Co-opitition is a fairly common occurrence in the local search biz. A lot of the big yellow pages publishers have access to a lot of advertisers but they don’t always have the right mix of traffic. While it’s no small feat to sign up a dentist in Pleasanton, CA, it’s just as hard to get traffic to your site from the relatively few people each month in Pleasanton who are searching for a dentist, even if you have 20 million monthly visitors to your site. So if you’re sitting on a few million in ad spend you have to go out and buy the traffic, usually from your competitors.
And your competitors often have the opposite problem—they get lot of traffic to “dentists in Pleasanton” pages but no advertisers. So they will gladly take your ads if the price is right, and sometimes even if it isn’t, because $0.10 is better than $0.00.
But with the increasing competition in local search it is not so easy to figure out who has the traffic you need any more. There are now thousands of 2nd & 3rd tier local search directories that each get a little bit of traffic that when aggregated adds up to a huge amount of inventory.
This is type of environment in which Google AdSense has flourished. Because of it’s ease of use and it’s broad inventory coverage, it is the monetization mechanism of choice for many small (and big) sites. And while the big agencies and yellow pages publishers can do deals with each other to get access to the inventory each controls, ultimately most of them have to at some point go to Google to get access to the AdWords & AdSense inventory.
Google has created a great thing with AdSense. I work with several sites that generate thousands of dollars a month from of it and I have built an entire business that does nothing but help local search sites optimize their AdSense revenue. I love it and so do my clients. That said, it seems like the world is screaming out for a credible AdSense competitor that is not Microhoo and I think the local search world is the right place to start.
Because yellow pages-type search queries typically signal an intent to purchase locally, they have an extremely high value, particularly in relation to a lot of other types of ad inventory on the web. Local search directories that generate a decent amount of traffic can make anywhere from $15 to $100 eCPMs just by participating in the AdSense program. Perhaps this is why there are so many sites jumping into the local search game.
On the other side you have the big yellow pages publishers and SEM agencies who are shelling out serious cash to Google to act as the middleman to get them distribution. It would seem to me that these guys have a serious incentive to go direct and take the middleman out of the equation.
It wouldn’t be easy, but I imagine a Hulu-like consortium of big yellow page publishers and big Certified Marketing Representatives (CMRs are agencies that typically focus on buying yellow pages ads) could aggregate enough media spend/coverage to make the effort viable from the outset. According to The BIA Kelsey Group locally targeted digital media in the U.S. is about a $3B/year business and growing rapidly. If this Newco could aggregate a significant portion of that spend (and overcome all of the significant technical and political execution obstacles inherent in a consortium like this), they could be a viable alternative to AdSense.
I don’t think this could start out as a self-serve business like AdSense, as early on you would want to maintain high quality control over the network. But I don’t think it would be very hard to find a huge number of qualified distribution partners. And since these companies already have spent years refining how to trade and optimize purchased traffic this would be a natural progression for their business models.
The yellow pages industry’s strongest assets are huge salesforces and large advertiser base. These strengths are being whittled away by new business models and new consumer/advertiser behavior. While creating a new Local AdSense wouldn’t be a cure-all for a challenged industry, I do believe it could be a high-growth path forward for the industry to focus on what it does best.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.