Users enter queries at OpenList.com and have the option to refine their search with tags like business category and neighborhood, and to read reviews and view "Best Of" lists. The portal geo-targets users (but they can also choose to enter specific cities to search from)--and will now also serve as a hub for Marchex's granular sites such as www.55412.net (Minneapolis), www.plumbersonline.com, and www.indianapolisautorepair.com.
The company's strategy is to create a mammoth network of content pages (currently monetized through Marchex's contextual ad network), connecting consumers from large metropolitan markets and smaller towns with the most relevant local businesses, info and advertisements.
"So many local services offer deep listings for cities like New York, but nothing for smaller suburbs or towns," said Bill Day, Marchex's CMO. "And when they do offer things, they tend to be shallow. With Open List and our sites, it's not just the listing--it's content and reviews."
In addition to being accessible through Open List, the pages also show up in Google and Yahoo search listings, garnering listed businesses multiple chances for exposure.
"We wanted to give consumers more than one way to get the local information," said Day. "They can use Open List for a drill-down approach, or directly navigate to specific URLs."
Day said the company would continue to find and acquire new ZIP code and city-based vertical sites (or register unowned domains) as warranted.
"We track down the data and see where our traffic is coming from, and what categories and cities users are searching for," said Day. "If we see that 'this' category works and we don't own it in 'these' cities, then we say, let's own it."
While the content sites are built on the contextual ad model, Day said that ensuring each one delivers a wealth of content is the company's primary focus.
"We have a bit of luxury now, because we're not a startup," said Day. "We've always had a strong advertising side to the business, from our own sales force to partnerships with companies like AT&T, but the Holy Grail is having the best local service."
To that end, Marchex also partnered with OpenTable, Contractors.com, HealthGrades, Inc. and Judy's Book (a bargain shopper's social network) to pack more reviews and other content into each local site.
While marketers have multiple options to choose from for local search, no clear leader that does all things well has emerged. Marchex and other alternatives to the big search engines may become popular with smaller, more direct marketers and local businesses--especially as they are increasingly priced out of Google and Yahoo's top paid search listings by larger brand advertisers.
However, their success depends on consumers finding the Marchex sites.