Somewhat unexpectedly, 2014 has seen a profusion of companies entering the listing management arena, many of them veterans of related disciplines. Joining companies like UBL, Yext, and Neustar Localeze who have been active in the space for several years, this year we have seen announcements of new listing management services from Whitespark, Connectivity, VendAsta, Moz, and YP, to mention several prominent examples. Those of us with long experience in the space are not surprised that others would see the value in helping businesses get found on local search sites and apps. But why the sudden surge of activity?
Each of these newer entrants leverages its expertise to bring a new perspective to bear on the task of listing management. Connectivity (formerly Solfo) and VendAsta, veterans in reputation management, know a great deal about helping businesses track and monitor listings, user generated content, and social networking activity, so it’s a logical next step to introduce a “do it for me” solution that attempts to improve the performance of businesses in each of these areas. The new Moz Local service, which gained a lot of media attention when it was announced in March, is founded in the long experience and consultative work of David Mihm, founder of GetListed.org, who joined the company when Moz acquired GetListed in 2012. Similarly, Whitespark’s entry into listings management is predicated on the hire of local SEO expert Nyagoslav Zhekov, who was brought in to run that service. Indeed, Connectivity (parent of YellowBot) rebranded after longtime BIA/Kelsey analyst Matt Booth became the company’s new CEO.
Fresh talent, acquisitions, and greater access to capital are certainly some of the factors contributing to the birth of new listing management services, but they are not in themselves sufficient conditions. Perhaps the opportunity represented by the space has reached a tipping point. One might consider that the general trend toward relevance of content in Google’s slew of algorithm updates over the past couple of years has tended to undermine traditional SEO, leading companies to adopt content-based strategies in order to keep their clients competitive in search results. Local search sites and apps represent a kind of maximal concentration of useful content, focused as they are on giving consumers the exact data they require to identify and access local providers that meet their immediate needs. For this reason, there can be no more fundamental marketing strategy for any local business that hopes to gain search-based traffic than to ensure that popular sites and apps contain prominent, well-optimized listings.
Not only is it good SEO, but also, business owners themselves have probably begun to recognize the need for listing management in greater numbers — or at least, the presumption of growing awareness likely plays into the calculation that now is the time to enter the field. We’ve all seen the statistics, which I won’t repeat here except to say that local search on desktop and mobile is clearly the most prominent means besides word of mouth by which consumers discover local businesses. The businesses themselves are already fairly active on Google and Facebook, but they soon discover that listing management can be, in some cases, a confusing minefield, and in others, a seemingly open means of access to consumers but one that doesn’t always translate easily into new business. What’s more, there is no straightforward self-service strategy for businesses that works equally well across all of the sites that matter. More than ever, SMBs need timesavers, consolidated reporting services, and guides along the way. And this market, consisting of millions of consumer-facing local businesses of varying sizes, locations, categories, and marketing budgets, is undoubtedly large enough to support the complementary efforts of several companies.
But much of the foregoing was true a year or even two years ago, so I don’t feel I’ve hit upon an explanation that accounts for the flurry of recent activity. Perhaps it’s enough to say that we are seeing the inevitable confluence of some long-developing trends. Whereas local search grew out of models from previous media — print directories and telephone-based 411 services — it has decisively outgrown those models with the advent of mobile, and could now be termed natively digital were it not for a legacy dependence on data aggregated from print directories, telcos, and government sources. It’s the best data we currently have and it is compiled through herculean expenditures of time and money, but it’s not good enough to meet the needs of today’s consumers. The local search ecosystem needs listing data direct from the source – consumers and merchants themselves. Today’s emerging services will help make local data truly digital.
Damian Rollison is vice president of product and technology at Universal Business Listing, a company dedicated to promoting online visibility for local businesses. He holds degrees from University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia, where he worked at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. He can be reached via Twitter.