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Google picks BellSouth as AdWords reseller

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BellSouth's RealSearch search engine marketing service will become the first authorized reseller of Google AdWords, under a multiyear agreement announced between Google and BellSouth last week. RealPages.com, BellSouth's online Yellow Pages for local businesses in the southeastern U.S., will resell AdWords to small and midsize local businesses.

"The exciting thing about this partnership is to extend our reach to small and local businesses in the nine states in the Southeast region [where BellSouth has a presence]," said Sukhinder Singh, general manager-local and third-party sales at Google.

The agreement extends Google's footprint with small and midsize local businesses through BellSouth's 1,900 salespeople; BellSouth's customers benefit by reaching Google's extensive network.

Not everyone thinks the alliance is smart for both parties. "When you see deals like this, you have to worry," said Niki Scevak, analyst at JupiterResearch, in his daily blog. He continued: " ... rather than wasting time helping Google, [RealPages] should concentrate on their own site."

While most Yellow Pages companies have hundreds of salespeople, what matters more is where consumers are searching, according to Scevak. "In partnerships and online media, the value over time always favors the firm with the consumer relationship and not the one with the advertiser relationship," Scevak wrote.

But Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group, disagreed, arguing the two companies need each other, at least for now. "In a world where BellSouth had the same kind of traffic volume that Google did, they could afford to ignore this," Sterling said. "BellSouth is in the business of delivering leads to their local advertisers. The Google relationship lets them facilitate the offering. They want to be a place where their advertisers can buy print, online and now search advertising." But he echoed Scevak in cautioning that BellSouth needs to continue building traffic to its own site or risk becoming "exclusively a sales channel."

Laurie Scholl, director of RealPages.com marketing at BellSouth, said search is different than other media and requires its own approach. "It's always interesting to compare the Internet arena with the print business," she said. "In the print business, we own and control the distribution. In the Internet world, there are multiple players, and no one person owns that distribution. Our business is connecting buyers and sellers, and there are a heck of a lot of buyers on Google."

Part of BellSouth's strategy

The Google Network reaches 80% of Internet users. Scholl said the Google deal joins its existing agreements with Looksmart and Enhance Interactive. "For us, it is part of the evolution of our local strategy," Singh said. She added Google also reaches local businesses through online regional targeting and through its own national sales force.

Meanwhile, other search engines are beefing up their local capabilities. Scevak noted that Verizon, with 146,000 advertisers, is focused "on investing heavily in their site." Verizon's SuperPages.com site is at http://yellowpages.superpages.com.

Yahoo!'s Overture has existing relationships with resellers for local through its Local Match Ambassador Program. "It's designed to work with resellers who sell to small advertisers," said Geoff Stevens, general manager-local at Overture.

Stevens said Overture has relationships with about 15 search engine marketing service providers that promote its products. It also has partnership deals with Findlaw, a vertical search directory and SME Global Solutions, an interactive company.

"These deals really work for all the parties right now," said Kelsey's Sterling. "Whether that will always be the case is uncertain. Whether these advertisers will find value and resubscribe remains to be determined." 

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