Google Searches for Success in Local Ads03-03-2011
After years of fits and starts, Google’s latest push into local online advertising suddenly looks serious — and even professed internet novices like Barbara Oliver are noticing.
The owner of an eponymous boutique jeweler, Ms. Oliver depends on advertising to drive people to her hard-to-find third-floor shop in Williamsville, N.Y., near Buffalo. Not satisfied with TV and other advertising on which she spent $40,000 last year, she hired a consultant who bought $50 a month worth of Google search ads targeted to an 80-mile radius around Buffalo and set up a web page in the Google Places local directory service. That netted her enough new business that she has slashed her other ad spending by 40%. “Now I’m getting more people who say they found me on Google,” Ms. Oliver said.
Google aims to reach many of the millions of other businesses like Ms. Oliver’s that want to attract potential customers nearby. After failing to crack radio and print advertising several years ago and still struggling in TV ads, Google views local online advertising — both by national brands and by smaller businesses such as restaurants and plumbers — as a juicy target. “It’s a big focus for me this year,” said Susan Wojcicki, Google’s senior VP-product management and the search giant’s top ad products executive. “It’s a huge opportunity where we can do things we haven’t done before.”
Google in recent months has unleashed a flurry of new local services and ad formats and expanded others. In an especially noticeable change to its search results, last October it tweaked its search engine to make local businesses and listings, including Google Places, much more prominent in response to a likely local-oriented query. The same month, Google moved Marissa Mayer, its high-profile VP-search products and user experience, to VP-consumer products, where her main job will be developing new geographic and local services.
“The core piece is really making the local business work,” said Ms. Mayer. Google’s overriding goal in local advertising, she said, is to anticipate what people might want — a nearby restaurant, theater, or mechanic depending on their location, search history and other data — before they actually know it. “Can we help a user find something useful to them without their specifically asking in a search query?” she asked.
If it can, that could pay off on the ad side. The online piece of the venerable $91 billion local business, whose sales channels include everything from Yellow Pages and newspaper ads to Google search ads and online directories such as CitySearch, will grow 18% this year, to $15.9 billion, according to market researcher Borrell Associates. That’s more than online advertising overall, forecast for 14% growth.
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