Local Corp CEO: Mobile Is a Type of Traffic, Not a Type of Product

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As the hyperlocal ecosystem continues to churn, one longstanding player has quietly been taking a bigger and bigger chunk of the pie. Local Corporation, a publicly owned media company with network traffic reaching more than 30 million local consumers, has moved from having a deep focus on local search and SEO into other new areas of SMB marketing like daily deals and mobile ads.

Street Fight recently caught up with Local Corporation CEO Heath Clarke, who has helmed the company since 1999, several lifetimes ago in Internet years. He talked about the company’s position in the hyperlocal space, the growing importance of mobile for SMBs and the future of daily deals as a category.

Local Corp has a wide variety of local marketing products for SMBs. What do you see as the company’s main mission?
Our main job is to help businesses connect with local consumers. … With our small business products we try to do three key things in that context. One is to get them a really professional presence online, which a lot of them have challenges with. The second is to help them with reach. And the third one is to help them engage with the customers that they already have more efficiently.

What areas of local marketing do you see growing in the next year or so and why? 
If you look at the different digital media products that we have or are partners for, we have got everything from hyperclick to leads to daily deals to display to SEO. So, there’s a wide variety of things.

Mobile is more a type of traffic than a type of product, and obviously everything is going mobile. That makes everything more complicated for small business owners because they know that they’ve got to spend money digitally. Local ads work really well [on the desktop], but it’s more complicated over mobile devices, particularly if you’re dealing with pay-per-click ad campaigns. So, they’re doing online more and more, and all the consumers they are chasing are doing everything on their mobile devices.

You talk about mobile as a “type of traffic” instead of a product. Is that a concept that you’re basing your strategy around? Do you think hyperlocal companies need to be thinking about mobile differently?
We believe mobile requires different digital ad products for SMBs to be more effective in reaching those mobile consumers, since mobile has unique characteristics as compared to PC or tablet traffic. As an industry, we’re still figuring out what those characteristics are.

For example, pay-per-call ads on PC [or] tablet [devices] haven’t been as effective as one would expect for a performance ad product. But it’s a natural monetization method in mobile, and we think it will play a larger role in answering the mobile monetization questions. We think pay-per-call will dominate as a monetization model in certain verticals.

We believe that as consumer behavior changes, it is important for SMBs to adapt their ad strategies to reach potential customers across multiple channels, which include mobile platforms, web and social platforms as well.

Are SMBs still reluctant to pursue mobile advertising?
How we view it — or at least how I view mobile — is that it’s really just another access point to the Internet. It’s still the Internet; it’s not this new thing. It has got fundamental physical challenges because the screen you’re looking at is so small — so the Internet has to be viewed through that little tiny screen. So we’ve got to be optimized for that. But you’re still dealing with the same thing at the other end of the pipe.

I think for small businesses, they are not there yet.  In terms of how we serve them, they really ought to have a mobile presence. Or whatever presence they have should be mobile optimized. A lot of small businesses don’t have websites that are optimized for mobile, and they’re missing out on being able to be indexed by the major search engines. If they don’t have a mobile-enabled site, they probably aren’t going to be ranked as well as a competitor who does. They ought to be in the game because that’s what consumers are doing.

What is your take on daily deals and their future as a SMB marketing tool?
Any kind of performance ad unit is better, and daily deals is a performance ad unit. At least that’s how we think about it.

“Performance” in ads is clicks, calls, deals or leads. So “daily deals” is, we think, a piece of the solution. We’re in the process of rolling our daily deals under our SMB solution, so we can really take daily deals as a piece of the solution and provide them to the kinds of businesses that will use them effectively.

Daily deals, you ask, “Has it changed? Will it change?” I think the core economics will continue to change in favor of the small business, and as a standalone, for us anyway, we’re more interested in daily deals being part of an overall solution.

What do you think are some of the best tools out there for SMBs to better market to and connect with consumers?
Well, they’ve got to have their name out there where the consumers are. Obviously everyone is routing through Yahoo, Google and Bing, so they got to make sure they are getting presence there. There’s dozens of different ways you can do that. If you look at all the different ways, say, a small business can reach potential customers, it’s pretty daunting.

There’s lot of things that they can do, but they need help. They have all the directory publishers they’ve got to be on, but they’ve got to make sure their content is accurate. They’ve got to make sure their website works and can be indexed by the major search engines. You’ve got a situation where 70% of small businesses don’t have their phone number on the home page and 80% don’t have the address on their home page — which is really quite a poor consumer experience. And when you don’t have all those things structurally, you’re not going to get indexed by the major search engines — or at least not as well as your competitors who do have those things. At a minimum, you’ve got have excellent presence online, and a lot of small businesses don’t have that.

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.