Dave Asher, The CEO and founder of South African classifieds portal Hozi.co.za says the inspiration to launch a horizontal site from multiple verticals came after he attended PPW’s 2014 Barcelona conference.
After an extensive career working in the South African print publishing business, Asher – who is a guest speaker at the PPW Bangkok Conference – made the move to property portals eight years ago after taking one to market as part of a joint venture.
But it wasn’t until he attended a PPW Barcelona conference that he decided to think about a horizontal site, and this was what led to the inception of Hozi.
“There was a presentation made by Guido Gribaum, the CEO of Dridco which was: Horizontals versus Verticals, who’ll win the race. The presentation opened my eyes to what was happening with portals, what others were doing, and what they were facing,” he explains.
Making the switch to a horizontal
The idea behind Hozi, which means ‘to have, acquire or posses something’ in Swahili, was to take a bunch of verticals, utilise their strengths and combine them with the collective strength of a horizontal, Asher says.
What was also particularly appealing in making the transition to this business model was the magnitude of data accessible to a horizontal site.
“The strengths of a horizontal is that it has a huge amount of inventory that can be searched and indexed and therefore the domain that the inventory sits on strengthens over time because it has a massive amount of links, obviously indexed against that domain,” Asher says.
“The strengths of a vertical is all about the user experience, it’s functionality that has been built with that specific market in mind and along with it’s B2B approach is what makes a vertical successful,” he says.
Taking the product to market
The challenge with taking Hozi.co.za to market was figuring out a way in which its various different verticals which included property, business directory, retail digital catalogues, jobs, dating, events, e-commerce and auto portals could be served into a network of 80 community news sites.
“The owners of Hozi are a media company that have over 140 community newspapers around the country in addition to the 80 local news sites that support them,” Asher says.
“We’ve come up with a way to take every one of our verticals that exists under the Hozi horizontal and serve them into this network,” he explains.
“The main step in doing this was to create a software application that could take a portal’s entire tech and without the portal being actively aware or requiring any technical changes apart from a very minor CSS update, we would re-write every page served from the portal onto another domain while at the same time changing all the links to the domain where we were serving the portal to, irrespective of the user’s activity.”
This process was called Relabeling and the software application is titled ‘The Relabeler’ a product which Asher says his business has pioneered.
“Therefore, we’ve created not just a horizontal marketplace that consists of a number of verticals on a single domain, but we’ve created an entire network marketplace for each of the verticals as well,” he explains.
“The net effect of having multiple domains all displaying localised inventory at a hyper-local level means that each of these domains begin to out-rank the larger national portals for that specific location in terms of domain authority as they are only competing for relevance within their respective locations,” he says.
“All their digital marketing and SEO focus remains only on the location that they operate in; multiply that by the majority of towns and cities across South Africa and you have a very powerful strategy.”
“That’s how we’re approaching the market in South Africa. That’s how we’ll compete with some of the big portals that are very far ahead of us. We’re attacking from the bottom up as opposed to the top down approach taken by the other players in each respective market. It’s a slowly-catch-a-monkey game that we’re playing.”