Yahoo! Free Business Listings

Yahoo started offering free websites to businesses in late April. However, calling them web sites could be a bit inacurate. In this article Mike McEwan checks out the service briefly and explains how useful these listing are and how they stack up to other offers.

Seeing that Yahoo doesn’t even list this free offer with their web hosting options for small businesses, which actually start from $11.95/month, shows that this Yahoo promotion may be something slightly different. Yahoo calls these offers Yahoo! Local Listings. It seems geared more toward expanding Yahoo! Local’s search results and relevance than providing a strong online presence for a small business. This isn’t necessarily a problem for businesses with low demands for their web site. However, if you are going to Yahoo’s free services looking for a robust website, you will be disappointed.

For companies with no website yet, this is a free form of promotion with nothing to lose but the few minutes it takes to fill out Yahoo’s form pages. The site’s creation forms will ask for all the business contact information.

Then it will get into hours of operation, payment methods accepted, and a few additional things like year established, languages spoken, brand names carried, and products offered. After plugging in this information, you’re mostly done.

The page then shows you Yahoo! Local listings already in their database that resemble the business you just entered. If you find that your business is already in the directory for some reason (perhaps because it is included in online yellow pages and Yahoo lifted it from them) you can modify that entry or else start a new one if it isn’t there yet. Then Yahoo will have you sort the listing into some preset categories they have designated, preview it, and submit it.

After this is complete, Yahoo will let you chose between a free or paid website, and then it will assist in creating a webpage using more forms and templates. There isn’t much freedom, but it looks like it’s made for people who may not have the time or money to bother with something more detailed or elaborate.

The listing comes at either the free level (a basic listing and a 5 page website) or at $9.95/month (an enhanced listing and the same website). Both are primarily a phone and address directory, with the web site allowing space to describe services or staff. Local reports tell the owners how many clicks their pages have received, but as some people point out, this may not mean anything to business owners. Those who aren’t selling anything on the internet may be less concerned with clicks, which do not translate to customers, than they would be with referrals.

Besides allowing small companies to make a debut on the internet, this offering could also allow them to manipulate their presence in the Yahoo! Local listings if they are not satisfied with it. However, if considering the paid option, it might be a better idea to stay away from this until Yahoo works on making it more enticing.

Yahoo’s more established paid services are too much competition for their own new service. The price difference is about $2.00, which is too little to justify the lack of features in the new service. Again, the enhanced listing is $9.95 and includes a slightly fancier listing (including a map and a few more places to enter information, like pictures and links to offers…things easily incorporated into a better website) and a simplistic 5-page website. Yahoo’s most affordable business website starts at $11.95 and includes benefits like an included domain name (plus up to 100 subdomains), 25 email addresses, 2 GB of web space, plenty of tools to help build the website, and 24-hour phone support to help you if you get stuck.

It wouldn’t make sense for people to pay for the new listing service unless Yahoo makes it a more like its other offers or slashes the price in half.

This particular service is rather new, so Yahoo may not know exactly what to anticipate or what services users are going to begin demanding. Google recently began a campaign to get more local listings from small businesses as well, and it wouldn’t be alarming if other search engines like MSN, AOL, and Hotbot started creating relationships with small businesses. The competition between search engines’ local features has been rather intense lately, and this isn’t surprising, considering the potential for advertisers in this relatively new venue.

A recent study by The Kelsey Group and ConStat, Inc. reported that a decent majority of U.S. households, almost three quarters, use the internet to research local products and services. Having a website or local listing could definitely generate new customers for small or new businesses, but according to Yahoo, most small businesses do not have any presence on the web. Rich Riley, GM of Yahoo Small Business, tells us, “There are over 26 million small businesses in the U.S., approximately half of which do not have a website.” Especially considering this, it’s pretty clear that it would be a great advantage for people to jump on the wave of business listings early on when it’s less populated and get some attention from chronic web surfers. This new local service will probably benefit both Yahoo and those who it hosts.

The search engines’ pool of advertisers could also be expanding. Though none of the search engines have released details on plans to advertise on local searches, it’s not out of the question. Once a higher percentage of businesses are listed and the competition increases, Yahoo will have accounts and relationships with all of those who signed up for their listings service. The company could tap into these subscribers and exchange a small ad or a prominent position in search results for a small fee. Perhaps this is what the enhanced listing service could evolve into.

Small local businesses to this point have not had many useful places to advertise on the internet unless they offered internet services. Local searches may open a new marketing venue that will more widely connect them with people in their area, and Yahoo may be opening a whole group of advertisers competing for ad space.

The new Yahoo! Listing may also generate more traffic to Yahoo’s other services for businesses. Besides web hosting Yahoo can also help provide methods for companies to become online merchants, set up domain names, manage company email, manage company broadband internet access, and help find new recruits for job openings via HotJobs. AOL, MSN, and Google don’t yet seem to have a large program to offer businesses as Yahoo does. While Google doesn’t have all of these services, it has introduced a business listing service alarmingly similar to Yahoo’s. The creation forms request the same information and it follows a very similar four-step process: create listing, categorize, preview, submit.

Unlike Yahoo, Google isn’t offering any accompanying service that requires a fee, nor is it offering a free 5-page website. It is simply directory space, but valuable nevertheless. Interested businesses should definitely make sure they have listings on both of these major search engines, especially since both have made their local searches accessible through mobile devices.

The Yahoo! Listing website may seem considerably less robust than customized e-commerce websites, but that shouldn’t rule them out for everyone. If your business is looking to make a debut on the web and it sounds like Yahoo’s new offerings would be adequate for now. The service will probably not be a bad transitional tool to get on the web. The newly introduced listing service may assist small or new companies who want more ad space or would simply like the ability to change their current listing in Yahoo’s local directories. Drop by http://listings.local.yahoo.com, and it also wouldn’t hurt to make sure you have a listing in Google by going to http://www.google.com/local/add. For a decent web page though, look elsewhere.

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