Will Yellow Pages Face a Sales HR Issue?

Flickr picture by Dok1

In my recent travel, I bumped into a couple of young entrepreneurs (early/mid 30’s) who just launched their local search engine optimization (SEO) / search engine marketing (SEM) firm. Very knowledgeable about online advertising, it turns out they’re ex-Yellow Pages sales representatives.

They tell me they quit to create their own company because they were tired of having to sell online Yellow Pages ad products they didn’t believe in. They were reading about Google, Facebook, Twitter and felt the products they were offering to SMBs wasn’t up to par with other online options.

Hmmm…

In the last 10-12 years, directory publishers’ sales organizations went through huge changes. Most of the publishers had to go through a re-engineering of the sales personnel ranging from hiring online-savvy sales individual, giving packages to older employees who couldn’t adapt, offering training, training, and more training to the sales force to get them to sell online YP ad products (outside of print) and then a new basket of products that includes web sites, videos, Google AdWords, etc. Huge efforts. But it’s a well-known fact that directory publishers still don’t really like to re-sell third-party branded products like Google AdWords (which partially explains why Google recently launched their own telesales effort).

Thinking about these entrepreneurs, I was reminded of this interview I did with Seth Godin two years ago. Godin had told me “Google is the Yellow Pages” which would make a jump into SEO/SEM natural for ex-YP reps.

And it got me thinking. Smart merchants want to buy smart advertising but the corollary is true also: smart reps want to sell smart advertising. Sometimes it’s print Yellow Pages, sometimes it’s internet Yellow Pages but sometimes it’s Google AdWords. And if smart entrepreneurial reps don’t get the products they think their customers will buy, they might choose to leave and create their own company.

This means two things for directory publishers (and probably for other local media sales forces as well):

1) Sales rep retention might become an issue if publishers don’t properly execute their multi-source product strategy, by offering best-of-breed ad products.

2) This might force them to fully embrace their “one-stop shop for SMBs” sales strategy, without looking back, even if it means selling Google AdWords without any directory component.

BIA/Kelsey Marketplaces 2010: Key Takeaways From Day 1

Rick Ducey, Chief Strategy Officer at BIA/Kelsey just listed his takeaway thoughts from day one of the Marketplaces 2010 conference:

* Video works

  • AT&T : 25% more tracked calls to businesses with video
  • It ain’t easy being a vertical
    • Job Brod (AOL): hyperlocal is a complex space
    • Sam Sebastian (Google): verticals vary by maturity of businesses and customers
    • Brad Peterson (Matchcraft): product sets, margin expectations driven by geo-vertical analysis
  • It’s the platform stupid
    • From software-as-a-service to mobile (leveraging scalable, low cost technology platforms easily accessible)
    • Live help ranks 3rd in what people want
    • DIY vs. DIFM: options are do i) nothing, ii) build, iii) buy, iv) partner
    • Maintain platform agnostic approach, focus on what works for geo-verticals.
  • What advertisers want
    • Budget-based model
    • Optimized campaigns
    • Call tracking
    • Sales tracking
    • Search engine optimization
    • Social
    • Upgrade path
    • Landing pages
    • Sell and support: close, fulfill, support
  • Mobile is the glue
    • Mobile acts like the glue layer between digital and traditional advertising
    • Audience is there, 25% of Americans get news on phones
    • Bundle mobile with existing ad products
    • Mobile is the last mile touch in the purchase funnel
    • Mobile is game changer for advertorial
    • News applications have highest downloads and retention
    • Users look at news applications 11 times per week
  • Content content everywhere
    • Structured and unstructured data
    • User generated content
    • Mayors
    • Community journalists
    • News leads
    • Video
    • Associative content (building and curating network)
  • Rules rule
    • Game mechanics
    • Business rules
    • Local business marketing is “give to get” environment (like social media)

    Local Searches Are Now 12% of All Searches

    According to this study done by the [praized subtype=”small” pid=”20178e0104701d2c9f1cfd74135355c7″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] and ComScore, local searches online are growing at a faster pace than regular Web searches. Year over year, local search volume grew by 58% (vs. 21% for regular search) for a total of 15.7 billion searches. This represents 12% of all searches at the top 5 search portals.

    In addition, “Internet Yellow Pages and locally-focused online business directories also saw double-digit growth of 23 percent in the same period, totaling 4.6 billion searches in 2008. ” The press release adds: “75 percent of the top 100 keywords searched on Internet Yellow Pages sites were non-branded, indicating that a majority of consumers have not decided on a specific company or product brand when they begin their search. ” One last data point: “nearly half (45 percent) of Internet Yellow Pages and local online directory searchers made an online purchase in the fourth quarter of 2008.”

    What it means: The discrepancy between local search and online directory search growth means two things. First, that directory companies still need to play catch-up in terms of user relevancy and branding vs. search engines. Second, that search engine optimizing your local directory content is still critical to get found in regular search.

    I’m also a bit disappointed at the number interpretation in the press release. To start with, on the non-branded keyword stats, I don’t think you can infer that people are mostly searching on non-branded terms when they use an online directory. We would have to look at total search volume to properly interpret those numbers, not the top 100 keywords. Obviously, top keywords will be generic terms (more people search for the word restaurant than the name Joe’s Pizza). But I’m convinced the sum of all business name searches is certainly higher than the sum of all keyword searches. It’s basic long tail theory.

    The second data point (online purchases by online directory searchers) is nice but it would have been better to compare it with local search “searchers”. I’m convinced data shows that online directory users end up purchasing at a higher percentage than search engine users but we don’t know for sure.

    Seat Pagine Gialle: An Overview of Their New Strategic Plan

    PagineGialle_LOGO

    Last Friday, the exec team at [praized subtype=”small” pid=”7a4e7f1586dc54f8f2f5f0da536a084d” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] presented their 2009-2011 plan to financial analysts. I just read through the presentation and here are the interesting highlights:

    2008 Overview:

    • Difficult year 2008 for the group (total revenues are down 4.8%) but they met their ebitda guidance (nonetheless down 6.6%)
    • In Italy, print revenues were down 1.1% but online revenues were up 18.4%. Online revenues represent more than 15% of all Italian revenues.
    • Interestingly, Seat experienced explosive online revenue growth (+27%) in Q3 and Q4 2008 because of new Internet offers launched in September. I believe those new products are priority placement and SEO/SEM offers (see slide 10 of this presentation).
    • Online product gross margins (72%) are almost as high as print margins (75%)

    Usage and advertiser data:

    • 22M print users
    • 11M online users
    • 500M look-ups per year (print & online)
    • 500,000 advertisers

    Ongoing strategy:

    • Their main strategy: “Invest in the Italian core business and protect Seat’s strong cash flow generation to position the Group for successful refinancing of debt in 2011”. It could be summed up as “Italy and Online” + “International assets not core”.
    • 2011: they expect Internet revenues to be higher than 25% of total revenues
    • Online usage will be driven by improved functionalities, SEO and branding
    • Online revenues will grow through product innovation and new salespeople
    • Move to pay-for-performance in their voice product

    ILM '08: Mark Canon's Vision for Local Media

    Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

    In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

    1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
    2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
    3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
    4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype=”small” pid=”10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

    On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

    And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

    1. Smart contexts, smarter content
    2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
    3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
    4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

    Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

    What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

    ILM ’08: Mark Canon’s Vision for Local Media

    Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

    In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

    1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
    2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
    3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
    4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype=”small” pid=”10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

    On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

    And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

    1. Smart contexts, smarter content
    2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
    3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
    4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

    Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

    What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

    ILM '08: Mark Canon's Vision for Local Media

    Mark Canon, President of New Media, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”133f6afd48025ab56a05c6d6f6dace27″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], had the opening keynote on Day 1 of the Kelsey Group ILM ’08 Conference.  He shared with us his “facts on the ground”, described the cultural anthropology of traditional local media companies and tried his hand at forecasting the future in local media (always a topic I like!).

    In “facts on the ground”, he offered the following:

    1. Search engines are the new browsers. This means the local media industry has to get used to paying “taxes”.  Perry would call it “owning” the third page of search.  It’s also one of the reasons why search engine optimization has become such an important notion in local media in the last 12-18 months.
    2. Usage is agnostic and context is king. We have to learn about context and accept its limitations (ex: mobile device).
    3. Information is getting smarter. Local media should own the context, not the content. It should rent the framework (work with technology companies that understand context and that worry about specifics 24/7)
    4. Publishers will sell what they don’t have (ex: [praized subtype=”small” pid=”10764fab856fb75ccc92cc5055c1997f21″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] ad network). They need to create what they need but sell what they can.  They need to manage capacity, not scarcity and they should focus on conversion.

    On a cultural corporate anthropology level, he explains that directory publishers (and other traditional media firms online I would add) have been working like islands (with restricted access, a lot of editorial control and bespoke ad sales).  Currently, the activity on the Web is more like archipelagos (with aggregated data, user-generated content, more open access, and ad networks).  He foresees a future where we operate in “ecologies” (with federated data, semantic context, fluid distribution, and ad ecologies).

    And, according to Canon, what does the future hold in local media?

    1. Smart contexts, smarter content
    2. Voice search and navigation (Google’s voice search on the iPhone come to my mind)
    3. Socially mediated commerce (i.e. leveraging online word-of-mouth)
    4. Dimensional consumption (i.e. personalization)

    Update: Phil from Wellcomemat.com sent me this link to a video of the presentation.

    What it means: one of the most insightful presentations I’ve ever heard at a Kelsey conference. I’ve known Mark since his Switchboard.com years (YellowPages.ca was running on the Switchboard platform from 1999 to 2002) and he clearly showed his experience in search and local/vertical media.  I especially like the following insights: a) adapt to the context (the Web is not Print, Mobile is not the Web) b) rent the framework (work with experts) c) build a local ad network (increase your reach!) and d) embrace socially mediated commerce (I believe word of mouth is the great local search disruptor).

    YouTube videos in Google Maps: Local Video SEO

    Google just announced that you can now embed YouTube videos in merchant profiles in Google Maps. Videos are displayed in the “Photos & Videos” tab in the extended listing bubble that appears when you click on a listing.

    “Local business owners can easily add YouTube videos along with other content such as business details, photos, and descriptions to their listings. To do so, simply upload your videos to YouTube and ensure that the ’embed’ option is turned on. Then, associate your video to your business listing through the Local Business Center.” A bit difficult for the average small merchant but fairly easy if you run a local SEO program.

    The Google blog points to this example, I Dream of Cake in San Francisco.

    I Dream of Cake San Francisco Google Maps YouTube Videos

    What it means: most major North American directory publishers have launched their local video offer in the last 12 months (often powered by TurnHere or Weblistic). I think this will drastically increase the value proposition for those local videos, if publishers agree to distribute their videos in YouTube and Google Maps. I think they should do it and leverage the enormous amount of traffic found in those two sites.

    Canpages Leverages Blog to Increase Brand Awareness

    Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to moderate a social media panel at the Infopresse conference on social networking. Sitting on my panel was Guillaume Bouchard from NVI, a Montreal-based SEO/SMO firm. He explained to the crowd of more than 280 people how, by using social media tools, he manages to generate brand awareness and increase the online street cred of Canpages, a Canadian directory company competing against Yellow Pages Group in Canada.

    It starts with the creation of original and quirky content in the Canpages blog. His team then seeds that content in the various social news sites like Digg and Reddit. Working with a large network of friends and contacts, he’s able to catch the eye of online influencers who might (or might not) promote that piece of original content.

    Canpages blog Weird Canadian Restaurants

    His best success so far with Canpages has been this blog post about “Weird Canadian Restaurants”. It was submitted to Digg and generated 676 diggs and 101 comments. It was promoted to the first page of the site and generated good traffic (he did not disclose how much) for the Canpages blog. It was also favorited by people in StumbleUpon, another social tool that has the reputation of driving a lot of traffic. The post was well enough crafted to be picked up by Dan Mitchell from the New York Times, which generated some more traffic to the Canpages blog.

    Canpages Digg Weird Canadian Restaurants

    What it means: a great use (and a great understanding) of social media tools and sites to build a new directory brand and make it more exciting for “cool kids”. This is also a great strategy to build new incoming links to your domain, thereby increasing your page rank in Google. You’ve got to wonder though if there are long-lasting positive effects from both a brand equity and online directory site usage but I don’t think it hurts given the runner-up position they occupy in the market.

    The Kelsey Group’s 2008 Local Media Trends: “A Pivotal Year for the Global Yellow Pages Industry”

    The Kelsey Group (TKG) just released their 2008 Local Media trends. They believe 2008 will be a pivotal year for the global Yellow Pages industry. Here are the highlights:

    • Print local media: TKG wonders if the directory business will continue to be as recession-proof as it used to be, as more ROI-driven online local ad products are launched. For large US urban areas, they also talk about the creation of print opt-out plans, important market rescoping and the launching of new directory formats. They also expect higher cannibalization of traditional media sales, mostly from search engine click packages.

    • Online local media: 2008 is the year where user-generated content becomes a critical aspect of consumers’ decision-making process. Merchants will be widely invited to join that conversation as well. In addition, auto and real estate verticals will continue to develop in the local search context, new devices will lead to new sources of searches and local search inventory will increase drastically.

    • Sales: 2008 will continue to see the uphill struggle to build independent local sales channels.

    • ROI/Performance-based products: this year, we will see the beginning of the untethering of print and online usage and more use of robust ad reporting. TKG thinks that 2008 is the year where the promise of pay-per-call gets realized as multi-channel management becomes a critical success factor.

    • Verticalization: from a seller perspective, high ad spend categories will attract lots of sales competition from many different sources: SEO/SEM firms, newspapers, vertical sites, start-ups, etc. In national sales, we will see more ad localization.

    • New products: Video, Mobile and Outdoor, with a mention that “video is where the immediate action is”.

    You can find the Praized blog’s 2008 predictions here.

    What it means: As a regular attendee of Kelsey Conferences, I am usually well aware of most of the local media trends but there are a couple of surprises in there for me. First, the creation of opt-out programs for print directories in some US markets. I did not realize the pressure was high on US publishers to create these mechanisms. The second one is Outdoor as a new product. I wasn’t aware that local media companies were looking actively to sell “outdoor” products. In my mind, it’s the kind of interesting opportunity that’s always discussed but is never “low-hanging fruit” enough to execute. Will be interesting to follow. I also like the call to disconnect print and online usage. TKG was the first organization to warn directory companies not to couple print and online value for too long (back in 2001-2002). What they’re saying is: there used to be a time where bundling print and online usage was useful to sell but online is now strong enough to sell on its own.