Local and Geo-target Searches: How Well Do They Work?

Refining your pay-per-click (PPC) advertising strategies to include geotargeted searches can help a business owner focus promotion efforts and get more bang for the buck. However, not all search engines are created equally when it comes to managing a localized campaign.

Geo-targeting is the ability to display your Internet-marketing campaign in a certain geographic area. Search engines can do this function based on capturing the Internet protocol (IP) addresses from the computers of users conducting an online search.

Local search is the actual search a person does, but only with the intentions of doing it to a particular area. This is often done by appending names of cities or states into one’s search query (i.e., “seafood restaurant Boston”).

Analysis of local and geographical search

Jonathan A. Kagan, a PPC specialist at Prime Visibility, recently conducted an analysis of local search and geo-targeted searches on MSN, Yahoo! and Google search engines as well as on some lesser-used search engines. Kagan said he launched his analysis to locate the “cream of the crop” based on setting up a campaign, operating the targeting functions and the ease of use and effectiveness for the searcher.

“I think one of the biggest surprises has got to do with Yahoo! and its lack of a geo-targeting functionality in pay-per-click. This has always been a consistent disappointment to me and other geo-targeting advertisers,” Kagan said.

He noted that Yahoo! did originally excel with the local search functions, noting the search engine had the original, basic concept of local search that would eventually be emulated by the other search engines in one way or another. He said Yahoo!’s local search gives a phone number, an address and, by using a form of mapping similar toMapQuest, it offers driving directions.

“The problem, however, was that Yahoo! did not seem to find it necessary to expand on its success and, in turn, its local search became somewhat stagnant in comparison to Google, Ask Local Sponsored Search and MSN’s local search,” Kagan said. “However with the new style that Yahoo! plans to release in early 2007, we can only hope they will catch up to the geo-target and local-search revolution.”

Kagan said Google Earth has set a new standard for geo-targeting and local searches. Formally know as Earth Viewer, Google acquired it in 2004 and they released in November of 2005 rebranded as Google Earth. This interactive program gives a multidimensional, fully interactive globe where users can get as close as 500 feet and see defined photographic areas of the world. Many of the images are at least five years old in most sections, but users have gone onto the website and labeled locations for stores, restaurants, corporate campuses, etc. When clicking on the emblem, it even provides the user with the options for directions and searching for the business on Google.

“This is, in my opinion, where geo/local searching and targeting will end up as MSN and Yahoo! have similar programs to a lesser extent in release,” Kagan said. “However, they are typically labeled as ‘maps,’ but they all perform the same function.”

MSN “most frustrating”

Although new to the game, Kagan says MSN has already become the most frustrating geo-targeting PPC tool there is in the eyes of an advertiser. When you set up an “order” (MSN’s version of an ad group) it defaults to showing worldwide. This means your advertisement is being shown in California, New York, Beijing, Australia, etc. The advertiser must change this default setting to the appropriate geo-targeted location, in each order individually.

Kagan’s analysis also found that it is also difficult to have an ad displayed in a specific state or region. Unlike Google AdWords, which enables an advertiser to pick an entire state, region and/or major cities in the state, MSN has taken a different route. MSN does not give you the option to select an entire state; the advertiser must select randomly located cities in each state. Each city covers a certain area within the state. Kagan said that when he requested a complete list of locations of each place that is covered, he discovered that Staten Island, one of New York City’s boroughs, was not included in this list.

Though MSN’s local search is somewhat disappointing, Kagan says MSN efforts aren’t all negative. He said the Local Live (or Windows Local) is testing a pay-per-call program in beta version. “This is something that is ahead of Yahoo! or Google,” he said.

Although Google and then Yahoo! have set the standard for geo-targeted advertising, Kagan says not to forget about the little guys: SuperPages and CitySearch. He notes that these guys may not have all the fancy bells and whistles of the super-search engines, but they can be just as effective—if not more effective or accurate.

“These two have the ability to show advertisers’ phone numbers, which is another thing they have over the big search engines,” Kagan said. “SuperPages and CitySearch both focus on the original goal of geo-targeted advertising, which is to allow people to seek and search for something in a specific area, and not receive national advertisements. I feel Google still struggles to work within their local-search skills.”

He thinks CitySearch is the ideal localsearch tool for tourists and young people.

“It’s for those those who really want to know not only where the restaurant is, but how cheap are their drinks, or what DJ is spinning on what night, etc.,” he said.

However, CitySearch claims that 64 percent of their users are over the age of 30.

“This is truly a underrated local-search engine,” Kagan said. “Its simplicity is comparable to SuperPages in its usage, but its results are far more in depth. However it may not be ideal for trying to locate a gas station. That is only because it is almost unheard of. To be honest, the only way I ever discovered them, was when I was reading an article on MSN, and it used them for doing a review on a restaurant in Manhattan I was going to.”

One surprise to Kagan during is analysis was’s lack of geo-targeting.

“They are stuck to the umbilical cord of Google, and do not have their own geo-targeting ads, nor do they have a geo-targeting function for advertisers,” he said. “However, when you search on their local level, they do show PPC ads. I am not sure if they bring them in from Google or from another source.”


Kagan’s personal favorite is SuperPages.

“It is simple, extremely user friendly and gives you the option to search anywhere, where Google, which is my second choice, only picks up and displays what is in the local area of your IP address,” he said. “However don’t count Google out. Their system is much better for advertisers as it allows them to better control the incoming flow of traffic and, in turn, the money that is spent. Yahoo! has a system nearly identical to SuperPages in that they give the address. However, SuperPages seems to give the more up-to-date and accurate listings to the searcher.”

Kagan feels that SuperPages, if they could get the traffic, could be the best geo-targeting tool and search engine on the market. It is based on the concept of the phone book.

“As an advertiser, setting up PPC ads in SuperPages is just as easy as any other payper- click program,” Kagan said. “However in the end, there is really only one question left to ask; ‘When will the big guys like MSN, Google and Yahoo! catch onto what the little guys like SuperPages know and then actually implement it?’”

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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