Learning the Local Lingo

Get ready for local lingo to become a big part of local online marketing in 2006. It’s the latest wrinkle in online-meets-offline marketing.

MSN unveiled its new local search product just two weeks ago. Coincidentally, I was moderating a series of panels on local search at Search Engine Strategies (SES) Chicago that very morning. LocalLaunch’s Justin Sanger opened the first panel with a slide of MSN’s new local maps, and, at a glance, I saw the landscape had changed — literally. Dotting the grid of Chicago streets were the names of neighborhoods: the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Wrigleyville — in short, the names and places that come to mind when a local searcher searches for something local.

MSN Search’s lead product manager, Kevin Dillon, confirmed that drilling down to the neighborhood level (by name) was a key part of MSN Local’s strategy. And it makes sense. Have you searched by your neighborhood rather than by your Zip Code? I know I’ve looked for “restaurants Hell’s Kitchen” to find someplace to eat in my own neighborhood rather than use “restaurants 10019.” It’s closer to natural language, and I figure it helps filter out the tourist joints. After all, I consider Hell’s Kitchen to be my neighborhood, not 10019.

But therein lies a wrinkle — one that will affect searchers, marketers, and copywriters alike. Staying close to home for a second, there are plenty who prefer to call my home base Clinton. I’m not one of them (that name was concocted by Realtors as another form of marketing). Still others call it Midtown West. And it’s far from being America’s only neighborhood with multiple appellations.

Multiple Appellations Mean Multiple Applications

MSN’s local maps stick to one name per neighborhood. Look at those of cities you’re deeply familiar with, and you’ll quickly realize MSN’s neighborhood names are a woefully inadequate guide to local marketing lingo.

The New York map lacks NoHo, TriBeCa (heck, they’ve already named a car after that neighborhood), and the younger NoLita and DUMBO. There’s no Wall Street (the neighborhood, not the actual street). And the map is full of formal appellations no local would ever use: Greenwich Village, for example, when residents unanimously say the Village.

The New Orleans map has many of the same discrepancies. Vieux Carré (which I’ve never heard anyone say aloud) is on the map rather than the tourists’ standard French Quarter or the locals’ the Quarter. Neither the Bywater nor the Ninth Ward are named on MSN’s map. Back in Chicago, Bucktown/Wicker Park are sort of superimposed, although residents of those neighborhoods certainly don’t feel that way.

Implications for Marketers

Marketers serious about reaching hyper-local markets and targeting on a neighborhood level will have to learn the lingo. This applies to local marketers, of course, but also to national retail and financial chains. Perhaps they’ll have to develop neighborhood taxonomies in the cities and towns in which they do business, then segment those lists by the customers and prospects they hope to reach.

Tourists and visitors to cities will search terms locals will not. A major drug store chain such as Walgreens or CVS must keep this in mind as it buys keywords and creates landing pages to attract local business.

Landing page creation may be somewhat easier. Copy could read something like, “Are you looking for a drugstore in Hell’s Kitchen? We’ve been serving the Clinton community for 25 years.” That will help the spiders and aid contextual ad placement when searchers type neighborhood-oriented keywords and keyword phrases into search engine query boxes. Landing pages must also be adjusted accordingly. In addition to mentioning the neighborhood searched, it might help to mention a local landmark (“near Times Square”) in copy to cover all the bases and provide a point of orientation.

Local businesses buying ads on search engines may want to cast a wider net, bidding on multiple key phrases incorporating commonly used neighborhood names. More complicated and more to manage? Sure. But few are currently doing it, so prices are still low. It’s a tactic certainly worth testing, and the success (or failure) of those ads may help you with tweaking site copy, too.

This nascent trend could also prove to be a boon for marketers on the local level — larger agencies don’t know your region as well as a smaller local shop does. Smart local players can wrangle local online search, advertising, and marketing into client and consulting fees.

What if you’re advertising to locals in another locale? It’s homework time. Read local newspapers and alternative weeklies in the regions and neighborhoods you’re targeting to learn how the locals talk about what you want to talk to them about. Then, talk to them in their own lingo.

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