Judy’s Book Focuses on Coupon Space

Do user reviews for sushi restaurants and promotions for Target and Lowe’s really mix? Especially when the user reviews come from a highly defined community like Judy’s Book? They may not, but Judy’s Book is motivated to try to ride both horses.

The hyper-local pioneer, which launched its first version in February 2005, changed direction a couple of months ago and is now focusing on a “what’s on sale near me” business, which it thinks is a better use of its investors’ $11 million.

It is currently showing 100,000 local and online offers daily, while leveraging a legacy of some 500,000 reviews. It is also generating a million unique visitors every month.

Last week, I met with COO Chris DeVore in the company’s Seattle headquarters. DeVore doesn’t gloss over the fact that coupon cutters and their top sushi reviewers are not necessarily one and the same. But he and partner Andy Sack didn’t launch the company to support a bunch of small, elite and isolated communities. And he contends that everyone likes a good sale and that it defies human nature to put online and offline promotions in separate silos.

“Originally, our plan was to sell ads and lead generation, and there was no call to action. But the Web has proved especially effective for things with time sensitivity,” says DeVore. “What’s on sale now, what’s on sale near you.”

For merchants and consumers alike, the “pain” element is that most online promotions today are restricted to the same big-box stores and chain restaurants. They’re helpful (if not especially compelling), but DeVore thinks that Judy’s broader approach, injected with community elements, might be a better one for attracting national and local merchants and making it all work.

Via assorted partnerships, DeVore says the company is offering the best of all worlds. It’s got online offer feeds from Commission Junction and LinkShare and local offer feeds from ShopLocal and Valpak. Now it is adding its own merchant and consumer submissions to the mix.

To that end, Judy’s Book has rolled out “Coupon Looker,” which it calls a “local search engine for coupons.” In addition to the Coupon Looker, the company is rolling out software that enables local merchants to put up a coupon in just a few minutes.

The company is also building up its distribution channels (e-mail newsletter, e-mail alerts, RSS, mobile) and its distribution network, which today includes Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live Search, Yellowpages.com, InfoSpace, Local.com and others. The brand-as-destination site isn’t especially important anyway, he says.

“Nobody cares about us,” DeVore said at Local ’07 back in April. “What they care about is that we create compelling pages for search engines to find them.”

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