In the fast-churning world of small-business-focused digital start-ups, Yodle’s nearly eight years in the business already make it a bit of a veteran player among those providing marketing services and advertising assistance to SMBs. While the company may not be the best-known name in the field, Yodle now works with over 30,000 small businesses across the country and its 2012 revenue topped $100 million — a more than 40 percent spike from the previous year. Meanwhile, Google recently named Yodle its No. 1 mobile partner for SMBs.
Street Fight recently caught up with Yodle CEO Court Cunningham to talk about the future of mobile advertising, why small business websites are still so important, and why the company is trying to arrange a partnership with Facebook.
You’ve been working closely with Google lately. How did that partnership come about?
Google is focused on helping small businesses grow their online advertising. We do websites, SEM, SEO advertising, reputation management, dashboard. We’ve had a relationship with Google for seven-plus years. As a result of that and as a result of our approach to data-driven algorithmic optimization of marketing campaigns, they recognized our level of sophistication as well as our revenue growth. When they relaunched the partner program, they asked us to be in the program.
What do you get out of the relationship?
The benefit to us is a little bit of credibility when we are talking to small businesses, but it’s mostly access to their product teams for things that are coming up so we can respond to those quickly.
We were one of the first [companies] to use local ad extension, which is an ad format for mobile. Once we saw the efficacy of mobile advertising, we built a whole module of our product around mobile that includes dedicated mobile websites that veer off of your desktop site, dedicated mobile bidding, and dedicated mobile ad formats. As a result of that, we won a Mobile Champion Award from Google at their end-of-year mobile partner conference in December. That’s a great example of the partnership and how that helps us advance into mobile quickly and then our data-driven approach.
The big talk in local these days is around mobile. Do you have plans to invest further in the space?
On the advertising side of our business, yes. Mobile is clearly the growth driver. Almost 40 percent of the leads we generate come from mobile devices, which is roughly equal to the penetration of mobile searches.
But we’re also seeing growth on the non-advertising side. We have two products, Yodle Organic and Yodle Web, which are basic web presence products; you get the ability to see what is happening with your business online and to juice it with some SEO. If you survey small businesses, what you’ll see is that everyone wants a better website and everyone wants to be on Facebook but doesn’t really know how to use that.
Right now, we aren’t doing anything with social, but we are doing a lot on website development. It’s basic — so 2000! — [for us] to be doing websites; but it’s [a small business'] basic presence. Our websites convert at three times the rate of the average small business website and we think we can actually increase that while making them aesthetically pleasing.
During an interview with Bloomberg in June, you said that you’ve positioned yourself as the “marketing department for small businesses” and that 80 percent of your clients have less than 10 employees. Is that still the case?
It absolutely is. There are tools out there like AdWords or Facebook Ads, but the problem is that you need a full-time person to use all those tools. Bigger companies might have a marketing person on staff. But my dentist’s office [consists of] two dentists, a hygienist, and a receptionist. No one in that office has any time to do all that. We focus on the small business that is time starved and doesn’t have a lot of marketing knowledge but is absolutely trying to manage their online marketing.
Any plans to work in the social space?
This year, hopefully in the first half, we’re going to be launching a retention-marketing product. Once we launch the retention-marketing product, very quickly thereafter we see adding in social as a retention-marketing channel. We have lots of anecdotal evidence from our customers that it works.
We tend to work more with service businesses — dentists, lawyers, contractors — and those are generally not the kind of things you talk about with your friends. You don’t go to a party and talk about your bankruptcy attorney or your pest control guy. You talk about the restaurant you went to or the sports event you went to. But we do think for retention we can get social to work. We may pivot that into acquisition for segments that we don’t work with now. Facebook has made a big commitment with social search and we think that they are going to be a major player and we want to figure out how to work with them.
Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.