This is the decade for geotargeted local advertising. If the '90s was the decade to get online and establish an online presence, and the 2000s was the decade to get global and bring that online presence to the world, then the 2010s can easily be defined as the decade to get local and bring the global presence to the local user.
Monster-sized corporations like Google and Yahoo deliver content and advertising to their users based on location. Social networking sites and apps like Foursquare and Yelp are appealing to local users. Neighborhood businesses, such as a local dentist's office or dry cleaner, are able to advertise online in their local markets while small and medium-sized businesses can target multiple geographical areas. And sites like Groupon and DailyCandy offer local deals to local users.
Local is the new global.
Companies are noticing the trend and hopping on the geotargeted local-advertising bandwagon. Global companies can no longer afford to relate to customers in Italy the same way they relate to customers in Los Angeles. And smaller businesses benefit from targeting advertising to locations outside of their own.
Where in this paradigm do you fit?
To some, getting local may seem like a local headache. After all, in this case, it seems like the sum of its parts is greater than the whole world and there is no easy guide to taking on that world.
But, in reality, geotargeting your online advertising is not nearly as daunting as it seems. Just follow seven simple steps.
1. Decide which geographies to target
Not all locations are right for all businesses, but many companies can broaden their audience by targeting new locations. Businesses basically fall into one of two categories: those that don't do any localized advertising (yet!), and those that already do some geotargeting and are looking for more geographies to target.
For example, a website that sells sunglasses may already be targeting online customers in California and Australia. But adding advertising to other geographically targeted potential customers may prove ROI-positive. In either case, you need to find which geolocations are right for your company. Here are two effective ways to determine that:
A. Conduct an internal analysis
Analyze your current business by answering the following questions:
- Do you have customers that are from a specific area?
- Is your industry stronger in some geographies?
- Are your global campaigns returning traffic results from certain areas more frequently than others?
- Is your business seasonal in some areas but not in others? For example, bathing suits may sell only in June, July, and August in Chicago, but could sell yearlong in Hawaii, or during December and January in Brazil and South Africa.
B. Scope out your competition
After analyzing your business, take a look at what your successful competitors are doing (both direct and indirect competitors are worth evaluating). Investigate whether they are advertising to specific markets, research what their creative look like, and discover what their ad copy includes. Gather any intelligence you can. Uncovering such information may be a little tricky. How can you check what geotargeting your competitor is doing in the UK if you are in Canada?
You can ask a friend in the UK to do some searching for you. You can take a trip to London to see for yourself. Or, if you don't have friends in every location you want to research and your reconnaissance trips start to get expensive, you can enlist the assistance of a good proxy network.
When you access sites through a proxy in the target location you are researching, you can view the ads and content as if you are local. Now, you can stay in Canada and research your competitors' advertising patterns in the UK as if you are sitting at a pub on the banks of the Thames.
2. Determine the right channels
Once you've determined the geographies to target, you need to determine which channels to use. Most channels offer geotargeting capabilities, so selecting from them is a matter of what is right for your campaign. You may already know which channels are right for you, or you might need to test to know for sure. Consider the following channels:
- SEM: Google, Yahoo, and Bing all offer geotargeting options for their search ads. Is your audience using search engines to find you?
- Display: Web surfers do click on banners when those banners are relevant to them. Where can you put your banner ads?
- Social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Foursquare, MySpace, Friendster, Bebo, Orkut, StumbleUpon.com, Delicious, Meetup, Classmates... Where is your audience "hanging out"?
- IM clients: Is your product or service right for advertising to local users via instant messaging clients?
- Applications: What kind of applications does your audience use (e.g., casino games, Forex software)?
3. Generate creative
After you have set your geographies and channels, it is time for the critical step of generating relevant creative. Your text ads, banner ads, and landing pages are all important to your campaign's conversion. Consider the following key points:
- Make sure your creative appeals to your geographic audience. Perhaps even mention (or show) the audience's country or city. For the sunglasses example (see No. 1), how about "It's time for new sunglasses, Los Angeles!" or an image of sunglasses reflecting the Hollywood sign?
- Consider writing creative in the local language or slang. If you have a clothing website, ads in the US can reference the cool new "pants" you offer, but in the UK you had better refer to them as "trousers." Of course, running your English ads in Costa Rica or Spain may be a good way to waste your "dinero."
- All aspects of your campaign should carry the same look and feel, the same wording, and the same offer. Your text, banners, and landing pages should all tie in to one another.
4. Create campaigns per geo
Once all your research and prep work is done, you are ready to generate your campaigns. Your budget will guide you on how big a campaign you can start with. Perhaps getting started in only a couple of new geographies and channels is right for you. Or, if your budget allows, maybe you are ready to take on the world from the get-go.
Regardless of the amount, you will invest time and money in creating your campaigns. And that should prove to be a very wise investment. The world of online advertising has reported time and time again how lucrative it can be to geo-target.
Once you launch your campaigns, you will be investing more time and money into generating traffic. Considering all of this investing, it's absolutely critical to look out for your investment. And that brings us to the most important part of your geotargeting: validation.
In real estate, the three most important aspects of purchasing property are location, location, location. Similarly, the three most important aspects of location-based geotargeting are validation, validation, validation!
You have intensely researched and selected your geographies. You have extensively examined and chosen your channels. You have poured over creative and carefully crafted your campaigns. So, are you going to let anything stand between you and a perfectly orchestrated campaign?
Sadly, many campaigns fail at this exact point. Having been prepared properly, some campaigns are launched and given a life of their own. That is simply irresponsible. Here are some examples of the many obstacles that may hinder your campaign's performance at this point:
- Your geotargeted campaigns are deployed incorrectly
- Your French audience is mistakenly shown Portuguese ads
- Your ads showing a price in British pounds sends visitors to a landing page showing US dollars
- Your ad with the Hollywood sign reflected in the sunglasses is displayed in Hollywood, Florida
To validate effectively, you must be able to mimic your audience's activity. Sitting in San Francisco and targeting users in the Netherlands is nice, conceptually. But you must be able to step into your users' proverbial (wooden) shoes and view the Internet as they view it. Accordingly, you must arm yourself with a good proxy network that delivers a private and secure browsing experience—and, more important, guarantees that it is transparent.
Many free and hacked proxies will manipulate the ads and content you see. And if actual ads and content are what you are trying to validate, that approach harms you more than it helps you. Instead, invest in a good proxy service that can help you validate, test, and monitor geotargeted campaigns. (Of course, I recommend the GeoSurf Toolbar, developed by BIScience, my company, because it was developed exactly for that purpose.)
Once you have launched and validated your campaigns, test them. That is the only way to find out whether they will work for you. Set aside a relatively small budget for a relatively short time period to test the effectiveness of your campaigns.
If at first a specific geography does not seem to be performing, some campaign tweaking may be necessary. It may not be the geography that is ineffective; it could be other elements of your campaign (e.g., the channel, the creative, the offering). Once you feel confident that you have tested all the elements and your campaign is validated and operating properly, increase your budget and run with the campaign!
Never get complacent about monitoring your campaigns. Whether your campaign has been performing well for two weeks or five months, mistakes can happen at any point and can be very costly.
Always monitor your campaigns.
Then test again.
You will find mistakes. The more diligent you are about monitoring your campaigns regularly, the less costly those mistakes will be. Your proxy network will become your best friend for this step, so make sure it is user-friendly and flexible.
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If your business is ready for growth and you have done all of your homework in the above steps, you are ready to get local. It does require an investment of time and money, but when done properly, it will return that investment many times over.