Going Local on the Web

Every so often we’re asked to launch a localized online campaign by an organization wanting to create more presence in a particular market or one that offers products or services in a very specific geographic footprint. Usually, they’re educational institutions that want to capture a non-traditional student market.

Localized campaigns with tight geographic footprints can get be very challenging on the Web. Just look at the name; it’s the World Wide Web, not the City Wide Web or the State Wide Web. However, just because consumers seek local information doesn’t mean they’re not turning to the Web for information. The reality is the world includes the 10-mile vicinity around your house, right?

But options are very limited with small local campaigns, particularly when you target specific audiences or relevant content within those markets. Take continuing education offered by colleges and universities, for example. When you advertise in local markets for them, you pretty much have to take a shotgun approach with low-cost impressions. Aside from the education and career sections of local papers, you’re relegated to content that may not be 100 percent relevant, and sites with very broad audiences.

It’s not that there aren’t placements to utilize. It’s that once you start to optimize, you can run into hurdles. When you start canceling insertion orders and concentrate funds in performing properties and placements, you can frequently run into inventory limitations or sacrifice higher profile/higher CPM (define) local sites that will represent most of your visibility.

Finding impression and ad inventory isn’t the issue. It’s finding adequate amounts of local performing/lead-generating inventory.

Take advantage of the full spectrum of online opportunities, and test a wide range of options. That way, when you optimize you’ll have a better chance of having enough performing inventory to accommodate your budget within any time constraints you might have. (Sounds obvious, right?) It also means breaking a campaign into branding placements and performance placements. That way you can justify keeping some of the local high CPM properties with limited inventory but represent the most local visibility.

Let’s extend the example of higher education for non-traditional students, marketing programs like night school, degree completion, masters programs, and certificate training. Below are some steps our planners take. Of course, many apply to any client or product doing local online advertising. Use your imagination in terms of transferring them to local online advertising challenges you may have.

Here are the six steps:

  1. Before you buy media, set your client’s expectations by breaking the campaign into two programs: branding/awareness and performance. Use high-CPM banners in local newspaper sites for awareness and CPC (define) and cost-per-lead (CPL) deals in search, networks, and specialty sites for performance. That way you’re not necessarily forced to cancel placements on the main local sites the client wants a presence on and that represent your campaign’s main local visibility.

  2. Your first buying stop is local newspaper, radio, and TV news properties. If offline buys also occur, try to get some value-added placements from those deals. Remember to get tons of buttons and text links as value-added placements from your online buy, if possible. We often find banners do the branding work, but the buttons and text link impressions you get by the boatload generate the majority of clicks and conversions. Often, those alternative placements make the whole buy worthwhile.
  3. Your next stop is the major search engines for keyword and banner/image ads. They can all be geotargeted by IP address and geospecific terms. Don’t forget the branded terms. A university home page, for example, may not focus on the non-traditional student, whereas the ads do. The ads also link to a lead-capture landing page specifically addressing the products represented by the campaign. Since the buy is CPC and search often has a very high conversion rate (if you have a great lading page), this definitely falls into the performance portion of the campaign.
  4. Next is banner networks and ad exchanges, such as Burst, Advertising.com, and ValueClick. They all have (or can create) custom channels that serve ads targeted via IP addresses, so the bulk of impressions are focused on your geoselect. These impressions are typically pretty cheap. Since these buys have such low CPMs or are CPC, they usually go into the performance campaign as well.
  5. Your fourth stop are sites with profiled users that can serve impressions and capture data from site members who have revealed their location during the registration process. In the case of education, a bunch of sites actually offer CPL deals in addition to geotargeted impressions, including The Princeton Review, Monster.com, AcheiveYourCareer.com, and CareerBuilder.com. These CPL deals really help the campaign on a top-line basis. CPL buys from these sites definitely go on the performance side of the equation.
  6. Your final stop is the large properties and portals with the ability to geotarget by IP address. I put these last, though, because in our experience individual sites (even large ones) often lack the local inventory to create a sustainable presence and often can’t deliver impressions if you’re tightly geotargeting a campaign. When it comes to such portals as Yahoo, they typically have a good amount of local impressions but also a high minimum spend and a limited cancellation policies. Such stipulations generally aren’t conducive to any online campaign — particularly a local one.

Again, the key to making local channels work (as well as national or global channels, in many cases) is diversified advertising programs, creative, units, and compensation models. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, a mistake many make by simply buying in the local news properties with strict CPM-based buys. When you combine awareness results from high CPM banner buys on the news sites with performance results, you get a balanced top-line campaign report that satisfies clients’ awareness needs and their business needs for actual leads. If you have good tactics for local online campaigns, please let me know!

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