Sunday, 2 August 2009

Something to Shout About

Recently I was faced with a challenge that that was even more taxing than trying to fix my blog, I had a leaking pipe. My desired action in these sorts of scenarios is always to try and find a tradesman as soon as possible. In my opinion, given the process of locating the right person for the job, is far more complicated that it needs to be.

Yell.com is the online manifestation of the famous Yellow Pages brand, the traditional first port of call for anyone seeking help with the nasty things in life.
In my opinion, the website is under performing.

Google Trends demonstrates that the site has lost traction throughout 2009.
A quick analysis within Hitwise indicates that the website has dropped from 2nd to 3rd position in the Business Classified section behind both the US and the UK versions of Google Maps.

I have previously blogged about the ability of Google to destroy online businesses and Yell.com is clearly in the firing line. So what is Yell.com doing wrong? Here is my synopsis:

1. The first page of results are dominated by sponsored listings.
Customers have only recently become accustomed to Google sponsored links and there is a far more complicated algorithm involved in calculating these results. I am certain that the Yell algorithm does not factor for quality score and relevancy when determining the hierarchy of its sponsored listings.


It's great that Yell are earning revenue from charging suppliers to appear in the top positions for relevant keywords, but what sort of experience does this offer the customer. In my circumstance, I called all four of the sponsored listings and only one was really relevant and lived up to the description placed on Yell, whilst another had no integrity at all. Advertised as "no call-out fee" they instructed me that I had to pay a fee as soon as the plumber stepped through my front door. It reminded me of this. I know exactly how Yell can improve this experience for customers.

2. Incorporate User Generated Content
In my opinion, this is the biggest missed opportunity for Yell. Given the importance of UGC in todays online environment, it is a fundamental missing from what is one of the UK's largest comparators.

We have all seen the programmes on TV such as BBC1's Rogue Traders aimed at highlighting the cowboys. I live in fear of having one such cowboy visit my house.

The best way to find a tradesman is to seek recommendations from friends and family. In my pursuit of a plumber, I was advised of the Check-a-trade website, that offers the capability to rank tradesman based on the scores awarded to them from previous customers. Each tradesman is scored from 1-10 with room to put comments and justification where necessary. This allowed me to select a plumber that was recommended for work conducted locally.

Yell should either consider the acquisition of Check a Trade and incorporate their reviews into the comparison space or look to develop similar functionality in order to increase the integrity of their search results and consequently the propensity of customers to revisit their website. The Google trends graph above clearly illustrates that traffic is steadily declining.

Once the site has the ability to detail an accurate set of search results, they will then be able to revisit the business model for receiving payments from suppliers.

3. Earn Revenue from Referrals
I do not believe that Yell currently earn money from referring a company to a customer successfully. I believe they still work as a classic business directory, charging for relevant placements within their site in the same way as they would the old Yellow Pages book. There are far more effective ways of monetising their online traffic.

If they were to instigate an affiliate relationship with all partners listed in the directory, they could earn money from the value they are passing on to customers and suppliers.

This could either be a on cost per acquisition basis, where the supplier website is advanced enough to facilitate appointment booking, or on a cost per lead basis, where customers are simply able to make an online enquiry.

I estimate that functionality to allow tradesman to develop online booking will be available as a saleable application within the next five years but it is not here now.

Therefore, Yell should develop telephone tracking capability to record all the calls made to businesses as a result of enquiries made from their website. In this instance, they would be able to charge organisations on a cost per lead basis. This would incentivise suppliers to list accurate details on the Yell website, as they will have a higher chance of converting the paid lead.

I am sure that Yell are aware of all these points, but if they do need any assistance, I'm just down the road. My name, yes, it's (J) R Hart(ley)igan.