Dead Fingers Still Walking?

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Yellow pagesSeven years ago I wrote a post entitled “Dead Fingers Walking?”, where I imagined Google notifying various yellow pages companies about the blindingly obvious fact that they were basically screwed:

“But now, since we couldn’t buy Yelp, we have come to realize that perhaps showing links to yellow pages-type sites for local queries may be a tad on the evil side. I mean we’re already showing you our list of plumbers in Topeka so why do we need to show ten other sites’ lists?  So we’re thinking we may not want to do it anymore.  Doing what’s good for users and all that kind of thing.

Of course we’re still happy to show your reviews, hours of operation, payment accepted info, services offered, business descriptions, coupons, photos, videos, addresses and phone numbers on our Google Place Pages.  We are organizing the world’s information after all and who doesn’t want attribution from a Google URL?

And don’t worry that links to your sites are buried and won’t be seen.   As you know, someone who has clicked through numerous pages and then clicks on your link is clearly a more qualified clicker and will convert at a much higher rate than all those lookie-loos coming in from page one of the SERPs.”

With Dex Media’s $600MM acquisition of YP last week, it seems like at last the industry is publicly acknowledging what we have all been talking about at local search conferences for years. Google, and to an increasing extent, Facebook, are monopolizing consumer and advertiser attention, at the expense of every other “local search” brand.

According to Ben Thompson, these digital monopolies are seemingly inevitable thanks to what he calls “Aggregation Theory”:

Aggregation Theory is about how business works in a world with zero distribution costs and zero transaction costs; consumers are attracted to an aggregator through the delivery of a superior experience, which attracts modular suppliers, which improves the experience and thus attracts more consumers, and thus more suppliers in the aforementioned virtuous cycle. It is a phenomenon seen across industries including search (Google and web pages), feeds (Facebook and content), shopping (Amazon and retail goods),…

…thanks to these virtuous cycles, the big get bigger; indeed, all things being equal the equilibrium state in a market covered by Aggregation Theory is monopoly: one aggregator that has captured all of the consumers and all of the suppliers. This monopoly, though, is a lot different than the monopolies of yesteryear: aggregators aren’t limiting consumer choice by controlling supply (like oil) or distribution (like railroads) or infrastructure (like telephone wires); rather, consumers are self-selecting onto the Aggregator’s platform because it’s a better experience.

There is still, and always will be IMO, an enormous opportunity helping businesses navigate digital marketing. While Google and Facebook may have a lock on consumers and big advertisers, in no way do they have a lock on SMB advertisers.

Thanks to the high cost of customer acquisition combined with having to pay Google and Facebook a tax on virtually every dollar you bring in implies scale is the only way to outrun unprofitability. One of the biggest challenges is how to help SMBs at scale in a way that doesn’t result in a crappy service. Joe Walsh’s bet is that his team has built a better local marketing mousetrap with Thryv and YP will help Thryv achieve scale at an exponential rate.

If Dex Media/YP can provide a better experience for its advertisers, it’s got a real shot at keeping those fingers walking well into the future.

andrew shotlandAndrew Shotland is proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a leading local search engine optimization blog and consultancy.