Targeting Local Audiences with Search, Part 3: Google Local

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the local search opportunities for MSN and Yahoo. This week, we’ll delve into Google’s local offerings.

Despite being the 800-pound gorilla of search, Google wasn’t the first to bring search to local information and maps. Arguably, it was one of the last among major search engines. As in all things Google, however, the company’s moving quickly, having launched its map-search product last year, then incorporating it into Google Local.

Since then, Google has been experimenting with providing results from products such as Google Local in its “OneBox,” a distinct set of results at the top of the SERP (define), beneath the AdWords listings. This exposure introduces searchers to results from products like Froogle and Google Local, as well as providing the critical volume necessary for marketers to even consider inclusion in these products. Google is also displaying AdWords in Google Local as part of Google’s syndication.

I recently spoke with Shailesh Rao, director of local search and third-party partnerships at Google. He took his best shot at defining Google’s ever-evolving local search product.

Q and A With Google

PS: From a marketer’s perspective, what opportunities are currently available to target a local audience on Google?

SR: Currently, advertisers can use the local targeting feature in AdWords to target their campaigns to a selected region, a market territory based on defining a radius from the advertiser’s place of business or a custom-defined territory. Local advertisers can then have their locally targeted campaign shown to Google users when they conduct a local search on Google Local, Google Earth, or elsewhere on the Google network, including

PS: What might a local campaign look like on Google?

SR: Currently, Google displays local ads on Google Local in the panel to the left of the map. Additionally, Google displays local ads at the bottom of the information bubble that is opened when a user selects a marker. Local ads also appear on when relevant. As with most features, Google regularly reviews how such features are implemented and often changes the implementation to test and optimize performance.

PS: What are the biggest challenges?

SR: The biggest challenges with respect to local advertising are education and awareness, and bringing further simplification to search advertising to make it more accessible to the SMB advertiser. We are looking for ways to streamline the workflow and simplify the product.

PS: What are best practices at this point in Google Local?

SR: To maximize reach on Google for local advertising, it’s best to have a locally targeted campaign with general terms and a national campaign with regionally modified keywords as an option for users that we can’t accurately target. Locally targeted campaigns tend to perform better if local advertisers have a limited budget, but to maximize their reach, it makes sense to have both campaigns.

To maximize exposure on Google Local, businesses should make sure Google has the most up-to-date information about their business by updating their listing information through Google’s Local Business Center. Business owners can provide additional information, such as their hours and descriptions, to make it easier for people to find them. In terms of advertising, campaigns need to be opted in to search syndication on Google’s network.

Locally targeted campaigns and geographically modified keywords will help these ads appear on Google Local.

PS: What opportunities are on the horizon in 2006?

SR: Google is experimenting with several different features to expand opportunities for local advertisers. Additionally, we’re continuing to explore ways to further simplify AdWords to make it easier to set up and manage, thereby making it more accessible to the average SMB or local advertiser.

PS: What integration has taken place and what is yet to come in terms of local search results with other Google features/products?

SR: Today, users who conduct local-oriented searches on Google will receive local results at the top of the organic results. Location is an important component of many different kinds of searches, and we will focus on ascertaining location, when relevant, to deliver better results to our users.

PS: What can you tell us about pay per call/click to call on Google and in Google Local?

SR: We are working with VoIP Inc. on a click-to-call advertising test, which we began late last year. We have no further details to share at this time.

PS: Are there opportunities at this point for local advertisers on mobile platforms?

SR: We are currently conducting a test of mobile ads in Japan, but we don’t have anything further to announce at this time.

(Note: Google released Google Local for Mobile late last year –the author)

PS: How does Google Local differentiate itself from the other emerging local products form competitors like Yahoo and MSN?

SR: There are many companies doing interesting things in the local advertising space. Google focuses on providing compelling local search services for consumers. These services, in turn, create benefits for local advertisers, including more inventory and high impact, easy-to-use local targeting capabilities.

Thanks, Shailesh.

Though this sounds extensive, other than the prominence of the Google brand, should marketers targeting local audiences even bother with Google at this point, either with local search listings or local-targeted AdWords programs?

If you buy into the most recent report from Borrell Associates, local paid search is clearly on the rise, with expectations of doubling this year to $987 million. Savvy marketers with targeted programs and tracking in place to monitor the performance are seeing real results in a variety of categories. If, in fact, local paid search expands at even a fraction of the rate predicted, Google will undoubtedly be a major player. Competition will grow quickly and bid pressure will only increase. Now’s the best time to get started.

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