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Yodle, Ambassador Rev Up Local Online Sales

By: 31 October 2007

When it comes to third-party local ad sales, apparently, more is the merrier – especially with the powerful incentive of ReachLocal’s $300 million valuation. Yodle and Ambassador Internet are two of the more recent names to consider, on top of ReachLocal, WebVisible, Weblistic, Cornerstone, RHD’s LocalLaunch and Idearc’s Inceptor.

I met with the heads of Yodle (“Get Found!”) and Ambassador Internet Media last week in New York. Yodle, formerly known as NatPal, has 600 customers, and is selling itself as a branded destination. Ambassador Internet, a spinoff of Ambassador Yellow Pages, has 4,500 customers and focuses on consultative sales rather than a branded site. Both companies feature dedicated call tracking and measurement, and day parting “pause” capabilities.

Yodle was launched in 2005 by Nathaniel Stevens, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. It was developed in Wharton’s small-business incubator, quickly learning to stay away from the oversaturated restaurant marketplace and focus instead on services. “Caterers, yes; full-service restaurants, no,” says Stevens. This April, the company recruited Community Connect head Court Cunningham to be its CEO.

The company has developed a media planning tool based on machine learning, boosting click conversion rates and enabling businesses, among other things, to pause advertising campaigns (i.e., Jewish locksmiths can take Saturdays off). Stevens says 80 percent of the process is automated.

Yodle sells tiered SEM services as $500, $1,000 and $1,500 and provides advertisers with call-to-action “AdverSites” that include templated formats to make their information/copy points more searchable. The AdverSites include live chat, and also boast myriad “customer touchpoints,” such as appointment pages and special offers. In the future, it plans to launch click-to-call and coupons. The average buy is around $900.

It’s very early in the game, but the company’s top markets are currently Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Boston and New York, and it sells its services via a combination of inside and outside sales. The company had just three salespeople three months ago, but now it has 15. By the end of 2007, it hopes to have 20 to 24 salespeople.

Stevens stresses that a key differentiator is that the company plans to build the Yodle brand. “We want to be the OEM of local search,” he says. The company has raised $3.5 million from Bessemer Ventures and others, and hopes to raise up to $10 million more.

Ambassador, meanwhile, is feeding off a large independent Yellow Pages operation serving the New York metro area. It had previously worked with ReachLocal, but in fall 2005 opted to go its own way. It provides its customers with a five- or six-page Web site and typically takes out 20 to 30 keywords on their behalf, although it has the capability to manage up to 1,000 keywords. The average spend of its 4,500 customers is more than $2,000 per month.

“We get about $5,000 a year for print, and $25,000 for Internet,” says President and CEO Kathy Hipple, emphasizing why the Internet is where the action is for the company. The company also believes that the Internet allows it to better serve narrow, vertical categories (i.e., “mold resuscitation”).

While some companies are pushing a combination of SEO and SEM, VP of Internet Strategy Rich Hargrave says Ambassador is mostly pushing its SEM solutions. The problem with SEO – organic search results — is you can’t stay on top, he says. He adds that Ambassador sends it customers e-mail reports every day. “After a month, they are comfortable with them,” he says.

Currently, Ambassador has 40 people on the Internet side in New York, but it is also branching out with sales operations launched in Philadelphia, Tampa and Texas. There is also a national sales operation.



One Comment

One Comment »

  • Dennis Yu said:

    Congrats to Nat Stevens. I remember reading his biz plan 3 years ago and it’s amazing to see how far he has come. Congrats! There will be room for many local players, it’s still a green market with no dominant players or strong name recognition.

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