ReachLocal’s Rowlands: In Order to Stay Relevant with Your Market, You Have No Choice But to Broaden

ReachLocal has been an influential player in local online marketing since 2005, when it first offered small businesses the opportunity to advertise on search engines and directories. But the company has struggled in recent years, and it hired Sharon Rowlands as CEO last year in an effort to rebuild its market position. Street Fight caught up with Rowlands for a conversation about digital marketing’s “one-stop shop” mentality, how the industry is making things more complicated for business owners, and what services SMBs should prioritize.

Rowlands will join us as a speaker at the Street Fight Summit in New York on October 20th. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

ReachLocal CEO Sharon Rowlands

When you last spoke to Street Fight six months ago, the conversation was largely about the issues that plague the small business marketing industry as a whole. Do you think businesses and brands are becoming more knowledgeable about what makes for an effective digital marketing strategy?
Businesses are definitely becoming more knowledgeable around the importance of having an effective digital marketing strategy, and we’ve also noticed that our customers are getting savvier. At the same time, though, I think it’s becoming more complicated. Just as businesses are coming to grips with how to be effective regarding, say, search engine marketing, now they have to grapple with social media too.

There’s another level of confusion around “What do I need to be doing?” “What don’t I need to be doing?” “What’s going to be effective for me?” And then you layer the whole mobile agenda across that. I think we’re going into a phase of having so many choices and options for businesses that there’s a whole other struggle.

Do you think that offering an all-in-one marketing solution is a way to break away from those problems?
I do. I think the more a solution can be simplified, the easier it becomes for businesses to understand. But solutions have to work, and it’s not enough just to have an all-in-one offering. That’s got to be coupled with a really effective solution that’s relevant to a particular business. You have to take into account vertical needs. I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a solution that’s the same for every vertical, because what retail needs is very different from a service business. Whether you’re trying to drive traffic into a store or make the phone ring, those objectives have to be considered.

Have we reached a point in small business marketing where there’s pressure to offer a full suite of services?
There is pressure. A lot of companies started with a one-product solution — ReachLocal in search and other companies in email marketing or social. But our customers’ needs evolved, and they needed more than that one product. In order to stay relevant with your market, you have no choice but to broaden.

What’s key, though, is companies understanding how all these things work together as a seamless solution, and not creating a Frankenstein that’s made up of five different products mashed together. We’re seeing a lot of digital marketing companies moving toward this one-stop-shop marketing approach, and it’s being driven by the fact that SMBs are using multiple solutions. We did research among our client base, and we identified that a lot of our customers are using about seven different digital tools and multiple vendors. That comes with overhead and complexity. If it’s possible to have all those things together, so you’re working off of one infrastructure, clearly that has a lot of potential advantages.

Which services are absolutely vital for small businesses to prioritize?
If I were advising a business, the first thing I’d say is they’ve got to have a digital presence. That has to be the number-one thing. You just have to get found. Having a base digital presence where you’ve claimed your Google listings, you’ve got your Yelp profile sorted, your name and address are turning up in all the appropriate directories — that’s foundational. Second, you should have a strong website that’s mobile-optimized. To me, those are the things you absolutely have to have. From there, depending on your customer base, you’ve got to think about what’s going to be the most effective lead generation solution for you. If you want to make your phone ring, then you have to start thinking about search engine optimization and retargeting.

Platforms like Google and Facebook offer some degree of small business marketing. How do those big names affect ReachLocal?
We leverage them, and the fact that there are more and more players is actually good for our business. Fragmentation supports our value proposition, because our platform essentially sits as a layer across all the various publishers. So the fact that you’ve got Yahoo getting more aggressive in search with its Gemini platform, Bing revitalizing its platform — that’s very good for ReachLocal, because we optimize across all of them, and the more inventory there is across different publishers, the more we can do in getting the best, most cost-effective leads for our clients. With Facebook coming into the market, with Yelp opening up its API, that means we can now start to optimize across those publishers as well.

You came to ReachLocal at a turbulent time for the company. What have you observed about the digital marketing space within the context of ReachLocal’s turnaround?
It’s a very competitive and fragmented market, and there’s been a great deal of innovation. Because it’s a large space that’s still growing, it’s attracted a lot of investment, so you’ve got loads of entrepreneurs and startups in the space. That’s very healthy for the industry.

For the small business owner, though, it’s very challenging. SMBs are getting multiple calls a day, and everybody’s got something that’s going to help them with their business: “We can get you a better website,” “We can get you more clicks.” Typically, small business owners don’t have time to evaluate these solutions.

Over the next couple of years, there’s going to be industry consolidation and a bit of a shake-up, because it’s just too hard to sell into this particular market with the number of players that exist today.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  1. Kirk in Orlando
    September 30, 2015


    “Over the next couple of years, there’s going to be industry consolidation and a bit of a shake-up, because it’s just too hard to sell into this particular market with the number of players that exist today.”

    I can’t believe she came out and said that, a lot of people have thought ReachLocal would get bought out for a long time, but for her to come as close to saying they are being bought out as she can in an article is amazing. Obviously with the RLOC stock, cash flow, cash on hand, and revenue at all time lows they will not be the company that does the acquiring.

    1. ReachLocal is Evil
      November 16, 2015

      No Sharon is there for the money and the “face” while ReachLocal heads for BK. Money money money.
      As Chief Executive Officer at REACHLOCAL INC, Sharon Rowlands made $5,515,372 in total compensation. Of this total $377,885 was received as a salary, $0 was received as a bonus, $4,019,565 was received in stock options, $1,008,000 was awarded as stock and $109,922 came from other types of compensation.
      Sharon Rowlands –…

  2. GRITS
    October 2, 2015

    The issue with the industry is that NOT ONE of these companies – ReachLocal, GoDaddy, Intuit, etc. executives that are soliciting SMB’s (which don’t you people read market info? SMB’s are SMALL BUSINESSES, use that term! Yes, it is different! – UGH) even know what it is like to be a Small Business. WHY? Because most have never worked for a small business. Most, Ivy League or college grads with connections. They have NO IDEA what it is like to be the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer! All these companies always trying to sell Small Business what they don’t need for a quick buck. GoDaddy notorious for that. Why trust them? Small Business companies are in it for the long haul, we service our community, we sell products to our community, we have a reputation in our community. We are getting smarter as to what your companies do…come up with an idea, i.e.; reports, keywords, seo/sem tools, etc. to sell Digital Service Marketing to a Small Business Owner, offer it for free to build up your user base, get investors, sell out, charge up the ying yang, and all ya’ll go and do it again under another company. NEVER ONCE asking Small Business what they need. At least Sharon has some of it right… NOBODY is getting it right, DSM’s reputation stinks. Maybe she would be open to listening?

    1. Sharon Rowlands
      October 5, 2015

      Grits, I am sorry you feel this way. I can assure you that the people that work at Reachlocal are very passionate about helping small and local businesses grow. The services we offer allow smaller businesses to compete against larger companies and make marketing a more level playing field. We make a lot of effort to understand the needs of our customers – I am opening to listening so please feel free to reach out to me directly

      1. The Real Truth Sayer
        November 16, 2015

        The people that work at Reachlocal are very passionate about helping small and local businesses grow. Are you kidding me? They are passionate about their pockets! Just raise your mark up from 70% to maybe 80%. If RL cared so much about their clients they would disclose and offer a flat rate management fee. Ever since Nathan Hanks and all of your TRUE IMC’s and CC’s left your company its been in a death spiral. If this is your definition of care – wouldn’t like to see your “don’t care”.

  3. October 6, 2015

    Hi Sharon,

    Great to see that you are active in responding to people and that you actually listen to the market. We would love to hear your thoughts on the future of the industry and the future of ReachLocal itself? We are all aware of the share price and how it has plummeted.

    How do you plan to turn the company around ?

  4. Oldhead60
    December 19, 2015

    Hi Sharon, glad to see you’re continuing to absorb loads of cash in the millions after you and you other executives destroyed Altegrity and USIS… Glad to see Blake Perceval received 6 Million for whistleblowing what You and Your past leaders shared millions after the collapse. Hope the government federal investigation fits you for an orange jumpsuit, where you and your friends belong. Readers, look up USIS and read about it.

  5. March 22, 2016

    Look what we have managed to find online about Reachlocal

    63 complaints, headlines as follows

    ReachLocal – Worst SEO company possible, (client in Tempe in Arizona)
    ReachLocal – Worst Experience Ever (client in Huntington Beach California)
    ReachLocal Is a Premier Global Partner of Google’s (mole)
    ReachLocal – Talk Big with Zero Results, (Client in Edmonton Alberta)
    ReachLocal – Reach Local ripp offfffff, (client in Ottawa Ontario)
    ReachLocal – They chasing targets not customer solutions, (Melbourne, Victoria)
    ReachLocal – Wow, cant believe we all got ripped off (Hoddesdon England)
    ReachLocal – Deception and Misleading Conduct (Ventura California)
    ReachLocal – Dont touch them (Melbourne Victoria)
    ReachLocal did not provide me with what I paid for
    Reachlocal keep 60% of the entire spend for themselves
    ReachLocal – This website proves there is justice, please heed the complaints presented here (Hillsboro, Oregon)
    ReachLocal – NOT ONE LEAD !! ASK FOR A REFUND IT WAS SO BAD! (Los Altos, California)
    ReachLocal – Just one Month into Contract (West Palm Beach Florida)
    ReachLocal – Liars, Scammers, Thieves…(Cibolo Texas)
    ReachLocal – Waste of Money, Don’t contract this service. Was coned into this but the person telling me they will get great results. (Saugus, Massachusetts)
    Reachlocal – BIG FRAUD CASE (London, UK)
    ReachLocal – Reach Local should be shut down!!
    ReachLocal – At a more ways than one! (Orlando, Florida)
    ReachLocal – First two months work perfect and then nothing
    ReachLocal – Simple Review #1410141334 (winter Springs Florida)
    ReachLocal – Local? leads from Out of State!; No Cancellation (Chicago, Illinois)
    ReachLocal – No visibility of adwords, lies and pocketing 50% of your money!!!!! (London UK)
    ReachLocal – Reach Local – go elsewhere, wish I had
    ReachLocal – Everything was fine and then……….nothing, zero, nada
    ReachLocal – No ReTargetgin Campaign
    ReachLocal – Lack of support with poor performance. Bad terms and conditions (colombus Ohio)
    ReachLocal – I should have just flushed $3,300 down a toilet (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
    ReachLocal – Reach Local are the Devil’s advocate
    ReachLocal – Told to go to ***.
    ReachLocal – Act like they invented online marketing
    ReachLocal – Do Not Use Reach Local!!!!!!!!!! (Houston, Texas)
    ReachLocal ripped off (Houston Texas)
    ReachLocal – Do not use
    ReachLocal – Still reeling after almost a year
    ReachLocal – Very Unethical company
    ReachLocal – Vice president
    ReachLocal – Reach Local – RIP OFF
    ReachLocal – Terrible Results – complete WASTE OF MONEY
    ReachLocal – Never Do Business with Reach Local. They Are Not To Be Trusted!
    ReachLocal is not Competent
    ReachLocal – Reach Local is way too expensive
    ReachLocal is a SCAM “BIG PROMISES” no results!
    ReachLocal – Lied, did nothing, and stole my money.
    AVOID REACHLOCAL for your Biz Marketing!
    ReachLocal Does Not Know What They Are Doing
    ReachLocal – Reach Local’s Sale Scams! Don’t Trust!
    ReachLocal is a Scam that the IMC doesn’t even understand
    Do not believe ReachLocal, SCAM, SCAM, SCAM!
    ReachLocal – Asked for Targeted Program and Got Worthless Keywords Instead
    ReachLocal – Reach Local has no business ethics


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