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Cygnus searches for new dollars via online directories

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B-to-b media companies are not about to give up on the idea of creating vertical search products, and they don’t have to try to duplicate Google to do it, said Dave Iannone, VP-interactive for Cygnus Business Media, who is using a standard searchable directory platform to roll out a dozen online buyer’s guides before the end of the year. Although the idea of putting industry directories online is hardly groundbreaking, Iannone said, “We think the revenue on some of these directories will add up to six figures. It will be worthwhile if we can draw enough eyeballs, and I believe we are offering our users a valuable service that goes beyond what Google can do.” The directories will be marketed through Cygnus’ print and online products, e-mail newsletters and a “not huge” search engine marketing budget, Iannone said. During October, searchable buyer’s guides were launched on www.firehouse.com, www.officer.com, www.SecurityInfoWatch.com and www.EMSresponder.com. “These are very robust, searchable industry directories,” Iannone said. “A user can search these guides by type of product, ZIP code-level location and keywords, and this base will be expanded in the coming months to add many more features.” Many b-to-b media companies have struggled to monetize vertical search because cost-per-click advertising often does not work without the huge volumes of users Google and Yahoo! have, so Iannone is using two time-honored methods to generate revenue with the directories. Not unlike a print directory, Cygnus will charge companies to enhance their basic free listing with bold, featured and premium tiers, all of which are sold on flat-fee bases from $250 to $995 for a year. “Besides the free level and those three upgrades, we also offer exceptionally targeted leader board and skyscraper banner ads, linked product images and contextual advertising,” Iannone said. While the online display advertising will be sold by Cygnus representatives, the directory listing enhancements are designed to be self-service, as are updates of the listings themselves. “For $250 a year, we’d be losing money if we had to upsell the listings,” Iannone said. Similarly, for Cygnus to use editorial resources to update all the listings would be cost-prohibitive. Cygnus is also following the trend toward online video. “We're expanding to a more dynamic Flash-based platform in the next month,” Iannone said. “We expect at least a dozen markets will employ this technology in the next six months, supported with in-house video-editing talent.” To get the first video center, on www.firehouse.com, up and running with content, the staff took advantage of the recent Firehouse Expo, where education sessions could be turned into training videos and exhibitor interviews into new-product features, Iannone said. A similar strategy will be used for the EMSresponder site, with content from the EMS Expo, and other markets in the future.
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