The president and CEO of Temecula, Calif.-based Search Initiatives, parent company of eLocal Listing and MyLocally, talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his company’s online lead generation solutions for local businesses.
Search Initiatives is a leading provider of search based, content-driven lead generation solutions for small- to medium-sized businesses in the United States. The company provides easy, affordable solutions for businesses looking to improve their web presence without the need for a website or large marketing budget.
“Today, fully half of all online advertising dollars are generated by search at just a handful of search engines,” says Judd. “We always think of Google as the leader but Yahoo! and bing have one-third of the market share. You could argue that the new Yellow Pages is three pages thick, and if you’re not there you’re not going to get anything from online advertising. That’s why it became really clear, to me anyway, that the next big thing in online search would be local search.”
Opportunist: Tim, please tell us about yourself.
Tim: I’ve been in sales and marketing for technology companies all my working life. In the late-‘90s, I was working for a global technology company selling big systems to big newspapers in London, such as The Times, the Globe and The Telegraph. The web was in its infancy and the dot com boom was just starting. I found that very interesting. So, when my green card came through, I gave up my indentured servitude [Laughs] and moved to the Internet and corporate search world. I joined one of the early search providers, back when Google was in short pants and there was Yahoo! blue links.
Opportunist: Which company was that?
Tim: Fast Search and Transfer, also known as FAST. I became their director of business development and expanded their Internet search division to the point where it became an attractive acquisition target. Two years later, Overture Advertising bought FAST. And, literally, within weeks Yahoo! bought Overture and FAST became part of the Yahoo! empire. I moved on to run search business development for Terra Lycos, which was one of the Internet powerhouses and we grew a very large search business with them. It was a massive success. Lycos was bought by Daum a couple of years later and then I moved on and ran a search arbitrage business.
Opportunist: What exactly is search arbitrage?
Tim: It’s essentially a search traffic business. Ads are hosted on a website or blog and the search engines pay for clicks on those ads. Think about the way search developed as a business. It started as a way to find stuff online. Then, as the Internet grew too big to handle all your favorite links, etc., the search engines came along to make the web searchable. Then Google commercialized it with pay-per-click advertising. That was a kind of kooky idea and wasn’t really thought of as a great way to do advertising, but it turned into the most valuable thing on the Internet. It’s a massive opportunity, and one which has been seized by most large companies, but many local businesses have yet to jump in.
Opportunist: Is eLocal Listing providing that platform?
Tim: Yes. Pay-per-click advertising has worked extremely well for major advertisers—it’s a huge business—but it doesn’t work as well for the local business that doesn’t have a website. The local economy makes up half the U.S. economy, but many small businesses still have no web presence at all—not even a brochure website.
Opportunist: Why do you think that is?
Tim: The typical small business doesn’t care about clicks or website visits. They have grounds to keep, patients to see and teeth to fix. They generally don’t understand marketing—and certainly not online. If I’m a plumber or car repair shop, for example, I just want the phone to ring. There has been an enormous sea change in local businesses accepting and agreeing to spend money online for new customers and demanding a proven return on investment. What they’ve come up with, as the methodology they will accept, is pay-per-call.
Opportunist: Is that what your Clicks2Calls Program is based on?
Tim: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not new; however, doing it for the local guy—in large volumes—is new, and we are the master of that. We drive search engine visibility for the local business—for queries that are relevant to that business. For example, if a consumer is searching for a muffler shop in Okeechobee, Fla., he doesn’t care about muffler shops in Denver. Search engine visibility is critical to getting new clients. The kind of stuff that we do—customized marketing videos, images and written profiles that we publish for our advertisers —gets them found on search. Search is the most valuable and transactional segment of the Internet.
The way we work our business is pay-per-call. There are maybe three to four million local businesses nationwide that will pay for a lead or a call. Our expert team and our technology can drive qualified calls to local businesses from paid and earned (SEO) search engine visibility. It’s a very simple model. We are making the phone ring in thousands of businesses across the country.
Opportunist: What is your target market?
Tim: We are typically contracted with Yellow Pages aggregators. Aggregators have to make calls happen, so they turn to people like us to drive those calls. We have deals with large aggregators of advertisers.
Opportunist: What is the cost per lead?
Tim: Leads can be priced from $10 to $100. A mold remediation company or a plastic surgeon might pay $100 for a client looking for a quote, whereas a tire shop might pay $20. With print advertising you never knew what was working. Now, with targetability and search engine optimization, it’s possible to say “I want 12 leads per months for my muffler shop and I’ll pay $20 apiece for those leads.” It’s almost magical and it’s what we do. However, if you get it wrong, the ability to lose money is there. You are juggling daggers. If you don’t know how to do it you can get into trouble and lose fortunes. If a local business tries to get online themselves and become involved in a pay-per-click campaign, they could vaporize their budget in a day.
It’s all about scale. Companies with large marketing budgets can spend $100,000 a month doing what we do. Local guys don’t usually have marketing people. They know they want to make rent, pay their people, grow their business and put their kids through college. They don’t know how, but they want the phone to ring. As the generations age and the tech savvier kids take over, people may try to do it themselves. But if you’re a hardworking guy with a tough job to do and people to corral, you need the phone to ring twice a day. Would you pay $10 a lead? Sure you would, because you know you’re going to get one job out of four calls. Local business people are smart and know what they want to buy, but they don’t want to get involved in the nonsense of doing it themselves.
Opportunist: We understand you recently launched a brand-new social media platform.
Tim: Yes, we launched MyLocally last fall, and it’s awesome. It was created in one of those aha moments when I was wondering about the fact that social media doesn’t get found in searches. Facebook pages and Twitter posts are kind of regarded as ephemeral and don’t get found in search. So, we developed this technology and product that uses social media content to drive search engine visibility.
Opportunist: How does that work?
Tim: It turns social media chatter that doesn’t get found in search into marketplace pages. Through MyLocally, we will capture that and push you up until you get found in the search engines.
Social Media is here and it’s huge, but it’s not transactional like search. You go to search to find something, which makes it a targetable and transaction driven media. Search is fantastic at finding people who want a specific product or service. Facebook is not like that. You’re there doing your thing and talking to your friends and there are ads running down the side, but very seldom will you be looking for a plumber on Facebook or Twitter.
One of the many neat things about MyLocally is if you have, let’s say, 20 chiropractors in a town and five of those adopt their MyLocally page and three really use it and post to it and blog on it, we can prioritize, in our marketplace pages, the business that does the most social engagement. So, what happens is our marketplace pages get found by the search engines and they are content rich and accurate and timely and fresh so the search engines rank them well. Businesses that are the most socially engaged are ranked the highest. It’s good old-fashioned capitalism. We are giving them the kind of tools they would have to pay for. You can make money from it, but what we really wanted to do was get into the social media game.
Opportunist: What is the cost?
Tim: Price of admission to the big game is free. It’s free to use, free to join and free forever. If you want to be a featured or premier business, however, there is a $9.95 monthly fee.
Opportunist: What milestones would you like the company to reach in 2012?
Tim: Get a quarter million companies fully deployed in our platforms. We have the advertisers identified and we have the contracts in place; it’s just a matter of how quickly we can deploy them. As we make our clients successful, it’s a virtuous circle and we become more successful.
Opportunist: What do you believe is in store for the company within five years?
Tim: Our mission is to drive local visibility to local businesses. So, on the commercial side, I would say to become the largest generator of high quality local leads to local businesses. On the other side of the coin, we would like to become the point of social engagement for local business—by providing them with tools to make them easily and effectively get online and get found in search. That’s what we do. We have many other trends that we are also working on bringing maximum exposure.
Opportunist: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Tim Judd.
Tim: I am involved in business development and our product side. Ralph Williams, our cofounder and CFO, is the money guy who makes sure all our structure and accounts are OK. I do about three pitches per day with my sales guys. I’m the lead evangelist, so explaining the benefits of working with us is my favorite thing to do. I am also about to get remarried and trying to have a life. [Laughs]
eLocal Listing - www.elocallisting.com
MyLocally - www.mylocally.com
Search Initiatives - www.searchinitiatives.com
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.