Superpages.com to Broadcast Coupons on Twitter

SuperMedia announced last Thursday a very interesting use of Twitter to broadcast coupons. From the release (.pdf):

Superpages.com today announced the launch of a new initiative on Twitter to drive more leads to its business listings. At no cost to the business owner, Superpages.com is distributing thousands of coupons it houses from its local business listings to 72 city-specific accounts on Twitter.

What it means: I really like this. I think this is a really neat idea to provide more visibility to Superpages.com merchants. I like the fact that they created “local” Twitter channels to make it more user relevant. That’s best practice definitely. I’m a bit disappointed that the coupons are free as I think they are leaving money on the table there. I believe coupons are perfect to monetize the real-time Web and given them away for free undermines future value. We have to assume then this is either a strategy to get merchants to claim their listings to be able to up-sell them later or a content strategy to improve user relevancy. In the context of a content strategy, I would also find third party local coupons and broadcast them in the Twitter feeds. Overall, this the beginning of a very interesting social media initiative at SuperMedia.

Some Thoughts on SuperMedia SME Positioning

As many of you know, Idearc rebranded itself this week as SuperMedia, exited chapter 11 protection and are back trading on the stock market (NASDAQ this time) under the SPMD symbol. For the occasion, they issued a very advertiser-focused press release with a few quotes from CEO Scott Klein.

“SuperMedia will serve as a “catalyst of commerce” for local businesses across the country” (…)

“I have great faith in the strength and promise of America’s small businesses,” Klein said. “Over these past two years the outstanding men and women that drive these local businesses have seen more than their fair share of heartache, instability and struggles.” Klein pointed to the more than 12 million small and medium businesses that are the heart and soul of local commerce and are in need of help. (…)

“On this day I want to make it crystal clear that SuperMedia is stepping up,” Klein said. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder with these good guys – these American entrepreneurs in the fight for their success, becoming their champion and an engine for their growth.” (…)

“We will not rest until every dry cleaner, roofer, auto repair shop and every other local business across America is given the opportunity to grow and thrive,” Klein said. “We are more than marketing. We are more than media. We are over, above and beyond media. We are SuperMedia.”

What it means: I absolutely love the “local merchant” positioning for a directory publisher. In the eyes of consumers, I think “local shopping” is currently perceived to be good for the economy, good for the environment and it’s a powerful communication angle. But it also made me think how much the directory industry has neglected the buyer side of the equation when building products and communicating in the last 10 years. In the 1990’s, print directories were dearly loved by consumers who saw them as very useful and friendly. There was an emotional connection. Unfortunately for the industry, it’s not as true today.

I understand the need for SuperMedia to talk about advertisers in the context of this press release because that’s what Wall Street is mostly interested in (i.e. revenues) but Yellow Pages publishers need to regain the heart of consumers as well. The old habits of focusing on sales and advertisers is not easy to break. Make no mistake. I’m not specifically picking on SuperMedia as they’ve been very active on this front with the Superguarantee program but I think the industry needs to step-up. I ask publishers: what are you doing for consumers today?. How are you helping them make better choices? Are you reducing the time it takes them to find the right merchant? Are you connecting them to the right options? Are they stretching their dollars because of you? If you can make people’s life easier, you have a good story to tell.

10 Things to Focus on When Building a Great Mobile Local App (Peter Schwab – Idearc Media)

This is a post about the Kelsey Group’s DMS ’09 conference which happened two weeks ago in Orlando.

In a presentation titled “Idearc Mobile Growing Revenue”, Peter Schwab, Director of Mobile Product Development at Idearc Media (Superpages), offered 10 things developers should focus on when building a great mobile local application.

10- Focus on growing your user base (build a great product which offers a simple utility plus a “Wow” factor)

9- Embrace location ( location makes mobile its own medium)

8- Give users a voice (through reviews/ratings and real-time input)

7- Remove barriers (build features and pursue channels that get you closer to the user. “On Deck” model still makes money but has too many barriers. Focus on app stores.)

6- Embrace the hardware (camera, compass, video, voice)

5- Explore alternative distribution channels (take your content where the users are today. He gave the example of Sp411 on Twitter. )

4- Measure everything (measure for mobile, not online)

3- Drive non-Yellow Pages revenues (CPM ads, coupons, sponsorships)

2- Are you a “painkiller” or a “vitamin”? (become an ally of your user, users respond to deals. For example, Idearc ranks superguarantee merchants on top of the search results on mobile)

1- Experiment and grow as mobile grows (no silver bullet yet, don’t be afraid to move beyond Yellow Pages. Land lines are dying and mobile is becoming the primary Internet access. Social brings a new engagement model)

As an interesting note, when asked “how much does it cost to build a mobile application?”, Schwab replied “if you’re spending more than $25,000 to build an iPhone application, you’re over-paying”

What it means: reading between the lines, Schwab teaches us two important lessons: 1) adapt to the mobile experience (i.e. don’t simply put your web site on mobile). Hardware is different, usage is different, business models are different; 2) the “perfect” mobile local application has not been invented yet. Iterate quickly, try things and go social.

Did Superpages’ Early Price Skimming Strategy Hurt Their Current Online Growth?

Online business highlights from [praized subtype=”small” pid=”2bc67fd4fc5e5f4c5d9bb21407657a4729″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s Q3 results conference call (from Seeking Alpha)

Revenues:

We reported year-to-date Internet revenue of 223 million, a 6.2% increase compared to the same period in 2007. we reported Internet revenue of 75 million in the third quarter, which is an 8.7% increase compared to the same period in 2007. With respect to Internet revenue, we indicated on our last call that we anticipated getting to double digit growth in the third quarter. With growth of about 9%, we didn’t quite get to that level as the transition from fixed-fee advertising to performance-based advertising products continued.

On the sales reorganization:

The new sales organization consists of 15 geographic regions plus a dedicated internet team.

On their online exec team:

Briggs Ferguson, a former [praized subtype=”small” pid=”c6512f599b9a1b7e6a250deaf060b9fdcf” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] executive, who joined Idearc in April, continues as President of our Internet Business. Briggs’ focus is on executing Idearc’s complete digital strategy as rapidly as possible.

On product penetration:

In addition of the 800,000 clients we have, over 90% of the existing clients are print clients, less than one-fourth are Internet clients

On SEO successes:

In the search engine optimization arena we have seen a 32% increase in SEO traffic to Superpages.com translating to 11 million new page views. We have optimized business profiles for search engines an increase unique visitors by 213%

What it means: reading the whole transcript from Idearc’s Q3 results, I’m struck by the low growth percentage in their online business. According to the latest [praized subtype=”small” pid=”230b2717220fa8377d38b6934a47690022″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] Internet Advertising Revenue Report, online ad revenues in the first half of 2008 were up 15.2% versus the same period last year and search revenues were up 24%. If I remember correctly, Superpages had a price skimming strategy 5-7 years ago.  This means that they quickly grew their online revenues with high-priced online products (web sites, priority placement, etc.) but on a lower amount of customers (smaller penetration). I think that this strategy might have made them vulnerable to the increasing use of online advertising by SMEs. They now need to convince their online non-ads to take the plunge with them.  I think performance-based products serves that purpose but growth might not come as quickly as with fixed-fee products.

Did Superpages' Early Price Skimming Strategy Hurt Their Current Online Growth?

Online business highlights from [praized subtype=”small” pid=”2bc67fd4fc5e5f4c5d9bb21407657a4729″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s Q3 results conference call (from Seeking Alpha)

Revenues:

We reported year-to-date Internet revenue of 223 million, a 6.2% increase compared to the same period in 2007. we reported Internet revenue of 75 million in the third quarter, which is an 8.7% increase compared to the same period in 2007. With respect to Internet revenue, we indicated on our last call that we anticipated getting to double digit growth in the third quarter. With growth of about 9%, we didn’t quite get to that level as the transition from fixed-fee advertising to performance-based advertising products continued.

On the sales reorganization:

The new sales organization consists of 15 geographic regions plus a dedicated internet team.

On their online exec team:

Briggs Ferguson, a former [praized subtype=”small” pid=”c6512f599b9a1b7e6a250deaf060b9fdcf” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] executive, who joined Idearc in April, continues as President of our Internet Business. Briggs’ focus is on executing Idearc’s complete digital strategy as rapidly as possible.

On product penetration:

In addition of the 800,000 clients we have, over 90% of the existing clients are print clients, less than one-fourth are Internet clients

On SEO successes:

In the search engine optimization arena we have seen a 32% increase in SEO traffic to Superpages.com translating to 11 million new page views. We have optimized business profiles for search engines an increase unique visitors by 213%

What it means: reading the whole transcript from Idearc’s Q3 results, I’m struck by the low growth percentage in their online business. According to the latest [praized subtype=”small” pid=”230b2717220fa8377d38b6934a47690022″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] Internet Advertising Revenue Report, online ad revenues in the first half of 2008 were up 15.2% versus the same period last year and search revenues were up 24%. If I remember correctly, Superpages had a price skimming strategy 5-7 years ago.  This means that they quickly grew their online revenues with high-priced online products (web sites, priority placement, etc.) but on a lower amount of customers (smaller penetration). I think that this strategy might have made them vulnerable to the increasing use of online advertising by SMEs. They now need to convince their online non-ads to take the plunge with them.  I think performance-based products serves that purpose but growth might not come as quickly as with fixed-fee products.

Did Superpages' Early Price Skimming Strategy Hurt Their Current Online Growth?

Online business highlights from [praized subtype=”small” pid=”2bc67fd4fc5e5f4c5d9bb21407657a4729″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s Q3 results conference call (from Seeking Alpha)

Revenues:

We reported year-to-date Internet revenue of 223 million, a 6.2% increase compared to the same period in 2007. we reported Internet revenue of 75 million in the third quarter, which is an 8.7% increase compared to the same period in 2007. With respect to Internet revenue, we indicated on our last call that we anticipated getting to double digit growth in the third quarter. With growth of about 9%, we didn’t quite get to that level as the transition from fixed-fee advertising to performance-based advertising products continued.

On the sales reorganization:

The new sales organization consists of 15 geographic regions plus a dedicated internet team.

On their online exec team:

Briggs Ferguson, a former [praized subtype=”small” pid=”c6512f599b9a1b7e6a250deaf060b9fdcf” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] executive, who joined Idearc in April, continues as President of our Internet Business. Briggs’ focus is on executing Idearc’s complete digital strategy as rapidly as possible.

On product penetration:

In addition of the 800,000 clients we have, over 90% of the existing clients are print clients, less than one-fourth are Internet clients

On SEO successes:

In the search engine optimization arena we have seen a 32% increase in SEO traffic to Superpages.com translating to 11 million new page views. We have optimized business profiles for search engines an increase unique visitors by 213%

What it means: reading the whole transcript from Idearc’s Q3 results, I’m struck by the low growth percentage in their online business. According to the latest [praized subtype=”small” pid=”230b2717220fa8377d38b6934a47690022″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] Internet Advertising Revenue Report, online ad revenues in the first half of 2008 were up 15.2% versus the same period last year and search revenues were up 24%. If I remember correctly, Superpages had a price skimming strategy 5-7 years ago.  This means that they quickly grew their online revenues with high-priced online products (web sites, priority placement, etc.) but on a lower amount of customers (smaller penetration). I think that this strategy might have made them vulnerable to the increasing use of online advertising by SMEs. They now need to convince their online non-ads to take the plunge with them.  I think performance-based products serves that purpose but growth might not come as quickly as with fixed-fee products.

ReachLocal Opening Sales Office in Toronto

ReachLocal logo

I’ve heard from a well-informed source that ReachLocal is opening a sales office in Toronto, to better serve the Canadian market. I was able to confirm it when I found these employment ads. Steven Woods, senior recruter at ReachLocal, posted the ads. ReachLocal is a well-funded local search engine marketing firm. According to the Kelsey Group blog, their latest funding round ($55M in October 2007) will be used “to continue the company’s rapid expansion both in the U.S. and overseas, and for technology. In the past 12 months alone, ReachLocal has opened 11 sales offices in the top 10 DMAs. It expects to open a top-down DMA rollout in one market per month throughout 2008 and 2009. The company now claims to have “several hundred ad sales reps.” It sells for most of the local portal and sales engine leaders, including Yahoo!, Google, MSN, AOL and Superpages.com.”

A Conversation with Patrick Marshall, YellowBook’s Chief New Media Officer

Pat Marshall has been in the online directory industry basically since it was created. In fact, when introducing him, John Kelsey and Charles Laughlin (both from the Kelsey Group) called him “the father of Internet Yellow Pages”. According to the press release announcing his Yellow Book nomination, ” Marshall has spent more than 28 years in marketing leadership positions, including as a senior executive with Verizon, Frontier Corporation and R. H. Donnelley. At Verizon, Marshall led the launch and management of SuperPages.com.” So, it was with great pleasure I sat down to listen to this conversation between the Kelsey Group folks and Pat Marshall.

Q: Why did you get back into the Internet yellow pages (IYP) business?

A: I did not want to get back in IYP, I wanted to get back into local search. I also wanted to get back into action (as opposed to the consulting I had been doing in the last few years)

Q: So, is Yellow Book in the local search business?

A: Today we’re more IYP than local search, but the trajectory is going towards local search. IYPs are really good at finding who but not good at finding what.

Q: What are the areas you need to move into to to go into local search?

A: Three things: 1) Infrastructure. Business directories are yearly things and this does not work in the local search world. 2) Traffic. a key directory publisher axiom: advertisers advertise because users use. You need a qualified audience and we’ve done well with that (see this Comscore release). 3) Having inventory. Present a merchant in a context that’s appropriate for him. We don’t have enough inventory today.

Q: Where are you now on a scale of 1 to 5?

A: We’re at 3. We’ve made a lot of progress but I would like to move at twice the current speed. As a senior executive, I need to create the environment where that can happen. We need to focus on the collective IQ.

Q: What are you doing to develop a local search solution supported by research?

A: When people are using local search, they’re not shopping. They’re hiring. You don’t shop for a pool service, a lawyer. You hire these people. The process is three dimensional: urgency, risk, satisfaction.

Q: Let’s talk about verticals. Would the IYP product be further ahead if verticals had been developed earlier and deeper?

A: I don’t think we would have been better off. The industry has gone through enormous changes to get to 2008. In 1995, sales forces were unidimensional. The first year of Superpages.com, we generated $100K in revenues. We missed our target and it was the first time in my life I missed my target. Sales was afraid to bring Internet in conversations because they were afraid merchants would know more than them.

Q: Where is the value in Yellow Book’s online offers? Is it search engine marketing, is it YellowBook.com?

A: It really depends what the customer wants. In some situation, they only want what we called “Googlecaine”. So, you should sell what people are buying.

Q: What kind of partnerships are you looking for?

A: Anyone that can help me solve my three problems listed above. 1) Infrastructure products/services that reduce our costs (but bring a business case), 2) traffic (we’re always interested but talk about the quality of the traffic and how it fits with us), and 3) advertising/inventory products (talk to us about why it’s good for our customers, what skin are you willing to put in the game).

Q: Is it important for Yellow Book that Google, Yahoo!, MSN be successful in local search?

A: Yes, definitely. I doubt that they will invest into a local channel. So, they will come to us to resell their products.

Attorney-Lawyers is a Great Directory Vertical But is it at Risk?

While browsing through this morning’s interesting web links, I found a praized-worthy combo of articles. The first one talks about lawyers advertising in business directories:

“The Yellow Pages AssociationT (YPAT) recently announced that, according to a new Attorney Advertising Perceptions Study from Wiese Research Associates, consumers have rated Yellow Pages as the most acceptable form of attorney advertising. Almost half of respondents said they would use the Yellow Pages to select an attorney if they were not familiar with or referred to a particular attorney. So, it’s no surprise the “Attorneys-Lawyers” Yellow Pages heading ranks sixth out of more than 4,000 headings and generates nearly 290 million references annually.” (via the West Virginia Record)

drive thru lawyer

The second is a letter from a reader of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune talking about their new Superpages directory:

“My new Verizon phone book arrived, and in leafing through it, I discovered that lawyering appears to be the biggest business in town. Before I even cracked the covers of the new directory, I was exposed to five attorney advertisements on the cover’s front and back and on the binding and bottom. Inside, many residential pages had ads for attorneys. And the Yellow Pages? There were 87 pages for attorneys but only 45 for restaurants and 42 for physicians.” (source: HeraldTribune.com)

What it means: this is what I call a great vertical for directory publishers: high usage and advertising revenues. But a comment from one of the lawyers interviewed in the Record makes me think this heading might come under assault by social media soon. “Most of my clients are referrals and former clients” says Charleston attorney Rusty Webb. If the web is truly becoming a big word-of-mouth machine, usage might migrate to social media in the future and this might impact revenues if publishers do not have a social media plan in place.

(Flickr picture by brookenovak)

Traditional Media Bashing: “Yellow Pages Will Be Toast In Four Years”

Over at Search Engine Land, in a blog post titled “Yellow Pages Will Be Toast In Four Years”, Chris “Silver” Smith (who used to work at Superpages) predicts the demise of online directory sites based on his analysis of specific keyword searches in Google Trends. He extrapolates that, based on current trends, searches for the words “yellow pages” might wither down to nothing by 2011.

He concludes: “I think that classic Yellow Pages sites are going to decline, but the companies behind those sites may evolve and merge with other players so that they will survive in new incarnations.”

If Google Trends was a reliable and trusted data source (it’s not! It’s like Alexa IMHO), I think the only thing you could conclude is that consumers search patterns are evolving and they are using these specific keywords less often. They might in fact be doing more precise local searches (plumbers new york, restaurants chicago, etc.) instead of generic ones. But you absolutely cannot predict the evolution of a whole industry based on that limited information.

In that case, I have to ask, why pick such an alarmist title?

Update: Donna Bogatin offers an explanation: “It is not surprising that Search Engine Land would go the route of sensationalist Yellow Pages extinction headlining, on the eve of its “Local” conference. After all, the conference Danny Sullivan hopes to compete against–The Kelsey Group–addressed “Why Yellow Pages Still Matter” just last week.”

Update2: Chris clarifies some of his thoughts on his blog.