Is there an Opportunity for Low-Cost Local SEM?

Greg Sterling has an interesting post on his Screenwerk blog on the challenges of selling SEM to small local businesses.

He argues that most small businesses don’t understand enough about SEM and all the metrics involved to evaluate an SEM service except by trying it. When they do, often the ROI is not great because several parties have to take a cut of the ad budget.

Greg goes on to suggest that SEM is probably too complex to be sold to many small businesses whose ad budgets are simply too small to get reasonable results:

It’s a disservice to sell traffic at pricing levels that are too low to deliver volume or to create unrealistic expectations with inflated claims about results. Both drive churn, which is inefficient for everyone.

I tend to agree with what Greg’s saying there, but I do wonder whether there’s an opportunity to provide low-cost templated or even fully self-service SEM services to specific verticals by providing standard sets of keywords and just varying the location that is targeted.

We could imagine a service for plumbers, say, where they would click a few checkboxes to say which, out of heating, bathroom installation, emergency call-out, etc., they provided, then select their target town and monthly budget.

That would be enough to set them up with a suitable PPC campaign with a relevant set of target keywords and monitoring tools. By automating the process, the cost could be kept low and hopefully the ROI would be more attractive.

How Low Cost SEM Compares to Alternatives

A few questions:

  • Are good SEM firms doing this anyway?
  • Is the main cost involved in small business SEM actually the cost of selling to these small businesses in the first place (rather than setting up and managing the campaigns?)
  • Would this even just be more or less equivalent to vertical directory sites buying traffic and selling it on?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mandiber

MapQuest Local: Where Have You Seen this Before?

MapQuest recently launched a new local service called MapQuest Local that more or less follows the Localmouth pattern.

Like Localmouth, they’re aggregating content from a number of local information providers to provide guides to individual places.

Currently, the information they’re aggregating includes business listings from City’sBest and CityGuide, news from Topix, weather from WeatherBug, events from CityGuide, movies from Moviefone, photos from Flickr and videos from Truveo. They also feature their own maps and gas price information.

It looks like that’s just the beginning, though. In their developer blog they’re appealing for anyone with local content feeds to get in touch.

The interface is quite nicely done, serving the page outline first and serving the content via what are presumably AJAX updates later. As they’ve also opted to pack everything onto a single page, the result is that the user gets a big hit of information with one page load, without that page having a painfully long load time. It’s an interesting way of doing things.

So far they don’t seem to have any content for the UK. I wonder if they could use a UK-based partner ;-)

HelloMetro Wins Hyperlocal Trademark

Lawrence T. Brooke, Esq, 703-772-3076 Fairfax Arlington Alexandria Virginia LawAccording to their own press release, HelloMetro has been awarded a trademark from the US patent office for use of the term ‘Hyperlocal’. In a comment on Search Engine Watch, their CEO explains that their use describes their service of “advertising/providing information on the goods and services of others that are of local interest”.

Astonishing! Assuming this is true, could someone please ask those patent people to brush up on their Greek? Surely hyperlocal ought to be judged a descriptive term and therefore not possible to trademark?! Sigh.

Brownbook – a Crowdsourced Yellow Pages

I just came across these guys:

They’re a sort of open yellow pages where anyone can add, edit or review businesses. This is very similar to what sites like WeLoveLocal and Yelp are already doing, but in a world where many small business owners have yet to really get to grips with online marketing, the analogy with something as familiar as the yellow pages could still be powerful.

BrownBook’s listings are currently mainly for the UK, but they are accepting entries from other parts of the world. Their revenue model is based on charging business owners to ‘claim’ their businesses. Looks like an interesting idea.

Washington Post Hits Hyperlocal Hurdles

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ed Yourdon

Newspapers as we know them are dying. Offline readership numbers are dwindling as more and more people find what they need on the Web. Owners and editors everywhere have been grappling for some time now with how to stay relevant in today’s increasingly online world. Some think the answer is to focus on what, they argue, newspapers do best: local news. That was presumably the inspiration behind the Washington Post’s launch last year of, a local community portal.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Russell Adams reported a couple of days ago (and Ghost of Midnight noted), however, things haven’t gone as well as they might have hoped.

The WSJ article explains how, since the site’s launch in July 2007, it never really gained traction. The main reason for the failure appears to have been a failure to engage the local community in the site due, seemingly to two factors:

  1. The community that was targeted (consisting of 7 different towns) did not have a strong common sense of identity.
  2. The team didn’t put enough emphasis on real-world networking and promotion of the site with local community groups.

In addition to this, it looks like the parent paper could have done more to support the site by directing Internet users towards it from its main Web site, perhaps at least until it reached some kind of critical mass.

It’s interesting to note that, despite this site not taking off, the head of the project had previously successfully run other local newspaper portals focusing on smaller (perhaps better-defined?) communities.

Death of a Startup: Why Meetro Failed

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tony the Misfit

TechCrunch ran an interesting post-mortem article yesterday by the founder of Meetro, a location-aware instant messaging platform, that recently closed its doors.

Meetro’s idea was to let users download an application onto their wifi-enabled mobile phones that would then allow them to find other Meetro users nearby to chat with.

Paul Bragiel, the founder, cited the following reasons for the start-up’s demise:

  1. The location problem: the service only became interesting if there were other users nearby. Critical mass gained in one geography didn’t help in other geographies.
  2. The realtime problem: the service would only connect users who happened to be online at the same time. Multiplied by the location problem, this severely reduced the chances of finding other Meetro users nearby.
  3. The download problem: the service required an app to be downloaded and installed on a user’s mobile phone. Most people were not interested in doing that.

It’s good to see that StreetSize and Localmouth each only suffer from one of these three problems :-)

FatDoor is No More

I’ve just been catching up with TechCrunch, and read that FatDoor, a social network for neighbours, has closed down. At one point it sounded promising (and had a fancy-looking neighbour-mapping feature), but I guess things didn’t look good in their beta testing. The founders have changed direction, launching a new site called Center’d, with an emphasis more on local event planning.

Local social network

I’ve been working away on a new site designed to help people connect with other local people. It is inspired mainly by Peuplade, a site that has done very well in France.

An initial version is now live, so if you have a few minutes, do give it a go. I’d love to know what you think.

It’s currently called StreetSize, but would love to hear any suggestions for better names.

Try it out now… the new local social network.