Natpal, "Serving Local Merchants"

Greg Sterling wrote about Natpal recently. I took a look and found some positives and negatives.

From Natpal;

"Natpal.com was originally incubated at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, and is now headquartered in New York City. Natpal.com has developed an integrated approach to signing up and serving local merchants who are transitioning their marketing budgets online...."
"...Natpal, by 2009, will have a diversified product enabling businesses to effectively interact with customers via the web. Natpal's flagship product, adStation, will be offered globally as a web-based application, allowing businesses to automate and enhance their pay for performance advertising."

I like their before and afters customer website profiles. They do pretty decent makeovers. I followed some of their client testimonials and can't really see anything special local placement service provided. One client, Philadelphia restaurant is not optimized well for local at all. It's not profiled on any of the local search sites, local directories or IYP's.

Another profiled client, a small charter fishing company is not found on any variation of a Google Maps search. You really can't say you serve local business unless you cover the basics like Google Maps/Local.

I get the impression they are really gunning for the introduction of their "adStation" application. Maybe this product will distinguish them.

Local search marketing is a distinct specialty. Properly done it requires hands-on personal representation. The local landscape is too fragmented, too detailed with too many options for an automated service to cover.
Natpal will need a crew of trained search specialists to do the necessary work of customer relations and data input to become serious local search marketing providers. A look at their careers page shows they know this. Within one of the job descriptions we see some insight to their thinking.

"Industry Description:

Local Search is considered the new frontier in paid search marketing, the fastest growing area of both technology and advertising and the key driver of Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Over $100 billion is spent on local advertising in the U.S alone; to date, very little has transitioned online. A significant opening exists to devise, build, and monetize this opportunity within the next 2-4 years.

I agree the next 2 to 4 years is the time to build a local search platform. Once the herd starts moving it will turn to a stampede. Natpal should be ready!

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