The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports on the "bundle of clicks" search distribution packages that all the major yellow pages publishers in the U.S. are now selling to their local advertisers. Here's an amazing quote from Simon Greenman, SVP of digital products at R.H. Donnelly, "Our strategy is to connect our customers with their customers wherever they may be."
That's a radical statement for a yellow pages executive to make because he's not asserting that print yellow pages is the best lead generation vehicle "and we also have Internet." He's saying Donnelly is "agnostic."
Some will read that and be skeptical. But to the extent that Greenman can make that kind of statement to the Journal on behalf of Donnelly it reflects a culture shift.
All these products (click packages) are not created equal; some are budget based and some are pure arbitrage. The former will survive, the latter won't. Some involve SEO and SEM, some only involve paid search. Most have been in the market for more than a year now, with fairly high renewal rates according to anecdotal reports I've heard.
These click packages radically simplify the process of buying search for local advertisers. There's no setup and no campaign management; it's all outsourced. It's yellow pages as SEM firm. And the demand, based on interviews I've done with executives, has been significant. Fulfillment in some cases is a challenge, however. (Local traffic is fragmented and not all aggregated at Google and Yahoo! by any means.)
Almost all of these packages include phone tracking to substantiate the clicks, making the whole proposition feel more like delivery of "leads" or "customers" rather than anonymous clicks. But clicks and calls are not 1:1 and there is some sloppy language in some areas being used by the yellow pages sales force ? referring to clicks as "leads" ? according to some folks I've spoken with.
In addition to yellow pages, there are verticals (e.g., ServiceMagic, HomeGain), webhosts (MarketHardware, Affinity, Web.com) and newspapers (McClatchy, Hearst) that offer a version of this same product to the market today. But get ready for local cable companies, local TV affiliates and potentially radio to do the same tomorrow. Everyone that has local advertiser relationships and/or a local sales force will eventually be selling Google and Yahoo! (and MSN).
For search engines that's both good and bad. For now, however, it's good because they wouldn't get these advertiser revenues in the absence of this type of program.
If you want more information on who's making these products available to the market and on how they work, read a longer post on my blog.