|Local Search Summarized: A fascinating lack of data and definition|
The future, to me, doesn't look bounteous for SEs and IYPs
1. What exactly is the scope or span or the special criteria for measuring what is included in this thing called "local search". What are the industry's criteria for assigning to any search the title "local search". Should we define 2 or more local search categories? "Local to searcher's locale" (I search for a source of auto parts in my county) vs. "Remote locality to searcher" (I search for a hotel in Boston where I'm attending a meeting)?
Jake: "Local search represents search for physical entities instead of websites: A physical presence or storefront." What about my search for information that will lead to the decision: Do I stay on the St. Martin side of the island or the St. Maarten side of the island?
Anyone care to cite another authoritative source, within the industry, for exactly what "local search" is, including the criteria that are applied to determine if the search is local? Is there a set of criteria? How are they applied? I have every reason to believe that WW is a locus of authority on local search. That said, I must conclude that the level of authority within the industry is inchoate.
2. No one has offered a statistical analysis for principal commercial targets of local search. So, we can't say if "remote to local" search is dominated by a search within a baker's dozen of verticals, such as search for "local" hotels, transportation, restaurants, professionals, etc.
Why is that data important? Well, if 70% of "remote to local search" is clustered around a few verticals, what can we say about whether search in those realms will or won't be dominated, as time passes, by a few verticals (Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com) versus search engines or IYPs?
Anyone have the search cluster data? Wouldn't such data be a solid predictor of trends in the local search market? Given the expected clustering (my expectation) will it be "meat for the verticals and crumbs for the rest"?
3. Just how local is "local search", i.e., local-to-locale search? If 70% of "local to searcher search" is for goods or services that can be found within 10 miles of home then won't a well crafted, home grown site - a local site for locals by locals - create constant if not insurmountable problems for the . . . ummmm cough cough carpetbaggers - who are simultaneously attemting to corner global, national, regional AND local markets?
Will the local-by-local site, that doesn't have to pay all the overhead associated with BIG CORP, including profits for shareholders, be able to hold its own if not thwart BIG CORP?
I could go on and, in fact, have done so in my several other recent posts. The bottom line for me is that I think the direction of conversation about local search "in the industry" is a bit blinded. Blinded by what I leave it to you all to decide or disagree with.
Should the big data providers start looking for ways to partner with the true locals as their primary channel of distribution? Will the company that masters this approach win the day? Maybe. Maybe the local-by-local sites, the well crafted ones, will simply say "We don't need your data, We have our own." Maybe someone ought to get to work on the model before they do.
I think the conversation ought to include focus on how certain verticals may - or may not - come to dominate the prime clusters of remote-to-local search. Can Hotels.com or Lawyers.com or Plumbers.com or Restaurants.com win the day or lose the day based upon their respective lack of or failure to grasp X, Y or Z?
This is one of the times where I fear that I am annoying some readers or failing to evoke an interesting dialogue by being too forceful in my opinions. Or, maybe there's not much to add as I am aptly describing an industry that lacks a clear grasp of itself, it's future, etc. (That should get a response.)
The YP Goliaths are stuck on being Goliath. Goliath has been living in the "size matters" world. Goliath has struggled with the new world where "technology matters". Goliath has struggled with the disruptive technology of the WWW. I wait to see if Goliath continues to shrug or move hesitantly.
In local-to-local search Goliath needs a massive and rather immediate shift of business model. In remote-to-local search Goliath may either find himself battling other Goliaths (IYPs vs SEs vs BarryDiller.com) while failing to keep an eye on the emergence of local-to-local searchers discovering the larger world of "other people's local-to-local" sites. "Hello, Chicago.com. This is WidgetCounty.com HTTPing".
If Goliath doesn't quickly reinvent himself then I expect little guys with slingshots will give Goliath a big headache. Goliath has been busy merging and acquiring and cosolidating, as if this is a fix to the problem. I'm afraid, though, that for Goliath the fix isn't to acquire the competition.
There's just too many little guys with slingshots to ever acquire all of them.
|Maybe the local-by-local sites, the well crafted ones, will simply say "We don't need your data, We have our own." |
A very good point.
Metromix will continue to be, for the forseeable future, the king of Chicago entertainment and restaurant listings. Citysearch, G Local, Yahoo Local, TrueLocal, Interchange, or anything else probably won't displace them for folks trying to find things to do locally.
The challenge is how to work with those expert local sites that know the culture instead of trying to Wal-Mart them out of existance.
One point for Google's aggregation approach.
|So, we can't say if "remote to local" search is dominated by a search within a baker's dozen of verticals, such as search for "local" hotels, transportation, restaurants, professionals, etc. |
Remote to local is dominated by a small number of verticals. Hell, local to local may even be, when talking about "my" version of local search (physical storefronts or business contact information).
... are my top 4.
The cool thing about local at the moment is that there are enough hyenas to take down the lion, as Tom Clancy would say.
Metromix as Jake points out, is an excellent example of a "local by locals" destination enviornment that contains much richer information, and is more in tune with our city, then any SE. Metromix has spent years upon years, aggregating rich content and user reviews and ratings, and is now sitting atop the universe of local search within Chicago.
It is very important to note however, that one goliath understood this, and that goliath The Tribune Company - Chicago Tribune (amongst others) came down and scooped up Metromix. The Tribune company now has metromix to add to its portfolio of sites that includes:
CareerBuilder.com Apartments.com Cars.com NewHomeNetwork.com Homescape.com OrlandoCityBeat.com southflorida.com ChicagoSports.com Go2Orlando.com --amongst many others.
And most recently the Tribune company picked up ShopLocal.com. Add this is a network of news and city sites such as Newsday.com LATimes.com ChicagoTribune.com BaltimoreSun.com Sun-Sentinel.com OrlandoSentinel.com Courant.com MCall.com DailyPress.com GreenwichTime.com and you can see that the local internet and local search extends much further beyond SEs.
The other media majors are not sitting by and just watching. I spoke with the team from COX (atlanta) in NYC - and in their words, "we Will dominate Atlanta". There is also Sacramento Bee which is really carving out new territory online in their city.
So sure, we talk alot about SE's webwork, but suffice to say that there are many many other interested parties that will help to shape the local arena. The SEs know this. And the battle is just shaping up between Local TV, Radio, Newpapers, SEs, YPs, and other major media outlets.
In the end, the battle is for the advertising dollar, regardless of the media outlet. And that is how I view local, webwork - in terms of the local advertising dollar, and its migration to the internet in its varying forms.
I feel the definition is clear and both Jake and Chicago hit it on the head.
Fundamentally local search is about users finding businesses in a specific locality.
For authoritative sources you have two in Chicago and Jake. Then there are the properties currently associated with local search and what those properties present to the public as their reason for being – see GLocal, YLocal, AOLLocal, community resources that Chicago listed above, the IYPs, the vertical plays. Look at what associations have been designated the authorities in this space such as Kelsey. At varying levels they all coincide with this definition.
Whether you are a “local searching local” or a “remote searching local” this difference IMO is merely a segmentation of the market. There are many more segments as well. While this segment is relevant and has implications on what properties a searcher would use and how a searcher would use them to find a business, the definition of the market remains the same.
Properties like Glocal, Ylocal, a local community-based property like metromix, a vertical play like hotels.com, all fit into the fray. All contain users searching for offline products/services near a specific geographic location.
Chicago's broader view captures essence and importance of this migration. To many, especially the savvy folk on WebmasterWorld, Internet local search isn’t anything new or ground-breaking. That’s true, it’s not. The attention to local search right now is related to the significant shift that is occurring from traditional offline mediums (YPs, Print, Newspapers, etc) to online properties by both people searching and businesses advertising. The market is just starting to pass the early adopters, and it is a significant market; hence the attention.
If anything, I believe it’s not the definition which lacks clarity, it’s the mass and rapid movements we are seeing in the marketplace that is causing some of the perceived chaos or ambiguity. Many people are vying for a piece of this transition in advertising dollars. There are many factors and reasons why local searchers and local advertisers would use one property type over the other. The migration of local search to PDA/mobile phones will be another factor making the options and landscape more complex as the technology and adoption take hold. There is no doubt we will continue see the lines continue to grey between current “category types” of local search properties and the functionality and experience they provide to users and advertisers.
|If anything, I believe it’s not the definition which lacks clarity, it’s the mass and rapid movements we are seeing in the marketplace that is causing some of the perceived chaos or ambiguity. Many people are vying for a piece of this transition in advertising dollars. |
Right. We most often talk about SEs because this is webmasterworld. But the universe of organizations vying for the local advertiser dollar, valued at $22 billion annualy, is deep and diverse.
In addition to the major media providers mentioned above, we know for example that ebay, a 25% shareholder in the craiglist, recently made a play towards interntional classifieds through its new property kijiji.com. We know that Amazon wants a share. We know the portals have a play. We know that many pure plays are emerging, and we know that traditional local advertising beneficiaries are not standing idle.
As with any new marketplace, the consituents are lining up, all with their eye on the migrating local advertiser dollar. The marketplace is fragmented and best defined by innovation and change - hardly an environment with clear definitions and stable platforms.
Yet, as with any marketplace, the big fish will eventually swollow the little fish, and if there are vertical or geographic based niche players with differentiating factors or comparitive advantages, they too will be eaten by any one of a number of mature businesses that seek to mitigate the loses associated with their increasingly marginalized business model, while gaining in the apparent trend towards traditional advertising dollars transitioning to the Internet.
The SEs by nature are horizontal plays. They seek to cover a vast amount of information to provide answers to searchers. They are by nature thin in their proprietary and rich content. This is not to say, however, that they will not make a strong attempt to take a share of the migrating ad dollars. SEs by nature are well positioned to direct ad dollars. With 20+% of all searches having local intent, it would be niave for them not to make a play in this marketplace.
The traditional YP arena is over 100 years old. It is annualy a $15 billion dollar industy. The newspaper industry has a similar history, and their business model *is* content production, distribution and local advertising- so the Internet advertising arena is a natual fit, and they too will make their play. Combine this with radio and tv outlets that own a significant amount of local ad dollars and you have at one hand a fragmented marketplace and on the other hand a muture marketplace looking to transition their ad revenue base from off-line to on-line.
Who will win? Well, in the end, the majors will win- the "goliaths" ~ those with deep and mature value chains and enough fiscal resources to scoop up any small niche player with any comparitive advantages that neatly augments their own.
What does this mean for us? Well for me personally it means opportunity to help simplify and consolidate the complexities associated with new and varying types of on-line inventory ~ to help advertisers make sense of a confusing and changing marketplace. Fragmentation by nature presents opportuntity and will give birth to a new breed of facilitators. What does it mean for small niche players? Well, it too is an opportunity to concentrate on your niche and do it very well. If you are the best at covering a vertical or a geography or a geo-vertical you will eventually be a target of one of these "goliaths".
Back in the day (late 90's), we used to be idealistic, thinking that we could break traditional supply and value chains. We thought that we could intermediate and simplify the connection between buyers and sellers more effectively. In part, the local arena today has charecteristics of that idealism. But at the same time, this arena, will soon revert to the same level of realism that was forced upon us when we finally understood that the Internet, like every other advertising medium or industry for that matter, is not immune to the classic rules of capitalism and free market forces.
It is idealistic to simply think that the tradional YPs, Newspapers, and SEs, can not stake an effective claim to the local internet advertising marketplace. It is idealistic to think that the Internet is somehow too organic and not susceptable to traditional marketplace forces. Such thinking will ultimately prove to be niave. The "goliaths" will ultimately own the local search arena online, and along the way, a few of us will be lucky enough to benefit monetarily as we help them to transition their mature business models, and aid in their capture of the migrating local advertising dollar.
Nice synopsis Chicago.
The subject of the thread mentions that the industry lacks data. While this topic is discussed much more in depth here [webmasterworld.com], general comment more appropriate to this topic is that IMO there is ample industry data given the state of the industry. A majority of the data presented and discussed in this industry relates to the local-to-local migration from offline to online mediums as that is what is most relevant to many right now.
I believe the data that is lacking is as a result of an immature marketplace. (Which may very well be your point webwork).
If there's anything close to robust data about local search then please put it up. Not sweeping generalizations about advertising dollars but something far more concrete.
Let's start with a breakdown of the relative frequency of local searches. How do the following rank and what is there relative % of all searches:
Professionals: lawyer, dentists, accountants, etc.
Tradesmen: Plumbers, electricians, remodelers, landscapers, etc.
Retail Specialty Stores: Bike shops, fabric, music, etc
AND so on
Anyone have concrete numbers for the # of searches for "hotels" in a given year or as a relative ranked standing or percentage?
Anyone have some hard data on how many hotels were booked through Hotels.com? Anyone able to back into the number through SEC filings or statements made during quarterly investor conference calls or annual corporate statements?
Anyone have decent numbers for the comparison of the number of "hotel searhes" in G/Y/M versus the number of direct searches through Hotels.com or any other direct booking engine?
Anyone have any decent numbers on the number of hotels booked via affilate network sites?
Ditto the same line of questions for the other major categories.
No? The numbers aren't out there? It's all proprietary?
I'd like to know how the war is going, not how big the pie used to be.
So, the old pie was $15 billion or a gazillion dollars?
Anyone know if the new efficiencies of the WWW are driving those costs down OR are they going up? Any hard data on whether there's a drag in reducing traditional media spends whilst the advertising and marketing folks are sorting out the efficiencies of the new channels? Any decent reports on how the simple lack of familiarity with the "new marketing" systems (PPC, AdSense, etc.) may be a drag on a more rapid shift in funds?
Any decent data on the spend for hotel advertising in the past year versus before that time?
Any decent data that can be posted regarding the shifting in real dollars and relative percentage of those dollars across the various advertising outlets during the past 3 years?
I haven't come across anything approaching a robust discussion of most of my questions. Lots of generalizations. A world not quite ready for the opportunity that lies before it.
I'll make an exception for BarryDiller.com. The man is a genius. Hotels.com? The single most valuable domain on the planet, bar none in my book, even before he began promoting the heck out of it. He's my poster boy for the proposition that you can teach an old dog new tricks. At least a sly old dog. ;0)
Which is good because I'm now pretty well qualified to share in the classification of "old dog".
Chicago, if there's anyone who I deem on top of this issue it's you and I'm afraid that - in terms of good hard data to crunch and present - there really isn't much for you to work with. Just big number generalizations and generalizations about trends. The numbers that could signals the future are out there "to be had" in the data streams. Either the telling data is not being adequately collected, digested, analyzed or presented.
If there was better data openly available then I believe the tremors "in the industry" would be more palpable.
Webwork, I don't follow your reasoning in this series of posts.
Are you skeptical about the size of the advertising market associated with consumers search for local merchants? Are you skeptical that a need exists for consumers to locate local merchants? Or are you just looking for someone to share a detailed market sizing analysis with you?
If it's a skepticism about the size of the market - I guess I don't share your concerns. This particular space - advertising $$ associated with reaching consumers who are looking for local merchants - has proven itself for 100 years.
In a similar vein, I wouldn't bet against the need of consumers to continue to find geography specific merchants to sell them products and services.
In terms of market sizing, Chicago, Jake, and others have been nice enough to share some pretty impressive data on total market size. If you are looking for a more detailed niche by niche analysis of various verticals, built from the bottom up - it's been my experience that you might have to pay for that sort of data. I think that Kelsey might be a good place to start, and I would imagine that the bigger management consulting firms would take on those sorts of projects as well.
Let me break it down for you as follows:
1. My first question was/is: "What exactly is "local search"? I haven't seen much in the way of an exacting discussion. No problem. We can reasonably make up our own definition.
2. Who is measuring "local search" and "what criteria" are being applied in order to cull out the local search component of search? Again, not a lot of discussion out there in the world for such a hot sector, but if you dig into my other posts in the LocalSearch thread you'll see there's been an attempt to break it down. Interesting point: No links to outside authorities discussing the issues I raised in any detail.
3. Is anyone breaking local search down as follows:
A. Local to local (within 10, 20, 50 miles)?
B. Local to remote (Something consumed remotely, such as a hotel room)?
Again, in my research, I haven't come across much robust analysis or discussion. Why? Because the info is "proprietary"? Kelly has the data? Really? Who gave it to them? Google? Yahoo? I somewhat doubt that, but no problem. Salesmen will have to use something in their sales pitch to Bob the Plumber. What will it be? "Lots of people do search!" What if Bob & Betty (see below) do a better job of educating Bob the Plumber about the realities of local-to-local search and web traffic?
4. If most local search IS local - for goods and services within 10 - 20 miles - then do locals really need Google or Yahoo or any big company to handle the task? My answer: No. Bob and Betty, the local county web mavens, can likely do a handy job of marketing "local online search about local businesses" rather nicely. Bob and Betty can market their business search service on the county level rather nicely I'm sure.
5. So, this leads me to this conclusion: Given their business model, overhead, infrastructure, etc. I see no long term remedy for PRINT MegaBigYellowPagesCorp in dealing with #4.
6. So, for "local search" I think that leaves "local to remote" as the likely profitable battleground for MegaBigCorp. However, there's a problem for MegaBigCorp in local-to-remote search.
7. IF most of the profitable "local to remote search" falls within a certain baker's dozen of verticals, such as: Hotels, real estate, entertainment (tickets) for when you arrive remotely, local product delivery to kin (flowers to mom, care package to son in college), and a few other THEN, in that scenario, could the likes of Hotels.com and a few other well developed and marketed verticals end up ruling the roost? Skimming the highest value search with the least "other overhead", thereby being the most profitable in the local-to-remote sector? I think the answer is "Yes". (You see, Hotels.com isn't burdened by the other 10 billion searches for celebrities, etc.)
8. While discussing the impact of the select verticals on local-to-remote let us not forget that there will also be a certain amount of Bob & Betty from Oshkosh meets Bob & Betty from DesMoines going on. That is, local search by locals getting connected. CraigsList meets BobandBetty'sList. Locals promoting remote locals. Deduct X additonal dollars for MegaBigCorp from the advertising dollar pot.
9. Just how dead are the yellowpages, when it come's to "Local to Local" promotion, their life blood? My prediction: Dinosaur dead.
10. Just how much trouble can BarryDiller.com be to MegaBigSearchEngine.com with his crafty handling of local-to-remote search, in the form of Hotels.com, RealEstate.com, and a few others? BIG, in my opinion. He has quite effectively zoomed in on the most profitable venues of "Local to Remote" search. If he handles the issue of best pricing and best info the slice of the pie for everyone else shrinks dramatically.
11. Have I read much in the way of analysis of the above when digging down into sites and companies that cater to the IYPs, etc. No. Do I think I have some small handle on why there's not a lot of detailed discussion and analysis? Yes. It's too scary and depressing for some - like the local print YPs - to discuss.
12. Is local search all about "advertising dollars"? Well, yes and no. It's about the dollars, ultimately. Not much to discuss there. That's simply truth. However, on the subject of dollars - forgetting all the other issues I've covered - wasn't the WWW supposed to be about disintermediation and reducing overhead? SO, in theory, in a short while, the costs of "getting the word out effectively" should be going down, right? In theory, at least, the pool of advertising dollars might actually shrink due to WWW efficiencies, yes? Maybe. Doubtful. Everything seems to keep costing more. Why should advertising be an exception. ;-)
13. Back to BobandBettysList. IF Bob and Betty can deliver as many new clients to Webwork,Esq. as MegaBigYellowPages.com did and only charge Webwork,Esq. $200, whereas MegaBigYP charged Jeff $15,000 for the same or lesser results, then what? (What has already happened by the way.)
So, my prediction:
Print yellow pages are dead within 10 years. Bob and Betty, and X# of good, well planned and executed "local by locals for locals" will kill them and you CAN'T deal with this vision of the future by buy "buying them out". (Notice the consolidation in the yellow pages industry. Dinosaurs eating dinosaurs.) Why can't MegaBig 'fix the problem' by using the buy out approach? Because more local-to-local sites will simply crop up due to the lower thresholds to entry.
Online yellow pages, if they don't find a better distribution model, are dying.
BarryDiller.com is that loud "local search that is local to remote" sucking noise you hear and it's likely he will only get better.
That leaves X amount of advertising dollars on the table and, IMHO, if the WWW works like it's supposed to that pot may get smaller, not bigger. When you don't have to print yellowpages and ship yellow pages, and print papers, etc. the costs associated with advertisng SHOULD get smaller. We'll see.
So, on the subject of local search - when I look at the agendas of various conferences - I think to myself: It's interesting times and the dinosaurs aren't really talking about it and I don't see too many conference heading about "let's talk about BarryDiller.com eating our lunch" headlines.
I don't think it's quite game over as now there are a variety of verticals cropping up to compete with the SEs. In 2001 there was a lot of talk about how portals were dead. Now, portals at the local (city) level are the next big battleground and the local media outlets - newspapers and television - just might have an edge there if they wake up and don't blow it.
That's the industry in a nutshell. There's a lot to talk about that isn't being talked about, including how BobandBetty, WW members, have a very real chance to open up a nice local business to business model.
We have a website that, I guess, could be 'classified' as a "vertical". We started one year ago. Our objective was to fulfil a specific need. That need was to provide our users with access to other users' recommendations of [...] service providers in their local area. Because we are exclusively focused on just one industry and are not targeting an entire galaxy of professional service providers our users are paying more attention to us then to some of the established and formidable competitors (including citysearch).
Sasha, here's what I find exciting about local to local search: At the level of local to local search and local to local business advertising/marketing I think there's a huge opportunity for lots of little guys and gals to add a significant income stream to their lives.
Generating traffic - and bookmarks - at the local level is much more under your control than organic SE traffic.
At the local-to-local, true word of mouth level, you can become a mini Google: generating traffic and selling advertising. The true home business.
Of course it becomes a mtter of what type of traffic: Are you the local political hot spot? Are you providing other valuable content? Is your content fresh? Are your a pure "get in, get out" local business directory? The list goes on.
It's a ROI game where the "I" can be examined and controlled at a very granular level.
It's also where familiarity with local customs, landmarks, politics, sports, schools, developments, etc. can give you a decided edge.
It's a numbers game: Produce a new client lead that converts for a local lawyer, for which the lawyer only paid $50 for a 1 year listing, and you have a happy client.
Put your URL on the side of your husband's pick-up truck. Put your URL on the back of your mom's van. Put signs in 30 stores and given them a free listing for a year. Do this and you start to win the local game.
You see, this is the type of discussion about "local search" that ought to - but has not yet - materialized in the WW Local Search forum. Thus far, it's all about mega trend and big business. That's nice if you are targeting them but let's not forget the rest of us. The little guys and gals with slingshots. The ones who, if they put together some affiliate sites, some website design services, maybe some hosting reselling AND a bit of local search promotion find ourselves with a full time and valuable home business. It's this vision that I think scares MegaBigLocalYellowPages the most.
And that day is coming. Help speed it up.
I invite you and everyone at WW to join in to the discussion of "local to local search services by locals to locals" in the WebmasterWorld Local Search threads.
I'm feeling a little subversive in pitching this exactly as I am. It feels good doing it. That's because I really like seeing the little guy/gal succeed. You see, I'm one of them myself.
Come, let us conspire.
I'm not sure many WebmasterWorld'ers are customers of their own local YPs, and if that is true they might not have a local perspective.
Your perspectve changes when your local community has 5 competitors in your industry, and after a few years the local YP has 5 half-page color dislay ads all proclaiming basically the same things. It started with 5 listings, at $40 each per month, and now it's 5 half-page ads at $800 each *per month* --one year contract required as well as 4 months lead time on the ad.
Then factor in that it all goes through a foot salesman, who does sometimes leak info on your ad to your competitors prior to the hard deadline. Wanna see the page your ad will compete on before you place your ad? Nope.
In my opinion if you want to understand local search start a local business (or get close to one). From what I have experienced:
- Almost zero time is spent thinking about it until 30 days before deadlines. Maybe this is strategy, but it seems the small biz owner is too busy until prompted.
- there is no competition -- you simply have to appear with your peers in the local YP or you are conspicuous by your absense and will lose sleep at night dreaming of your competitors big, colorful ad.
- Given a choice between web and YP, every one I know will take YP, although often reluctantly.
- Despite there being several different YP publishers, the one who controls the distribution venue wins. If TOYP is in all the hotels, it wins. If YPB is at every phone booth, it wins. If YPC gets delivered to homes for free, it wins. There are limited ad dollars, so if the market is split evenly it that can't be sustaned. Human nature will cause a congregation in one over time, leading once again to a monopoly.
- I you follow this behavior model, in the future there will be one local search portal and you will have to be in it, adjacent to your peers.
On a related note, I am seeing the separation of phone number from physical location and carrier making a big difference. A large display ad is more affordable if it displays a website URL and a phone number which can be easly redirected (such as VoIP). More innovative business owners are using this to their advantage, and they are doing that before investing more in the web. On the flip side, I have seen YP salesmen trying very hard to influence the ad design when it comes to physical address and such... even to the extent in one case that it led to a lawsuit (do the math: $800 x 12 months = $7,200 which is not penny change to a small business). My nose smells sales incentive, like the company has expressed an interest in controlling the use of the ads, and incetivizes the salesforce accordingly.
Opportunity? Same as SEM. Segment the market clearly and identifiably, and dominate the long tail one segment at a time. The big portal wants a big market, and you want a segmented market.
On our site we do not sell advertising. We have a "per-pay-lead" model. We bring local customers and providers together. Customer receives information about the service provider - this information is typically supplied by the service provider, additionally they receive other customers' reviews about that particular service provider. While we can and do generate 'leads', we cannot control whether a customer eventually accepts the services of a service provider after they meet in person.
There is one established 'bricks and mortar' company in our industry that's been doing "pay-per-lead" business for quite some time now. Because YP is a pure advertiser some of the budget allocated to YP advertising may eventually migrate to the pay-per-lead model, since the 'advertisers' receive a lot more than just ad space. However, like I said, there's a 'bricks and mortar' company who have been doing the 'pay-per-lead' for a long time and that had no impact on YP. In fact, some of the same advertisers have been using YP and 'bricks-and-mortar' pay-per-lead and our online pay-per-lead.