Matthieu Houle, Director, Mobile & Platform at YPG gives us insights about the mobile local search industry in Canada, and expectations about where this industry is going and how the mobile usage of YPG products will surpass web usage by 2014.
Mohamed Salah: Tell us a brief introduction about yourself
Matthieu Houle: I am Matthieu Houle, Director, Mobile & Platform at Yellow Pages GroupTM in Canada (YPG), responsible for its mobile properties, with more than 3 million downloads to date and representing 30% of our search traffic (www.yellowpages.ca/mobile). I am also responsible for YPG’s Developer Platform, YellowAPI.com which now has more than 1,000 developers signed-up.
With 15 years of experience in local search, media and advertising, I joined YPG in 2000 where I held various positions in Marketing, Business Development and Operations.
I began my career inCosta Rica where I lived for six years and co-founded a design agency and two quarterly publications: a local surf magazine and a golf magazine.
Mohamed: 30% of all YellowPages.ca online searches come from your mobile apps. How did you achieve these numbers and when do you think the mobile searches will surpass the web searches?
Matthieu: Part of our success was the early adoption of the mobile platform. Our executives saw the strategic fit and as of 2009, we’ve invested significantly in mobile development in terms of resources and created a director role dedicated to mobile – which I currently hold. We launched this initiative in 2010 with a mass media campaign, that really kick-started our presence on mobile.
Moreover, there is a natural fit between our service and the context of mobile users. I often say that Yellow Pages Group is “built for mobile”. For instance, Smartphones are the ultimate tool to discovering local merchants.
And finally, we have excelled at execution. Making the apps fast and simple to use was ultimately the key to our success and what drives our thinking moving forward. We have the right internal and external partners to achieve our strategy.
I refer to Mary Meeker’s forecast indicating that mobile usage will be equal to online usage by 2014. In my opinion, that forecast for local search is on the conservative side.
“Mobile usage will be equal to online usage by 2014. That forecast for local search is on the conservative side.”
Mohamed: How is the traffic usage divided between your mobile apps (iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android, WP7, Mobile Web, SMS Search)? Did you think about developing a Nokia app?
Matthieu: Applications represent roughly 75% of our mobile searches while the remainder is mobile web. Out of the app traffic, 70% comes from the iOS platforms and in large majority from iPhones.
“Out of the app traffic, 70% comes from the iOS platforms and in large majority from iPhones”
InCanada, Nokia doesn’t have a strong penetration as it has in other parts of the world so we have not yet create an app for this platform. Moreover, SMS search numbers are negligible.
Mohamed: How do you interact with your mobile users? How did their feedback shape your applications the way they are today?
Matthieu: User feedback is a critical input when we plan our releases. We acquire feedback from many different channels, including social media, customer service calls and emails, and even from employees. In my opinion, the most valuable feedback is derived from reading the reviews section on the app stores which is an excellent source of feedback. You know that if someone takes the time to write a review, it’s very likely that at least 100 people are thinking the same thing.
Furthermore, we also follow a more formal user testing protocol when we launch major updates but I find that the value added through this process is a validation of ideas and our execution…
Mohamed: What is YellowAPI all about?
Matthieu: The essence of YellowAPI is to create more value for our advertisers by allowing virtually anyone to create amazing local experiences. Developers are building new applications and experiences right now, in areas that we would not have imagined or we would not have taken the time to develop.
YellowAPI is all about contributing to the eco-system in a way that contributes to our business model. Overall, it is about enabling developers to tap into our curated data without having to pay for it. We believe it’s a win-win for everyone.
Mohamed: It is well known that the most valuable asset for Yellow Pages is its data. Have you faced any challenges about the idea of exposing the Yellow Pages data to third parties through the API?
Matthieu: Exposing our data is very different than giving it away. The key reasoning behind this is that each time a business profile is exposed through a partner’s app, we can report that value back to our advertisers.
Mohamed: How many partners are using YellowAPI today? What’s your monetization model for the API?
Matthieu: We have more than 1,000 developers that have signed-up on the API in less than a year, representing about 30 apps and websites.
The monetization model for the API is quite simple: by adding more value to our advertisers, we support our product value proposition. Although we don’t sell pay-per-performance, once you have a good understanding of the ROI-to-Revenue relationship, you can pay partners based on performance in a way that makes sense for both parties.
Mohamed: What are you working on right now? What’s in the pipeline?
Matthieu: We’re always improving our flagship apps. That’s a big part of the pipeline. Expect more social features and more content in the next few releases of 2011.We’re also working on a new app that will hit the iTunes app store in Q4… Which I think will have a tremendous success. Stay Tuned!
On the YellowAPI side, it’s all about adding more data and more tools to help developers come up with the best apps possible!
Mohamed: What is the most valuable thing you have learned so far being in the local search, media and advertising industry for the past 15 years?
Matthieu: I believe that if you focus on making things simpler and more useful, for consumers and advertisers, great things will happen. In the end, our role is to add value to both sides. Try to avoid PowerPoint Ivory Tower syndrome and recognize it when it happens and go back to the basics.
Mohamed: A few years ago, everyone said that going mobile is the next big thing. Today, what do you think is the next big thing?
Matthieu: I would say that the next big thing is still mobile. But not exclusively with “branded” applications. I see an explosion of hyper local, vertical, social mashups that will give consumers the best tools to make the best shopping decisions. Imagine a developer with the next big “local” idea, building the app with the content from Yellow Pages companies across the world…That’s where I want to be!
“I see an explosion of hyper local, vertical, social mashups that will give consumers the best tools to make the best shopping decisions”
Learn more about Yellow Pages GroupTM in Canada (YPG)
Learn more about YellowAPI