Local Mobile Search Takes Center Stage As Next-Generation Format Of Yellow Pages: Industry Panel Weighs In

The importance of valuable mobile content and services is undeniable—just observe the sea of people talking, text messaging, and searching on mobile devices in nearly every personal and business setting these days. What remains to be seen, however, is which local mobile services and companies will rise to the top with the most relevant offerings that become the “must have” features, and which local mobile companies will fully harness the power of advertising in this medium.

Giving users yet another way to utilize the Yellow Pages with local mobile search is the next-generation format of the medium, as it continues to deliver local content to users’ fingertips when they are ready to find specific business information and make a purchase. The customers ultimately choose the format, and with an estimated 37 million Americans conducting mobile searches on a weekly basis (according to a recent report by iCrossing), local mobile continues to be more widely embraced.

Given the local mobile search boom and its strong implications, we’re hosting a top-level Local Mobile Search panel at the Yellow Pages Association’s upcoming annual conference and exhibition, April 6-8 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Dana Todd, CMO of Newsforce, will moderate the panel, which will provide different perspectives on the opportunities and challenges of new local search tools as well as predictions on the “next big thing” for local search. This should provide for some lively discussion, as panelists include Matt Crowley, CMO of YELLOWPAGES.com; Peter Hutto, vice president of business development and sales for Local.com; Tony Meador, CEO and founder of MobileGates; Jeffrey Porter, general manager of RHD Interactive; Robyn Rose, vice president of marketing for Superpages.com; and Gregg Stewart, senior vice president of TMP Directional Marketing.

The panelists had a few things to say about the state of the local mobile industry when we engaged them in some questions prior to the conference. First, there is always debate over which local mobile content elements are most valuable to consumers. Basic business contact information, e.g., phone number, address, is a given No. 1, but as Jeffrey Porter points out, actionable content is the most valuable, as mobile searchers are typically at the end of the buying cycle and looking to take action. Therefore, maps and driving directions and timely business information, e.g., daily specials, movie times, etc., become extremely important as well. Gregg Stewart added that hours of operation is another top-tier content element, as this type of information helps users determine which business to actually contact.

We also discussed how mobile advertising complements online advertising, as some may question the relationship and level of interactivity between the two. Most panelists agreed that mobile ads are an important extension of online advertising, but how that actually plays out in execution can be quite varied. Jeffrey Porter commented that mobile banner ads, landing pages, and SMS-like text links complement online ad campaigns by sending consumers online to register for promotions, to get daily deals through opt-in text, or to simply retrieve more information about the particular business.

According to Robyn Rose, mobile advertising provides an additional platform to connect with consumers on the go. “Our philosophy is to enable our advertisers access to consumers wherever and whenever they are searching locally.” Providing a different slant on the issue, Dana Todd asserted that users are still in learning mode when it comes to interacting with mobile content, so advertisers may need to further educate mobile phone users to interact with mobile content that isn’t pre-loaded into their provider’s interface. For now, she feels that finding simple ways to create a two-way messaging opportunity is key for advertisers to focus on.

Another hot topic is the role of directory assistance (DA), as more people are using the service on mobile phones than ever before. With both paid and ad-supported free DA services available, Gregg Stewart feels that everyone wins with the ad-supported DA model. “Consumers love it because it is free and advertisers love it because it provides them with a targeted, captive audience. I think these services would see a lot more success with a national ad campaign vs. just WOM marketing,” he said. Tony Meador supports supplementing DA calls with coupons sent directly to the user’s mobile phone—allowing users to opt in to receive a coupon relating to that paid or free directory phone service. The coupon may include maps, directions, food menus, and other items (even more contextual ads) that benefit both the advertiser and the user.

Finally, we polled the panel on what the biggest challenges are for Internet Yellow Pages companies, search engines, and DA companies in driving adoption of their services. Peter Hutto responded that the lack of room on the mobile handset can be a major challenge for advertising due to the limited real estate. He also added that there is a lack of common standards for programming, creating the need to set up hundreds of different versions of a given application to cover all devices and their respective operating systems. Robyn Rose pointed out the challenges of adoption, referencing that consumer adoption is likely to increase as advertiser-pay models are more widely adopted by mobile voice DA companies. She feels that ultimately, adoption will increase as the value of the new services is successfully demonstrated. Gregg Stewart concluded that ensuring access across a fractionalized service platform is the biggest challenge, as Smartphones, iPhones, and non-Internet mobile devices create unique delivery challenges that slow user adoption and audience mass.

Speaking to the context of the user’s situation when using mobile devices, Dana Todd said, “Let’s face it, we’re talking about an incredibly tiny screen here, with tiny little buttons, in the hands of people who are likely in a hurry or doing something else like driving or walking or hanging out with friends. The first challenge is to find appropriate content that truly is consumable and useful in this mind-state, in order to change the engagement from an ‘ears/mouth only’ device to a full sensory experience.”

The local mobile search market has definitively taken the Yellow Pages market to the next level, as it naturally complements both the print and online forms of the medium. As adoption continues to rise, a healthy crop of new and established companies are offering more and more advanced local mobile offerings that serve both the consumer and advertiser marketplace—those who are able to bridge the two together most effectively will surely take the gold in this new market.

Stephanie Hobbs, an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, is the Yellow Pages Association vice president of communications. She also directs the association’s Local Search Guide, a who’s who of Local Search players and perspectives. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, and is the Local Search Association vice president of communications. She also blogs about the industry on the Local Search Insider blog. Follow @localsearchassn on Twitter.

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