Citysearch Reboots: A Talk With EVP Scott Morrow

Citysearch has been around the local scene for so long that it often gets overlooked. But the IAC division plans a significantly higher profile in early 2007, with a relaunch of its site, a big push on local and national sales, and re-branding efforts that will do away with the "Yellow Pages" moniker, among other things.

The efforts will be headed by two recently recruited executives: CNET's Scott Morrow, who is now exec VP, product and marketing, and YellowPages.com's Neil Salvage, who is now exec VP, sales. "We're going to really position it in the market. It has been a few years since there's been a crisp message," said Morrow, during a phone interview.

For starters, Morrow said the site will be redesigned to convey more of a local flavor for users. Instead of a single look and feel for every U.S. market, local landmarks and other graphical things are going to find their way onto the site.

The site's content will also feel considerably more local. Each of the top 10 markets has its own local editor, supplemented by freelancers. In all, there are 100 editors on staff. These efforts will be ramped up, along with some new deals with third-party content providers, such as city magazines and verticals.

San Diego Magazine, for instance, has been announced as a key player in San Diego, where Citysearch and the local newspaper site Sign On San Diego have broken off ties after a multiyear partnership. "Content is key to making the business work," said Morrow.

There will also be a renewed focus on user-generated content. Citysearch actually pioneered "best of" contests, user reviews and other user content in the 1996 to 1998 timeframe. But during the intervening years, a lot of it has gotten stale. Recently, some 1997 reviews were spotted on some sections of the site.

By the end of the year, however, Morrow said that all time-sensitive reviews for restaurants and other categories will have been posted within the past 12 months. "It is really a Herculean effort," he said. Other reviews, such as tourist destinations, will be kept on the site. "A review of the Statue of Liberty is probably still relevant" for several years.

Merchant information is also getting a fresh look. "It gets a bad rap" for being self-serving, but can be very useful if done properly, said Morrow. A dedicated sales team is going to take charge of capturing the merchant info, and will put it up within 24 hours. This might prove to be an advantage of Citysearch's sales team, which Salvage is currently bulking up. Salvage has also created a national sales division.

The merchant info, however, won't be part of something called "Citysearch Yellow Pages." "Having category coverage in traditional Yellow Pages categories is essential to helping users," said Morrow. "But there are legacy issues associated with 'Yellow Pages,' " he said. "We are going to reframe it in a way that fits the brand."

Morrow also sees "huge opportunities" with a host of mobile services, which have just been relaunched. But mobile won't be affecting the bottom line anytime soon, he said. The market is just getting heated up.

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