TalkingLocal – Interview with David Bayer

TalkingLocal – Interview with David Bayer
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In the latest edition of TalkingLocal we are joined by David Bayer of Chamberofcommerce.com.

David Bayer David is the CEO of Chamberofcommerce.com, which is a very successful online directory & local services platform. With more than 30 million businesses listed, it is one of the leading resources for information, ratings and reviews on local businesses.

David himself has founded several internet-based businesses dating back to 1995. As well as being an entrepreneur, David is an active speaker at events, a writer and also a personal development coach. So we’re delighted that David has found the time to join us today.

With David’s vast experience in the local data industry and the local directory field, and with such a focus being put on citations, and ensuring that local businesses have a clean, consistent presence online, we are particularly interested in understanding about the inner workings of directory services, the pressures that are on them and how SEOs should use them to get the best out of them.

Key Discussion Points

  • How has the local data market changed over time?
  • What should local SEOs know about the market place?
  • Where do Chamberofcommerce.com get their data from?
  • How can local businesses best take ownership of a listing?
  • What does the future hold for the local data industry?

Keep a look out for more in the TalkingLocal series coming soon. We’ve got some key interviews with big personalities from the local search world lined up – so do stay tuned! You can also keep up to date with the latest TalkingLocal videos on our YouTube playlist.

Video Transcription:

Myles: Hello everyone & welcome to this edition of TalkingLocal.

If you haven’t caught one of our previous TalkingLocal interviews, in this series I get together with some highly experienced and well known figures from the local search industry. I want to find out how they work, what their insights into the local industry are, and what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning!

Today I’m joined by David Bayer, CEO of Chamberofcommerce.com, which is a very successful online directory & also a local services platform. David himself is a successful entrepreneur, he’s started many businesses – I think he founded his first all the way back in 1995 – so he’s been around the block, he’s seen a lot. As well as running his own business, he also speaks at a lot of events, he’s a writer and he’s also a personal development coach.

So I’ve no idea how he’s found the time today to join us, but we do thank him! So David, how are you doing and where are you today?

David: Hey Myles, thanks for that intro I appreciate it. I’m in Sarasota, Florida today, we’re normally based in Orlando but I’m working remotely, so I appreciate the time.

Myles: Well I appreciate you giving us your time – you’re obviously very busy.

So with David’s vast experience in the local data industry and the local directory field, and with such a focus being put on citations, and ensuring that local businesses have a clean, consistent presence online, I’m very interested in understanding about the inner workings of directory services, the pressure that are on them and how us as search marketers should look at them and use them to get the best out of them. And also what does the future hold for the local data industry.

So David’s time is tight so I’m going to jump into the first of today’s questions. So, David you’ve worked in the local industry for a long time, how has the local data market changed over that time and what are some of the things that a local search marketer should really know about the market place?

David: Well I think in some regards it’s changed a lot and in some regards it hasn’t changed at all. So when I first started our business – our company is called DataBanq and Chamberofcomemerce.com is one online property that we own and operate – we launched a mortgage website called personal home loan mortgages, and I launched that out of my house at the time and it was a $300 dollar database of mortgage brokers.

Within 90 days we were ranking at the top of all major search engines for every mortgage term that was out there. In addition to the local long tail. At the time there was not a lot of competition because larger businesses with a lot of authority like bank of America or Wachovia, you know understanding how search worked was a competitive advantage, and it’s not now, that knowledge has become commoditized and so larger organizations are dominating the search results.

So in that sense things have changed quite a bit, because we’re not running a $300 database from china on Chamberofcommerce.com right now! (Laughs)

We have multiple data partners and we invest a lot in customer care for businesses that contact us and want to update their information, or they’re no longer in business. And I think the quality of data is not as good as I would have expected it to be 8 years ago.

Myles: So what are the different sources that you get your data from? Because obviously everyone is almost verging on paranoid these days in the industry about making sure they get to the source of the data, understanding how they can affect the data correctly so that it doesn’t get overwritten by another source that might have a higher priority.

So what are the sources that you get? What is the process that you go through in terms of analyzing, screening, filtering and updating your database? If you could just give us an insight into that, that would be great.

David: Sure, so in my mind I think it’s important to understand that there are different types of organizations out there. I think of the local directory space as having 3 tiers.

There are sites out there that are really just spraying data on the web and hoping to consume as much Google, or Yahoo! & Bing traffic as they can try to monetize it and they’re not particularly concerned with the quality of data or the customer experience or the experience of the business owner. They would be third tier directories.

Then there’s second tier directories, and that’s where I would put Chamberofcommerce.com. Over time we have limited resources, and in fact there’s a lot I would like to do with our data but as the web has evolved and the local directory space has evolved, I think it’s become more and more challenging for second tier directories to provide the type of quality data and quality service that ultimately they would like to.

And then you’ve got first tier data providers. So we’re in that middle space. We have a couple of different data provider sources. We have two major providers who are the underlying providers of our data. Then we also participate with a number of data publishers and it’s the usual suspects right, it’s the UBLs, it’s the Yext’s, there’s some other organizations that see a value in having the citations on Chamberofcommerce.com and we work with them.

So we do our best to update the data as our underlying data providers provide us updated files. We do our best to provide as accurate and matching logic as we can for de-duping.

It’s always a challenge – at least in our world – to establish who gets priority. We do it based on the economics, so if you’ve got multiple data providers providing data to Chamberofcommerce.com, whoever is paying us the most, that’s the data that takes precedence. If the business owner comes in and is claiming, we always give that precedence because we’ve verified that it’s the business owner.

I think the instances of that are fewer and far between, so if you look statistically at any one of our partners, we always meet the service level agreements that we have in terms of the records that they push out to us being associated with them.

Today it’s still for us, a very small percentage of businesses where you might have multiple providers trying to claim the same record. And I don’t know what other organizations are doing around that, that’s just how we handle it.

Myles: OK that’s great and it’s an interesting insight, because I’ve heard counter comments saying that even if you’re a business owner going direct onto a site and claiming and verifying it, that may not be the point of truth essentially, that it can be over-written by other sources. Do you think that your approach is similar to others? If I’m an SEO and I’m thinking about where the data comes from, if I go to the site and verify it directly, is that the best way of taking ownership of a listing or am I still going to be at risk of another source trumping me?

David: I can’t really speak for how other organizations handle their data. For us, ultimately through the verification process we have with the business owner which is more robust than some and less robust than others, we’ve decided to go ahead and give that precedence over any other source.

But you know we probably get 3,000 to 5,000 businesses that verify themselves on Chamberofcommerce.com each month, and when you compare that to the amount of data that we’re publishing to the site on behalf of our publishing partners it’s a very, very small percentage.

Also in this second tier category where we’re operating, my hunch is that we probably give a more attention to data than a lot of other second tier directories. I know a lot of them are up for sale, a lot of them have been hit by Panda & Penguin, and there are other factors to consider like having access to premium ad feeds. So over time, I know that a lot of second tier directories for example had access to custom search ads from Google, and a lot of them don’t anymore, so as the economics change I think the attention to data ultimately changes.

I think over time that’s ok, because when we talk about where the industry is going, I don’t know how much of a role second tier directories, even including Chmberofcommerce.com are going to have in the local data-sphere. So I think ultimately all that flushes out.

Myles: That’s interesting that you said a number of your competitors are up for sale. Do you think we’re going to see a few well-known names dropping out? Or do you think there’s going to be consolidation, a coming to together or buy-outs? What do you think the future is in the next 12 months for that second tier market?

David: Well the space is interesting. I don’t know what type of acquisitions we’re going to see because I’ve seen sites hanging out there for a while now. We’ve had conversations, mostly around strategic partnerships, but it’s given me a sense of what the appetite is for acquisition. I think the second tier market has really been depended on organic search.

Google’s done a great job of eliminating the opportunity for organizations to grow through acquisitions of sites that are predominately driven by organic search. That’s everything from what they did in 2008 / 2009 in the financial services sector with some acquisitions that bank rate made, but they’ve made it clear that if you want to acquire more traffic off the search engine then you’re going to buy it from Google.

So I don’t think there’s an appetite given the risk factor for acquisitions of second tier directories, unless they have other assets, maybe they’ve got a database of thousand 300,000-400,000 local businesses and they can show some traction in terms of engagement through email marketing, there’s a value there, or unless there’s an underlying technology or a particular uniqueness to the data set, I don’t see a lot of people being acquired just based on their traffic and the dollars that they’re generating from ad revenue or a small percentage of premium occurring placement subscriptions on those sites.

But the way I see it shaking out over time is how we’ve seen it shake out in every industry. There’s a consolidation, you do a local search on google – the other day I did a search for a video, and the entire top of the fold was just the YouTube video in the organic search result – so the real estate is changing in terms of its layout, in local search we have carousel, we have all the information for the business that shows up on the right hand side when Google has that information. So how many places do you really need? Do you need 50 or 60 places that’ll tell you something about a business when only the top 10% are telling you anything you need in terms of reviewer information about the business?

We’ve seen this in other sectors right? This is kind of the natural evolution. Is it good in terms of entrepreneurship? I don’t know… because we end of operating in a way around local information and business directories that’s really only driven by 3, 4 or 5 innovators. Because it doesn’t leave a lot of room for smaller participants to enter the market.

Myles: So obviously for anyone out there running a directory it’s a tough time, and presumably there’s a point where consumption of data is going to drop, so the aggregators may also find it a tougher time.

But presumably the growth of mobile, geo-locatable applications, and also the vertical market in terms of becoming a specialist in a particular area, do you see that those are the next generation of local data consumption points, around mobile apps and specialist directories?

David: Yeah, I think organizations that are really artistic in how they can weave data together can still be successful in this space, and the space is so horizontal and it’s so active that I don’t know everything that’s going on.

For me personally, operating in the local data space is one of multiple things that I do but it would be interesting to be able to mash up the information from open table and social networks to see where my friends are eating right now. That way I could know that at the ‘Ravenous Pig’ my friend John is having dinner because that data is available and I can make my restaurant selection based around where people are. Not necessarily because they’re posting where they’re on Facebook but because we can overlay these data sets. So I still think there’s some really interesting and innovative stuff that can be done with local data.

Then the question comes up, which is how is this going to affect directory listings management, because if the directory listings management space consolidates, and it’s not as important to be on Chamberofcommmerce.com in the way that it used to be, or on Brownbook or Yellowbook, or CitySquares, or all of these other second tier sites, how does that effect the service that is emerging about the way of ‘hey there’s so many places across the web that you need to be listed’. S these things have these ripple effects among other industries.

Even now we’re seeing entrants that are a little bit late to the game. YP just came out with their reputation management product, but they’re doing it at a time where I see the space start to consolidate, and perhaps the need to be across 30 sites is not there anymore? I don’t know…

So I’m always fascinated by how the space evolves and ultimately in terms of the quality of data, all of that will get sorted out because Google should be able to see – even today if they choose to – out of the 50 different points of distribution across the web of many of us are putting a date last modified, they could come to some sort of statistically relevant conclusion around which piece of information is accurate. And over time that is going to get better and better and better. Ultimately it’s a very valuable space and I think that Google has shown that that’s the space they want to own in terms of having the best information their own reviews, and they’ve done what they do in every sector, where they aggregate everything at first and then they feed everybody traffic – and there’s a little button that says “upload your review onto Google” – and then once they have a critical mass of information, the interface changes and you’re pretty much interacting with Google Local.

So I think it would be remiss to think that anything significant is going to happen in this space than what we’ve seen in travel, or what we’ve seen in shopping, or what we’ve seen in a lot of other spaces.

Myles: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. They do have a habit of cannibalizing the industry that they’ve kind of ‘piggy-backed’ off for so long.

Switching tack a little bit, but keeping on the local data point; you guys obviously work with Yext. We see a lot of questions coming in, and a lot of chat about Yext and of the value of the service. What is it like to be a Yext partner? And what kind of value do you think they bring to your business?

David: Well Yext have been great partners of ours. I enjoy working with them as an organization.

We do get a lot of complaints from local businesses about Yext, because we do market their product through various communications. We have over 100,000 businesses that we consider members in the spirit of Chamberofcommerce.com that receive email communications from us. And so from time to time those are Yext, and we get a mixed bag of responses – some people like Yext and some people don’t – like anything.

We’re certainly happy in being a point of publishing for our partners and appreciate the economics around it. I think there are a number of new entrants entering the space – and again I don’t know where they are in terms of being late, early, or right on time for the game – there’s an economics that Yext sits in the middle of, where I think directory sites can provide more value to the larger organizations that are using Yext as a middle man – and at less cost than what the cost is to those large sites like a Yodle, or a ReachLocal or whoever is pushing out through Yext.

So I think the economics aren’t in favor necessarily of a directory site like Chamberofcommerce.com or a larger organization that’s managing 40,000 local businesses, but I think ultimately what they’re paying for is the convenience of Yext. Because I’ve had multiple conversations where they say “look we understand” – because we can actually provide more value, for example premium listings on Chamberofcommerce.com for those organizations.

But ultimately it’s their bandwidth to do integration, and tracking, and reporting and everything else, so Yext has found themselves in a really nice position where they’ve solved the pain point, in particular for enterprise level organizations that they’ve gone out and done the API integration with all of us. And I really think that that’s what Yext’s value is to them.

Myles: Well it certainly cuts don the time and effort involved if you’re managing multiple locations…

David: As a publisher, another question Myles, is what’s on the site? And we’re really just trying to understand that today, because the assertion has always been, in terms of bringing feeds into your sites – not necessarily from Yext but just in the industry – has been that it’s SEO neutral. And I’m not so sure, and we’re testing that right now because I don’t know in terms of how google looks at a site like Chmberofcommerce.com, if the fact that we always have fresh data coming in is a positive signal, because we’ve got a lot of providers pushing data into us – or if that being ignored because it’s duplicate content and that same information is being displayed across Yellowpages, and Superpages, and everybody else. And at the same time what priority we give that in the site, because right now the decision we had made was to have Yext sit at the top layer of our site because they’re rich in content. But it may be that we can’t compete in organic search against the more authoritative sites that are also displaying that same tier, and in fact we’re better off displaying the non-Yext listings and moving them up to the top. Because we’re trying to find out where we can fit into the traffic that’s available in organic search.

We know it ultimately comes down to quality, and the right types of signals, and whether people are sharing the content on our website, but we do have the choice in terms of how we prioritize data on our website, and we’re just recently starting to play around with that. If that makes any sense.

Myles: It makes a lot of sense. I guess another question that comes up about Yext is that there’s an annual recurring fee required to keep using Yext and required to keep the data at the end point, such as Chamberofcommerce.com. How does it work with you guys? If an end business is using Yext, they buy one year, they get a 12 month listing, they don’t renew – how does that effect the data that you have in your dataset from Yext? – and the data display?

David: That’s a good question. So if the listing was already on Chamberofcommerce.com as let’s call it a ’non-enhanced’, without all the additional information that Yext provides, it would revert back to that listing. And if the listing wasn’t on the site prior, then the listing would be removed from the site.

Myles: OK that’s great, that does clarify what I thought it was. That’s really insightful, thank you David.

I’ve got one final question; I love Chamberofcommerce.com, I think it’s a great site. I know you’re evolving it to become more of a services platform for local businesses and local agencies. Just tell us a little bit about the new direction you’re taking it in?

David: Yeah so I think it’s two fold. One is that I understand that we provide value for individual businesses or smaller internet marketing agencies, or large internet marketing agencies in terms of having a point of presence on the web. So we’re building feature sets into our platforms to further accommodate the needs of our partners. We are particularly focused on becoming a place for publishing of content, both unique and syndicated content for local business. And we’re starting to move a little bit more towards creating the location based value that’s not just based around business directories and data. So in the spirit of the brand of what Chamberofcommerce.com is, and what we’re doing with Chamberofcommerce.com, the idea is that you would be able to look on Chamberofcommerce.com and see what types of local business meet-ups there are, business networking events there are in Orlando, or the jobs that are available in Orlando, or information on an event, for example in Orlando which we run every Thursday all the businesses get together and there are business networking events. So really becoming a resource at the local level.

Today on Facebook, you really as a business only communicate with people who already know about you, and on LinkedIn there’s not a lot of local business networking – it’s more industry by industry. So we see an opportunity to create a space within Chamberofcommerce.com for local business networking and local business events.

Myles: It makes a lot of sense adding a lot of value, and again providing a service that maybe isn’t covered by some of those larger social platforms.

David that’s great. Thank you very much for sparing the time with us today and for sharing your insights.

Everyone, thanks very much for watching this installment of TalkingLocal and we hope to see you again soon. Thank you. Bye bye.

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