Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Transcontinental's Local Play...Weblocal.ca

Weblocal.ca launched last week in Canada as a new local search engine competing at a national level. The site was launched by Transcontinental Media. Transcontinental is Canada’s largest printer, one of the country’s leading publishers of consumer magazines and second-largest community newspaper publisher. The company has a history of offering its clients integrated media solutions including direct marketing, a diverse digital media network and a door-to-door advertising material distribution network.

The Transcontinental initiative breathes some new life into the Canadian local media landscape as it mobilizes its 400 local sales people to focus on their new local search engine. Weblocal.ca is also leveraging their 125 strong community newspaper business as a marketing platform to reach small businesses across Canada as well as the 4.5 million unique visitors per month they reach through their consumer magazine network.

Naturally curious, I asked Andrei Uglar, Weblocal.ca’s General Manager some questions about the site and how he plans to cut through the tough Canadian market.

Following are some highlights from the discussion on how Weblocal.ca is attempting to differentiate itself (with my notes of course):
  • Andrei cited the feet on the street as the number one competitive advantage over similar sites in Canada. (cool)
  • The site has implemented social networking from launch where users are able to create “neighbours” in order to swap favourite listing information at the local level. (very cool)
  • Professional services are provided to advertisers when they subscribe to the directory. (standard and quite effective for a number of reasons)
  • A strong focus on SEO is where Andrei feels the site will captivate market share. Through a tagging strategy, they’re allowing advertisers to create better opportunities to be found. (standard but have seen it fail)
  • Wiki listings - allowing businesses to correct their information and add new data. (will need moderation)
  • Leveraging their offline media properties to promote the site amongst consumers. This includes a broad range of magazines as well as their regional and local newspapers. (very cool)
  • Reviews will come from three sources - users, crawled aggregation and relevant editorial (where available) added to the business profiles. (quite cool)
  • Easy Pricing - $199 subscription fee + $89 per month period. (solid)
I think one of the strongest advantages next to its sales force and cross-promotional opportunities will be funding. Transcontinental reported $2.3 billion in revenue last year and digital is high on the agenda.

A couple of rough patches to watch out for in their first year:
  • Their tagging strategy and how it will impact the user experience. I blogged about this issue last year and I still believe it can kill a site.
  • The wiki-dependence to correct, enhance and add new listings. This will need some serious moderating.
  • Launching with rich fields but flat data...The silence in non-populated listings is deafening and users are fickle. Sometimes it makes sense to hold some of the cards back so that population strategies can be implemented.
  • Rate of adoption as yet another social network-type site.

Listening to their roll out strategy, I think they've got a fair shot at the market. Their plans for procurement seem solid and I do believe they'll settle into the space one way or another.

Andrei and his team are in for a wild ride - as the saying goes..."the more the merrier".

Side Note

One reoccurring theme in the local space in Canada is that no one (aside from YPG) seems to have the whole country nailed down. It seems that there's always a focus on Quebec and Ontario but very little coverage across the other provinces. There's a great opportunity to connect the dots in this country but it seems to be taking a while...

3 comments:

emad said...

Hi Sonia,

Thanks for the kind words about weblocal.ca

Just wanted to clarify a few points:
1. tagging - it's worked well for YellowBot in the US. Users loved it so much, we hit a million users per month within the first few months. It defnitely adds more flexibility than your standard yellowpages.
2. correct/enhance/add new listings - we don't depend on users only. Our crawlers go out and scour the web and we aggregate data feeds and we try to build a better data set over time. Data should improve as time goes on and more data is "discovered."
3. rich fields, flat data - again, new data is discovered on the web constantly and data is updated on the site constantly
4. rate of adoption - we hope users like it. we built a site that we would like to use and hope that resonates with our users. we offer forums for users to give us ideas and feedback and we do what we can to incorporate the good ideas.

Thanks for the feedback. Don't hesitate to contact us with any more feedback! :-)

Sonia Carreno said...

Hi Emad,

Thanks for your comment and congratulations on the venture. My points apply directly to the critical launch stage of the site when consumer acquisition and long-term loyalty are the primary goals.

All of the elements are valuable when implemented properly as I trust Weblocal will. My concern is the crucial first time experience for the user. If you're looking specifically for a yoga studio and the listings are ransacked by fitness studios and retailers that may sell some yoga apparel, you're going to be frustrated. This is specially true in the first stages after launch when an absence of critical mass highlights inappropriate tagging.

I'm sure the team is all over these issues and will harness the power of the tools implemented to its favour.

softech said...

Hi,
I am glad you have given me this chance to post my comments. Well, the truth is I don’t have that much to say other then the fact that youi have done a wonderful job at this.


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