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For Local Search, It's All About the Online-Offline Gap

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The need to bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds stuck out as a key issue during a pair of local search sessions run by the Kelsey Group at SES San Jose last week.

This plays out in a few important ways. Though search volume continues to rise and capture a growing percentage of product research, more than 95 percent of actual purchase behavior in the U.S. still takes place offline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is especially true in certain service categories and products that are too bulky to ship or are dependent on a visual purchase decision (e.g., flat screen TVs).

A few companies on these panels, such as Krillion, NearbyNow and TheFind, have begun to take these realities to heart by building online products that more effectively lead and track offline purchase behavior. These include real time inventory feeds and buy online/pick up in store features.

This research-online, buy-offline (ROBO) phenomenon will see more adoption as these services get better exposure this holiday season. Imagine being able to see exactly how many Nintendo Wiis are on the shelf and getting there before the requisite stampedes and fist fights break out among holiday-crazed parents.

It Goes Both Ways

But the online/offline opportunity goes in the other direction as well. Brand marketing in offline traditional media is known to influence and drive search behavior, in some cases. Knowing this, Google has quietly initiated a charge to tie online and offline media together and track their influence on each other.

We've long known Google to be on a path toward facilitating media buys across a cluster of offline traditional media, but a clearer glimpse of this plan was offered at SES by Meredith Papp, product marketing manager at Google.

Working in Google's traditional media ads division, she presented a few of the ways the company will be a one-stop shop for online and offline media buys. This essentially brings together Google's Audio Ads, TV Ads, and Print Ads -- each of which result from its recent partnerships with traditional media companies to resell their ad inventory.

The goal is to allow marketers to create TV, terrestrial radio, and newspaper ads, then choose where and when they run. This is all done through AdWords, which becomes a central hub for managing these campaigns and tracking their effect on online performance.

Proving it Out

Papp gave a few examples. The Hanley Center, a West Palm Beach-based rehab clinic, used Google TV Ads to air spots on a dozen TV networks, including the Lifetime Movie Network, as well as specific programs, such as "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" and "Intervention."

The result was a 34-percent lift in online brochure requests in the first month, and a 40-percent lift in the second -- all tracked in AdWords by correlating television impressions with online traffic and conversions.

Hanley Center Google AdWords

GolfNow similarly dabbled in Print Ads and Audio Ads to drive more traffic to its site, which connects golfers with available tee-times in their areas. Traffic rose by up to 200 percent in cities where the print and radio ads ran, and sales increased up to 33 percent.

"I can do everything: create our AdWords campaign, choose the newspapers and stations, upload radio spots, negotiate with publishers, see and hear our actual ads, and track performance down to the city level with Google Analytics," said GolfNow director of marketing Matt Arnzen.

GolfNow Google AdWords

Text ads can also include trackable tie-ins to Google Analytics through unique URLs, coupon codes, toll free numbers, SMS codes, and 2D bar codes for mobile devices:

Blue Nile Bar Code Google Analytics

And with audio ads, advertisers can target various geographies, demographics, and day parts, as well as play with dynamic ad placement features. Ads can be pre-set to run when weather conditions meet certain criteria, for example -- a potentially valuable tool for any product tied to weather.

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"An advertiser selling outdoor clothing can set their ad to run when the temperature drops below a certain level," Papp said. "And it all happens automatically through the system."

Tying it all Together

Google TV, one element of this ad bundle, could be huge for all the reasons we've examined around the growth and lowered barriers for SMB video. Combined with Google's reach, brand strength, and integrations with AdWords, it could be powerful.

Meanwhile, radio ads could have lots of synergies with any future Goog-411 (voice-powered search) monetization efforts, which will similarly use audio clips.

And to get all of this going, Google has partnered with DISH Network to resell television inventory; 750 newspapers for Print Ads; and Clear Channel for radio.

As Google continues to develop all of these fronts, it could add up to a valuable proposition for local and national advertisers that want to diversify ad campaign across online and offline media and also have greater ability than ever before to manage and track campaigns all in one place. Leave it to Google...


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