April 2, 2023

Mobile Apps Drive Rapid Changes in Search Technology

Google has repeatedly made the argument — and the commission agreed — that the speed of change in the technology industry made it impossible for regulators to impose restrictions without stalling future innovations.

Exhibit A is the mobile device. Nowhere has technology changed as rapidly and consumer behavior as broadly. As people abandon desktop computers for mobile ones, existing tech companies’ business models are being upended and new companies are blooming.

“Mobile is very much a moving target,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor of antitrust law at the University of Iowa who has been a paid adviser to Google. “This is a market in which new competitors come in a week’s time.”

When the commission began its investigation 19 months ago, for instance, the iPhone did not have the Siri voice search, Apple did not have its own mapping service and Yelp’s mobile apps had no ads. By the time the inquiry concluded, all of that had changed. Google had new competitors on all sides trying to chip away at its hold on the mobile search and advertising market.

Still, Google is even more dominant on mobile phones than on desktop computers. It has 96 percent of the world’s mobile search market, according to StatCounter, which tracks Web use. It collects 57 percent of mobile ad revenue in the United States, while Facebook, its nearest competitor, gets just 9 percent, according to eMarketer.

But, analysts say, as people change their search habits on mobile devices — bypassing Google to go straight to apps like Yelp’s, for example — that dominance could wane, or a competitor could swoop in and knock Google off its perch.

“It’s important to recognize that many mobile apps are really vertical search engines,” said Rebecca Lieb, a digital media analyst at the Altimeter Group. “It is impossible to really say anyone dominates a section of mobile in a secure way right now.”

On cellphones or tablets, for instance, people increasingly skip Google altogether in favor of apps like Flixster for movie times or Kayak for flights.

Apple is taking on mobile search with Siri on the iPhone, which can answer questions about the weather or search for nearby restaurants. With its new mapping service, Apple has also entered local search.

On Friday, Blekko, a search start-up, introduced an app called Izik for Apple and Android devices. It tries to make searching more tablet-friendly by showing images instead of just links, and making it easier to swipe through many pages of results with a finger.

On mobile devices, said Rich Skrenta, chief executive of Blekko, “the user experience is so different that we think it opens things up. On your desktop, if it doesn’t look like Google, you think that’s not a search engine. On a tablet, it’s just vastly different.”

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the F.T.C., said at a news conference Thursday that the speed of change in the tech industry meant that “you want to be careful before you apply sanctions.”

The commission also considered Google’s partnerships with cellphone makers like Samsung and HTC that license Google search on phones, so that a search box shows up on the home screen. In the end it decided not to take action against Google.

Some Google critics said that even though the competitive landscape is different on mobile devices, it should not have influenced the government’s analysis of Google’s behavior on the desktop Web.

“There’s no doubt that mobile applications, including Yelp’s, give consumers the ability to bypass the major search engines and go directly to the best provider of the service they’re looking for,” said Vince Sollitto, vice president for government relations at Yelp. Still, he added, “I don’t see how that impacts how someone is acting anticompetitively on the desktop.”

(One of Google’s concessions to the federal agency, that it would allow other Web companies to ask Google not to show their content in its own vertical search products — a chief complaint of Yelp’s — applies to mobile as well.)

But others said antitrust enforcement in the 21st century needs to be more agile.

Nick Wingfield contributed reporting from Seattle.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/business/mobile-apps-drive-rapid-changes-in-search-technology.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Free A.T.M.’s at the New Barclays Center

Courtesy Free ATM Inc.

A start-up that provides fee-free A.T.M.’s supported by advertising is expanding in the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Bucks first wrote about the 20-something Clinton Townsend and his company, now called Free ATM Inc., last fall after he installed a machine at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory nightclub. His approach is to put A.T.M.’s in underserved locations and offer cash without charging a fee. The catch is that patrons watch and listen to advertising displayed on the screen while their cash is being dispensed.

Now, Mr. Townsend said he has signed a five-year deal to put seven of his cash-dispensing machines inside the Barclays Center, the soon-to-open 19,000-seat arena that will be home to the Nets basketball team and serve as a venue for big-name music acts. (The rapper Jay-Z is a part-owner of the arena). The opportunity was available, he said, because Barclays doesn’t have a big retail banking presence in the United States. So he won’t be competing with the bank’s own A.T.M.’s.

Mr. Townsend says he sees a big opportunity for his machines in the arena. One of the machines will be accessible to the general public whether they’re attending an event or not. The rest will be available to ticket-carrying patrons. “This is a huge platform,” he said.

Mr. Townsend said the machines will feature ads from the cellular provider Metro PCS and the online review site Yelp.com (The machines themselves don’t charge any access fees, but patrons’ own bank may charge them a fee for using an out-of-network A.T.M.)

The question when Mr. Townsend introduced his machines was whether most customers would tolerate ads in exchange for an absence of fees. He said that up to 20 percent of the A.T.M. users at the Knitting Factory location are repeat users, suggesting that they don’t mind the ads. “I think we’ve proven that,” he said. “This is really a consumer win.”

Let us know what you think about Free ATM’s machines.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/free-a-t-m-s-at-the-new-barclays-center/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: What’s Wrong with This Retailer’s Web Site?

Site Analysis

What’s wrong with this Web site?

Bi-Rite Market is something of an institution in San Francisco. A grocery store with a huge and faithful following, it doesn’t see itself as just a grocery store. People actually line up on the street to get inside. The fire department had to be called in once because of overcrowding. The reviews for the store on Yelp are overwhelmingly positive. The homepage on the store’s Web site proclaims, “Bi-Rite is a neighborhood market, feeding our community with love, passion integrity.”

Sam Mogannam, who owns both the market and a nearby creamery, wanted his Web sites to capture the spirit of his stores. “We wanted the experience of logging on to biritemarket.com and biritecreamery.com to be as similar to the experience of walking through the door of our market and creamery as we could,” Mr. Mogannam said. “This meant showing the bounty of the produce, prepared foods, and delicious grocery products we offer, for that wow feeling of surprise our guests have each time they come to the market.”

That said, Mr. Mogannam decided not to create an e-commerce site — although he does offer gift certificates online. “The goals of our sites are to build brand, strengthen our community, and convey important information about our stores that our guests are looking for, from contact info to catering offerings,” he said. “Throughout the planning of our site, we tried to pay attention to having the most important info — our address, phone, menu — in immediately findable spots.”

Although the market has been around since the 1940s, its first Web site wasn’t introduced until 2003. Last year, Mr. Mogannam invested $18,000 in a redesign, hoping to solve problems with both the site’s design and its back-end administration. “We’d had a site for several years but it was static and difficult to update,” he said. “Making our site more dynamic was the No. 1 priority in creating a new biritemarket.com.”

The other priority was giving the site a look and feel that would reproduce, as much as possible, an actual visit to the market. “We wanted the experience of logging on to biritemarket.com to be similar to the experience of walking through the door of our market,” Mr. Mogannam said. “This meant showing the bounty of the produce, prepared foods, and delicious grocery products we offer, for that wow feeling of surprise our guests have each time they come to the market.”

Clearly, the redesign has paid off. “We’ve seen a great increase in Web traffic since launching our new sites — for example, about 9,000 visitors per month in the months preceding the new biritemarket.com site to 17,000 average visitors per month in recent months, one year after the new site was built,” he said. “The site has possibly been most incremental for our catering business, as it offers lots of sample menus and is easily updated as seasonal catering offerings change. We haven’t done quantifiable mining into how the improved site has changed business otherwise, but our market’s sales are up 20 percent over last year and we’ve had the new biritemarket.com site for one year, so that’s a good sign.”

When the redesigned site was ready, Bi-Rite used a variety of social media channels — including Twitter (more than 6,000 followers) and Facebook (more than 2,300 “likes”) — to get the word out. “We sent Twitter and Facebook posts, as well as an e-mail to our list of 3,000 to 4,000 contacts, announcing the new site and its most exciting features,” Mr. Mogannam said. “We also created ads for a few local publications and postcards to hand out on the store floor driving people to our blog, which we saw as the biggest newsworthy component of our new site.”

Most of Bi-Rite’s search engine optimization efforts have focused on creating useful and relevant content. The home page gives substantial real estate to the blog, which discusses food, recipes and other information of interest to Bi-Rite’s customers. “Useful content is ultimately going to be what brings people to the site in the long term,” Mr. Mogannam said. “We then hope that people tell their friends about the site and share it online. If we do our jobs and people like the site enough to tell their friends, it helps our Google ranking too.”

I frequently discuss the importance of paying attention to site analytics, and Mr. Mogannam appears to be doing just that. “We use Google analytics to measure traffic to our sites once a month,” he said. “They’ve taught us what pages are most often visited — catering and sandwich menus are usually highest after the homepage. They’ve also taught us what blog posts are read most. We’re always interested to see how Web traffic is affected by our coverage in the media.”

So what is Mr. Mogannam hoping for out of this critique? “Feedback on what’s working, what isn’t so we can make changes!” he said.

Please take a look at the site and social media efforts and consider a few questions:

  • Does the site provide the kind of information that creates a positive brand image?
  • Does it create a sense of trust?
  • What do you think of how the company is using social media?
  • What can Bi-Rite do to improve its standing in search engine results?
  • Do you agree with the decision not to use the site as an e-commerce platform?
  • Do you have specific suggestions about the design, navigation or marketing?
  • If you have never been to Bi-Rite, does its site make you want to go?

Next week, in our follow-up, we’ll collect highlights from your comments, and I’ll offer some of my own impressions. And of course, we’ll get Mr. Mogannam’s response, as well.

Would you like to have your business’s Web site or mobile app reviewed? This is an opportunity for companies looking for an honest (and free) appraisal of their online presence and marketing efforts.

To be considered, please tell me about your experiences — why you started your site, what works, what doesn’t and why you would like to have the site reviewed — in an e-mail to youretheboss@bluefountainmedia.com.

Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and chief executive of
Blue Fountain Media, a Web design, development and marketing company based in New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7fc5a57e100f402498471ee117262f1a

Your Money: BrightScope Ranks 401(k) Plans, and Attracts Critics

In 2009, Mike and Ryan Alfred, now 30 and 28 years old, introduced a rating for most of the big 401(k) plans and gave poor scores to many of them. In Act 2, the brothers and their company, BrightScope, put the names and disciplinary records of thousands of stockbrokers and investment advisers up on the Web where anyone could find them.

While the data provides plenty of utility for consumers, BrightScope aims to make money by selling detailed reports to retirement plan administrators, mutual fund companies and investment advisers.

And for their trouble, the brothers have been called all sorts of names in industry publications. Their tactics, according to the complainers, hold investment advisers “hostage” and feel like “extortion.” They’re a front, perhaps, for plaintiffs lawyers. Or they are simply “sinister.”

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happened when Morningstar turned unflattering spotlights on the mutual fund industry, and when Zagat, TripAdvisor and Yelp started ranking various businesses.

Those four companies have proved their legitimacy, or at least their staying power. And now the brothers Alfred face a similar test: Are they just a couple of punk kids who will flame out, or will their efforts help us all have more money sooner than we might otherwise? THE BEGINNING BrightScope began not with the Alfred brothers but with their co-founder, Dan Weeks. While the brothers are all steely-eyed intensity, Mr. Weeks, 51, is way out on the jolly spectrum. That demeanor has been a big help, given all of the feathers BrightScope has ruffled.

In 2007, Mr. Weeks was an engineering manager at Hewlett-Packard struggling to understand his 401(k) plan. He built a Flash application to sort out his risk tolerance and fund choices and showed it to his real estate lawyer, who happens to be the father of the Alfred brothers.

Mr. Weeks’s lawyer suggested that he show the tool to his entrepreneurial sons, and the three began brainstorming over glasses of Maker’s Mark. “We had been thinking a lot about 401(k) plans, but we still couldn’t search and find out how good one plan was,” Mike Alfred said. “So we decided to build a rating.” Mike now serves as chief executive of BrightScope, while his brother Ryan is president. Mr. Weeks is chief operating officer.

The Alfred brothers weren’t exactly coming at this cold. Mike had traded stocks as a Stanford undergraduate and Ryan completed finance internships during his summers at Harvard. They both worked for their father when he was in the insurance industry, and the brothers also operated their own investment advisory business.

But they were not 401(k) experts. Still, the three raised some money from angel investors in the San Diego area, and the brothers flew to Washington to see how easy it would be to extract filings about companies’ 401(k) plans from the Labor Department. It took them several hours to print just 20 company reports.

That pace wouldn’t do, so the brothers began flooding the Labor Department with Freedom of Information Act requests, asking for hard drives full of 401(k) filings. “They said ours was one of the most onerous they had ever received,” Ryan Alfred said, smirking ever so slightly.

At the same time, the brothers e-mailed anyone they could think of who might persuade the Labor Department to make all the information available electronically. After about nine months of pestering, they succeeded. “We were so obnoxious, we were like mosquitoes” Mike Alfred said. “They had to kill us eventually.”

(Jason Surbey, a Labor Department spokesman, said that BrightScope wasn’t the only company asking for the information.)

THE 401(K) PRODUCTS BrightScope soon published scores of consumer ratings, and it eventually added 403(b) retirement plan rankings, too, for nonprofit groups. Eventually, it became clear that its data had even more value to two other groups.

First, the company created Spyglass, a service for retirement plan consultants who want to help smaller employers. It allows someone making a pitch to know just how high the target client’s fees are and how poorly the mutual funds in its plan have been performing. Meanwhile, the biggest moneymaker for BrightScope in the next year or so will probably be something called Beacon. Here, BrightScope provides data to the fund companies showing which employer retirement plans own their funds, which ones don’t and which employers own competitor funds that haven’t been performing well.

Half a dozen BrightScope employees spend all day sorting through the data that flows in from the Labor Department. Those six are in a room of about 35 people, including programmers, sales people and others, probably more than local fire codes allow.

The office has a slight odor, and not the kind that might waft up from the tuna canners downstairs. It’s the smell of too many people working too many hours. They all see the potential to get rich, presumably, but there’s a cause they believe in, too. One sign notes that the big idea is to help millions more retire with dignity. Another proclaims BrightScope as an “Unstoppable Rebel Force.”

That forcefulness has rubbed plenty of people the wrong way. Steve Utkus, a principal at Vanguard, engaged in an entertaining back-and-forth with the company via both companies’ blogs last year.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=15d41db80179edfc1af612539762496a

You’re the Boss: Losing at Restaurant Roulette

Jason Alden/Bloomberg News

Start-Up Chronicle

Getting a restaurant off the ground.

“You should feel honored we are here tonight,” said the young woman at the bar.
“I do feel honored. Any particular reason?” I asked.
“We had reservations at three restaurants and chose this one.”
“She’s not kidding,” said her boyfriend.
“I’m delighted,” I said. “But I feel bad for the other guys.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We called and canceled.”
“We’re very polite people,” added her beau. “Picky, but polite.”
“Just curious,” I said. “When did you call them?”
“When was it, honey? Six, six-thirty?”
“Yes. Just before we came over to Southfork.”

Restaurant Roulette. It is the unspoken scourge of dining in the Hamptons. The game where people make three or four reservations and cancel all but one. At the last possible moment. And feel good about their manners, for they have gone out of their way to communicate their impending absence. Rare is the no-call-no-show-no-class consumer. In fact, the most pleasant surprise in owning a restaurant in the often churlish Hamptons has been the civility of the guests. Encouraging, appreciative, supportive. It doesn’t hurt that the chef has a Michelin star and a Miró eye, the servers are well trained, the fish are dayboat fresh and the vegetables are plucked from our garden.

Sure, there’s one table a night that is incorrigibly demanding and there’s the random lout on Yelp and the woman last week who yelled, “You’re so local, you stink!” (She wanted a glass of Champagne, but all five of our sparkling wines by the glass are from New York State.)

And yet, with Restaurant Roulette, the cancellations pile up, by phone and by Open Table, by voice mail and e-mail, and even as one tips one’s hat to the effort, one also feels obliged to impart some information that the roulette players may or may not care to ingest.

A 6 o’clock cancellation is a quarter-step above no call at all. Sorry. But what can a restaurant do with the late-breaking news at 6 p.m.? Too late to call the wait list, too late to cut down the waitstaff or the kitchen help, too late to unpurchase the produce. “How many covers?” is the question that echoes throughout the dining room all day. The answer dictates mood and staff and preparation and table assignments and maybe room redesign. In a business of constant befuddlement, the number of diners is the answer to many questions. So each cancellation is a monkey wrench.

And cancellations are most common when walk-ins are least likely: Saturday night. On Thursday and Friday, the walk-ins can offset the annullers. People who travel from the city dare not predict their precise time of arrival — why add to the stress of a longish and unscenic drive? — so they take their chances at the community table or at the bar.

When heavily reliant on walk-ins, we are out of control of our own environment, victims of whim and happenstance, never knowing if or when guests will show up or how many in what clusters. We’d like to guide this ship and arrange all the deck chairs for everyone’s comfort. Eight people arriving unexpectedly at 7 followed by a couple more fours at 7:15 is far different from the relaxed spacing we had in mind for the 16 guests who canceled.

You think I exaggerate? These are the naked numbers from July 8 and 9:

Friday: 94 covers served, 63 cancellations, 2 no-shows.
Saturday: 98 covers served, 96 cancellations, 4 no-shows.

That’s right: Saturday night saw almost the same number of scratches as guests — and 96 people waited until Saturday to let us know they had a change of plans for that very night. What had been scrupulously designed as a steady rain of guests became a stormy night of downpours and drizzle, interrupted by anxious intervals of lightning. With 96 cancellations, it’s like starting from scratch. It jams up the kitchen, stresses the staff, and makes the flow of night resemble the EKG of a tachycardia patient: arrhythmic and uncool.

It was heartwarming that almost 200 people thought about eating at Southfork Kitchen that night. It was disheartening not that half ended up going elsewhere but that they canceled in the penultimate hours. Which is not to say that we would or could handle 200 guests at this point. That would require a revolving door we do not own. We have 99 seats that will be filled at various points, but not in a strict two-tiered seating. About 130 covers, well spaced and unhurried, would suit us, and our guests, just fine.

Still, some people approach Saturday dinner like Sun Tzu. Or Bobby Fischer. It’s a strategic battle and a summer sport. They want to see when the tennis match concludes or how many cocktails are consumed before venturing out. It could be a Hamptons pandemic of gustatory ambivalence or simply waiting to hear what friends feel like eating that night. Let’s not overlook the fun factor or the control factor. If eating is a sexual act, maybe waiting until the last possible second is a cheap thrill, a mild aphrodisiac.

Hardly anyone plays the weekday version of Restaurant Roulette. Earnest reservers all, people have no need for gamesmanship Sunday through Thursday. They are confident that they can get in where they want, so they make a single reservation, and they show up. The casino opens on weekends. It is possible they do not know how the booking process works or perhaps they don’t give a flying fish. After all, they just want to have a nice meal, so why get lost in the backstage labyrinth?

Overbooking by 10 to 20 percent has become commonplace. Restaurants like the odds against that slim chance that everyone will arrive on schedule. We won’t take that risk, wanting to accommodate all our guests in the manner to which they have grown accustomed. No one waits for a reserved table.

Some restaurants charge for late cancellations. One neighboring bistro charges $50 per person if guests don’t cancel the day before. Another high-toned restaurant down the road has a 48-hour cancellation policy with the same $50 bounty per head. But many of the cancelers will successfully protest payment with their credit card company, and then little has been accomplished save creating ill will. Sour word of mouth seems worse than an empty table. And angry ripples will fill a small pond.

Right now, we tell people that confirming has to be done by 1 p.m. on the day of the reservation or else we expunge their names. We suggest cancellations take place by that same time, but the request has no teeth. Maybe we will institute the play-or-pay policy for parties of eight or more, maybe not.

We are fledgling and figuring this out. Rude and intrusive is not our style, yet we feel pushed around by our politesse. We don’t want our dogma barking at our karma, but we sure don’t want our karma to run over our dogma.


Bruce Buschel owns Southfork Kitchen, a restaurant in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e758eb4119391de8bb16eab5b6cbc08e

The Haggler: Picking the Lock of Google’s Search

BOB STROM is the owner of Ballard Lock Key, which provides locksmith services in Seattle. If you live in the area and find yourself locked out of your car or home, here is an essential piece of information about Mr. Strom’s company: it really exists.

By that, the Haggler means that there actually is a guy named Bob Strom, who is a bonded locksmith. And he owns a business, which you can visit, at 7352 15th Ave NW. This might seem too obvious to note, but it sets Mr. Strom apart from more than 90 percent of his local competitors. According to Yelp, there are — no joke — nearly 3,000 locksmiths in Seattle, though with relatively rare exceptions these operations aren’t in Seattle at all.

They are phone banks, typically set up in far-off places, often in other countries. Call them and they’ll dispatch a locksmith. Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate.

In the last five years, some of these lead generation companies, as they are known, have become notorious. A few have been sued by state attorneys general. Several have shown up in gotcha television news stories, a selection of which can be viewed on YouTube by searching for “locksmith scam.”

You might assume that lead gen sites would be no competition for people like Bob Strom. But for a couple of years, in one crucial arena, they have been crushing him: Google search results. Last Tuesday, the Haggler typed “emergency locksmith Seattle” into a browser, and the top results — most notably, the seven that appeared in the highly coveted Google Places spots, which are marked on an area map — appeared to be lead gen sites. They have local addresses, but if you call and ask to visit, they demur.

“We’re renovating,” said a rep at Emergency On Guard Key Service.

“We’re a mobile service,” said a rep at 24/7 Emergency Locksmith. Asked for more information, the rep hung up.

How, you may wonder, do phone banks that may be thousands of miles from Seattle leapfrog a living, breathing local locksmith in Google searches?

The Haggler asked Doug Pierce of Digital Due Diligence, an Internet research firm based in Brooklyn, to look into it. Mr. Pierce found that lead gen sites use some interesting gimmicks to charm and hoodwink Google’s algorithm. Some basically hijack the local addresses of other entities in or near the middle of town. A business called 24 Hour Speedy Emergency Service, for instance, uses the same address as the King County Administration Building. 

Other sites, Mr. Pierce found, are just tricked out for maximum Google visibility. In particular, lead gen sites are good at spreading their name, address and phone number — NAP, as it’s called in the search business — around the Web, which is apparently a superb way to curry favor with Google Places. On Tuesday, a search of the NAP of Emergency On Guard Key Service yielded more than 1,700 results. By contrast, a NAP search of Ballard yielded 256.

Mr. Strom, it turns out, has so little chance of outranking lead gen sites that he’s having a hard time finding a Web consultant to help him fight back.

“I told him that it would just be a waste of his money,” says Craig Baerwaldt of Local Inbound Marketing, a search engine expert whom Mr. Strom tried to hire recently. “There are hundreds of these lead gen sites and they spend a ton of money gaming Google.”

Of course, this is not just a Seattle problem. Lead gen sites dominate Google results for locksmiths in many cities nationwide, and in more than a few towns. And it’s not just locksmiths. Other service industries, like roofing and carpeting, have a similar problem. If Google is the new Yellow Pages, then lead gen sites have perfected the same game that companies in the predigital age played when they started their names with combinations like AAA1 to land atop printed listings.

But because few people search beyond the first page online, snookering Google might be far more effective, especially because many people assume that the company’s algorithm does a bit of consumer-friendly vetting.

The Haggler contacted Google, and a spokesman, Gabriel Stricker, e-mailed this statement on Wednesday: “We’re aware of the gaming practices happening in the locksmith industry — practices which long predate Google and have affected the Yellow Pages for decades. We’ve implemented several measures to combat this issue, including improving our spam-detection algorithms and working with the locksmith industry to find solutions.”

The Haggler appreciates the challenge that Google faces. Thousands of people spend all their workdays devising novel ways to fool the world’s most popular search engine. Fighting this tech-savvy horde can’t be easy.

Yet if the example of locksmiths is any indication, the horde has the upper hand in certain service sectors, and it all but owns Google Places. Though Google is apparently already battling back. On Thursday, a search of “emergency locksmith Seattle” yielded only one Google Places result, not seven, but maybe more tinkering is needed. The site that landed on this prized perch appeared to be a lead gen operation — it’s 24/7 Emergency Locksmith, which lists its address at a U.P.S. store. The woman who answered the phone at 24/7 would say nothing about the company, or even where she was located.

FOR Mr. Strom, the sooner Google works out more countermeasures, the better. He estimates that he has lost about one-third of his revenue since the lead gen sites popped up a few years ago. Customers have paid a steep price, too.

“We showed up at a job last week,” he said, “and this woman told me, ‘A young man came yesterday, quoted me $49 to open my door, then he drilled my lock, charged me $400 and left — and now I need a new lock.’ I hear something like that almost every week.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/your-money/lead-gen-sites-pose-challenge-to-google-the-haggler.html?partner=rss&emc=rss