Reply.com is gaining some attention on the local search scene with a proposition to pare down local search traffic to more qualified users. The site buys search traffic, which it then passes through a landing page that resembles a lead gen form. After ascertaining relevant info about a user’s location (ZIP) and other needs, it passes the user on to one of its advertisers that has the best match. This includes both pay-per-click and pay-per-lead ad formats.
The goal here is clearly higher relevance, but questions have arisen over whether this relies on the user too much. It’s true that a user who takes the time to fill out the form will indicate a high intent to transact. But given the fragmentation of local media, many options are available that could compel even qualified users to hit the back button in search of results that don’t ask them to do anything.
There would also have to be a critical mass of advertisers needed to serve relevant results. This would provide the positive reinforcement needed to reward the act of filling out a form and generate repeat usage.
Qualifying search traffic is very important in local, but is requiring users to fill out forms the answer? This is similar to the (free) registration wall that has been argued to be an adoption barrier for many online news sites. It’s great for obtaining user information — a means to good ad targeting, but it ultimately pushes some users away. A big trade-off for sure.
Content delivery — both search and push-based (display ads) — could get more geographically relevant in the near future by using location awareness data. This is a more “passive” method that doesn’t require users to do anything. Then again, that day hasn’t quite arrived yet. For now, we’ll continue to rely on other proxies such as user search behavior (typing in geomodifiers), IP targeting and lead gen forms.
Reply.com meanwhile has some compelling campaign management features for advertisers and it could be on to something. This includes speaking in SMBs’ language about delivering leads rather than talking about clicks and SEM metrics. It will ultimately have to be proved out through users’ threshold for providing info, and the all important challenge of selling local advertisers.