Thanks to a priceless gem of a domain name, and crowned by sparkling technology, administrative and software crown jewels, one of the Emerald City’s most popular web properties has become the virtual king of online directory assistance and contact management.
By letting your fingers do the clicking at WhitePages.com, you can quickly perform people, business, reverse phone, reverse address, area code and ZIP code searches online – and all for free. Unlike the printed white pages, WhitePages.com updates its directory assistance information every 30 days, providing consumers with the most up-to-date contact information. And with traditional 411 directory assistance calls costing between $1.00 and $3.49 per look-up, WhitePages.com also offers consumers a noble way to save money. Last year, consumers saved $1 billion by turning to WhitePages.com instead of dialing directory assistance.
The numbers generated by WhitePages.com Network including 411.com – (which was acquired in July 2004)– are the calculus for advertising and marketing success. 8-10 million page views per day, 1.3 billion advertising impressions per month, and over 1,300 partner Websites across the network — all run by a crackerjack staff of 70. In April, the company announced it will power MSN’s White Pages channel which positions WhitePages.com as the largest online residential directory assistance service. The company’s business solutions service, W3 Data, also offers a variety of products including Prospect411, BatchAppend411, API411 and EnterpriseDA.
To get the 411 on WhitePages, Seattle24x7 looked up president and CEO, Max Bardon, who took over the top spot in 2002. As a co-founder of another Seattle domain-ator, GiftCertificates.com, Max developed that company’s best selling product, the SuperCertificate™. Bardon is a “triple threat” with degrees that include an MBA from the University of Chicago, and Bachelors in Management Information Systems and Accounting from the University of Cincinnati.
Seattle24x7: As a service powering the lookup of numbers, WhitePages.com is generating some impressive numbers of its own. What kind of trends have you seen in the growth of your services?
Bardon: The first month I joined the company, we were generating 28 million page views per month. In the past 36 months, we increased that to 182 million page views, and that doesn’t include our newest relationship with MSN which we began powering April 1st. That will add 10% to 15% growth for us. Seattle24x7: What is your total number of daily page views and where does that rank you?
Bardon: Right now we’re generating between eight and 10 million page views per day. In the US, we’re currently ranked number 62 overall and 53 for ad focused sites in most unique users as measured by comScore Media Metrix.
Seattle24x7: How have you been measuring the growth?
Bardon: The Kelsey Group, an analyst firm focusing on the telecom and electronic directory industry, has identified the online lookups as being 13% of total directory assistance. They are pegging the growth rate between now and 2008 at 25% year-over-year. It will be awhile before the industry hits 50% or 60%, but it’s certainly possible down the road.
Seattle24x7: That’s a ton of traffic. How are you set up to handle it in terms of hardware and networking?
Bardon: Our site is hosted in the Northwest and we have significant redundancy built into our network. While our facilities are leased, we use our own servers which are managed in-house. We’re hooked up to the backbone, although once you get behind our firewall everything is company-owned and managed network equipment. Of course, we work with outside vendors and use a variety of sources for both hardware and software to manage the load.
Seattle24x7: How would you respond to that most classic of business questions, which is ‘What business are you in? ‘
Bardon: Our mission is to be the best site for finding and managing contact information for people and for businesses, while respecting their privacy. Are we a Google-type search engine? Absolutely not. Are we a search related company? The answer is yes. We’re a search-oriented company, but not a Web search company.
Seattle24x7: You allow people to synchronize their address book across multiple computers, which is a contact management function?
Bardon: Right — after finding comes managing. Contact information changes and needs to be kept up-to-date. It’s a natural extension. That’s where our “My Info” service comes in. MyInfo ContactsManager is a downloadable software application that provides a fast and secure way for consumers to manage contact information in conjunction with Outlook. ContactsManager gives users the ability to synchronize their WhitePages.com MyInfo AddressBook with Outlook and automatically update a consumer’s contact information. This ensures that their contact lists will always contain the most accurate data available whether it originates from a WhitePages.com search or their Outlook contact list.
Seattle24x7: How would you describe your business model?
Bardon: We are an advertising supported site. In addition to our proprietary sites, we manage the entire directory assistance process for over 1300 partner sites. This includes providing all contact information data and applications, including the ability to search and perform forward lookups or reverse number lookups. We serve all the pages, including the advertising inventory. We are able to monetize advertising from those partner sites.
To give you an idea how much that is, we generated 180 million page views in March. That was based on 110 million searches from users, resulting in 1.3 billion advertising impressions, which we sold to agencies and direct advertisers throughout the US and Canada. In fact, we power three out of four white pages lookups in Canada and one out of four in the US. We operate two ad sales offices – one here at our headquarters in Seattle and one which we opened last year on Madison Avenue in New York. We have grown both our revenue and our earnings by 100% plus year-over-year since 2000 when the company was incorporated.
Seattle24x7: For advertising, you work hand in hand with your business partners?
Bardon: There are two advertising components to our service, residential and business. If you go to WhitePages.com and lookup Max Bardon in Seattle, Washington, you will see advertising on the results page. That is all the advertising that we own and sell to ad agencies. The other component is business lookups. Say I want to look up Starbucks in Seattle, Washington, or pizza restaurants in Seattle. When it comes to the background application that serves the advertising associated with these business listings, we partner with some of the largest telcos. For WhitePages.com, our telecom partner is SBC Communications’ SmartPages.com. For 411.com, we work with Verizon’s SuperPages.com site to power business look ups.
Seattle24x7: Any other major partners in addition to SBC and Verizon?
Bardon: On the business listings side, those are our major partners, and on the residential side, MSN is our first major portal. We expect over time that we will gain more of these relationships, as we already power three out of the five largest telephone companies in the US with directory assistance. SmartPages.com, which is SBC’s site, RealPages.com, operated by BellSouth, and all of BellCanada, which includes Yellow Pages.ca, Canada 411, 411.ca. and a whole host of Canadian sites. We also have a lot of medium-size partners, like reverse phone directories, as well as an affiliate program with over 1000 web sites that have embedded our search boxes so they can allow people to do white pages searches and redirect them to our results page to find what they are looking for.
Seattle24x7: How many advertising partners do you have?
Bardon: We have over 70 advertisers on our site at any given time. Some of them are direct advertisers like Match.com. We also work with numerous advertising agencies that represent clients like Allstate. We are committed to working with our advertisers to ensure they’re targeting the segment of our audience where they’ll see the best return. Targeting can be based on geographic location or some type of anonymous demographic information our users have given us. As an example, Match.com has seen impressive results from placing ads inside the MyInfo areas of our site.
Seattle24x7: Do you view the fact that Google has a telephone look up as a part of its search offering as a competitive threat of any kind?
Bardon: I think any Web company eyes Google as a competitive threat, no matter what they do. Where we separate ourselves from Google, is that most people think of Google as a general-purpose search engine, and we’re very much about structured and defined information.
At the end of the day, are they a potential competitor? Yes. But we will continue to focus on our area of expertise to make sure that we deliver a better user experience as it relates to finding and managing contact information.
Seattle24x7: You also have an XML API and allow users to tap into your backend?
Bardon: Yes, that’s our W3Data brand which is a B2B service. We offer these customers several online wizard-based tools. For example, a restaurant, may want to collect the addresses of people who are calling to make reservations so they can send a promotional mailer at the end of the year. You can upload the phone number, and if someone has a listed number, we’ll append that data. Alternatively, if you are interested in a server to server connection, that’s where the XML-based API is used. For call centers, our system will connect with a company’s CRM system, reducing the time for order entry and saving the call center a lot of money.
Seattle24x7: Looking towards the future, do you think mobile devices are going to be adoptive of this technology?
Bardon: We currently have a site called m.411.com, which is a mobile web application accessible from your phone or PDA. In terms of SMS search, it’s something we are looking at. I think SMS is a great communications platform for communicating a fairly simple message structure. As it relates to mobile Web, we continue to see the proliferation of devices that are more sophisticated – Treo devices or PDAs or smart phones. I think we’ll see an increasing reliance on mobile Web technologies to provide very similar capabilities that are on the desktop except on someone’s handheld device.
Seattle24x7: Thanks, Max, for the 411 on WhitePages.com. [24×7]
Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.