A listings management veteran, Jeff Beard is responsible for leading Localeze’s long-term strategic vision while driving growth, new-product and business development. In 2005, Jeff led an initiative focused on building information products targeted at the local search industry. From this initiative, Localeze was created. Localeze has quickly become the the largest business listings identity manager for local search.
Prior to Localeze, Jeff served as vice president of corporate development at TARGUSinfo, where he led the company through its acquisition of Amacai, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of TARGUSinfo. Jeff was a key player in Amacai’s 2001 launch and was primarily responsible for the operation and management of all business units. Prior to joining TARGUSinfo, Jeff spent 13 years at Acxiom Corporation, where he held a variety of sales, sales leadership and product positions.
David Dague sets the strategic branding and go-to-market strategies for Localeze and oversees its day-to-day corporate and product marketing initiatives. A telecom, information technology and local advertising media veteran, David most recently served at vice president of marketing and general manager of LeadStream for Innovectra Corporation, a local search software and services company, and Bell Atlantic Information Services, where he headed new-product development of local advertising media products for over ten years. David has also held leadership positions at American Management Systems and MCI Corporation, and has instructed sales and marketing courses at the undergraduate collegiate level.
David Dague: Eric – thank you for providing us with the time for this briefing. We’d like to update you on Localeze and our business model–Business Listings Identity Management, which is tackling a significant problem in the marketplace- inaccurate and multiple online business identities. We are currently defining our niche and establishing partners such as yourself and others to help solve these challenges at the business listings level.
As background, Localeze was founded in 2005 as a division of TARGUSinfo, a $100 million plus company and one of the leaders in on-demand business verification services, both on the consumer and business side. Through this relationship with the parent company, we are launching several technology-based solutions that will significantly advance and improve the local search marketplace.
Localeze has been profitable since 2005 with quarterly growth overtime and we continue to be on a strong growth path. Until more recently Localeze has been categorized with data compilers or listings providers, but we are moving away from that moniker into business listings identity management.
Business listings identity management has two components. One is the anchor identity of a business, which is characterized by its name, address, and phone number (NAP). The other component is the enhanced identity, which is largely deep keyword and link enhancements, which are distributed to our network of local search platform partners.
Eric Enge: Can you characterize some of your local search platform partners?
David Dague: These include small hyper-local sites like CitySquares, vertical sites focused on specific industries like automotive, Internet Yellow Pages publishers, major search engines like Bing and mobile and social network platforms. We maintain the largest network of local search platform partners in the industry.
Eric Enge: How would you differentiate what you do from InfoGroup or Acxiom?
David Dague: We wouldn’t necessarily differentiate the components of the listings or the identity itself. We primarily focus on a consistent anchor identity and a more descriptive enhanced identity.
We differentiate ourselves by a proprietary technology process that ensures the quality of our listings, author-verified name, address and phone number listings. Unlike other companies who make contact with a business once, we create an ongoing dialogue and are able to verify the author of the listing and develop a high-level of trust in that person.
Jeff Beard: Another differentiator of our company is direct relationships with over 90 local search platforms in the marketplace, from the major local search platforms, to national yellow pages publishers to the niche local providers. And, we maintain the largest database of business-verified managed listings (600,000) through authorized channel partners as well as directly, and increasingly with businesses themselves.
Also, we’ve entered the navigation space and are working with mobile applications focused on location. This is an opportunity not only to license data, but to further expand our distribution network. Overall, the management of a unique and stable business identity on the web is becoming increasingly important and the marketplace lacks consistent identities.
We have about roughly 14.5 million businesses in our repository and of those, 4.5 million businesses represent predominantly the top 100 search categories- content that is critical for launching a local search platform. We have added about 600,000 listings that are contractually managed for our customers on an ongoing basis. This information is updated, verified, and validated by the business owner every month to ensure that it is current.
Eric Enge: All 4.5 million businesses revalidate every month?
Jeff Beard: All of our listings are validated on an ongoing basis however 600,000+ are revalidated by businesses themselves monthly. We believe that businesses are the most important source for listings and that separates us in the space. We’ve figured how to bring efficiency and authoritativeness to the way people collect content from businesses and to how businesses submit information themselves and we are doing it in a way that enables us to communicate with businesses regularly. Some of the entities in the marketplace make phone calls, which are not a bad method, but what we are doing is far more authoritative and frequent.
There are four observations that we see regarding online listings identities:
1) Listings content is not scarce, which is why we began our business. We saw the proliferation of vertical sites and sites that were going to take the top 25, 50 or 100 categories and develop hyper-local interests. The days of utilitarian players like us or Acxiom and InfoGroup, as primary providers of content are probably going to be limited.
2) Secondly, local business content is being originated everywhere by users, businesses, agencies, search platforms and can be obtained from companies like Data Exchanges or us. A lot of these sites are now using rudimentary information submission tools from the front-end of their sites to originate information from a business owner or a representative. The problem is that the author can’t be verified causing inconsistency across sites and the inability for large traffic sites to link all of the unique information together for consumers.
3) The third element is outdated content. Listings may have been up-to-date at one time, but they need to be maintained. We are positioning Localeze as the editor in the process, since we continually validate and verify listings information.
4) The last point is that when information is incorrect it’s often out of ignorance more than malice. Businesses sometimes add a geo-modifier to their name, or try to use a ZIP that is in a targeted area to improve SEO. However, every time a business does this, they run the risk of creating a variance in their business listing identity, which may have a negative impact
Let’s look at this example: Madison’s, 1012 Lee Road, Johnson City, Tennessee. On the right side, there are five fictional sites that have engaged Madison’s, but the source of the content is unknown. It could have come from a field representative, somebody submitting it in a kiosk, or a data submission process on his or her own site, or even through a pay per call provider.
Notice the variations of the NAP. Some are obviously inaccurate but when major search engines crawl these sites, the two listings won’t link.
In addition, if a high traffic site sees different identities, they start to lose confidence in the business listing they internally maintain. Even though the intent was to help the business develop an advertising program or listing submission program, if it wasn’t done with a consistent anchor identity, they have hurt the business’ ability to be found and linked.
Eric Enge: In my presentation at SMX West, I argued that if the search engine sees a bunch of inconsistent data points on the web for a business, they will be apprehensive of treating that listing with much confidence. They don’t want to post information and have someone calling a wrong number.
Jeff Beard: For all of our local search platform partners, sites, we create and deliver a unique consistent identity for businesses and propagate it across the network, thereby creating consistency, efficiency and confidence in the listings. Also, we understand the value of the long-tail in propagating this information. The solution we offer gives the local business ownership and provides them with management tools, including best practices, and controls to create and manage their own business listing.
We are taking what has been done behind the scenes–aggregating large amounts of data from different sources, organizing it, structuring it, cleansing it, enhancing it, extending it, verifying it, and posting it–and pushing it to the forefront in a web application that allows the business owner to do it themselves.
A business could go to 20 sites and submit their information through an online submission process, but its unlikely that they will enter the exact information everywhere, and they might not know what the postal standardization will do to the address or the categorization process in place at any given site. Consequently, if the business owner submits information on 20 sites, it may manifest online in numerous ways because each site collects, organizes, structures, and enhances content differently. Our platform provides consistency to the process with the aim of cleaning up the noise and distortion created by multiple identities.
Eric Enge: So there is the basic listing problem, the NAP problem, and the issue of ensuring that each distinct search player renders the data in the same way?
Jeff Beard: Yes, it’s a combination of verifying and validating the listing information, as well as being the originating content source. We set ourselves apart through our ability to leverage TARGUSinfo, one of the largest information verification companies for online services, into our product set. We are able to verify that the author of a business listing is affiliated with the business, lives close and has validated company NAP information in the last 30 days.
Eric Enge: You said that you have 600,000 businesses proactively updating their listings on a regular basis with many of them doing it at least monthly. Then there are 4.5 million that are doing something in terms of validating their data, but not as aggressively.
Jeff Beard: Of our 14.5 million listings, we glean additional enhanced content like product/service, brand and hours of operation from 4.5 million businesses.
Eric Enge: In rough terms, what is the business model for the person who wants to proactively manage their listings? And secondly, what are the plans to scale up the number of participants?
Jeff Beard: We tackled the national brands first because it was cost effective and they were easy to find. We have about 300 customers under management today, mostly Fortune 1000 companies with brick and mortar locations. About half of them come through our direct sales channel where they are buying a service directly from us. The other half come through one of our 150+ channel partners who are either reselling our service or bundling it into another service.
About half of our channel partners are servicing local businesses, and a significant number of the 600,000 listings are local businesses. We have not gone directly to the local market, but will over the next couple of months. The channel partner relationships are our most significant path of growth. In all cases, the business model is a simple annual subscription per location.
Eric Enge: It will be interesting to get to the scale where you are able to offer ultra-validated listings for the various portals.
Jeff Beard: One of the biggest frustrations for businesses today is not having an impact at major search engines. They don’t have a voice, and they get frustrated. Our aim is to become a bully pulpit within the search marketplace by providing a transparent platform that business can use to take control of and claim their listing. By validating these listings, we can let the search engines know that of the 14.5 million, there are 600,000 (and counting) that have been checked and are being managed by the business. The search platforms have a need to utilize this trusted, authoritative information.
We offer a six-step turnkey process that transfers power to the business owner and leverages our database and tools to organize, structure and manage the content.
Eric Enge: So the combination of proprietary technology and the relationships and data that TARGUSinfo has, you believe you have an edge in the validation process over those making tens of millions of phone calls?
Jeff Beard: In short, yes. Because those millions of phone calls are done only once a year and our model is an ongoing dialogue between the business owner/author and the platforms “the perfect ecosystem.”
Eric Enge: That was an interesting discussion to go through to help crystallize a in my mind where you guys are going, and the extent to which you are pushing it. Very helpful, thank you!
Jeff Beard: Thank you again Eric!