LSA 2013: CityGrid’s Finger Bets on Vertical Revival

Seven years ago, in 2006, we began evangelizing a vision of local media driven by vertical specialties. These would drive high value leads with better, more relevant searches. In this light, Google was seen as a “perpetual vertical machine,” driving every query higher and higher up the food chain.

The vertical revolution never happened — at least to the extent that we envisioned it. There have been many successful vertical breakouts, but a lot of the vertical vision has been preempted by horizontal media that have incorporated verticalization. In recent years, many cross-the-board platforms have diminished the need to verticalize.

Going forward, CityGrid Media CEO Jason Finger thinks that’s wrong-headed. Speaking with Greg Sterling at The Local Search Association meeting in Las Vegas April 16, Finger said the local community has given up too soon on the vertical vision.

“People are taking a broad approach, but the world is evolving towards specialization,” says Finger, who had a major vertical success earlier in his career with Seamless, the online food ordering company, and ZocDoc, the doctor scheduling service. Local sites such as CityGrid have fallen into this as well. They have “tried to be all things to all people,” but the key is to “lean into leads very aggressively.”

Finger says the next generation of local leads will be ruled by “connection types” that “provide high quality ROI, and then get deeper.” They might schedule an appointment, manage as a CRM tool, provide transactional services or rely on call management, he says. “Merchants will demand that service providers get more sophisticated and adapt this kind of pricing,” he suggests.

This means a fundamental shift away from eyeballs to utility. Tools that provide good utility will prove more sustainable than generalized information, even if they are not the highest traffic drivers. A third ranked source of traffic might be more important to the sustainability of a site than the number one source.

It also means a shift in sales strategies. The historical approach of being a comprehensive directory required “a very large sales effort,” says Finger. Newer efforts may be better off with mid-sized or smaller sales team that can build out their capabilities in specific verticals.

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