SMB-Aimed Local Search Space Tightens with Innovectra Offering

Innovectra is officially unveiling a local search product today at the Kelsey Group’s “Drilling Down on Local” event. The firm’s new LeadStream business unit is among many vying for the attention of small and medium businesses (SMBs), combining the personal touch of a telesales force with the automation and tracking synonymous with search advertising.

“This kind of thing is what is bringing small businesses into search,” said Greg Sterling, founding principal of local online media consulting outfit Sterling Market Intelligence.

Setting aside early local search adopters like real estate agents and mortgage sellers, the great majority of small businesses are still only dabbling in local search advertising, that is if they’re doing anything at all. Several service providers are stepping in to ease those newbies onto the Web.

For instance, last summer, Verizon Directories Corp. snapped up search marketing tech firm Inceptor to enhance SuperPages.com’s pay-per-call and pay-per-click system. YP publisher RH Donnelley bought local search marketing consulting firm LocalLaunch, an Innovectra competitor, in September 2006. And in January Citysearch opened a new sales office in Atlanta, with plans to nearly double its sales force in the hopes of selling enhanced business listings to local SMBs.
Other companies crowding the local search space include ReachLocal, which partners with New York’s Ambassador Yellow Pages, and local search service provider WebVisible, which counts multiple YP and local media publishers as customers. Innovectra expects “lots of activity” in the yellow pages partnership department soon, according to VP of Marketing David Dague. Acquisition by such a firm is “entirely a possibility,” he continued.

“The paradox is that the competition over these small businesses’ ad dollars is, in a way, delaying adoption [by SMBs],” said Sterling. “There’s just lots of confusion.”

Innovectra is counting on a set of offerings it’s refined in past months to appeal to SMBs looking for low-risk, measurable entryways to search advertising. These include sponsored link campaign management, one-page Web sites, unique phone numbers that can be tracked by advertisers, and future products like Web coupons and call answering services.

The company manages up to three unique sponsored link ads each on Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com for customers, charging both SEM costs and a flat per-call fee for phone leads coming through those paid links. There is no start-up fee, Dague added, noting that call fees can run “anywhere from $4 a call to $25 to $30,” and are tied to variables relevant to specific advertiser verticals. A call charge to an attorney, for example, would be higher than one to a pizzeria, since the sales values of the leads vary so much.

“Advertisers really like that because it’s predictable,” said Dague. The firm also aims to build success by focusing on particular vertical markets, specifically segments “that receive a lot of value out of a telephone lead,” he said. Car services, plumbing contractors and house cleaning services are among the primary targets.

Maintaining presence of mind among its current advertiser clients, now near 1,000, is one way the firm hopes to win over hesitant SMBs. Following an initial orientation, the company’s 18 Albany, NY-based salespeople contact clients three weeks afterwards, reviewing campaign progress and explaining how they have optimized keyword buys. Clients also can visit a personalized campaign performance tracking site.

The unique ability to hand-hold SMBs through the campaign management process could be a benefit for firms when it comes to winning clients who could buy directly from search engines. While Google recently added new free features to its Local Business Center to enhance Google Maps listings, such offerings may not be enough to coax the average mom-and-pop shop to manage its own search campaign.

Indeed, a recent Kelsey report on the future of YP and local search noted local sales forces have the opportunity “over the next several years to bridge the search gap and will offer robust SEO/SEM services to advertisers.”

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