Aussie Yellow Pages Player Bows Full-Fledged Search Engine

  |  July 14, 2004   |  Comments

Australia's Sensis launches a search engine that returns Web sites, yellow pages listings and white pages listings in its search results. It's a strategy that analysts say will be closely-watched by U.S. players.

In a defensive move against the encroachment of search engines into local territory, Australia's Telstra Corp., parent of Australian yellow pages company Sensis, has launched a Sensis-branded search engine.

The new site, www.sensis.com.au, returns Web URLs, listings from Sensis' yellow and white pages, and listings from Citysearch.com.au and Whereis.com.au in its search results.

The site is determinedly Australian in focus. In addition to its global Web content, it boasts the largest selection of Australian content offered on the Web, according to the FAQ on the site.

Sensis' FAQ also claims it is the only search engine in the world to also search Australian residential and business listings through yellowpages.com.au and whitepages.com.au.

"Launching this search engine is Sensis' way of saying, 'We want to own this space, we are not conceding this space to Google or MSN or anyone else,'" said Charles Laughlin, program director of the Kelsey Report. Laughlin said that Sensis, which has a dominant position in the yellow pages area, with little competition, has decided to pursue a dominant position in the online arena.

The new site will run advertisements similar to Google's or Overture's paid placements. These will be identified as featured listings and no more than three will appear on a given search results page, according to the FAQ. Rankings of featured listings are regulated by clickthrough rates as well as the price an advertiser is willing to pay, the FAQ says. Relevancy also is a factor.

The site also has a map feature for Aussie locations. If the system recognizes a uniquely identifiable Australian location, a map preview will be offered.

The graphic user interface of the site is almost as stripped-down and uncluttered as that of Google. There are two search boxes, one for the search term itself and the other, optional, box for a street address or other location identifier within Australia.

Local search is a lucrative opportunity for search engines and Internet yellow pages alike. The Kelsey Group and ConStat Inc. predict local search advertising will likely generate $2.5 billion by 2008 in the U.S.

Yellow pages publishers -- not just in Australia, but globally -- are having to ask themselves to what degree search is a threat to yellow pages and what they are going to do about it, Laughlin said.

Some yellow pages may decide to partner with search engines, he said, and some "may do what Sensis is doing and say we are going to take our assets, content and a sales force, add an algorithmic search engine and become a search site," the analyst said. "If I were a print yellow pages company, I would be very interested in how this goes to see if I might try it."

Peter Hershberg, managing partner of search marketing firm Reprise Media, agreed.

"Sensis' launch represents the first time that a yellow pages provider has gone head-to-head with the search engines, trying to leverage their immense local content while offering users a broader search experience," Hershberg noted.

Hershberg said he was not sure if the new model would be successful, but it represents the most aggressive approach any Internet yellow pages company has taken toward the major search engines' foray into local advertising.

"Many U.S. companies will no doubt be keeping a close eye on Sensis," Hershberg said. "If they're successful, we may see the large domestic yellow pages players take a similar approach."

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