IAC/InterActiveCorp's development of Ask is priority No. 1, and a key part of that development is the integration of Citysearch's listings and content, according to IAC execs speaking Aug. 1 on the company's quarterly earnings call.
"There is no question that [Citysearch] has the best local content and its breadth and depth," said IAC Chairman Barry Diller. "Its quality puts anyone else to shame. Getting that content into Ask … is high up on the list. In the next four to six months, it ought to be on there, and [a] fairly smooth" transition.
There was no discussion on the call, however, of literally folding Citysearch into Ask. Such a scenario could harm Citysearch's extensive syndication with other portals.
During the call, Diller expressed general satisfaction with Citysearch's progress. He cited its stream of new products, including map products, new review capabilities and mobile services, and once again claimed that the site gets 21 million unique visitors per month (although comScore says it is more like 14 million, and Nielsen/NetRatings says it is 11.26 million).
The site also has "aggressive sales efforts" boosting its merchant count to 50,000, up 9,000 since May and 57 percent from last year. Citysearch's sales, incidentally, are now led by Neil Salvage, former head of sales of YellowPages.com.
Separately, IAC also cited progress with its RealEstate.com division. While the real estate industry is in a funk, IAC President and COO Doug Lebda said that over time, RealEstate.com will have a different story. IAC expects to spearhead industry change in which the business will turn less on agents acquiring leads and more on branding, SEM, technology, efficient lead processing and integrated services, such as mortgage loans. "It isn't just about leads" but a more comprehensive solution, he said.
Agents, however, will be expected to take a substantially smaller share from IAC. Currently, typical Realtors get roughly 60 percent of the take, with inexperienced agents getting less and the experienced breadwinners, who account for the lion's share of sales, getting up to 80 percent. But IAC envisions more of a 50/50 split for RealEstate.com agents, who will be fed leads, so their experience level and community involvement won't matter as much.
"We're seeing great agents wanting to come to this platform," said Lebda. "We've got fantastic tools, great technology, very good training … it is unique in this market." He noted that "our real estate strategy is anything but traditional."
Lebda said that IAC currently has 130 real estate contractors working in Portland, Denver, Seattle and Salt Lake City. Together, they have gotten 270 real estate contracts from buyers "over the past few months." If my math is correct, that is a little more than two sales per agent, or projected out, eight sales a year. But most of the agents have probably just been put in place, so it isn't accurate to do a three-month average. A good Realtor, of course, probably brings in 20-plus sales a year.