Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Let your mouse do the walking


Small companies find new customers through the Web

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Last month, Chris McCoy hedged his bet to get better placement for his Loveland-based computer and network-consulting firm on Web searches.

McCoy had been paying $65 a month to CincinnatiBellYellowPages.com so that more people would find his two-person IT company, CMAC Root Solutions, when they used the Cincinnati Bell Yellow Pages search engine.

He was happy with the service, too.

[img]
Chris McCoy with CMAC Root Solutions speaks with Amy Savage about computer issues.
(Mike Simons photo)
It meant that whenever somebody went clicking for information about computers and computer services, his listing would rise to the top of the heap of companies in Greater Cincinnati.

"We haven't received a ton of business, but we have gotten some business, and that in turn has translated into referrals," McCoy said.

McCoy boosted his Web bet last month when he also began to pay for an ad placement through Google Ad Words, which guarantees a listing next to local searches on Google for technical expertise such as computer repairs, backup systems and IT management.

Last month, Google launched its local search engine, local.google.com, which uses yellow pages data and its own index of Web pages to bring surfers services and products only from their designated areas.

The Google listing costs McCoy's company 50 cents for each click delivered to his Web site, up to a maximum of $90 a month.

As more small and midsized businesses are waking up to the power of the Internet, traditional Yellow Pages firms are stepping into the boxing ring to compete with titans of the Web - search engines such as Yahoo! and Google.

McCoy pays for the two services because he knows that being near the top of a Web search is far better than ending up with the also-rans at the bottom of the pile.

More clicks mean more customers.

"People are not going to scroll through 200 companies," McCoy said. "Most people go through the first page for results, and that's it."

Portal to business

PricewaterhouseCoopers New Media Group said this week that keyword-search advertising saw exceptional growth in 2003 - a 35 percent increase, compared with 15 percent the year before and 21 percent growth for display or banner ads on the Web.

In addition to Yahoo! and Google, Web sites with national scope that conduct locally based business searches include www.yellowbook.com and www.switchboard.com.

Steve C. Penn, owner and president of Cincinnati Door & Opener, figures that many of the Internet coupons brought to his company in recent months come from surfers who find the firm thanks to his listing on CincinnatiBellYellowPages.com.

"There's no way to track it, but we could tell. We could see when it picked up," Penn said. "And it does get us more customers."

David Miller, vice president of sales and operations for Cincinnati Bell Yellow Pages, said the Web-based version of the Yellow Pages targets a traditional client base: small and midsized companies in the region that are waking up to the power of the Internet.

"We are in a position to drive traffic to our small-business clients," Miller said. "One of the advantages of our service is that people may be looking for resources, but they are usually not looking for a company in Seattle."

CincinnatiBellYellowPages.com's latest initiative - Search Engine Guaranteed Clicks - launched in September and brings advertisers a guaranteed number of clicks that link viewers to their own Web sites.

The company can guarantee hits based on research and extrapolations by its strategic partner, SME Global Solutions, based in Atlanta, on historical trending of searches in the region and the nation.

For instance, for $59 a month, a company gets 30 clicks each month. At $99 a month, companies get 50 clicks a month.

Chris Sherman, editor of Boulder, Colo.-based SearchDay, a daily newsletter for Searchenginewatch.com - both products from New York-based JupiterMedia.com - said opportunities have never been better for small companies that want a Web presence.

Before the Web, most companies built brand through traditional media such as radio, newspapers and magazines.

But those mediums take deep pockets, and smaller companies usually do not have the resources to compete on an ad-for-ad basis.

Also, a Web presence on a Yellow Pages site brings companies qualified customers; that is, they are ready to spend.

"Big businesses, quite frankly, have not discovered search-engine marketing," Sherman said.

"It's a very affordable option for small businesses. When people use a search engine, they are in hunt mode. They have a need."

Not just in print

Sherman says most people still think of the Yellow Pages as a book, not a Web service. As a result, Google and Yahoo! get significantly more traffic.

But that is slowly changing, he said.

"Online Yellow Pages have started to wake up," Sherman said.

McCoy likes one aspect of Google over his CincinnatiYellowPages.com account: It provides better tracking information on visitors, something he can access whenever he wants.

Miller says CincinnatiBellYellowPages.com has ramped up as more companies look for local clients and customers on their Web searches.

"I'm not sure we can ever keep up with the Googles and Yahoos," Miller said, but by focusing sales staff on the Search Engine Guaranteed Clicks program, local companies are getting the message.

"We want to deliver our advertisers' information whenever and wherever a consumer requests it," Miller said. "It is no longer an option for a company to be in one product or the other."

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E-mail jeckberg@enquirer.com




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