Google’s Regional Targeting Power

Those of you who use Google’s AdWords may have heard: Google recently launched a regional AdWords targeting feature. Perhaps you noticed the announcement on your AdWords account. The launch occurred, coincidentally, on the final day of a conference devoted entirely to Digital Directories & Interactive Local Media.

At the conference, marketers, search engines, and online yellow page publishers discussed the untapped demand for regional search listings. If there was consensus, it was that even smaller businesses (more accurately, large and small businesses alike) are interested in marketing via local search listings.

Searchers don’t always know how best to look for the information, services, or businesses they seek. Many enter keywords into search engines with no geographic specificity (city, county, state, or region), although their intent is to get results for their areas. Search engines, vertical portals, and online yellow pages view this as an opportunity. Google assumes a responsibility to searchers to provide the very best results.

As it happens, it may be easier to provide well-targeted, paid results geographically than organic ones because we marketers decide which searchers see our listings.

Google’s regional targeting is obviously a boon for local and regional businesses wanting to target local searchers who may not think to include geography when searching. However, even national marketers and those hoping for national search traffic may want to tap into regional targeting. Here are strategies and tactics you can employ to leverage the additional power of regional targeting.

Some popular searches, if conducted with specified geography, would allow search engines and marketers to improve the results, be they be paid or not. Google looks out for searchers’ needs while helping marketers target more efficiently. In all these queries: lawyer, dentist, car dealer, apartment rental, Realtor, accountant, massage, plumber, gym, roofing, auto repair, and Web; adding geographic information can improve user experience.

If you haven’t experimented with Google’s local search advertising, as a marketer or searcher, the FAQ covers the specifics. Local search creates more options. A marketer no longer has to hope a searcher includes local geography in a query. Regional advertisers needn’t accept large waste by buying a nationally targeted ad in the hope return on investment (ROI) will still be acceptable. Targeting regionally can make searchers, marketers, and even search engines themselves happy.

Local marketers aren’t the only ones interested in keywords with associated localities or regions. Many businesses are built around adding value to ambiguous search terms. These directories, or vertical portals, are broad ranging. A wide range of segments includes: lawyer (lawyers.com, LegalMatch); accountant (AccountantsWorld, 1-800-ACCOUNTANT.COM); and roofer, plumber, and contractor (ServiceMagic, Respond.com, even eBay).

The Internet yellow pages serve a similar purpose, asking searchers for geographic information and a service or product category before displaying listings. Lead refinement companies and lead aggregators often buy generic keywords in results from Google, Overture, MSN, and others, seeking to add value to their traffic by sending users through geographic and category filters.

There are several types of lawyers, for example. A search for “lawyer” doesn’t specify geography nor additional selection criteria, such as personal injury, divorce, corporate, or patent. Each lawyer directory leads searchers through a narrowing of focus before final listings are displayed.

SMARTpages, a SBC-owned Internet yellow pages provider, buys Google’s regional AdWords listings, as well as national ones. I found one of its regional listings using the keyword “apartment rentals.” Yet, as of last Monday, it’s running national targeting on keywords “auto repair” and “massage.” SMARTpages landing pages are identical: an empty search box on SMARTpages’ home page. With some additional effort, SMARTpages could pre-populate the search box with the original search term, thus increasing conversion and improving user experience. When geotargeting becomes more accurate, even a city name could be pre-populated or SMARTpages’ search results could be displayed.

Franchisors and national chains have a big local search incentive. Imagine if Pizza Hut bought regional ads. You’d find the closest location with fewer clicks. Imagine if Jiffy Lube helped you find a local “oil change,” or Sears pointed you to an auto care center for the term “car battery.” This kind of marketing has a branding benefit and a direct response component. The searcher is pleased (good experiential branding), and a sale might ensue (direct response).

How accurate is Google’s IP-based targeting? I did a small test and found many IP addresses are correctly mapped, some are incorrect (my home cable modem is identified as being in the Maryland/DC area, but I live in New York). Some IPs remain unassigned, so no regional ads are shown.

If you see local ads in your Google results, I’d love to hear about them, correctly targeted or not. Let’s run a test across ClickZ’s readership to see how well targeted the ads really are. I’ve set up a campaign that should regionally target ads on Google for the keyword “SEM” and a national ad for “SEM Report.” Let me know if you see any regional ads. Use my test terms, or conduct any regional search. Look for an extra line under the ad that specifies geography. See Google’s FAQ for an example.

How does it work to a marketer’s advantage? Google rewards ads with good CTRs. It maintains those ads at a set position, and at a lower cost, than those with poor CTRs. So if a geotargeted ad has compelling creative, it may get clicks at a lower cost than a nationally targeted generic ad.

Power Tip: If you set a campaign to run in just one designated market area (DMA, used to define television markets), you may be able to increase the CTR by specifying location in the ad copy. An ad for the keyword “Realtor” may get a higher CTR in the NYC DMA if the title is “New York Realtor.”

A higher CTR is an advantage over competing ads and maintains a good position at a lower cost. It’s a killer advantage. Even non-local marketers already running generic terms, such as vertical portals or directories, may find it advantageous to set up separate, geotargeted campaigns with unique creative and copy. The efficiency increase may be dramatic.

Of course, a national marketer tapping geospecific creative must set up new campaigns, which increases complexity. With 210 DMAs, it may make sense for marketers to test a few major markets before rolling out a national/local hybrid campaign. Hybrid campaigns can coexist with national campaigns. The appropriate ad will be shown based on AdWords’ algorithm.

If customizing copy improves CTR and delivers significant efficiency gains (and that marketer’s competitors don’t follow suit), an innovator could have a huge — potentially crushing — advantage, thanks to better user experience and targeting high volume traffic at a lower cost.

I love this business!

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