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Marchex unveils network of 100,000 local U.S. sites

MENLO PARK, California (Reuters) - Marchex Inc. said on Wednesday it is looking to make a splash in the local U.S. online advertising market by introducing 100,000 memorable Web sites featuring local services such as denverautorepair.com.

The Seattle-based company is looking to attract Web surfers to easy-to-remember Web domains it has acquired in recent years like locksmiths.com, remodeling.com or newyorkdoctors.com.

There, consumers will find links to relevant neighborhood services and advertising Marchex provides.

“The scale of Marchex’s undertaking is kind of mind-boggling, to introduce 100,000 sites at once and the fact that these are real sites,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence.

The newly launched sites feature contact details from more than 15 million business listings nationwide across all major categories found in traditional telephone book yellow pages. Marchex is publishing more than one billion pages of cross-linked local services, it said.

Marchex has a partnership with the nation’s largest local telephone carrier, AT&T Inc., and its affiliated YellowPages.com, through which they sell advertising that appears on the Marchex local online advertising network.

Major Web search providers such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and IAC/InterActiveCorp focus on driving users to local sites through the front door of their respect search services. By contrast, Marchex is prepared for users who arrive at the back door, by random Web searches with no outright goal.

OVERCOMING A STIGMA

Marchex is looking to distinguish itself in scale and quality from the so-called “domain parking” industry that often prey on accidental visitors to their sites by serving up low-quality advertising links on random pages, sometimes laden with pop-up advertising or spyware. When frequently visited, such sites act as a kind of license to print money.

“The company gets lumped in with all these domain guys,” Sterling said. “There is a certain amount of bait-and-switch going on there.”

By improving the relevance of its local network, Marchex believes it can attract revenue from its stable of local advertisers. Its existing networks of Web sites attracted 31 million unique visitors in March, by the company’s count.

Among the sites included in the network are postal-code addresses such as www.90210.com. Marchex says it has acquired 96 percent of all such ZIP Code areas in the United States, giving local residents a memorable way to find services like shopping, entertainment and professional services like florists, beauty salons and doctors or lawyers.

Marchex is upgrading around 40 percent of the 250,000 sites it owns, John Keister, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said in an interview. Until now, few of the sites had been developed, he said.

By late September, Marchex said it plans to launch a new version of a site called Open List (www.openlist.com) as a consumer destination site. It will contain an overview of links to its local network, in a bid to drive repeat traffic.

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