Over the past several months, the search space has seen a focused effort on selling products locally. New local search sites have emerged, Google and other companies have launched initiatives, and others have invested in businesses to provide missing local search pieces.
Take, for example, R.H. Donnelley's acquisition of LocalLaunch and YellowPages.com's opening of 22 offices around the country focused on online advertising. Does this mean on- and offline media take different skill sets and possibly different sales forces? I can't think of many other media that have successfully cross-sold different advertising products.
This trend marks a change for local search ad sales. In particular, while yellow-pages publishers have been selling at the local level for a long time, they're no longer the unquestioned leaders of all local advertising media. Meanwhile, there's been a recent swell of pure-plays getting into local. Yellow-pages publishers have had to mount a more aggressive effort to sell local advertising online.
Traditional local media have had to adapt as well. For example, the Tribune Company owns newspapers and television stations across the country and, for the most part, has different sales groups for the various products each medium offers. The approach makes sense. After all, trying to cross-sell local merchants across different media is often confusing, not to mention that price points can differ greatly. What's more, a commissioned sales force selling multiple products will typically gravitate toward the higher-priced product as opposed to the product that might be a better fit.
As existing media players fight for local online advertising share, new players have appeared, such as new local search sites. What distinguishes these new ventures? Their sites are locally focused on every aspect it takes to be successful in the online local advertising game: their own local ad products are sold directly to local merchants by their sales force on their local search sites.
I recently had the chance to visit one such local search start-up, Fave, located in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Its office is sandwiched between local retail stores on a busy Chicago street with tons of foot traffic. When you walk into its offices, you quickly feel as though you're in a retail location as opposed to a search engine's corporate office. It has several computer kiosks set up for ad demonstrations -- and for consumers to check out the Getfave.com search engine. The business is currently focused on creating video ads for local merchants.
Another interesting and relatively new start-up is Citysquares in Boston. This local search destination is focused on providing unique content for Boston neighborhoods. Its approach offers yet another vital local search model. After all, when you live in large metro areas such as Boston, Chicago, or New York, people identify more with neighborhoods. A neighborhood pizzeria advertising in the Chicago area may be useless, but being able to advertise and reach consumers in a neighborhood such as Lincoln Park is a unique selling proposition the merchant will clearly understand.
Time and again I hear that local merchants are confused and overwhelmed by the many online advertising programs they are pitched every day. Not too long ago local merchants had fewer advertising products to choose from: direct mail, newspaper, and yellow-pages advertising. For the most part, there are typically one or two competing newspapers and yellow-pages advertisers in a given market.
However, hyper-local search sites such as Fave and Citysquares may well be the future of local online advertising. They have local sales forces focused on selling very specific online advertising products that can simplify the process of getting local merchants online.
Today, a local business has hundreds of online advertising options as it builds an overall program. The companies that simplify and clarify the process of buying local online advertising for the local merchants will have a key advantage in local search.
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Brian Wool is VP of content distribution at Localeze, a Chicago-based local search company. Established in 2003, Localeze specializes in connecting consumers with local merchants through online content collection, enhancement, and distribution. An expert in local Internet search marketing, Brian leads the distribution efforts at Localeze and is responsible for content delivery to over 35 leading search engines, Internet yellow pages, and local directories. Brian previously held various sales and marketing positions at comScore Networks and Claritas.