Archive for the 'small business' Category

Simple Product, Flat Fee, Proven Performance

Simple product, flat fee, proven performance – those are the ingredients for a successful local advertising offering to small and medium sized businesses.  Google’s new Local Listing Ads seem to have the right ingredients.  There are lessons here for all local advertisers.

Simple Product

Small business owners are busy running their business.  They don’t have the time or inclination to figure out complex products.

In Google’s case the offering is simple to set-up and easy to understand.  To set-up up local listing ads, you just have to:

  1. Claim and verify your Google listing (a good idea any way).
  2. Select your landing page – which defaults to a very functional Place Page provided by Google (so you can almost ignore this step).
  3. Select the categories where you want the ad to appear.

Google then creates your ad automatically (based on the information in your listing) and presents it based on the category  a user is searching, the location where they are searching and the location of your business.  All optimization is performed by Google.  There are no controls to tweak and monitor.  The ads automatically include a tracking number (more on this below)

Flat Fee

The business owner pays a flat monthly fee which is apparently based on their location and the categories they’ve targeted.  There is no bidding – it’s no haggle-free pricing.

Oh – and the first month is free.

Proven Performance

Google provides detailed information through Local Business Center that includes:

  1. How many people saw your ad.
  2. How many clicked on it.
  3. How many got directions to your business.
  4. How many people called your business.

And – whenever you receive a call you get a whisper telling you ‘this call brought to you by Google’.

The service is fully transparent.  At the end of the first Free month a business owner will easily be able to assess whether or not the service is providing value to them for the fee they are paying.

Applying the Recipe

All providers of local advertising can follow the same recipe:

Simple Product – This has always been a strength of traditional media like the print yellow pages.  People understand how the product works.  Someone visits you in person to set the product up!  But many digital offerings fall short by failing to ensure a functional landing page is used.  Google has addressed this with their Place Pages which are designed for optimization.  A landing page is an integral part of a complete digital solution – without one there are a lot of wasted clicks.

Flat Fee – I’ve said this many times.  Small businesses want simple pricing – combined with proven, transparent performance.  People too often link the idea of performance driven advertising with variable, performance driven pricing.  This just scares a lot of small business people.

Proven Performance – This is the most important part: you have to deliver the leads to the merchants and PROVE that you’ve delivered those leads.  Google’s service is fully transparent.  As a merchant you don’t control where and when you ad get’s placed, but you do know how well it’s performing and can choose to carry on or not.  As I’ve written before, all forms of advertising should be tracked – including print media.  Imagine a small business owner hearing ‘this call brought to you by the print yellow pages’ every time someone called a number from the book.  That would prove value in the media to them.

More on Local Listing Ads from Mike Blumenthal and Greg Sterling.

Want a review of your local advertising product  strategy?   Contact me at eric AT


Google’s Place Pages are Designed for Optimization

Google’s new Place Pages are designed for optimization which potentially makes them great landing pages.  Is Google positioning itself to simplify advertising for local businesses?

The downfall of most SEM offers to local merchants is that they deliver lots of clicks but few conversions.  That’s because too often nobody is optimizing the landing page (or has even defined what a conversion is).  Google has now put themselves in a position to address that by allowing the landing page to be optimized.  They could even have merchants use Google Voice if they want to optimize to receive calls.

What Does Designed for Optimization Mean

Recently I wrote in Picking Winners about the use of controlled experiments and A/B testing to optimize website performance.  Perhaps the most widely known application of this principle is the optimization of website landing pages using tools like Google Website Optimizer.

The basic idea in landing page optimization is to empirically test the performance of several different design options against some specified conversion goal.  For example, if your goal is to get people to ‘sign-up’ for something you’d test different page designs and see which one performed best.

If you want to do this easily – and especially if you want to do it using some automated process – you need to adopt a web page design that is amenable to such an approach.  Andrew Chen has written a great post on keeping the design consistent during A/B testing.  He says that the secret is to create an open design – and gives Amazon’s home page as a classic example.

Well, it turns out that Google’s Place Pages are another excellent example of open design that allows automated optimization.  Have a look at one of the example pages Google highlighted:

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

As shown above, the page is broken in to two columns and the content is organized in to various blocks.  This makes it easy for an automated process to vary both the placement and size of each of the blocks and the content shown within each block.  What’s more, you can select and optimize the look of the page based on where the traffic is coming from – varying the look and feel of the page based on how the user got there.  So, if you arrived at this page as a result of a search for ‘Tartine Bakery reviews’ the ‘review block’ might be much more prominently displayed.

The fact the pages are well suited for optimization doesn’t necessarily mean all that much.  Google is well known for being an A/B testing fanatic.  So, this may just reflect a desire to be able to more easily optimize how information is presented to users.

But it could also be a first step towards something more…

Could Google Try to Close The Optimization Gap?

Optimizing landing pages is a fairly well understood process.  Unfortunately, it’s a process that few smaller businesses have the time and expertise to perform.  So, it doesn’t get done.  And the end result is that small businesses don’t see the expected results from clicks and become discouraged.

But now Google has designed a landing page that it’s possible for a machine to optimize.

Imagine a tool that allows a local business to set up an Adwords campaign that automatically creates and tests landing pages.  The tool might suggest appropriate keyword alternatives along with appropriate landing pages and then start running the alternatives and select the combinations that deliver the best ROI.  All with minimal involvement from the business owner.  Google certainly has the scale and machine learning expertise to accomplish something like this.

What’s Missing

For one, Google would need local merchant’s to define some sort of ‘conversion event’.  This is conceptually as easy as defining a new ‘block type’ that will appear on the landing page and be optimized.  For example, a restaurant might view a phone call or an Open Table registration as a conversion event.  If it’s a phone call, I imagine the merchant could be encouraged to use Google Voice to provide a closed loop analysis of the conversion event.

Perhaps more likely than having individual merchants doing this (at least in all cases) would be a small army of SEO and SEM experts doing it on the businesses behalf – but within a closed looped system managed by Google.  Google could potentially create a whole new eco-system.

Updated (September 28, 2009): Lots of concern around a core issue of whether these pages are being indexed.  In fact, Google representatives have weighed in the comments on posts by Erin Schonfeld at Techcrunch, Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal.   Google is confirming that these new pages won’t be indexed directly, but they may be indexed if they are referred to by other sites.

They probably didn’t want to muddy the issue, but I couldn’t help but notice that they did NOT comment on my thesis about using these pages as landing pages!

Call Tracking is Not Pay Per Call

Whenever I talk to people about call tracking in local advertising, they immediately assume that I’m also talking about Pay Per Call.  I’m not.  Or at least not necessarily.

If you want to charge the customer on a pay per call basis, then of course you must have call tracking.

But just because you support call tracking DOES NOT mean you have to charge customers on a performance basis.  It is perfectly reasonable to continue to charge a customer, such as a small business on a subscription basis.  In fact, many small businesses prefer to pay this way – they can budget for it and they don’t get any nasty surprises.

But those advertisers still expect to know that the advertising is performing well and they will get the Return on Investment promised to them by the sales rep.

The combination of call tracking and subscription is actually a best of both worlds scenario for most small businesses.  Why don’t more people provide it?  It seems like a big missed opportunity to me.

More Geo-Targeting Goodness

The ‘location aware’ internet is evolving very quickly.  There were a bunch of new anouncements last week.  Location awareness in mobile devices and desktop browsers supports both an enhanced user experience and the abilty to serve more relevant advertising.  This will be a transformational event for local advertisers.  Here’s a wrap up of some of the action:

Google Earth Adds Businesses

From Techcrunch:

By adding a “Businesses” layer to Google Earth, you’ll be able to see businesses by default when you start the application. Google Earth will list businesses like restaurants, bars, banks, gas stations, and grocery stores. As you zoom in further to the map, you’ll see more businesses. When you click on the icons, you’ll get additional information like the address. telephone number, reviews, and hours.

What it means: Another place for local businesses to be found by people on the move.

Yahoo! Testing Localization of Global Home Pages

From Search Engine Watch:

Yahoo! has been testing a new homepage for a long time now. The latest test involves localization features for global homepages. For example, if you live in the UK, you can get local transportation information via a widget on the left sidebar. The India homepage will feature a cricket app.

What it means: Browsers and web applications are increasingly becoming location aware — meaning both content and advertising can be made relevant to the location.  (There are also rumors of Microsoft testing location awareness in IE 8.)

Twitter Might Add Location Information to Each Tweet

Here’s what Robert Scoble wrote:

“He told me they are going to add features that look like friendfeed’s “likes” and “comments.” But he said they would be different, though. Also, during his talk at #140TC he told the audience they would make other changes to support search, including adding location based info to each Tweet.”

via The Praized Blog.

What it means: This could continue to strengthen Twitter’s role as a source of real-time information for local search.  It will also make it easier for local businesses to ‘watch’ for local activity of interest to them.

Yahoo! Placemaker Identifies Place References in Text

Yahoo! has been busy developing a great suite of tools for Geo-application developers.  It includes a high quality interactive map offering and FireEagle which is perhaps the most comprehensive approach currently available to securely share your location with others.  The latest addition is Placemaker which identifies place references in unstructured data like documents, web pages and tweets.

Not surprisingly, someone has already built a fun mash-up that marries Placemaker and Twitter: TweetLocations.  Just enter someone’s twitter id (you don’t have to be logged in) and it finds references they’ve made to places.  Try it with my friend @galinsky – a fellow Canadian who has been on an extended trip through Europe.

What it means: A way to derive location information from what people are saying.  This could also be used by local businesses to watch for local references – among other things.

Local SEO Investment a No-Brainer

Local SEO investment is a no-brainer – and it’s one that will ultimately benefit everyone trying to provide marketing services to local businesses.

David Mihm has a great post in which he describes the basics (among many other things worth your time):

Do your keyword research, figure out which phrases you want to target, claim your Google and Yahoo local listings with proper categories, submit to infoUSA, Localeze, and Acxiom (via Universal Business Listing).  That covers 90% of your bases.   This basic process for one location shouldn’t take more than a few hours.  Obviously ongoing optimization, particularly in competitive niches, requires expertise and more diligence, but think of the ‘claiming your listing’ and submission process as an analog for researching keywords and writing your ads.

Every local business should be doing this.  Today.  There is probaby nothing else they can do that will provide the same level of return on investment.  As a point of reference David points to two recent studies by Conductor and Enquisite showing that SEO has a much higher return than many Pay Per Click campaigns for larger advertisers.  And given that the state of local SEO is much less evolved today, the returns in local SEO are likely even higher.

So, why isn’t every local business not doing this already?  Because they don’t know any better.  And since there isn’t a lot of money to be made in telling them how to do this, people aren’t exactly banging down the door to bring them this information.  And those who are banging down their doors to sell them marketing and advertising services aren’t that interested in telling them about something that is nominally competitive.

This sort of thinking is seriously counter-productive.  First of all, all of the local merchants advertising efforts – both online and offline are going to work better if they are taking care of the basics.  And this applies to those attempting to sell them additional services as well.

But more importantly, by shrouding the whole process in mystery we are undermining the confidence of local advertisers.  And when they eventually discover ‘the truth’ they are going to be very dis-appointed with those who didn’t help them earlier.

Truly local advertising set to emerge

A number of announcements this week suggest that truly local, geo-targeted advertising is gaining momentum.

To take-off, three things are required:

  1. Broad availability of geo-reference information in browsers and mobile devices.
  2. Advertising platforms that exploit this information to deliver advertising.
  3. Local advertisers who can benefit from such precise advertising.

This past week saw announcements on all three fronts.

Increased Availability of Geo-reference Information

Skyhook Wirelesss announced the availability of a ‘one-touch’ location capability for publishers.

The Loki plug-in works with all major Internet browsers and operating systems to determine the precise location of any Wi-Fi-enabled device instantly, given the user’s permission. Web developers can use visitor location information to personalize content, ease local searching, deliver localized ads and more.

Major websites such as Flickr, Mapquest and Weatherbug are incorporating the technology.  It makes it easy for web developers to deploy the sort of location based smarts that have been very popular on the iPhone:

“The WeatherBug iPhone application has been extremely successful in part due to its ability to be location-aware. Loki enables us to instantly offer this same, rich experience to our desktop and laptop users and was incredibly simple to integrate,” said Chris Sloop, co-founder and CTO of WeatherBug.

Geo-Targeted Advertising Platforms

Google and Placecast both announced geo-targeting ad vehicles this week.

Google announced a Maps Ad Unit:

Placecast joined with Alcatel-Lucent to create a platform for delivering advertising to ‘on-the-go’ consumers.  Consumers ‘sign-up’ for the service and the kind of messages they want to receive.  Then when you are near a place that might be interesting you will get an ad sent to you.  (Might be a bit spooky – but it is opt-in.)

Local Advertisers

And finally, TechCrunch reports that the Village Voice is planning a Local Ad Network.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  They already have a relationship with local advertisers – why not help these advertisers get exposed in other media?

Getting access to the local advertisers – often small and medium sized businesses – who can really benefit from such highly localized advertising will be the biggest challenge.  Or the biggest opportunity!

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