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Rick runs a fitness center in Des Moines, Iowa. He has been using pay-per-click advertising from Google AdWords to get people in the door for over a year now, and it is working like magic. His ad shows on Google any time a person types in “fitness center” (or any of a hundred other relevant terms). It is clear from his ad that he is local, and folks are taken to a page that gives them a coupon for a free first visit to his center in exchange for their name and email address. Half of his website visitors opt in and take the free offer, and his mailing list is booming as a result. And, of course, his new memberships are way up.
Rick is riding the wave of one of the Internet’s most surprising tendencies. The Kelsey Group estimates that 60% of searches on the Internet are for local products and services. Other researchers say that it is closer to 75%. Either way, for countless brick-and-mortar businesses – not to mention a host of online-only businesses – Google Local is the way to go.
My friend the dentist called me recently to ask about an offer she had received from her local phone company. Shoppers in town, the phone rep had told her, would jump on the Internet looking for dentists in the area, and her name and contact information would show up when folks clicked through to look at the directory. Here’s the deal – the phone company would charge 25 cents for every click on her name, and then post a special private number that web visitors can use to call her office. For every call she gets, she pays $15.
She wanted to know what I thought. I said that by using Google, a smart marketer like her could get new customers far cheaper than paying 25 cents per clickthrough plus $15 for every phone call she gets as a result. We opened up the computer and looked at how Google advertising works locally. We searched on “dentists” and, sure enough, there was the local phone company’s Google ad right up top:
Dentist & Dental Offices
Find a dentist here in town in
your online XYZ Yellow Pages
In other words, the phone company buys clicks from Google wholesale, sends them to its directory, and sells the secondary clicks to dentists like her. Then they charge her the additional $15 for each phone call. Does this sound like a good deal to you?
She didn’t think so either. She can buy her own clicks for the same price as the phone company. In fact, if she writes better ads that get a higher clickthrough rate, she can get higher positions on the page for even less. She can take people directly to her own website rather than to a directory where she is one of a dozen other listings. She can put up a sensibly designed, direct-response website that turns visitors into phone calls and appointments, without having to pay $15 for each call.
How Google Does Local
Google uses IP addresses and state-of-the-art technology to determine where exactly a person is searching from. This means you can choose to advertise by country, state, or city; you can choose an exact radius around a particular address; or you can use a set of carefully defined geographic parameters. That way only people who logically can become your customers see you, and the cost of bringing them through the front door of your business is far less.
The markets where Google can work for you locally are countless: real estate, hotels, auto sales, synagogues and churches, chiropractors, restaurants, photographers, landscapers, beauty salons, storage facilities, wedding planners, attorneys. And the list goes on.
Sleepless in Singapore and Want to Move to Seattle?
A curious phenomenon happens with local searching. I’ll use the example of real estate to explain. Let’s say you are a realtor in Seattle looking for potential clients. So you ask, “where are they?” and “what keywords are they searching on?”
The quick answer to the first question is, of course, that they are in Seattle. But there are people in other places looking to buy a house in Seattle. They could be in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Montreal … even Singapore. You can be sure that in all of those places those folks are going online and searching on “buy a house in Seattle” or “find a realtor in Seattle” or other place-specific keywords. Then there are the people in Seattle who are going to Google and simply typing in “buy a house.”
You want to reach both types. To do this, create two campaigns: one set to show ads only in the Seattle area, with all non-place-specific keywords; and a second that shows ads all over the country (or beyond), but with only Seattle-specific keywords.
Another example – imagine you are a computer consultant in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and you want to advertise on Google. You can get cheaper clicks to your site and a higher clickthrough rate by combining your list of topic-specific keywords with a large list of narrowly targeted place names. For example,
San Fernando Valley computer consultant
Northridge computer consultant
Granada Hills computer consultant
Canoga Park computer consultant
Chatsworth computer consultant
San Fernando Valley IT consultant
Northridge IT consultant
Canoga Park IT consultant
Granada Hills IT consultant
These keywords will go, in many cases, for less than 5 cents a click. Even better, when you bid on these place-specific keywords, Google will add their own fifth line to your ad, which almost universally increases your clickthrough rate. More on that in a moment.
So which gets more searches – the place-name keywords typed in from all around the country or the generic keywords searched on locally? Answer? It depends entirely on the market. In the Seattle home purchase example, odds are you will get more folks using a specific place name when they search. On the other hand, I once managed a campaign for a cosmetic dentist in northern Virginia where general terms like “cosmetic dentistry” – searched on only by locals – got literally 50 times more searches as the place-specific keywords searched on from around the country.
Either way, it is far easier to get people in the door when they know that you are not merely in the same state, but in the same town. That’s where Google adds a bonus line to your ad.
Getting a 5th Line in Your Ad, for Free
When you identify a specific geographic area to show your ads in, such as your state or city, Google will automatically point this out to people in that area who are searching on your keywords by adding a fifth line at the bottom of your ad.
|Buy a Home
Find & Compare Local Realtors to
Help You Buy a Home with Ease.
|Buy a Home in Seattle
Interest-only loan specialists
Rates as low as 1%. Bad credit OK.
If you were searching for homes in Seattle and you saw the above two ads side-by-side, which one do you think you would be more likely to click on?
To a person searching on Google, specific beats general. Local sounds more relevant than regional. When people sense that you are in their area selling directly to them, they click on your ad. Moreover, Google’s automatic identification of you as a local advertiser lends a degree of “official” editorial credibility to your local claim.
Google’s Mysterious (and Seemingly Contradictory) “Distance Formula”
Now comes the challenge – by using Google you are often competing not only with the businesses in your city or town, but also with advertisers across the country. What happens if you are bidding on “cosmetic dentist,” and only targeting your local area, but you have a competitor a thousand miles away bidding on the same keyword, targeting the whole US and Canada? Does Google give you preferential placement on results pages in your area because you are local? Not necessarily. For any given keyword, Google gives preference to the higher bidder and the ad that consistently gets more clicks.
And what happens if you are advertising both nationally and locally? For example, you may be offering federal tax information for the entire US and providing specific tax information for certain states? Which ad will Google show most often?
All other things being equal, Google will give preference to the ad with broader appeal. This is just good business. The local hardware store sells candy and gum in the checkout lane for this same reason – some things have appeal everywhere. Google understands this and, when given a choice, will show the ads that are more likely to get more clicks from more people in more places.
If you are advertising locally and nationally but want the local ads to have preference, simply bid more for those particular keywords. In some bizarre cases, you can bid on a set of state-specific keywords and Google will show your ads for an adjacent, more populous state when a user types in a term. For example, one client we consult with bids on both “Iowa realtor listings” and “Illinois realtor listings.” But go to Google and search for “Iowa realtor listings,” and Google will serve this ad:
Illinois Realtor List
Full Contact Info for
1.5 Million Realtors
Again, this is because the Google “distance formula” serves up an ad that it has calculated – correctly or incorrectly – to have more broad appeal.
New Wrinkles in Local Ads
Now you can give your local prospects even more proof that you are close by. Google recently began adding a feature for local advertisers who bid high enough to show up in the yellow results in the upper left corner of SERPs. It’s a link with your address that users can click on to show a dropdown map of your exact location.
And this doesn’t cost you a penny extra. In fact, it is designed to shoo away clicks from people who aren’t in your area, and attract more clicks from people who are.
In the end, what benefits Google benefits you and your customer both. Rick the Des Moines fitness center owner now spends fewer dollars on clicks. But Google’s sophisticated system for helping identify advertisers close by, combined with Rick’s no-brainer offer of a free first visit, has in the last 18 months almost doubled his memberships.
Put these smart strategies to work in your AdWords ads, and you can duplicate Rick’s surprising success for your business.