Last month, I gave the keynote presentation at the Data Publishers Association (DPA) meeting in London. The DPA is made-up primarily of directory publishers: Yellow Pages, B2B directories, Classifieds, etc., and the topic for the conference was how video can drive online revenues for Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) and other directory sites. Other presenters included spotzer, Brightcove, phorm, and the IAB. As I was preparing my presentation, I found myself struggling to define what the role of video actually should be for a directory site: another form of advertising to yield revenue OR part of a broader content strategy to drive traffic and better engagement with directory sites (or both…)?
Over the past 10 years, I have worked extensively with Yellow Pages publishers and directories globally on a variety of topics ranging from local search to SEO, search best practices to user experience. I have always been impressed with the scale of these businesses. According to Simba Information 2008 US Revenues for Yellow Pages was $16.6B with approximately 20 – 25% coming from the online channel. Serving a target market of the 23MM businesses in the US, directory publishers leverage this scale of business information to organize content into tens-of-thousands of topics and upsell enhanced listings, category inclusion, and detailed company profile pages to local businesses.
All of this content flows through the online product into search optimized landing pages which typically rank well with the crawlers. The directory publishers have convinced local merchants that paying for an enhanced listing drives leads both online and offline, and the reality is that a company profile page on an IYP site probably ranks better than the local merchant site as directory publishers invest heavily in SEO programs and benefit from scale of content.
On the surface, the role of video for a directory publisher seems to be another “enhanced” product that can be sold to the customer for several hundred dollars a year. The content is essentially a commercial for the local business. For companies that cannot produce their own videos, the IYP can create the script and send a small video production crew on-site to produce the video for a fee. This results in more meta-data and scripts which can then be used in the IYP publishing strategy to create additional SEO friendly content and pages, and can also be uploaded to YouTube to drive more leads. Publish a video site map and thumbnails from the video will appear in Google’s search results, driving higher click-throughs. At $300/year, selling this enhancement to 20,000 companies yields $6MM in margin friendly revenue. Great, we’re done.
As I thought more about this, however, I realized that this strategy might not make much sense. Sure, video content pages might generate more SEO referrals, but am I as the customer really going to watch 20 video commercials of local plumbers before deciding who to use? No. If I need a plumber, it’s probably time sensitive and I’m going to call them until I find one that is available at the right price. Furthermore, is there really any way to differentiate between vendors through a 30 second video? Probably not. The local business will likely see this as well and be less inclined to pay for this service. Lastly, for the directory publisher, $6MM in recurring revenue is interesting, but finding a way to grow it $60MM is the real goal. Selling one video to an advertiser every year doesn’t seem to provide this type of scale.
Another approach would be to look at video less as an advertisement and more as content that needs to be created and updated on an ongoing basis to make the directory site more interesting. For example, the directory publisher could license content from or contract with well known subject matter experts to create informational video related to a specific topic. For example, having Bob Vila produce a series of short-form “how to” home improvement videos would completely change the usefulness of the IYP to a consumer.
Each video could be associated with IYP advertisers that provide relevant products and services. Advertisers would likely pay the IYP for premium sponsorship positions against individual videos as the consumer has credibly identified themselves as being interested in the topic. Bob Vila, Martha Stewart, Consumer reports are all brands that come to mind that could produce content relevant to the IYP experience, and I suspect that most IYP advertisers would be willing to pay significantly to be associated with these brands in the right context.
Additionally, IYP’s could learn from sites such as Demand Media and Howcast media that have specialized in producing large volumes of video at low cost by paying netizens to produce good quality video on a variety of topics. Lastly, rather than selling an individual video advertisement to a local merchant, the IYP could sell a package of videos to local merchants with each episode covering different topics, such as product demonstrations, how-to, service differentiators, etc.
Directory publishers have a unique opportunity to incorporate video content into the IYP user experience in a manner that makes the directories more useful and educational, benefiting both consumers and advertisers. Let’s hope that they avoid the “obvious” strategy and don’t end up just selling video advertisements. Otherwise, they will end up missing out on a lucrative opportunity, just as they missed out on the sponsored listings phenomenon.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.