by David Dague
In an average month, more than 25 million consumers visit Weather.com for weather updates, weather-related news, and local outdoor activities. Affinity sites like Motorcycle.com pull in 1 million visitors per month to explore how-to tips, read product deals, and search the classifieds.
And nearly 2 billion times a month -- representing over 25 percent of total monthly web searches -- consumers use a major search engine's local map-based directory, an online yellow pages, or a specialized local search directory to find qualified businesses for products and services in a specific geographic area.
These numbers are expected to grow, especially as Internet-groomed youngsters become consumers, and as advertisers seamlessly and quickly connect with ready-to-buy local consumers online.
A new niche market is emerging, where forward-thinking affinity and utilitarian websites like Traffic.com and BaltimoreRavens.com are well-positioned to aggressively stake a claim in local search and generate significant revenue from local businesses.
Such publishers have a unique opportunity because they serve large numbers of loyal users and provide inherently local content to a localized audience. However, they understand that launching and managing a local search business directory can be expensive and time-consuming.
Instead, they've turned to outsourced solutions to expand the strategic value of their online assets and cash in on online local search.
Publishers who monetize themselves primarily through national display advertising and e-commerce applications are recognizing not just the potential of local business revenues, but they see the value it brings to incremental display and e-commerce applications as well.
Advantages of outsourcing local search include:
Expanding display and e-commerce revenue streams. Added page views extend existing display advertising inventory and attract new advertisers. With this model, local search can serve contextually-relevant advertising, since consumers self-identify exactly what they're looking for and where.
These motivated consumers have a specific need or desire and are comparatively close to the point-of-sale, so display advertisers can expect higher than average conversion rates. For example, a local search query on Golf.com for "golf courses San Diego" would produce local results, a sunscreen brand display ad, and an e-commerce link to SanDiegoGolfCourses.com.
Providing a scalable, rapid path into the local advertising market. Many sites that have relied on display advertising have long struggled with a scalable way to reach local businesses and effectively monetize at that level. With an outsourced local search application, affinity and utilitarian sites can now offer local businesses enhanced listings and even priority placement in the local results for greater revenue potential.
Increasing stickiness, cross-selling, and brand loyalty. Adding a digital local business directory to an affinity or utilitarian site helps increase the amount of time users spend on the site. Users aren't redirected to a different site for local information, so publishers can continue to cross-sell other products and services like online store merchandise and other core services, while reinforcing the brand.
For example, an NHL.com user could easily buy tickets to a Washington Capitals game and also look for a restaurant near the Verizon Center. More time on the site means more revenue.
The opportunity to enter the local search game is not lost on traditional local media either. These providers are rapidly adopting outsourced local search as a quick, complementary, and cost-effective way to diversify their product portfolios.
As local media see their traditional formats merging online and in the mobile world, they're realizing the monetization and advertiser retention benefits offered by a privately branded local search site. Radio and TV broadcasters, as well as newspapers, are well-positioned to capitalize on outsourced local search with their existing assets, including:
- Large, well-trained local sales forces
- Long-standing relationships with large numbers of local advertisers
- Strong brand awareness, loyalty, and connection with community
- "Bully pulpit" from which to promote their online assets and vice versa
Regardless of the type of media or website, outsourcing local search provides a powerful overall lift in SEO, low cost of entry, rapid monetization, amd increased site stickiness. It can be a low-risk venture if a partner is willing to work via a revenue share model.
Obviously outsourcing local search means an investment with a third-party provider. Before making the leap and growing your existing online channel, remember these six tips in selecting a partner:
Content: Quality local business content is king, so the provider you select needs to command this space and offer the most comprehensive, largest, and robust collection of business-verified listings.
Mobile configuration: Mobile local search is fast becoming as critical as PC-based local search. It's imperative that your content provider has a database infrastructure that can organize and optimize large volumes of local business content to make it easy for mobile device users to access and consume with minimum drill-down.
Scalable: A flexible local search engine technology should be specifically designed to take advantage of local content context and presentation structure for each website and be ready to grow as the site grows.
Private labeling: To ensure your outsourced local search application fits seamlessly with your look and feel and is represented as your own, select a provider that offers the ability to private label its products. While providers who recommend placing a search box on your site and offer payment for searches originating from its site may be tempting in the short-term, in the long-term it adds little consumer or advertiser relationship value.
Self-provisioning: For affinity and utilitarian sites that do not have a local sales force, it's important that the provider offer a way for local businesses to sign themselves up for listing and add-on options.
Distribution: Local businesses gravitate toward a single-source supplier who will make online marketing clear, simple, cost-effective, and comprehensive. Any provider you select should have distribution partnerships with specialized local search engines, a long list of Internet Yellow Pages, as well as the local properties of the major search engines. This will allow your new local clients to list with you and be found everywhere.
As the local search industry grows exponentially, jump in, make some money, and add value to your overall franchise.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the August issue of SES Magazine.
David Dague sets the strategic branding and go-to-market strategies for Localeze and oversees its day-to-day corporate and product marketing initiatives. A telecom, information technology , and local advertising media veteran, David has held leadership positions at Bell Atlantic Information Services, Innovectra Corporation, American Management Systems, and MCI Corporation. He has instructed sales and marketing courses at the undergraduate collegiate level.
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