Citysearch may once have been the dominant player in the digital listings space, but those days have come and gone. With large and small players frantically moving into local (and mobile) business advertising, CitySearch struggling to maintain relevance.

CityGrid, its new local content and ad platform, farms out local business listings to 150 publishers online. And starting today, the company is expanding its network with sponsored listing on the new Yellow Pages online.

Unfortunately for CitySearch, Yellow Pages can't reproduce the kind of utility that Google search now has. But if the company can sell ads against its listings, it may be able to stay above water.

YellowPages.com, which is owned by AT&T Interactive, now goes by YP.com. That confusing name — and the fact that most people haven't used the Yellow Pages in a long long time, does not bode well for Citysearch's new plan. But the thing the company gains from this announcement lies in sales.

Citysearch CEO Jay Herratti puts it like this: "By combining AT&T Interactive's massive sales organization with the reach of CityGrid, local advertisers will be able to reach millions of consumers across a variety of local properties."

Sponsored listings on YP.com will now show up across the CityGrid ad network.

Citysearch is frantically looking for ways to remain relevant among local businesses because people are no longer going to the site for information about where they live. In the last year, 24% fewer people log on to Citysearch each month. That's why the company is looking to take its content where people are actually going.

CityGrid is comprised of 150 web sites that display Citysearch's 18 million business listings and ads from 700,000 small businesses. Citysearch has a sales force that can sell local ads across all those sites — about half of the company's 400 employees do just that.

Peter Krasilovsky, a vice president and program director at BIA/Kelsey, tells The New York Times:

“It is interesting to reposition Citysearch as an online company instead of a Web site that completes directly, if not winningly, with Yelp."

And that's sort of the problem. Citysearch now presents its own website as an example for other sites that want to use its listings (instead of being a destination for users). Jay Herratti, Citysearch’s CEO, calls the new model "giving content to the competition."

Citysearch's sales team gives it a leg up on selling ads to local businesses, but increasingly, consumers aren't going to places like the Yellow Pages to find local information.

Yelp and Google are large companies that have footprints in the space. Meanwhile, startups like Gowalla and Foursquare are making inroads with businesses that want to advertise to consumers in the mobile space.

If Citysearch can incorporate its listings as a useful layer in other people's websites, it can sell ads against that content. But it looks like consumers are increasingly going directly to sites that offer local content they want.

As a WebProNews reader put it:

"I saw [Citysearch's] presentation and I feel that any SEO value is minimal. I love the concept of a one-stop shop for all things local, but this is not a complete (or even almost complete) solution. Maybe as it gets developed out a bit it will have more value.”

Image: AT&T

Meghan Keane

Published 5 May, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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