Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Danny Sullivan has a detailed description of Overture's Local Match program for advertisers who want to promote their business using the search engines, but doing so in a way that they will focus on local searchers.

Overture Launches Local Match Listings Program
Here is a very insightful story about Overture's local search product. Overture (owned by Yahoo!) is the company that puts the "Sponsored Listings" in Yahoo that are the top three returned search results. The holy grail for the search engines is to tap into the local advertising business that is largely dominated by Yellow Pages publishers.

SearchTHIS: Overture Gets Local Right
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
By Kevin Ryan, Search Columnist

In its second iteration, paid search provider finds smart approach to local experience.

Remember one of the original promises of the World Wide Web? "Local relevant content for all," went the mantra. Until now, marketers and users alike have been forced to live with search content and local information at odds with one another. Like a collected group of "B" movies with cult-like user loyalties, local information and search providers had yet to meet the needs of its constituency in a truly efficient manner.

Local search is said to be worth billions of dollars, yet for a lot of good reasons, local content providers have yet to crack the local code. For the past year, we have watched Internet yellow pages struggle with an identity crisis and search engines catch and release local marketing tools in beta tests, while users get left in the lurch looking for plumbers, lawyers, restaurants and dentists online.

This week, Overture releases Local Match, its second iteration of local search and probably the smartest approach to serving up local content to date. Overture's product seems to be the first of its kind that keeps both users and advertisers in mind while intuitively addressing some of the biggest problems with local search.

What's wrong with local?

For the most part, the notion of applying local dynamics to some type of directional online experience conjures up nasty images. Search providers are competing with Internet yellow pages directories and local destinations or city guides, all trying to create the ultimate local experience but ultimately forming a congealing mass of quasi discernable geographically germane information.

Where can I find a video store with a copy of "Clash of the Titans?" Does my local convenience store carry Nails brand cigarettes? Is there a diner nearby with cheap artwork for sale? Can I use my American Express card at the video store, corner shop and diner? Will they be open when I get there?

Advertisers in Internet yellow pages buy ads that show up in search results where they may or may not have locations, because that's how the former regional bell operating company autocrats designed the ad units. It was a great idea for generating ad revenue but not the best local experience for users. In the absence of accurate data, the national ad seems like a good idea, though.

The user interface for most Internet yellow pages is a bit cumbersome as well. I like to call it the "search, search and search again" tool. User identifies location, guesses at category and then launches the search. Then, user refines the category search. You see, one can never just search for a "hotel" in New York because there are nine categories for "hotels" and you have to pick one before searching again for the result.

Search engines aren't much better. Targeting local searchers in paid listings means assembling an enormous keyword list of keywords, titles and descriptions, and/or applying some level of match technology to a brand name or generic keyword to pick up geographic combinations. In the latter instance, the user is faced once again with the yellow pages problem. Maybe the search result is locally relevant, maybe it isn't.

Of course, it would seem trying to turn an Internet yellow pages into a pay-per-click search engine would be a good idea, right? Verizon tried it earlier this year and replaced the flat fee for ad unit model with a pay-per-click bidding environment. The preferred method -- by phone number -- for many users to respond to an Internet yellow pages ad is now harder to find. All you have to do to update a bid is call it in, relying on the friendly operator to put your ad in the right position. Said process is sadly reminiscent of a used car salesman's tactic of "just sign the contract and I'll fill in the numbers later." While pay-per-call models are currently being tested and released on a limited basis, clearly the pay-per-click migration for online yellow pages is in need of refinement.

Breaking local search paradigms

How does Overture's latest effort break the barriers created by existing local search evils? It's a pay-per-click model that works within the existing Overture advertiser system. It allows businesses without Web sites the ability to advertise in pay-per-click. Location-based paid listings are provided by either a user designation or the "cookie remember me" function.

In short, Overture has solved many of the troublesome issues of local search for both advertisers and users with easy access to maps and the ability to provide critical business information such as hours of operation, methods of payment and specific services offered.

Here's a breakdown of the new local experience.

Integration and representation -- The first question advertisers will ask is, "Can I just move my existing program into a local environment?" Well, yes and no. You can import terms from your existing Overture paid listing program and use keyword suggestion tools, but the ad format is a bit different. Local Match advertisers must have a physical location. A jewel in the crown of this new program is the ability to upload massive amounts of existing location data as quickly as one would upload a paid inclusion feed though advertisers will not be able to modify terms or bids by location. National advertisers with hundreds or thousands of local sales channel listings will be provided in a snap, assuming of course said advertisers are in possession of stated location specific data.

Relevance and user experience -- The real beauty of search engine local models is the absence of the cumbersome search, search and search again interface. A user simply enters a keyword and location and search results are delivered in one step. The advertiser's address provides the listing and description messaging is used to promote the location. Though much of the user interaction will be determined by how Overture's partners integrate the local search functionality, since user location is either pre-determined or self-designated, advertisers will need a physical location. Great news for local businesses, not the best news for virtual businesses -- but seriously, how annoying would it be to get virtual plumber listings when doing a local search?

Advertiser and user symbiosis -- URL inclusion is optional, providing the truly small business that has no time, desire, funds or perceived need to launch a Web site, with the opportunity to advertise. I love my dry cleaner, but I really don't think I would spend a whole lot of time at his Web site. At the same time, I am sure my dry cleaner wouldn't care to spend the time normally assigned to locating my lost articles each week writing titles and descriptions for his search ad. In the Overture model, he won't have to, since the title is automatically created as a business name or business name combined with the geography.
Internet yellow pages tend to deliver ad units in order of amount invested, while relevance is determined by user category selection (search, search, then search again) in the guessing game format. Overture's model offers listings with the bid amount first, followed by location, and lastly, seniority. This model will ultimately allow an easier user interface with a better advertiser experience.

Local search utopia

Overture's local search will be released here in the United States on primary syndication partners like MSN and Overture parent Yahoo! yellow pages, along with other local areas and relevant locations within InfoSpace, to name a few. All of these sites have yellow pages areas, populated with local or national advertisers, which raises an important question. Are we witnessing the end of online yellow pages?

MSN, for example, already has search clutter with multiple paid search listing sources beside crawler-based listings. Now, the Verizon-provided yellow pages listings will be competing with local listings, which users might perceive as more clutter. Clutter, as we have come to know, is the kiss of death for search listings.

Overture doesn't see the two areas in competition. Geoff Stevens, general manager, Overture Local, says, "Local Match is designed to complement existing yellow pages content areas."

The Local Match program may have been designed to complement, but as with any other new ad format or technology, users will decide whether yellow pages or Local Match is better with their click-and-call behavior. My money is on the Overture model, but its ultimate success in overtaking the yellow pages will depend on being able to provide much needed accurate data on a large scale.

iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands: Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech July 12-13, 2004.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Federal Communications Commission Releases Data on Local Telephone Competition

This is a couple of years old, but it gives a quick snapshot of how competitive the local telephone business has become.

Interestingly, most telephone companies have been able to subsidize their wireline operations with profits and cash flow from their Yellow Pages business.

As the cash flow business comes under more competition, the stresses to drive larger profits from the directory business increase. Unfortunately for the utility publishers, the Independent publishers have been aggressively going after their advertiser base.

All of this benefits the advertiser as the competition between publishers makes each work harder to retain and grow the account base.
Can't find the number you're looking for? You're not alone.

FindLaw Legal News: "Slightly more than a third of Americans nationwide have unlisted home numbers, but in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, about half the people choose not be listed in phone directories. (AP Graphic)"

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

OK, a couple of eggheads, one at Berkeley and one at Boston University did an analysis of Yellow Pages pricing model to determine if price discrimination exists in the Yellow Pages industry.

Using the assumption that nearly all Yellow Pages advertising is sold at full rate card (you may continue reading after you stop laughing), they found that where competition exists, pricing tends to have some more flexibility especially toward the upper range of the prices.

The aggressive independents have created quite a stir with utility publishers, and this has benefited the advertiser by keeping markets competitive.

Nice effort folks, but I don't believe you capture the essence of the market reality.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

District attorney sues over solicitations that resemble unpaid bills By CATHY REDFERN SENTINEL STAFF WRITER June 18, 2004

Beware of Yellow Pages bills that appear to be real, but are not the exact company name that you expect.

Here is an article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the District Attorney going after a company calling themselves "Yellow Pages, Inc." based in Anaheim, California.

June 18, 2004

District attorney sues over solicitations that resemble unpaid bills
Sentinel staff writer
SANTA CRUZ - The District Attorney’s Office says a business directory called the Yellow Pages is trying to reach out and fool folks.

Prosecutor Bill Atkinson recently filed a civil lawsuit against the Anaheim-based regional business-to-business directory Yellow Pages Inc.

The suit alleges the company mails solicitations to businesses that look like bills, a violation of civil and business codes.

"It’s extremely confusing," Atkinson said. "And it’s quite possible people will mistakenly pay them when they’re nothing more than an offer of services."

Civil law mandates that solicitations be readily distinguishable from bills, by size, color, disclosures or other means, Atkinson said. The Yellow Pages Inc. mailings also violate business and professional codes governing unfair competition and misleading advertising, he said.

When one arrived last year at WorkSpace, a Soquel office furniture business, employees initially thought it was a bill. Their subsequent complaint made it to the District Attorney’s Office, said Kevin Dueck, whose father owns the company.

Dueck says they continue to get the mailings periodically and have advised their accounting staff to throw them away. The mailings include a perforated section to return with payment, a "total amount" and other trappings of a bill that needs to be paid.

"I don’t know how they honestly do it," he said. "It’s pretty amazing. Someone who is not really watching could easily pay it."

WorkSpace advertises in the SBC Smart Yellow Pages covering Santa Cruz County, which is a sister company to the phone service provider.

The Yellow Pages Inc. advertisements state that they are not affiliated with any phone company.

Atkinson is seeking an injunction to stop the practice and says the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office was successful in doing so. Fines of up to $2,500 per violation are also possible, he said.

"If you want to use this type of a format, you have got to make it real clear that it’s nothing more than a solicitation," he said. "But of course if you follow the civil code, not many people would pay attention."

Atkinson said he will try to resolve the case short of trial and has had discussions with the company’s attorney, Kathy Jorrie of Los Angeles. Jorrie and a Yellow Pages representative did not return calls seeking comment.

Contact Cathy Redfern at credfern@santacruzsentinel.com.

Monday, June 07, 2004

This is an excellent article about the potential convergence of pay-per-click web marketing and pay-per-call web marketing. The key factor is that a telephone call is at least 5 to 15 times more valuable than a click.

I am aware of a few new independent YP publishers that are relying on a pay-per-call model where the advertiser receives a credit on account if a certain number of calls is not generated by the ad.

I don't see this as the wave of the future in print, but online, it could really change the economics of running an IYP

Transforming Clicks
Into Rings
By Bob Tedeschi

Marketers have created the Google empire by paying the company every
time consumers click on an ad. Imagine how much advertisers would pay if
Google and other search engines could get customers to actually call

Herding customers of local businesses to the telephone is the latest
effort of search engines to attract small and medium-size advertisers,
which represent a huge, and as yet untapped, market. According to Greg
Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group, only about 350,000 small
businesses worldwide are using paid search advertising.

In recent weeks, technology companies have begun unveiling new services
to further the effort. The idea behind the services is, simply enough,
to direct customers from search engines to off-line businesses, where
most commerce is actually conducted. The problem is not only that small
businesses typically lack Web sites they can direct Internet searchers
to, but they often lack the expertise or the will to prospect for
customers online.

Sites could encourage calls by highlighting phone numbers with the ads
that run atop or alongside search results, but since Google, Yahoo, FindWhat and others have no way to track a customer's call to the
advertiser, they cannot prove they deserve a fee for helping make the

As an alternative, search engines could adopt the Yellow Pages
approach, where advertisers pay a monthly fee to display a phone number. But
one reason these sites have been so popular with Internet advertisers is
that they charge fees only when a customer engages with the advertiser.
(In online parlance, this is the "pay for performance," or "pay per
click" model.)

New offerings from companies like Ingenio and eStara, though, offer the
search sites a way to tabulate calls generated by searches. Ingenio was
the first to announce an agreement with a search marketing company of
significance, when it signed a deal with FindWhat in April.

The Ingenio service, which is to begin this summer, relies on old
technology: toll-free numbers. When a user types in a search for, say,
plumbers in Tucson, FindWhat's advertisers will display a dedicated
toll-free phone number that Ingenio has secured on the advertiser's behalf.
(Advertisers will eschew Web addresses in their ads.)

When the customer calls the number, Ingenio registers the event and
charges the advertiser whatever fee the advertiser had bid for the right
to appear near the top of the search listings. Ingenio and FindWhat then
share that fee according to a revenue split that neither company would

The buck does not stop there. FindWhat then shares its fee with the
search engine on whose site the ads actually appear (as with Yahoo's
Overture unit, FindWhat exists solely to feed advertisements to search
sites). Advertisers pay Overture a fee so their ads appear alongside search
results on Yahoo and MSN, among others. Likewise, companies pay
FindWhat so their ads can appear near search results on Dogpile, Cnet and
other smaller search sites.

Analysts said that Ingenio's approach was good, but its success relied
on elements that were beyond its control.

"I think it's going to fly," Mr. Sterling, the analyst, said. "How far
and how quickly it'll fly are the questions."

Small businesses have long poured advertising dollars into Yellow Pages
companies and other local media, but those publishers and broadcasters
have local sales agents to pitch the ads and manage accounts. Google,
Overture and FindWhat rely on self-service, where advertisers click
their way through forms to open accounts, and then monitor their ads'

Because many small businesses either have no time or are not willing to
do this on their own, Yellow Pages publishers could be important to
seeding the market for pay-per-call online advertising. FindWhat's chief
executive, Craig Pisaris-Henderson, said he was trying to sell his
pay-per-call search advertising services to Verizon and other Yellow Pages publishers.

Already, FindWhat provides paid search listings to SuperPages.com,
Verizon's online Yellow Pages directory.

"They have the assets to really take this to the next level," Mr.
Pisaris-Henderson said.

But Verizon is not ready to commit, said Eric Chandler, vice president
for e-commerce marketing at Verizon Information Services. Mr. Chandler
said local advertisers might not want a toll-free number displayed,
because it might confuse customers - particularly if the number changed
after a period of months, as could happen with the Ingenio system.
"Still, we like the opportunity here," he said of the pay-per-call approach.

Mr. Pisaris-Henderson said he had not yet signed up advertisers for the
pay-per-call program. "But everyone I've spoken to is very excited," he
said. "It'll probably take several quarters before we see any traction,
but once we do, it'll snowball."

Furthermore, Mr. Pisaris-Henderson said he expected that advertisers
would pay considerably more for a call than they now pay for a click.
Ingenio commissioned the Internet consulting firm Jupiter Research to
survey 336 small businesses, and found they would pay from 5 to 15 times
more for someone to call them than they would for someone to click on
their ad and be taken to a Web page.

An Ingenio competitor, eStara, provides an alternative to the
800-number method. In April, eStara began marketing a service to let search
sites present a "push to talk" button alongside search-related ads. When
clicked, the link opens a page that prompts users to type in their phone
numbers, and gives them an option to either talk to the merchant
through the PC or have the merchant call back within a specified amount of

Ian Halpern, eStara's director of marketing, said the company was
pitching its product to the major search companies, "and it's something that
everyone is very interested in."

"It's something people think is the next logical step," Mr. Halpern

It is also a logical next step for both eStara and Ingenio, which have
built modest-sized companies with phone-related Internet services.
EStara's push-to-talk service appears on the Web sites of J. Crew and
Continental Airlines, among many others who use the feature to enhance their sales

Until this year, Ingenio's primary business was Keen.com, a site that
facilitates calls between consumers and business advisers, psychics and
phone sex operators, among others. The pay-per-call search advertising
service, however, could give Ingenio a toehold in a market that is
expected to generate more than $2 billion in sales this year.

And that was just from selling advertisers clicks, not calls, from
prospective customers, said Marc Barach, Ingenio's chief marketing officer.
In giving local businesses the chance to generate calls from customers
looking for their services, Mr. Barach said, "The market we're looking
to is substantially larger than just targeting a click."

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

News release from the YPIMA. Mostly, these news releases are self-serving rehashes of industry data. However, in this case I believe that the information is somewhat valuable.

It wasn't that long ago that attorneys were barred from advertising.

While I can't honestly say that the world is a better place because of the attorney advertising, I can say that the world is a better place because attorneys have the RIGHT to advertise their business.

The Yellow Pages continues to be a primary source for new leads for attorneys as well as thousands of other businesses.

Read the story.
Americans Exercise Widespread Access to Lawyers in Yellow Pages; Attorneys-Lawyers Yellow Pages Heading Generates More Than 263 Million Look-Ups Per Year