Given the growth of online ad dollars and a recent flurry of acquisitions by leading search engines, many advertisers clearly see the opportunity the Internet offers. Yet the Web is still largely a national advertising platform that leaves millions of local businesses out in the cold.
Locally targeted Web advertising opportunities will doubtless become widely available someday soon. They'll have to. They're incredibly valuable to advertisers, and the people controlling local search products are incredibly brilliant, eager opportunity seekers.
Until then, local merchants' best opportunity to promote their businesses on the Web is to optimize their directory listings to meet changing consumer needs. Directory content can be changed in minutes, provide far more detail than a standard print display ad, and have a powerful impact on local search traffic.
The Yellow Pages Solution
A previous column, alludes to the fact about 50 percent of local businesses provide great ad content that describes their businesses, products, services, and hours of operation. For the most part, they rely on static business listings rather than broadcast media channels to generate business.
Take a local florist, for example. You don't typically see TV spots for this business segment due the costs associated with the medium. And because of the way in which consumers engage with florists, TV commercials wouldn't be optimal. This type of purchase is typically triggered by specific events throughout the year. Local florists could never afford to mount new ads year-round.
Florists do, however, spend a considerable amount of money advertising in yellow pages directories and newspapers. This is an effective means for florists to advertise products (roses, balloons, stuffed animals), services (delivery and wedding planning), and brands (FTD and Teleflora).
Benefits of Dynamic Content for Local Search
When you look at all the ads in the yellow pages directory, you'll find the amount and types of content used by local florists differ greatly.
It's not because they all don't sell roses, tulips, and daisies. I suspect they all do. But given the limited available space, florists focus on different things in their ads. Rather than promote seasonal products, they communicate what they do well year-round. After all, the yellow pages directory in the kitchen cabinet in spring is the same one come winter.
Online, advertisers have a great deal more flexibility. Instead of relying on the same terms month after month, they can create ads or ad content based on events, occasions, and seasons. Unlike print directory advertising, florists can easily use local directories to promote specials for Valentine's Day, proms, Mother's Day, and many other occasions.
Plugging iPhone Through Local Search Marketing
Consider the iPhone launch. Over the past several months, there's been a lot of hype around Apple's new wireless device. It's hard to navigate the Web without seeing a story, review, or some sort of ad for the iPhone.
While consumers can only purchase the new phone at an Apple Store or AT&T Wireless retail store, not every consumer is aware of this. It's reasonable to assume, then, many consumers planning to purchase the phone conducted local searches to find stores selling it.
The iPhone launch is a perfect opportunity for online directories, Apple, and AT&T Wireless to advertise locally. Anyone planning to buy has done the research. They're wondering, "Where can I get one of these phones? What's the address, what's the phone number? Does the store open at 10 a.m. or 11?" and so on.
There's no way local wireless vendors could include all this information in offline yellow pages ads. The lead-time on paper yellow pages directories can be as long as 18 months! Even if they could time things, I doubt they'd have space to include this much information in a small display ad.
Enter local search optimization. By updating online directory listings, AT&T Wireless retail locations and Apple Stores can make sure consumers can find current information on iPhone sales policies, pricing, and product features.
It's also a great opportunity to create an exceptional user experience for potential iPhone customers. Customers get the information they want without having to make lots of phone calls, wait on hold, dig through newspaper ads, or scan pages and pages of yellow pages print ads.
An Essential Tool for Local Marketing
In pitching the virtues of local search optimization, I'm by no means suggesting yellow pages or other print directory advertising isn't a good idea. Print can get great results for businesses and will continue to be an important tool in local marketing for some time to come.
What I'm saying, however, is local businesses -- and national brands -- seeking to market to local consumers, must take local search marketing into account. Given the growth in local searches, it's hard to argue that optimizing business listings isn't essential for increasing a local merchant's reach.
While it won't replace traditional search marketing activities, dynamic local search optimization is here to stay.
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Brian Wool is VP of content distribution at Localeze, a Chicago-based local search company. Established in 2003, Localeze specializes in connecting consumers with local merchants through online content collection, enhancement, and distribution. An expert in local Internet search marketing, Brian leads the distribution efforts at Localeze and is responsible for content delivery to over 35 leading search engines, Internet yellow pages, and local directories. Brian previously held various sales and marketing positions at comScore Networks and Claritas.
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