A few weeks ago, I had fun in this column commenting on the prolific use of pizza as a search term when discussing online yellow pages. I commented that you could easily walk away from most any yellow pages conference convinced that the industry was totally consumed with helping Americans locate the nearest pizzeria and obtaining the right mix of toppings.
But a recent announcement by Yellowpages.com, the yellow pages joint venture of BellSouth and AT&T really takes the cake, errr, pie. It seems yellowpages.com, with great fanfare, is introducing aerial photos along with its maps. They may not be able to tell you what a business does, but they can now show you the top of its building. If you like to select your pizzeria by type of roofing material, run don't walk to yellowpages.com. After all, if a pizzeria can't top its store properly, how can it top your pizza properly?
A cheap shot for a quick laugh? You bet. But I am also trying to make a point. Look at the big announcements by yellowpages.com since it was created: a distribution deal with AOL (more traffic); a distribution deal with Yahoo (more traffic) and still another neat and cool but not particularly useful site attraction (aerial maps).
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Too many data publishers are still caught up in this "traffic treadmill," spending ever-increasing sums to drive ever-increasing numbers of eyeballs against mediocre datasets, because advertisers value the traffic, not the content. Trouble is, users value the content, not the traffic, and you don't have a sustainable business unless you address both sides of the equation.
We've all now acknowledged that the power has shifted to the user, which means we have to serve the user with quality content. The problem with the big online yellow pages is that they are a mile wide and an inch deep. With no history of collecting, or for that matter valuing, content it's not surprising that they lean to bolt-on gimmicks like aerial photos. Trouble is, if you can affordably license content like this, so can others, so value and differentiation disappear quickly.
Here's a thought for the big online yellow pages publishers. Take the fat license fees you are paying for all these fancy site gimmicks and start calling the businesses in your database. Collect a bit more detail on what they sell and when they're open -- just the basics. Add this information to your database. Watch the increased user traffic and satisfaction that will follow. I guarantee a result you won't be able to top.