Welcome to the jungle. As the first column from the Yellow Pages Association and the Local Search Guide, it is very exciting to join the Locals Only forum with some of the most notable local search contributors in the industry. Representing more than 150 Yellow Pages publishers, we are looking forward to sharing the internet Yellow Pages perspective—from research to challenges—on the jungle we all know as local search.
We thought it would be appropriate to start with some history and our position on the state of the industry. The Yellow Pages were the original local search tool—the first medium to provide a directory of advertisers for consumers looking to buy. The medium is needs-driven, not content driven—as in “I need a plumber because my pipes are frozen,” or “I need a pizza, and not the frozen kind.” Local search is that same model online, and early on, before some of today’s internet leaders were even out of high school, Yellow Pages publishers recognized the opportunity of the internet and the long tail of their successful local advertising model, leveraging their small and medium business (SMB) relationships and consumers’ ongoing idiosyncratic needs.
Today, IYP searches account for more than 30 percent of local commercial searches online, and this number doesn’t include the distribution deals several of the powerhouse IYPs have forged with search engines. While many players were quick to discount the IYPs’ ability to compete with the search world’s big names—Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft—IYPs have maintained relevancy, increased their offerings, and grown their traffic and presence. In fact, the number of IYP searches increased 102 percent from Jan. 2005 through June 2007. IYP users, like Yellow Pages users, are “ready-to-buy” consumers who look for local businesses to fill a need—many considered life events, as in “I’m getting married and I need a florist, a baker, and a candlestick maker.”
In taking a look at what has helped IYPs compete, you can’t ignore the link to the print Yellow Pages’ on-the-street sales force of 15,000 plus, not to mention a vast database of local market information. Having a solid corporate infrastructure can be a good thing (really, it can), especially when it has been dealing in the local advertising market and working with SMBs and national brands to drive local presence since 1883.
In spite of all this, IYPs do face challenges. The number-one challenge is traffic. Number-two is brand recognition. While IYP leaders recognize that their sites do not currently generate the traffic, nor do they have the brand recognition of some of the big search engines, they are working to address those challenges by partnering and acquiring local search properties to strengthen their core competencies—local data, local sales, and strong relationships with local businesses. In 2007, DexKnows.com acquired LocalLaunch to improve their search engine marketing services. The company also acquired Business.com, a leading business search engine and pay pay-per-click network. Idearc Media, home to Superpages.com, acquired the LocalSearch.com URL, made a strategic investment in AmericanTowns.com and acquired InfoSpace’s directory assets, including Switchboard.com. Additionally, Yellowpages.com acquired Ingenio to bolster its pay-per-call product.
Challenge number three is common to all local search players: the SMB market. While IYPs have the benefit of a foot in the SMB door with large local sales forces, transitioning the SMB market (20 million U.S. businesses according to the U.S. Small Business Association) to an online model has not been easy. SMBs have limited time, resources, and budget, and many still lack the know-how to start with online advertising. Yellow Pages are capitalizing on this challenge by transforming their sales forces into multi-media consultants that assist SMBs with their IYP and print Yellow Pages buys as well as mobile and video offerings, search engine marketing programs, direct mail campaigns, and more.
So, what does all this mean? In the U.S., it means that economic challenges, the Hollywood writers’ strike, the Olympics, and the presidential election will converge to make 2008 a pivotal year for all media, including local search. It means we should expect more consolidation, more mobile, more video, more accountability, and more diversified media companies. It means the local search market is quite a jungle, full of both risk and great opportunity.
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.