Google's Shrewd, Silent Bet on Local

Brandscore | Feb 25, 2014 8:14:34 AM

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Local Communities for Local Search

The Local Media Consortium’s name speaks for itself. An alliance of 800 daily newspapers and 200 local broadcasters, the LMC is focused on boosting community outlets all over the US. Enter Google. On February 24, 2014, the search giant announced a deal with the LMC to create a private ad exchange for local publishers with the goal of integrating programmatic ad budgets that scale at the local level. The LMC-Google deal can be seen as a step towards bringing local publishers into the fold of contemporary ad practices. Hovering over this partnership is whether local businesses can be enticed into advertising using these new channels.

We’ve mentioned before that social search is replacing traditional search, which in turn is slowly reducing the importance of SEO. New media entities such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy have embraced this shift by optimizing articles to get a maximum of shares on Facebook. Advertisers have flocked to each by the promise of page views and messaging that is made stickier by the social element.

Local papers don’t have the national presence to take advantage of that kind of scale, but what they do have is just as important: a local community of readers bound by geography and shared experience. These are the kinds of social communities that are relatively overlooked or misunderstood by Silicon Valley.

It’s reasonable to assume that members of a small town would know all the stores in their community and would rely less on local search than, say, someone living in New York City. There hasn’t been much research on this topic, but there are indications that the opposite is true. In fact, a 2011 study from online ad network Chitika found that smaller cities were more likely to use local search terms than in major metropolises. More recently, Gabe Donnini at Marketing Land found that the cities with the highest shares of targeted local advertisements were places like Federal Way, WA and El Paso, TX—hardly major urban centers, although not tiny by any means.

Local search based on city size

Whether these observations reveal an underlying hunger for local businesses everywhere to advertise locally is still unresolved. But in the context of the LMC-Google announcement, we can assume that we’re only just beginning to see a new push to apply on a local level the same marketing infrastructure used by major businesses. For Google, the question remains: if they build it, will local advertisers come?

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