Today I am catching up with Darby Sieben, of Darby Sieben – Internet Marketing and YellowPages.ca. In the past, I wrote about local search over in Europe and Poland, so I thought we would see what is happening in Canada.

Q. Darby, can you our readeers a little about yourself?
A. I am a 14-year veteran in the Internet space. Starting back in 1994, I laid the groundwork for my first company. We were a development firm trying to create an e-commerce platform that we wanted to integrate with an online directory. Needless to say, a little ahead of our time. We sold that business in 1999.

From 1999-01, I had the privilege of building the my3web.com portal for a Calgary based company called Cybersurf. At this time I was the lead for traffic and monetization, and this was great experience leading me into the National Internet scene. In 2002, after Bell ActiMedia closed their Western Canada operations – I along with 2 partners formed a company called KS2 Solutions whereby we represented YellowPages.ca for Western Canada. During that operation we set-up media tracking, search marketing and a solid consulting business. I subsequently sold the business assets to Yellow Pages Group when they acquired Super Pages in 2005.

Now I am the Director of Online Services for Yellow Pages Group. I grew up in a town of less than 300 people in Saskatchewan, then Calgary and now Toronto – it has been quite a ride. I suppose the next logical step would be New York – joking.

Q. What is the state of social networking/marketing in Canada?
A. Well in the last 12-months it has pretty much been Facebook. They have really taken the Canadian market by storm. Did you know that this past December, ComScore reported them with 15.3M UV’s (64.7% reach) up from 2.3M UV’s (9.9% reach), which is incredible growth and truly a remarkable story. Myspace is popular here (4.5M UV’s in December – 18.9% reach), but there is definitely something about Facebook that has attracted Canadian’s.

Q. What is the state of local search in Canada?
A. Similar to the rest of the world, Canada has the same players competing for local. The most common are the search engines, directories, vertical plays and some interesting new content syndication models. However, the division of usage is very different in Canada compared to that of the US. The biggest difference is the strength of the largest directory player – Yellow Pages Group – that has a network reach of 40%+ of Canadians, on any given month.

In Canada, Yellow Pages is a registered trademark and I think this has given strength to the brand. Search engines are also very strong in Canada with Google making up the lions share of horizontal searches. If we look specifically at the local space (as best we can) and compare Yellow Pages Group to that of Google Maps in Canada (via ComScore), you notice that the YP player in Canada has a larger reach. Again, very different that the US market.

Q. How would you compare Canada’s local search to the US or Europe’s local search markets?
A. From my observations, the US is a tough market. I think the fragmentation of the directory business has allowed the search engines opportunity to really capture market share. Looks like in the US we are going to see a lot of consolidation of the directories in 2008, but the question remains – is it too late? Europe seems to be a little different in the sense that you have very strong regional players (PagesJaunes.fr as an example) and then you have the search engines trying to cover all the countries. The big question is whether the EU nations will allow non-EU companies to dominate their markets.

Q. What do you think is the best thing a small business could do to take advantage of local search marketing?
A. Honestly – ask good tracking questions of their customers. Here is what I mean: once you get by the hype of local search and look specifically as what SME’s want the formula is pretty simple, they want visits, calls and clicks – usually in that order.

In most cases SME’s may ask the question, “where did you hear about us”, and usually the response is “from a friend”. I coach them to ask the second question, “where did you get my address or my phone number”, and this will usually lead to a much better and more accurate answer in tracking. This second question has lead to some very interesting observations from the SME’s that I consulted with in the past that might be contrary to media hype.

The second part of tracking is web stats. Right now I think there is a psychological thing happening: when a customer says they found you online, everybody assumes this means Google. Therefore, I recommend to SME’s that if a customer states the Internet as the source of the lead – stop there and let your log files tell you the real answers. When analyzing log files on needs to remember that not every visitor is created equal. A visitor from a directory usually has a much higher value than a visitor from a search engine in terms of where that visitor is within the purchase cycle.

Q. Where do you see local search going in Canada and globally?
A. I think we are going to see much more syndication and aggregation of information and it will become more important for SME’s to align themselves with players who have strong traffic assets, strong customer service management and a clear syndication model of their content. Google is a great example of a company that has strong traffic assets and can aggregate syndicated content, however, that alone is not good enough. Directory publishers have strong customer service and have the potential to be the leaders in syndication.

Some country specific directories even have incredibly strong traffic assets as well – Canada and France are good examples. In addition to this, technology is adding even more ways to access local information, web, telephone, sms, im, etc. What is interesting to me is that nothing fundamentally has changed. We still need to connect buyers and sellers – it’s just the process of doing this that is changing. The companies that realize and embrace this will do well.

Lastly, I believe that what SME’s really want is customer service. Self-service is fine for a small percentage of business owners, but let’s face it, if you are an SME, would you rather spend your time on your business or trying to figure out how to place ads on multiple platforms? Therefore, I think that SME’s are going to migrate to companies that offer direct customer service sales forces who are focused on syndication, aggregation and results tracking.

Thanks Darby for your time and insights. I definitely agree with you that small business will want good customer service when it comes to Internet marketing.