ad sale declines, it compares exactly with the economic contraction. If you index Google’s financial results with RHD’s, you realize they have suffered as well. We’ve seen broad-based sales compression. We had enjoyed the longest growth period in history, but it created unsustainable bubbles: housing bubble, advertising bubble, credit bubble (with mergers & acquisitions and leverage buyouts). It was an unsustainable situation because we needed to refinance regularly. There was no money left after the financial bubble burst. When I’m asked “Dave, do you regret this strategy?”  I answer, “no, absolutely not. RHD might not exist today.” “
  • Secular changes
    • “Print competition is intense. We keep pointing out the shortcomings of each other’s products. Other local media companies (i.e. newspapers) pitch “against” Yellow Pages also. Media Fragmentation didn’t help as well. Finally, the media trumpeted “no one uses the Yellow Pages anymore” and we became an “environmental hazard” for a segment of the population. We have been very good at shooting ourselves in the foot.”
  • Execution
    • New products did not deliver and had a high rate of churn.

Where are we?

  • “I hope the freefall from the economy has stopped but I think that we’re a long way to go before “main street” joins the current Wall street rally”
  • ” We need multi-platform solutions, more creative pricing, more transparency”
  • “Competitive environment is intense. We could see a shake-out. For RHD, the worst is behind us. Financial house must be in order.”
  • “We need to challenge the premise of our business”. He gave as example: “do we need separate Internet Yellow Pages platforms and ventured to answer “I don’t think so”.
  • “We will never dominate consumer usage as we did in the past.”
  • “We need to become have a service-centric model vs. product-centric model.” RHD’s objective is to be the number one provider of directional services in the eyes of the SMBs in the market they serve. Yellow Pages publishers are provisioning more keywords on search engines with small businesses than anyone else. Because of the channel, this has been a natural extension of their existing product.
  • “Execution hasn’t been very good, but we’re getting better and we’ll dominate”
  • “Publishers have to look at micro-strategy, geo-vertical opportunities. It’s not one large homogeneous search business.”

Swanson observed it would be very easy to be pessimistic but his philosophy is that when things are going very good, something very bad is about to happen and vice-versa. The next several years will be all about climbing out of the hole but “it’s going to be a hell of lot more fun than the last two years”.

Following his keynote, I sat down with Dave Swanson for an exclusive interview.

On print innovation

I asked Swanson if he thought there was innovation left in the print product, what he thought a print product would look like in 5 years. He said he thought the print book really works in smaller markets and that he didn’t see much change needed there. But he confirmed he thought the format wasn’t right for urban centers. He suggested limiting geography (smaller scopes), having more relevant information in the books (possibly a subset of headings instead of all of them) and more specialty products. But he also added Yellow Pages were not supposed to be glamorous. They have to be efficient.

On online innovation: verticalization & micro-strategy

I then asked RHD’s CEO where he thought DexKnows.com, their main online property, was going. He said he was extremely happy to have Sean Greene heading their RHD Interactive division (I interviewed Sean a few months ago), bridging print and online culture. He mentioned DexKnows’ future lies in two directions: verticalization and Micro (which I would call hyperlocal)

Verticalization is the improvement of high-potential verticals within Dexknows.com. It means depth of content, aggregate categories/headings and a combination of expert and user content. He gave the example of “wedding” as a meta-category, an interesting vertical.

Micro is recreating a community, a subdivision, a neighborhood within Dexknows.com (or maybe more “local” brands. He wasnt’ allergic to trying other online brands for this initiative). User recommendations would play a big role there. When asked about aggregating hyperlocal information that’s not directly merchant-related (classifieds, neighborhood information, municipal government info, etc.), he remarked that a lot of community information already appears in the print Yellow Pages and said there’s no reason why it shouldn’t appear online.

On social media

Swanson acknowledged that social media has the potential to be a big disruptor in local search (which made me very happy as I’ve been saying that for a couple of years). He called social media “word of mouth on steroid”. He confirmed that Facebook and Twitter are both an opportunity and a threat to directory publishers.

On combating the negative industry press

RHD’s CEO wasn’t too optimistic about industry-wide efforts to combat negative press. He suggested we change the way directory publishers market themselves and start talking to SMBs more to improve their image (instead of doing consumer advertising to garner usage).

What it means: perfect tone for the Swanson’s keynote. Things are not going as well as they used to in the Yellow Pages industry and it doesn’t serve any purpose to hide it. “We will never dominate consumer usage as we did in the past” is most realistic statement I’ve heard in industry recently. At the same time, the industry has tremendous assets it can leverage starting with the direct relationship publishers have with small advertisers. Very happy that RHD is looking at improving the print product in large urban areas. I believe there’s a lot of leg left in a print product that’s tailored to an urban consumer. Ecstatic that Swanson is talking seriously about social media. I sometimes felt like I was preaching in the desert in the last two years… We’ll have to follow RHD closely as they come out of Chapter 11 in the next few months.

Sean Greene: Bridging Traditional And Online Media as RHD's SVP of Interactive

A few weeks ago, RHD announced that Sean Greene, their SVP of corporate strategy and business development, had just been named SVP of interactive. Greene who will be moving to Santa Monica to lead the interactive team (the former Business.com team) brings 17 years of print and online local search experience with him. I caught up with Greene a few days ago to discuss this announcement. 

Sebastien Provencher: Tell me about yourself and your new role.

Sean Greene: I joined RHD in 1993 starting in sales, after which I worked in a variety of roles in marketing and sales planning. In 2003, I became responsible for interactive strategy (after spending two years at a startup). At the time, BestRedYP (seen here on Archive.org) was already running. I orchestrated the acquisitions of LocalLaunch and Business.com who were strategic both from a technology and resource perspective. In my new role, I will have leadership of the whole online team, about 150 people altogether: 125 in Santa Monica (the Business.com office) and the rest in Denver.

SP: What are you bringing to the online team?

SG: Interestingly enough, I’m viewed as the Internet guy within RHD but I’m viewed as the print guy in Santa Monica. This gives me a unique understanding of print & online but also a strong knowledge of Yellow Pages sales. This allows me to put in perspective the need of both consumers and advertisers.

SP: What are the current strengths of RHD’s online offer?

SG: I really like Dex Net, our search marketing product. Our goal is to find the best click we can get for advertisers.The Dex brand (and DexKnows.com) is also really strong in all our markets. Finally, our advertiser relationships with 500,000+ advertisers is also a major strength of our organization. 

SP: What are your main opportunities for improvements?

SG: Our legacy around fixed-fee products (print and Internet). Those products don’t scale well (upwards and downwards) when usage volume change and, because of that, we’ve been hurt by recent cyclical and secular changes.

SP: What is your short term and long term focus?

SG: Short term: educating both sides of the fence. On the traditional channel side, we need to let them know what products and features we’re working on. On the Business.com side, we need to make sure the team understands how sales works. Longer term: I want to bring greater synergies between  consumer & advertiser products, to integrate our story more tightly. We also want to continue working to attract online talent in our office in Santa Monica. We’ve been voted three years in a row one of the “best places to work in Los Angeles” by the LA Business Journal and we want to continue remaining an employer of choice for online talent.

SP: what do you think of social media as an opportunity?

SG: We’ve been looking at it but I’m disappointed we’re not further along. For example, Work.com is all about consumer generated content and could be a great entry into social media. Next phase: how do we integrate social media in our big opportunities.

SP: What about mobile?

SG: I’m now very bullish on mobile and I hadn’t been until now. The arrival of the iPhone, the ability to develop applications that solve the needs of the person have changed that. I think we will soon learn from mobile and incorporate those thoughts in our Web strategy.

SP: One last question. I’m curious to know, why don’t you split print and online revenues in your quarterly conference calls?

SG: As I mentioned before, our strategy is to offer the best leads to our advertisers wherever it’s coming from. It could be print, online, voice, Dex Net, etc. We provide local marketing solutions to SMEs. It wouldn’t serve our long term vision to split revenues that way.

SP: Thank you!

On a related note, RHD reported second quarter 2009 results last week. Net revenue was $566 million , down 15% second quarter 2008. Adjusted EBITDA in the quarter was $293 million , down 20 percent from second quarter 2008. 

Sean Greene: Bridging Traditional And Online Media as RHD's SVP of Interactive

A few weeks ago, RHD announced that Sean Greene, their SVP of corporate strategy and business development, had just been named SVP of interactive. Greene who will be moving to Santa Monica to lead the interactive team (the former Business.com team) brings 17 years of print and online local search experience with him. I caught up with Greene a few days ago to discuss this announcement. 

Sebastien Provencher: Tell me about yourself and your new role.

Sean Greene: I joined RHD in 1993 starting in sales, after which I worked in a variety of roles in marketing and sales planning. In 2003, I became responsible for interactive strategy (after spending two years at a startup). At the time, BestRedYP (seen here on Archive.org) was already running. I orchestrated the acquisitions of LocalLaunch and Business.com who were strategic both from a technology and resource perspective. In my new role, I will have leadership of the whole online team, about 150 people altogether: 125 in Santa Monica (the Business.com office) and the rest in Denver.

SP: What are you bringing to the online team?

SG: Interestingly enough, I’m viewed as the Internet guy within RHD but I’m viewed as the print guy in Santa Monica. This gives me a unique understanding of print & online but also a strong knowledge of Yellow Pages sales. This allows me to put in perspective the need of both consumers and advertisers.

SP: What are the current strengths of RHD’s online offer?

SG: I really like Dex Net, our search marketing product. Our goal is to find the best click we can get for advertisers.The Dex brand (and DexKnows.com) is also really strong in all our markets. Finally, our advertiser relationships with 500,000+ advertisers is also a major strength of our organization. 

SP: What are your main opportunities for improvements?

SG: Our legacy around fixed-fee products (print and Internet). Those products don’t scale well (upwards and downwards) when usage volume change and, because of that, we’ve been hurt by recent cyclical and secular changes.

SP: What is your short term and long term focus?

SG: Short term: educating both sides of the fence. On the traditional channel side, we need to let them know what products and features we’re working on. On the Business.com side, we need to make sure the team understands how sales works. Longer term: I want to bring greater synergies between  consumer & advertiser products, to integrate our story more tightly. We also want to continue working to attract online talent in our office in Santa Monica. We’ve been voted three years in a row one of the “best places to work in Los Angeles” by the LA Business Journal and we want to continue remaining an employer of choice for online talent.

SP: what do you think of social media as an opportunity?

SG: We’ve been looking at it but I’m disappointed we’re not further along. For example, Work.com is all about consumer generated content and could be a great entry into social media. Next phase: how do we integrate social media in our big opportunities.

SP: What about mobile?

SG: I’m now very bullish on mobile and I hadn’t been until now. The arrival of the iPhone, the ability to develop applications that solve the needs of the person have changed that. I think we will soon learn from mobile and incorporate those thoughts in our Web strategy.

SP: One last question. I’m curious to know, why don’t you split print and online revenues in your quarterly conference calls?

SG: As I mentioned before, our strategy is to offer the best leads to our advertisers wherever it’s coming from. It could be print, online, voice, Dex Net, etc. We provide local marketing solutions to SMEs. It wouldn’t serve our long term vision to split revenues that way.

SP: Thank you!

On a related note, RHD reported second quarter 2009 results last week. Net revenue was $566 million , down 15% second quarter 2008. Adjusted EBITDA in the quarter was $293 million , down 20 percent from second quarter 2008. 

RHD Releases DexKnows iPhone App

I’m a bit late writing about this news (Greg Sterling wrote about it here and the Kelsey Group guys here) but RHD has just released a series of DexKnows mobile apps & services.  I recently had the opportunity to connect with Deborah Eldred, Director of Mobile at RHD, to discuss the new offer.

dexknows-mobile-apps

Highlights:

  • Developed by MobilePeople
  • Covers the whole mobile “value chain”: text messages, mobile browser version, downloadable client applications, iPhone application
  • They looked at ComScore data to focus development on the most important phone models/carriers
  • They developed a specific search “taxonomy” by looking at top categories in a mobile context. They also regrouped categories in three most-used metacategories called Gettin’ Grub (food & restaurants), Havin’ Fun (entertainment), Goin’ Places (travel)
  • Search results are ranked by centroid, currently the center of the city, but eventually the user geo-location

I asked Deborah how the Dexknows offer was differentiated from other offers out there. She mentioned the following:

  • Focused on relevant experience for mobile users (as opposed to advertiser-focused)
  • Most important mobile categories have been grouped and surfaced on the home page
  • People search (data provided by Whitepages.com)
  • RHD covers the whole mobile value chain, from text messages to iPhone app
  • They have great content in their in-region territory.

You can go to m.dexknows.com to use/download the various versions and a short video shows the various features.

Update: Yellow Pages Group in Canada has also released applications for the iPhone and Blackberry. Canpages had released an iPhone app about two weeks ago.

What it means: happy to see that directory publishers are releasing new mobile apps. Obviously, in the medium/long term, it is a critical component of the distribution mix. But I think, in the short term, it plays an important perceptual role with the sales team and advertisers.

CanPages.ca Introduces Its Own Street View Feature

According to CTV’s Chris Abel, CanPages.ca, the local search site of [praized subtype=”small” pid=”58d245fd7e8f20800dee0ecd3af21f08″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], the independent Canadian directory publisher, has launched its own Street View feature. CanPages has partnered with San Francisco-based MapJack to deploy this technology in Canada.  Abel says it’s very similar to Google Street View but includes new features such as “a fullscreen mode and paths that explore pedestrian walkways as much as they do the streets ruled by cars and trucks.”

You can see it in searches in Vancouver, Whistler, or Squamish (all in British Columbia). As for future expansion, “the company plans to expand to include Street Views of Toronto and Montreal next, followed by as much of Canada as possible.”

Vancouver Street View Canpages

In the last few days, an ad for a video camera operator has appeared in a Quebec job site, making people think Google was going to capture Quebec City in Street View. It’s possible but I suspect it might be an ad for the first French Canadian street view deployment of CanPages.ca.

What it means: looking at the introduction of new features inside the CanPages.ca site in the last 6-12 months, it’s clear that the exec team there has identified feature gaps inside YellowPages.ca, the main property of Yellow Pages Group (and directory incumbent in Canada) and are trying to differentiate themselves via those new features. It’s a good strategic move. On the other side, YPG has a mapping agreement with Microsoft and I’m fairly certain the Redmond giant is also taking street view pictures (many people on Twitter have reported seeing the Microsoft vehicle taking pictures). This will certainly be easy for YPG to deploy once it’s available in Canada. As I reported a few weeks ago, the new DexKnows.com has a nice integration of Google Maps and Street View.

The New DexKnows Site: Simpler User Experience and Improved Results

Had the opportunity this week to sit down (virtually) with Jeff Porter (VP / General Manager DexKnows.com at RH Donnelley) and some of his team members to go through the various features/functionalities of the new DexKnows.com site. The new site was designed and built by the Business.com team (which was acquired by RHD in 2007). It’s using Lucene open source search technology. The site is currently in beta and offers multiple improvements over the last few versions.

Dex Yellow Pages- Online Phone Book Directory for Local Business Listings

Main areas of improvements include

  1. A simplified user interface (more search engine-like)
  2. A clear focus on breadth, depth and quality of local data
  3. Better drill-down results both from a hyperlocal and hypervertical point of view

I jotted down the following random notes on what struck me as interesting with the new site:

  • Introduction of geo-taxonomy (love that word!). The site offers users different levels of geographic drill-down including metro, city, neighborhood and landmarks.  One of the challenges of local search sites is “guessing” the user geo-intent. Is the user searching for the specific city or for the metro area? In this case, the team decided that they would return multi-city metro results in a refine page showing users additional geo-refining options. For example, a search for Pizza in Seattle assumes by default that you’re doing a metro-area search. It leads you to a metro page showing you very basic listing information and all the metro city options. Those simplified basic listings remind of Google local search results. Depending on headings (think restaurants or lawyers), you can also drill down on “specialties” (think “family-friendly” for restaurants or the types of lawyers). If you select individual cities within a metro area, you get to a city page with more detailed business listings. You can then drill down to specific neighborhoods.
  • Category suggestions based on keyword entered (not the same as keyword suggestions!). It allows for a better mapping between unstructured keyword search and structured results.
  • As usual, each business has a profile page. I really like the integration of Google Street View in there.  Makes me think this business profile would be tremendously valuable in mobile situations (think Dexknows iPhone app).
  • If you search for service categories where work is usually accomplished in your home (plumbers, electrician, etc.), you get a service area map instead of the specific location of the merchant. The scope of the merchant service area is determined by the print directories in which they advertise.
  • You can do brand search (try “Nintendo in Denver“) but you can’t combine keywords (try “Nintendo used games in Denver”, it should return you this merchant but results in a failed search). It’s really the only place we’re I was truly disappointed with results.
  • I have to mention they have a very nice admin section for their advertisers where they can manage their listings and profiles, view their different products and get an estimate of the traffic they should be getting.

What it means: I really like what the RHD team has done with their new site. In the online directories arms war, the game seems to be focused on two main elements: simplified usage and quality of data. And the RHD online team is definitely focused on those elements, the same way we were at Yellow Pages Group when I was there. But it also made me realize that the industry is still very much looking at Google (or Yahoo or MSN) as the local search benchmark.  Instead of doing incremental innovation, how do you leapfrog search engines? In other words, what is keeping Google up at night? The answer to that question leads to a possible new strategic direction.  Community, humans, social interactions, marketplaces are what’s keeping Google up at night. Facebook and Linkedin (for example) have built up amazing identity and social graph connection systems, which they can (and will) leverage as much as they can. And we will get to ask ourselves the age-old question: who do we trust most? Man or Machine?

Update: the official announcement.