Joe The Plumber's Landing Page

Last month I attended the New Business Models For News Summit and found myself running the "revenue" breakout group. We talked quite a bit about generating revenue from local merchants. There are a bunch of companies working on this problem, including three in our portfolio, Clickable, and Targetspot.

The conventional wisdom is that it is going to take a long time for local merchants to move their ad budgets online and that very few Internet companies can afford the large sales forces it is going to take to sell online advertising locally. I think these problems are in the process of getting solved by companies like ReachLocal, Yodle, and our portfolio company Clickable. I also think that local media companies (radio stations, newspapers, tv stations, etc) will start to become local ad agencies and will start selling multiple advertising solutions, not just their own properties.

But one problem nags at me. Local merchants like "Joe The Plumber" usually don’t have a web presence and many don’t really even want one. But if you are going to buy cpc advertising, then you’ll need a place for the clicks to go. The local ad agencies and local oriented web services are happy to create a web presence for local merchants, but they are often poorly designed and there’s no standardization of them.

Here’s where Google can and should step in. The other day David Karp asked a question on Tumblr:

Which messenger bag should I get for a 15" macbook pro?

The answer was Crumpler of course and I went to Google and did a search on "crumpler nyc". Then I found the Crumpler store in my neighborhood and clicked on the link. I got a page that looks like this:


I shortened the url with and sent the answer to david via Tumblr.

Every small business that Google knows about has a page that looks like this and a corresponding "pin" on Google’s excellent map service. Here’s the same page for our venture capital firm, Union Square Ventures. I think this is a huge opportunity for Google that they are not currently doing very much with.

Henry Blodget wrote a post the other day talking about what Google needs to do to get its stock moving again and he listed four areas Google should look to for revenue growth. He did not list local/maps. I think local/maps is one place where Google has a huge advantage by virtue of the dominance of its cpc ad network and the dominance of its maps service.

And the thing Google needs to do is make the merchant pages in its service good enough that local merchants can use them as landing pages. Here’s a few things they can do that would help:

1) a user friendly URL:

not this – []

something like this – []

2) the ability to domain map the page – talk about taking ownership of a page. If Google allowed local merchants to domain map these merchant pages with their own URLs, that would be a huge step in the right direction.

3) the ability to skin the page or at least do some simple branding on it.

4) let the merchant take over the "overview" and "details" tabs and enter their own content in them.

5) calls to action: email, click to call, buy online, etc. Google can power some of these services themselves and allow merchants to enter their own call to actions.

We grew up with the yellow pages. Everyone knows how to use them. Each merchant has a listing and they are all similar. Merchants can pay to dress up their listings and many do. But the standardization breeds familiarity and trust and encourages more usage.

Google should be the yellow pages of the internet. They are already. But they aren’t doing enough for the local merchant and that’s a big problem that’s impacting all of the other local oriented services. Google is the platform that many internet businesses are built on and in local they need to work harder on their platform so that we can build out the local internet opportunity. And there’s a ton of revenue in this for them if they do.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. jestyn

    on the button as ever!make it simple enough (complex enough) that Joe’s 12 year old niece can set it up for him and you have a winner.

  2. awilensky

    My specialty nowadays is getting small, local, specialized businesses off of SEO websites and onto paid profiles and specialty directories. The biggest waste is paying for more than a landing page. I’ve been looking at using KickApps for creating these local and specialty specific sites. Starting to generate interest. Mashing up the maps with rich profiles, and using the KA syndication system to rotate content through a promo cycle is THE Future for small business web presence.

    1. emily

      Agree completely.We recently worked with a local locksmith. He is spending about 2000$ per month of Adword. Also, start putting ad in yelp as well. Meanwhile, he is working with our company to make sure his Google search ranking is high (1st page) so when people search for local locksmith, his website will show up first. SEO is a must for local merchants.

  3. awilensky

    In other words, one off websites for the small local provider of products and services, stinks.

  4. Ed

    Hm. Very good points, and certainly where local businesses must head next. It is a huge opportunity for Google, because it is a huge opportunity for thousandsof local businesses that need to be found. And they’ve got to start now; It will take a year to make this even effective, and two before it’s smooth. Google has been clumsy on this.Also, I don’t know that the Google page would serve as the landing page for everyone. I DO agree there should be a hybrid. But I don’t want Google to hold the core VRE on my shop.Even if I can sponsor it with full rights and retention, a perfected, targeted search should bringthe target up, not Google. If they do that to maximize impressions, they’ll feel the hate Verizon does.But I do want searchers to; find me, see that Google result as an endorsement, a suggestion,and then link to me. Yet we’re going mobile, so I don’t want them to have make6 clicks and page loads to find “next to the Tataket Post Office” before theycan look at the road again.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s why I like domain mappingIf you eventually want to opt of of using google as your landing page, youcan take your URL somewhere elsefred

  5. Joe

    Our company, Thomas Publishing, has been in the B2B advertising business for more than a century, and we’re now currently 90%+ digital in terms of our revenues (which is fairly impressive given that we were 90% print a decade ago). Because of our focus on the industrial market (and not the sexier consumer markets), we’re a stealth player online but our digital operations are as large (or larger) than most major old-line media companies in terms of revenue. And because print is now only a minor part of our portfolio, we don’t have to worry as much about the ink-on-paper implosion as our more print-bound competitors do.The reason I mention this is many of our customers are global industrial SMBs who aren’t as advanced online as their larger competitors. And as they can’t take full advantage of our advertising unless there is a website to link to, we have gone up the value chain with thousands of our customers to build them websites, install analytics systems to give us a closed loop view of visitor behavior, consult on SEO, and deploy more advanced applications such as cataloging systems to help increase their online effectiveness. Not surprisingly, this has been deep customer loyalty to our core product, as well as creating a nice stream of revenue for new product lines. There are probably similar opportunities in other verticals to provide wrap-around services to advertising.

  6. Geoff

    My idea in this department was going to be called Here in the UK the first thing that tradespeople do is to buy a van and then sign write on the van. Simply by taking a picture of the van (with your mobile) the trades person could have there own webpage on a WP blog for instance. Maybe I should get you interested in the concept 🙂

  7. Dan Ostermayer

    Fred, is this question feature now built into tumblr? if so having the ability to ask viral questions may be encroaching on twitter’s space. I haven’t been able to post questions to tumblr so I just wondered if it was not a standard feature.

    1. fredwilson

      Its in beta. Its on david’s account and probably a few othersI guess you could look at it as encroaching on twitter’s space but I don’t see it that wayThe notes feature will encompass a host of social interactions including the existing reblog and love and answer will be another of them

  8. Graham Siener

    Great insights. I found myself out West last summer and in need of some warmer base layers for a colder than anticipated camping trip. Google was of course the site I used to find not the closest store, but the “closest with a reputation and reviews.” I actually preferred the google mini-page to many of the stores actual websites. Let these companies stick to their core competencies of selling good products, and leave the web advertising to Google!

  9. Martin Kelley

    We’re looking to get some work done on our house by Steve the Contractor, a real nice we’ve used before. My wife put out the possibility that I might build him a website in exchange for some work and he just laughed. When you have great word of mouth you’re too busy to care about a website.Local businesses care about websites when they have a lot of local-based competition. In Manhattan’s that’s probably close to every store on every block. In the sleepy town where I live Steve the Contractor’s laugh is the norm. Somewhere in between is the ritzy suburban town where I work: every other storefront is a high-end salon and they all want websites.I build a number of local business sites these days and one of the first things I do is make sure they’ve added their business information in Google maps. There are a lot more customization options than people might realize and you can do a fair amount of branding. My favorite Google Map trick is to replace the push-pin with the client’s logo and embed the map in one of their pages–ten minutes of work, but boy oh boy do they love it! Google lets you add pictures, set store hours, etc.I am surprised that there’s not some Tumblr-like service out there that walks you through the process and automatically pulls in the Google map, Flickr photos, Yahoo videos, etc., into a generic small-biz landing page you can map to a domain. But I disagree that Google should develop their map service in this way. In their core search business they’ve always clearly aligned themselves with the interests of the searchers, not the searched-for. They’re going to want to keep user-generated reviews in those listings (even when negative) and they’re going to want to point searchers to nearby competition. They also are going to want to serve up ads for competitors that pony up for Google Adwords.

  10. Joe Lazarus

    I had this same thought a few months back……I was picturing something like (a simple tool for bands to make websites), but for local businesses. I don’t think the local merchants need much customization… just their own domain name (perhaps even show relevant, available domain names on the page), simple design themes (like Tumblr), and a few tools like photo uploads, maps & directions, etc. Google is well positioned, but a new startup or a site like Yelp could also chase after it (particularly since Google’s assets are available as API’s… both for maps and for reselling CPC ads).The key, I think, is to create the sites on the merchants behalf, get them to rank well for SEO, and then provide some incentives for merchants to claim their page. For example, the site could promote related competitors by default, but once the merchant claimed their site, they could remove that module. Maybe you even show the merchant how many clicks their competitors are getting from that module so that the service not only provides a simple site builder tool, but also a competitive / defensive reason for the merchants to claim their page.

    1. fredwilson

      I think a startup could do this but I’d honestly rather see google do itbecause it would unleash a lot of money into the local/hyperlocal ecosystem

      1. Joe Lazarus

        Good point. Google certainly has everything they need to pull it off… they’re even a domain registrar. Something tells me a few Googlers read your blog, so maybe this post will kick things off.

  11. GlennKelman

    Another stunning post Fred, though I was surprised you didn’t mention Yelp, too, which I think of as the Yellow Pages of the Internet.

    1. fredwilson

      I think of Yelp as part of the answer but they don’t have the mojo thatGoogle has with search, maps, and cpc ads

  12. Hershberg

    Totally agree with the POV. What’s interesting is that Yahoo tried to address much of what you’re suggesting through Y! Local in 2005:…Small businesses were offered free, five page, templated sites with unique url’s that Yahoo linked to in their local business listings. Because owners had control over those url’s and the site’s content, they could drive traffic to them from sources outside of search. Maybe most importantly, other search engines were able to index these sites despite the fact that they were hosted by Yahoo.The expectation then was that by giving the ~50% of SMB’s that weren’t online free web presence, Yahoo would ultimately get some of them to pay for the “premium” services it offered (paid search, ecommerce, domains, etc), while simultaneously building the most comprehensive local search index. Perhaps not surprisingly, this version of Local never made it out of beta (the url… takes you to a 404 page) and as it stands today, the “free” five page site is only available as an “added benefit” to local merchants who pay Yahoo $25/month for its Local Featured Listings. I don’t imagine many businesses find that offer terribly appealing.Yahoo was definitely thinking along the right lines three years ago, but it’s clear that as with so many other projects, they’ve lost sight of what they originally set out to do. I’m not sure why Google hasn’t been more aggressive in this area, but there’s no reason to believe that this won’t turn into yet another example of a product/service originally created by Yahoo, but ultimately perfected by Google.

  13. lawrence coburn

    Fred, I think it would be a bad idea to have the dominant search engine own such a significant chunk of the landing pages / local search results. It would put a lot of pressure on the objectivity of their search results, which to date, has powered all of their innovation in other areas.I also believe that a Google ownership of the local landing page, and by association, local advertising space, would put them squarely in the “too big to fail” camp that you have spoken out against.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s an interesting point. But if it means we can create new forms of viable local media, would it be worth it?

      1. lawrence coburn

        I don’t know the answer. If claiming all local search results were to cause Google to lose objectivity / market share in organic search, then we wouldn’t be any further along. If they could continue to do the best job in search and own local search results, we’d certainly be farther along then we are today in bringing local advertising online. I guess we’ll get there when we get there.

      2. Sylvain Carle

        I think Google can be the aggregator (as it is now) but I believe in a truly distributed model with standard meta-data (microformats) to really make it happen. That’s what we are trying to build with Praized…

  14. brian

    The way Google needs to promote something like that is with physical direct mail. Google should send a letter to every shop owner telling them how many local Google searches have been performed for their service / address over the last week/month/year. I think a lot of these business owners are not online-savvy, and they need to be reached via offline channels.

    1. kortina

      Excellent point. I worked a summer during college selling a service like this to local businesses in Philadelphia, and the only way I got clients was doing cold calls in person to business owners. The last place these folks think they need to spend money is online. It’s a tough sell, but perhaps now, a few years later, they would be “get it” more and invest a bit in their online presence / SEO. I was actually reminiscing with my business partner from college about those days an hour before reading this post, talking about how there’s still a great opportunity here. Custom CNAME + custom css + simple cms + microformats–this would sell at the right price point with direct sales force / marketing behind it, especially if you provided data entry / setup services. Most of the businesses who would be interested probably would pay a small fee to just have someone knowledgeable set them up.As Fred says, however, Google is probably in a better position to execute than a startup. Still, good food for thought.

  15. EricSt

    These are all very good ideas and I agree that Google can do better to fill the void between offline local merchants today and the existing online offerings. In addition to product development, one thing holding it back is what you allude to with regard to traditional media companies. I fully agree that they will and should make the transition to “local agency”, but few of them have gotten there and most are just now in the process of realizing that Reach Local, Yodle et al are eating their lunch here.Another thing to keep in mind is the diversity of the local space. The title of your post is actually a good case in point. Many plumbers don’t actually want to appear on the map, at least not with a pin that identifies their location. Having their home page be on a map is somewhat incongruous to them as they (and many others) are service businesses and work out of their vans. Some of what you suggest will be viable for plumbers and other service businesses, but we need a solution for this location based recognition.Here’s one additional idea for your list: I’d like to see the overview tab aggregate reviews from the multitude of sites (Yelp, Angie’s List, Merchant Circle etc.) and allow merchants to respond. Feeds would go back and forth between the source of the reviews and the merchant, allowing users to still use their favorite local review site, but giving merchants the chance to manage their growing online profiles.

  16. LocalHero

    People want to know that their search is accurate and unbiased and as soon as you are publisher and a search engine there is a conflict of interest.This conflict already exists but if google offered this sort of thing it would only be worse. I really hope Google do not go down this path (and would possibly stop using Google if it did).Pete

  17. slowblogger

    “And the thing Google needs to do is make the merchant pages in its service good enough that local merchants can use them as landing pages.”That’s a great idea. People have tried to make web publishing easier for small businesses. Now, Google could say “you don’t even need to do it yourself. We have one for you.”

  18. Lisa Badalamenti

    I agree that Google can do better to fill the void between offline local merchants today and the existing online offerings. In addition to product development, one thing holding it back is what you allude to with regard to traditional media companies.

  19. Tim Panton

    Very interesting post, it really helped crystallize several thoughts that have been running around in my head for a while.The problem (as I see it) with the Joe-the-plumber usecase is that Joe doesn’t want to get a sales lead on his computer. He wants it on his cellphone or perhaps to his ‘office’ landline.Any solution in this space that doesn’t include a phonecall as a closely integrated action won’t address Joe’s needs. (Although it will help Jane-the-accountant and perhaps Jim-the-florist)I guess that Joe might do email on his cell one day, but not until someone makes a smartphone that can stand-up to life in a toolbox 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Click to call voip is a good solution for joe 🙂

  20. andyswan

    Right on!

  21. Edward Keyes

    Actually Google does have something of a similar feature called Hosted Business Pages, released a couple of years ago.

  22. masonmason

    You are on the money and StudioNow wants to be the video provider to create the millions of great 1-2 minute profile videos for these merchants!!!!. Here are a bunch of examples of what we currently do for CitySearch merchants. http://citysearch.studionow…We are also working very closely with your friend David Goodman at CBS radio to offer interesting things for merchants as they relate to video and web 2.0 media marketing materials.

  23. jonathanmendez

    I think the larger problem for merchants is more the management of ongoing CPC campaigns then getting a page built. Still, I don’t see many other problems here. Your “navigational” query presented results that completed you goal. Possibly even exceeding your expectations (presenting store hours etc.)Most SMB just want a call, not a web inquiry. If the issue is more generic searches e.g “bags nyc” then this is a different aggregation play more like OpenTable which does a fine job of building “landing pages” for every restaurant. I expect we’ll see much more of this soon with APIs and semantic technology gaining traction.Landing page relevance is ruled by matching the query (goals and intentions) with the content. Google’s page does a pretty good job with this IMO. Likely much better that Joe the Plumber would do making his own page. The real questions and problems emerge with those generic terms if Google were to “own” these pages.

  24. dean collins

    Hi Fred,I dont know if anyone from Union Square was at BarCampNYC3 last saturday but with regards to branding shortlinks and non online content…..have you seen yet.TinyURL is dead long live “Delivr”Cheers,Dean

  25. David B.

    I’m glad to see this post. This is the focus of the start-up I’m in, but we add a twist: it’s essentially a user-defined database. So you can find all people in area x, who sell: bags/laptop/macbook pro/15″. This isn’t an add for our site; it’s not up yet. Just wanted to chime in.

  26. flummox

    “But the standardization breeds familiarity and trust and encourages more usage.” The truth of the statement is rock solid — and still too often unrecognized.

  27. Christian…You should watch see, it has been 1 year now, but this cut is about the Google CEO and local business. They want to invest, see the video.My 2 cents,Christian

  28. Jason Preston

    I’ll tell you it drives me nuts when a location link doesn’t go to Google maps. People say let’s have lunch at XXXX coffee shop, and then link to the coffee shop home page.That doesn’t help me, because the address means nothing to me. So I have to copy it, go over to google maps, paste it in, and then go from there.It’s on my mind because of this post and the fact that I’ve run into this about five times in the past three days already, where a link to Google maps would have been at least 2x more valuable to me than the link that was there.

    1. fredwilson