Traditional classifieds advertisers are experimenting with Google Base, as vertical listings services decide if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Matthew Scherg used to post job ads on Monster.com, but the leads were lacking and the price became too high for SITE Staffing, his Wisconsin-based job placement firm. On Monday, the skilled staffing coordinator began posting free ads on Google Base in hope of finding candidates to fill roles as manual lathe machinists and sheet metal fabricators.
Scherg knows the Google name, and uses the site for Web searches, so "it just made sense as something to try out," he explained. Scherg figures he'll post anywhere from 30 to 50 jobs on the new free local classifieds site in the next month, and go back daily to update his listings.
Sherg is just one of many advertisers testing the performance of Google Base, the search company's free structured data entry system that has the potential to challenge online classifieds players. As Google works to drive more traffic to Google Base listings, just last week beginning to feature them more prominently on Google.com search results pages, ClickZ sought out advertisers to learn their reasons for trying Google Base, and determine how it is performing thus far.
Cadillac and Saab of Greenwich, Connecticut yesterday placed its first car listings on Google Base. The car dealer also posts listings on Cars.com, which "is not producing that much" in the way of leads, according to a company spokesperson. (It's bringing in about 5 or 6 leads per month). So, the luxury vehicle seller decided to see what other online ad options were available and turned to Google Base. The dealer believes free listings service Craigslist is unfamiliar to its older target market, but believes Google is "a little bit more broad. I think more people would know more about [Google Base] than Craigslist."
Gary Malin, COO of Manhattan residential real estate brokerage Citi Habitats, says the company has been posting listings to Google Base since late February and uploads its listings in bulk to the system. "I have not taken money away from my standard advertising at this point [because of either Craigslist or Google Base]," said Malin. Citi Habitats also buys classifieds in both The New York Times print and online editions, and has a staffer dedicated to search engine optimization. The broker has placed more than 3,400 of the 680,000+ listings in the Google Base housing category. Google Base includes The New York Times classifieds in its listings index.
"I don't see [Google Base] as a threat," commented Terri Sutryk, Web developer at ABetterWay.com, a free real estate listings site that derives ad revenue from local contractor listings. In fact, Google Base has helped drive an average of 700 to 800 unique visitors each day to ABetterWay.com, she said. The company has featured 1,900 listings on average on Google Base for the past three months, and uploads listings in bulk each day to the system. "Technology is bringing the buyer, seller and real estate professional together whether Google's involved or not," opined Sutryk.
Google is certainly not the first company to venture into the free online classifieds business. However, the fact that the Google brand is so well known and synonymous with finding anything online positions Google Base as a strong contender in the local search and classifieds business.
"Now I believe more of the smaller [real estate] firms and even the agents are going to quickly become aware of Google Base," predicted Peter Conti, VP at local advertising research firm Borrell Associates Inc.
But some question whether Google has mastered the subtleties of the classified search space, which is very different from the more generalized search in which the company specializes. For one thing, information in real estate, job and merchandise listings can go stale rapidly. "Vertical search is date stamped...it's not a persistent Web page," stressed Paul Forster, CEO of classifieds search company Indeed. "It's not as if [Google] can just simply map what they have already into the vertical areas." Indeed is not feeding listings into the Google Base system.
Mitch Golub, CEO of Cars.com, is concerned that free sites like Google Base allow fraud to proliferate. "Free sites are a haven for fraud and the fraudsters have attacked used cars as much as any other area that we know of," he commented, adding that shysters have been known to post free listings just to get people to send deposits to phony accounts. But Cars.com isn't shunning Google Base entirely. It's experimenting by sending its vehicle listings feeds to the service.
Other vertical listing sites like CareerBuilder.com and free event listing service MollyGuard feed listings to Google Base, too. Golub believes that his site provides more robust services to car sellers and buyers, and reaches buyers in a more advanced buying stage than a free classifieds site might. He anticipates that, like Craigslist, Google Base will begin charging for some listings as it builds up an audience.
If Google Base drives the right results, SITE Staffing's Scherg would continue placing job ads on the site even if he had to pay, "I'd have no reason not to," he concluded.
In a world where classifieds advertisers have the upper hand, results may just be the key. Craig Donato, CEO of classifieds search firm Oodle, likened the changes in classifieds to the transition from pay-for-publish to pay-for-performance in the online ad space. "We can see a similar sort of rebirth with online classifieds," he observed. How Google Base will stack up in terms of performance remains to be seen.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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