I phone, you click. That's the dilemma local search faces when corporations integrate online and offline search engine strategies.
Late last month, AT&T purchased Ingenio, a pay-per-call search platform and advertising network with a long history -- in Internet years -- of providing call tracking to local search players such as AOL Yellow Pages, Marchex, and Local.com.
What does this mean for AT&T Yellow Pages and, more importantly, Yellowpages.com, its Internet yellow pages (IYP) counterpart? The mainstream business media largely ignored the deal -- probably for lack of sex appeal. The acquisition, though, has wide-reaching ramifications for the mammoth directory publisher and its strategic plans for local search, mobile search and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).
At SES Chicago, Charles Stubbs, Yellowpages.com president, took the stage for an executive interview to discuss some of the strategic synergies made possible by the acquisition. Stubbs had previewed some possibilities at ILM:07/SES Local the week before in L.A.; in Chicago he elaborated for a full hour on his plans.
Triple Play? Try Local Search Quad Play
The key message? Ingenio will be a platform for lead tracking that will unify bundled AT&T local search advertising to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across:
- Print (AT&T Yellow Pages).
- Online (Yellowpages.com).
- Wireless (AT&T, formerly known as Cingular).
- IPTV (U-verse AT&T IPTV).
These constitute the quad-play bundle meant to bring simplicity and cost savings for consumers. Seen through the looking glass of a unifying call tracking platform, the new value proposition benefits advertisers, too.
"Given print, online, 65 million wireless subscribers, and U-verse, a platform for tracking calls generated from all these sources ties it together," Stubbs said. "Now we can sit down with a plumber and say, 'Do you need 30, 60 or 90 calls delivered?' We have all the points of inventory to fulfill that."
Local Search: You Oughta Be in Pictures
IPTV is the wild card. The marriage of local search and IPTV for AT&T now happens only through the Yellowpages.com channel on the U-verse package. Subscribers can "browse local listings, search for services and order a pizza on TV," said Stubbs of the "cooler than cable" IP-based video service.
The real opportunity will come when IPTV content scales to open up more video ad inventory for SMBs. The IP-based architecture of U-verse promises to increase content capacity. In the meantime, Yellowpages.com is pushing video advertising for its small business advertisers.
"Both directory assistance and IPTV are nascent technologies in terms of integrating advertising. But as AT&T moves into IPTV, it's going to get a lot of ad inventory," Stubbs said. "We think we can upsell and port content into U-verse. If we can get a head start with video ads, we'll be ready when there's critical mass of U-verse [inventory”."
Speaking the Local Language
Ingenio technology will track telephone numbers as part of the overall ad bundle that AT&T will push into the SMB marketplace. Here, AT&T is essentially offering forms of advertising and leads that the everyman SMB "gets": video and phone calls.
Both are more likely to be valued by your average plumber, dentist, or bar owner who doesn't want, understand, or know how to convert clicks. This is mostly true for traditional yellow pages sweet spots -- such as trade services and restaurants -- that constitute a considerable chunk of the $16 billion yellow pages pie.
"These advertisers are busy people trying to make money," Stubbs said. "If you price the lead right and demonstrate the quality of the lead, SMBs will appreciate the value of the ad bundle. Simplification greases wheels."
A yellow pages incumbent buying a local search and call tracking platform ain't the sexiest announcement out there. But it's big.
Calls from bundled sources should resonate well with SMBs. It's a step toward simplification that will help yellow pages publishers finally execute better local search and IYP ad sales. More importantly, it's a step toward holding on to that $16 billion that's migrating online faster than a flock of bar-tailed godwits.
"Selling clicks has been a great business for local directional advertising," Stubbs said. "But a call is closer to home and closer to the cash register for most small businesses."
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