Local Search Advertising, Part 1: Audience Targeting Options

In this two-part series, I’ll discuss effective and practical local search advertising targeting options and campaign strategies. Today, I’ll review the various targeting methods currently available to search marketers. Next time, I’ll cover recommended local campaign strategies and the best ways to combine and capitalize on these targeting options.

Large and Small Advertisers

Large and small businesses alike are utilizing local search advertising as a cost-effective way to reach prospects in specific geographic areas. Examples include:

  • Small and medium-sized businesses target ads to searchers in the specific market they serve, such as a town, city, metro area, or state.
  • Regional service providers, such as telephone companies and ISPs, direct ads to people located in the regions they serve.
  • National chains, franchises, and dealerships display search ads across the country, but with local messages — helping people find stores or presenting local offers.

Four Targeting Methods

Whether you’re a large or small advertiser, there are several ways to reach the local search audience. Consider these four ad-targeting methods:

  • Geotargeted search campaigns
  • Local keyword campaigns
  • Ads on local search engines
  • Ads on search result maps

Geotargeted Search Campaigns

Google, Microsoft, and now Yahoo (post-Panama release) all offer geotargerted search ad options. Advertisers are able to specify who they want to see their ads, based on the searcher’s geographic location.

How does geotargerting work?

  1. The ad provider reads the IP address (define) associated with the searcher’s computer. It’s provided by the hosting provider or ISP.
  2. The ad provider tries to map the IP address to a geographic area.
  3. If location can be determined, ads targeted to this area are eligible to be shown.
  4. If the provider can’t associate the IP with a location, local ads are not served.

Google offers the most robust IP-targeting options at this time. Advertisers can target ads by country, state, metro area, or city. They can also create a region based on a specified distance from an address or on a custom area drawn on a map.

Local Keyword Campaigns

This is the original method of running a local search ad campaign, used long before IP targeting was available. This approach relies on people proactively specifying location as part of their query. For example, a search for “aspen ski condo” or “los angeles antique dealer.”

The advertiser’s keyword phrase must also specify a location. It’s the match between the location-specific query and the location-specific keyword that triggers the ad serving. You can run this type of a local keyword campaign on virtually any PPC (define) ad network, regardless of the network’s IP-targeting ability (or lack of it).

So regardless of where the searcher resides, if she’s searching for “san diego internet provider” and this keyword is in your campaign (based on the match options you’ve selected), your ad is eligible to be shown.

Ads on Local Search Engines

More and more people are going to local search engines to conduct local queries. Google, Yahoo, and MSN are examples of major consumer search engines that now offer separate local search interfaces. Searchers are prompted to enter what they’re looking for and where.

If an advertiser runs a geotargerted campaign on Google, Yahoo, or MSN proper, typically ads are eligible to also be shown on these local SERPs (define). In other words, you’re not required to run a separate campaign on the local version of these engines.

But there are several additional local search sites not associated with the big three that offer advertising options. TrueLocal and Local.com are two properties advertisers should investigate.

Ads on Search Result Maps

One of the most common reasons people conduct a local search is to find a business, get driving directions, or view results on a map. Advertising options are starting to appear to take advantage of this trend. Currently, the best example is Google’s local business ad, a text ad displayed on a Google Map after people conduct a local search.

You can create these map ads from within an existing AdWords account so long as your business is already included in Google’s local index. Not sure? Conduct a search on Google Maps to see if your business is listed in the results. If not, you must sign up for a Local Business Center account, wait for Google to send your account credentials via postal mail (to verify you have a local business address), and finally sign in to your account and submit your local business.

Once your business is in Google’s index, you simply choose “Add a Local Business Ad” from within your AdWords campaign interface. You’ll be asked to select your business and write the ad that will appear on Google’s mapped results.


As you can see, there’s more than one way to reach the local searcher. IP-targeted ads, campaigns with local keywords, campaigns on local search engines, and now ads on maps are all effective methods to reach local customers online.

In part two, I’ll discuss which targeting methods work best for which type of advertisers and recommend ways to combine these targeting methods into effective ad campaigns.

Meet Patricia at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 4-7, at the Hilton Chicago.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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