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Q&A with Darby Sieben of the Yellow Pages Group

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Search engine marketers in the US tend to look West when trying to spot new SEM trends. As Frederick Jackson Turner first observed back in 1893, the frontier has always had a significant influence on American perceptions.

But, if you stare into the sunset too long, you might not see the other “new frontier” North of the Canada-United States border that's also shaping search engine marketing trends. While Search Engine Strategies Toronto ended last week, I'm still sorting through some of the new SEM trends that I spotted by looking in a different direction.

One of the more intriguing trends that I noticed was this one: More than 80 employees of the Yellow Pages Group (YPG), Canada's largest directory publisher, attended SES Toronto. YPG also owns and manages Canada's most visited online directories, YellowPages.ca and Canada411.ca, so the company is no stranger to local search or Search Engine Strategies Toronto.

Now, I've often encouraged SES alumni as well as first time attendees of Search Engine Strategies to “bring a couple of colleagues along with you” to an upcoming SEM conference. And I've seen companies send teams of more than a dozen people to other SES conferences. But, I've never seen a group quite as large as the one I saw at SES Toronto last week.

So, I tracked down one of the key players behind this new trend. His name is Darby Sieben and he's the Director of Online Services at the Yellow Pages Group. You can watch my interview with Darby on the SES Conference Expo channel on YouTube.


Yellow Pages' Darby Sieben at SES Toronto 2008

Or you can read my interview with Darby Sieben of the Yellow Pages Group below. He has some very interesting insights into small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Q: The Yellow Pages directory story started 100 years ago by connecting Canadian buyers with sellers. YellowPages.ca went online in 1995. Has the Internet dramatically changed the way people approach the shopping experience?

A: Yes and No. By this I mean, the need of connecting buyers and sellers has not changed and never will. The way in which they go about doing it has changed and will continue to evolve and the Internet is only one way. Consumers are more complex today and depending on the need and particular circumstances will connect using a combination of ways including print, internet, voice, mobile, etc. The key piece of advice to a SME in this evolving world is to understand that this is about syndication of their information across multiple media platforms.

Q: According to comScore Media Metrix, the Yellow Pages Group reaches 41% of all online Canadians -- and ranks #8 out of the top properties in Canada. In the United States, the SuperPages.com Network reaches about 16% of all online Americans and ranks about #21 out of the top properties in the United States. What's going on in the Great White North?

A: The main difference between Canada and the US is the fact that the Yellow Pages brand in Canada is trademarked; we are the sole owners and users of the brand. In the US, the value and strength of the brand has been diluted as there is confusion. Second, I believe we are a very progressive directory player. We were the first to sign a deal to license data to Google, we work with all the major search players and we continue to push the envelope on technologies such as our 411 voice services, SMS, IM and our mobile platforms. Syndication of our advertiser's information is very important. We believe in the anywhere, anytime and on any platform to get information.

Q: The content and keywords found in a print advertisement in the Yellow Pages Group and contained in a business profile on YellowPages.ca are fully searchable on the web and made available to your online partner network including Google, MSN and Yahoo! Isn't that that a strange brew?

A: We don't think so. If we examine a key barrier to search, that would be content. YP.ca and the search players are only as good as content that is digitized. The issue is that half of Canadian SME's don't have a website. We view print as the start of a very incredible journey for a SME because it contains very important pieces of content that consumers look for in the buying process. Those ads get digitized; keywords extracted, bucketized and distributed on YP.ca for our users as well as being pushed to search engines who index. It creates some incredible synergies and creates an ROI for our advertisers. To add one point here – a few years back we launched an initiative called the WebNumber. This is where we have mapped every phone number in our directory to a URL. For example – http://7804517857.yp.ca (this is the phone number for a Harley Davidson Dealership in Edmonton, Alberta). If you type that URL in – you land on their merchant page and can see their video and a host of rich content about that business. Many of our clients will register a domain name and simply point it to their page instead of investing in expensive design services.

Q: More than 80 people from the Yellow Pages Group attended Search Engine Strategies Toronto last week. Why did you bring everyone except the McKenzie brothers to the conference?

A: Well Bob and Doug are launching a cartoon version of their hit from SCTV to be aired this fall, so they were unavailable. On a serious note it is all about further learning's and understanding. In 2007 we signed Canada's first reseller agreement with Google and have bundled AdWords with our print and YellowPages.ca advertising. We also launched last year full customized search marketing solutions based on a budget spend and have been testing and continue to sell a guaranteed clicks product. To really become the CMO for small businesses you need to understand all sources of generating results for your customer.

Q: You mentioned that you are bundling Google with your print and YellowPages.ca advertising – isn't Google considered a competitor?

A: We are definitely in a world of cooperative competition. You referenced ComScore earlier; here is a key fact that best explains the strategy. If we examine the unduplicated audience between Google Maps and our properties – what you realize is that there is a significant boost in audience reach. Both of us have around 31-32% reach and combined we reach over 50% - that is incredible for any SME who is looking to be placed in the path of consumers when they are making buying decisions. One thing I would like to add is that in terms of the purchase funnel – YellowPages.ca generates a very high ROI because by the time users come to us they tend to already know what they want to buy or are very close to a buying decision and need to do some comparisons. We tend to be further down the purchase funnel than search engines and the measurement for SME's has to go beyond clicks to include phone calls and store visits. As we often say, nobody comes to YellowPages.ca to surf they come to buy and this remains a key focus for us.


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