Over the past few weeks, and for many more to come, there will be a lot of debate about search engine consolidation. Today, the talk du jour is a Yahoo and News Corp. deal, a potential integration with MySpace, and whether the talk is a real option or an attempt to force Microsoft to increase its offer for Yahoo. No matter, the consolidation discussion will continue.
One sure thing is that Yahoo is in play, and I don’t see the merry-go-round stopping until they link up with a solid partner. At the end of the day, it’s doubtful that Yahoo will be an independent player in 2009, and my bets are on Micro-hoo. While there are obvious challenges to a Microsoft-Yahoo deal, including cultural, technological, and timing issues, Microsoft has the cash and the most vested interest in seeking a partner to increase their search scale and make inroads in the fight to give Google a real challenger.
No matter who wins the Yahoo prize, however, success in local search will continue to be driven by three key elements: content, traffic, and technology.
Search engine consolidation could certainly create gaps in the market as the companies involved are likely to take their eyes off the local search ball while dealing with integration issues. This would create an Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) market opportunity to continue to capitalize on their strength—content gathered from large feet-on-the-street sales forces, proprietary databases of local business information, and long standing relationships with millions of small businesses. Search engine players still have not cracked the code on these select IYP strengths.
While the latest data indicates that IYPs are gaining in their share of local commercial searches, traffic remains a challenge in comparison to search engines. Each IYP is tackling it by increasing the destination appeal of its site with new and improved content and tools—user reviews, maps, comparison shopping, video content, and more.
One area IYPs will likely be affected by search engine consolidation is distribution deals, in which IYP advertisers’ listings and content are placed on AOL, Google, MSN, and/or Microsoft and other search engines. For example, Superpages.com has relationships with Google, MSN, and Yahoo. YellowPages.com has relationships with Yahoo and AOL, and R.H. Donnelley, owner of DexKnows.com, has relationships with both Yahoo and Google. How will these deals be affected by consolidation? Presumably, the contracts will be renegotiated as many of the deals are based on traffic and the ultimate goal for a consolidated search player such as Microsoft and Yahoo is increased traffic.
For local online advertisers there are both pros and cons to search engine consolidation. The downside is potentially higher prices, but on the flip side, there is the prospect of increased traffic. Fewer options and less fragmentation typically results in higher pricing for more eyeballs. It could also mean a local search campaign that is easier to administer.
Today’s small, local businesses, which provide the greatest untapped opportunity for all local search players, are still challenged with their online media buys. Yellow Pages publishers have taken on the role of trusted media consultant to help small businesses navigate the fragmented online media landscape by delivering a large volume of high quality local business leads through a variety of media—print and Internet Yellow Pages and search engine marketing—through the convenience of one organization.
It is hard to say who will be the ultimate winners in the overall local search market, but the bottom line is that Yahoo’s days as an independent are likely numbered. IYPs have an opportunity to capitalize on market consolidation by leveraging their strong local content and business databases, long-standing relationships with small businesses, and technology resources to deliver the most relevant local search results.
Neg Norton leads the Yellow Pages Association (YPA), its member publishers, national marketing agencies (“CMRs”) and supplier organizations to promote, grow and advocate on behalf of a print and electronic Yellow Pages industry. The Yellow Pages Association manages the 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.