Search, Ads by Phone

I just moved to Detroit. To orient myself, I picked up a copy of the county’s local newspaper, The Oakland Press. A story that caught my eye was about a plan to introduce free wireless broadband Internet access in Oakland County, beginning this fall.

If the Wi-Fi (define) project goes ahead as anticipated, Oakland will be the first county to offer such a service (some individual cities, such as Montpelier, VT, and Chaska, MN, already offer similar subscription-based Wi-Fi programs). What has people talking, however, is the local Internet provider, or group of providers, that gets the contract will be able to sell ads.

Ads will likely appear when users log on. Observers, such as the paper’s business editor, appear ready to accept them. “Seems like a minor tradeoff for free wireless. Heck, you can always choose not to use it,” he says.

Local businesses, meanwhile, are surely counting the days to the network’s launch. What better way to increase a customer base than by delivering ad messages to local wireless Internet users? From offering coupons exclusive to the service’s users to promoting time-sensitive specials that elicit an immediate response, the options for driving local traffic to their stores are virtually endless.

An equally appetizing local ad service is soon to be offered by a new media company called Commoca. Its system allows advertisers to target community residents by phone.

The company is developing a telephone embedded with local content, including an area-specific business directory, which will launch in November. Users can search for numbers right on the phone, and advertisers can deliver ads based on content type (think pizza delivery or computer repair) combined with the user’s residential phone number.

“Advertisers know, ‘If I can get somebody on the phone, that is of value to me,'” says Dane Madsen, CEO of Commoca, the former CEO and co-founder of YellowPages.com.” Seventy percent of local businesses sell their time, not things. If someone is only clicking through to a site, an advertiser may lose a valuable opportunity [to make a sale].”

The Commoca system will sell advertising on a pay-per-call basis via partnerships with existing interactive media sellers. Madsen notes it’ll be particularly useful for the almost 14 million U.S. businesses that still don’t have Web sites.

Before the Internet and interactive advertising options like these came along, local businesses were limited to placements in local newspapers and circulars, the Yellow Pages, and the like. Though these may work, results can’t be accurately measured. Determining the value of these buys is extremely difficult.

Today, more companies are catering to the local advertising market, and their technology-dependent offerings are increasingly appealing. With a few strategic placements, the savvy small business can ensure a steady stream of customers and virtually crush its competition.

Alternatives such as local search are still hot, to be sure. But click fraud has some media buyers wary, and geotargeting based on search terms isn’t always accurate, as searchers sometimes neglect to include geographic specifications. The above Wi-Fi and phone offerings, however, can assure local business ads are seen just by local residents and area visitors. That makes for both a better buy and, very likely, a better return on investment.

If you’re a local business eager to supplement your current on- or offline advertising efforts, or a company waiting for just the right opportunity, prepare for an influx of interactive offerings. As more time and effort area devoted to improving our local communities, so can the livelihoods of local businesses be improved.

It’s just a matter of knowing where to search.

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