6 Tips for Aligning Your National, Local SEM Efforts

The volume of local searches continues growing, which means national-level search advertisers must develop strategic plans for incorporating local search into their national search programs. The benefit: lower cost leads with higher conversation rates.

However, achieving maximum benefit from the local campaign segments is a direct result of how the local search additions are executed.

Today, we'll explore the main strategies for advertisers who want to successfully incorporate local search campaign segments into a national SEM buy.

Develop Your Keyword List -- Mine the Long Tail

As with any SEM initiative, a local search strategy begins by developing a target keyword list. Start with what you've learned from your national level campaign. Which keywords perform best? What are the top traffic drivers? Where do you get your conversions?

Use data to formulate a core keyword list. Then align it with your target geographies to determine a comprehensive list of geographically explicit keywords (e.g. "hotels in San Diego," "Plumbers in 60631," "NY car insurance companies").

Keywords containing ZIP code designations won't typically drive a high volume of traffic, but even a few clicks per month can convert at a high rate to drive campaign benefit as an aggregate.

When developing your list, remember that the local user may be searching with non-postal geographic designations (e.g. "florists in the Loop" instead of "Chicago florists"). Talk to your branch managers or location owners to figure out how areas are commonly termed in their cities.

Account for Variances Between Geographies

One size definitely doesn't fit all when it comes to local search. In most cases, there are several additional variables. Tailor your target keyword lists and local market budgets accordingly.

Is there seasonality to your business in certain local market areas, but not others? For example, in the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) industry, heating keywords are more important in winter to colder northern areas than in warmer southern markets.

Avoid Overlap -- Don't Disregard Matching Technology

The goal of integrating local search components into a national campaign is to drive incremental traffic and acquisitions, not take away from what the national program is achieving. Not defining the rules of engagement between local and national campaigns is one of the biggest mistakes advertisers make.

If your campaign is set to broad or phrase match, you may also generate exposure on some geographically explicit searches. For example, placing the keyword "movie theaters" on broad match may give you exposure on "movie theaters in Irvine, CA." If you launch a local campaign containing "movie theaters in Irvine, CA," chances are that the national broad match term will prevent your locally targeted ad from showing.

Adjust matching in your national program to avoid this exposure roadblock. If you choose to continue using broad match, then use negative keywords reflecting your geographic designations.

In the local campaign, using exact match is the best practice. However, knowing that traffic predictions (or lack thereof) on the long tail terms can make ads inactive for search, or require a high minimum bid to show. Consider launching with a phrase match to open up some traffic, and then optimize match types once traffic and click activity is established.

Customize, Customize, Customize

In keyword-driven search, a user explicitly tells you what they're looking for. You know what's working in your national program. You've done the testing. You know which ads generate the strongest response, and which landing pages convert best.

Now you must engage the local user. Their search term tells you what they're looking for and where they need it. Customize your ad with local content. Examples include:

  • Serving the Chicago area for 50 years.
  • 25 convenient Minneapolis locations to serve you.
  • Save 10% in St. Louis.

Similarly, customize your landing pages to the local market area. Users can become frustrated if they perform a geographically explicit keyword search, click on a customized ad, and then are taken to a landing page where they need to re-enter their location information.

Landing pages should also provide users with a clear call to action, and options for taking that action. For example, give users the option to submit an online request, or to contact offline by providing physical contact information.

Don't forget to list a telephone number. A high percentage of folks research online, but purchase offline.

Consider Additional Placements

Many of the top engines are developing placement opportunities specific to local search. Consider integrating these into your campaign. Placements such as Google Local Business Ads, or Yahoo Local, can provide additional traffic sources aimed at users who know what they want and are looking where to purchase it.

Track Appropriately

To stay consistent in data gathering, consider using the same tracking technology for your local and national search campaigns. This allows you to easily draw comparisons across campaigns with consistent data definitions.

However, for a local campaign, make sure you can also capture the high percentage of users who will convert offline. If you don't already employ it, consider adding telephone tracking and other offline tracking methods.

Developing strategic plans for incorporating local search into existing nationally targeted search programs is one of the best hedges against rising keyword costs. Like everything in search, execution is the key to a well-structured, cost-effective program.

Next time, we'll explore local SEO best practices.

About the author

Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales.

Read more of Gregg Stewart's columns at ClickZ.