Having worked in the local search space for a while, I am often asked how is it that SMBs are so slow in adopting self-serve systems in their online advertising. And indeed, in the age of Internet advertising, when anyone can purchase keywords on search engines, is there really a need for a middleman anymore?
While an important function of these middlemen is to convince the local plumber or dentist to spend their hard earned money on online advertising, they also help guide the SMB owner through the planning phases of the ad campaign, explaining the various options and helping to optimize the campaign.
In this post, I will review a number of local search platforms, from the traditional to the new, and examine the complexity that is involved in advertising on them.
Print Yellow Pages, the forefathers of SMB advertising, are relatively easy to understand – in order to gain visibility, an SMB has to purchase a large ad on the first page of his category. Pretty straightforward and simple:
Online Yellow Pages have added new features to their offerings, but the concept is still mostly the same – visibility is determined by size and placement of the SMB’s ad:
Local Search Sites such as CitySearch have added yet another level of complexity with features such as performance advertising that require some additional explaining.
And then we get to what many regard as the most effective form of local online marketing – search advertising. Search Engines have opened a whole new spectrum of options that make it far more difficult to understand and manage local ad campaigns. There is constant discussion on what SMBs should do to rank better (a couple of weeks ago, David Mihm posted his second volume of Local Search Ranking Factors – 27 experts analyzed and evaluated 49 criteria). Many SMBs may think that if they appear “first” on Google Maps in a certain relevant search, their job is done… However, this is often far from true.
Take for instance the following searches, conducted a few minutes apart, and the results they generate.
Search 1: plumbing contractor los angeles
Search 2: plumbing contractors los angeles – note that “The Best Plumber I Ever Had”, #1 from the previous list, is nowhere to be found.
Search 3: cheap plumber los angeles
Search 4: emergency plumbing los angeles, ca – and here is “The Best Plumber I Ever Had” again…
There are many more possible searches in this category and it is very likely that each of them will yield different results. Small, seemingly insignificant variations of a keyword (e.g. from singular to plural) or a geographic modifier (adding “ca”) can change the content of the 10 pack. This inherent complexity has bred a whole new class of companies like ReachLocal, Yodle and Webvisible, that help SMBs effectively manage such campaigns.
Looking at the development in the local advertising industry, from print to online, and even within the online world, it is clear that if anything, local search advertising services are getting more complicated. It is ironic that the question of whether mediators are still required in this industry has intensified in parallel to the ever growing complexity of online advertising. A complexity that for now, for the majority of SMB owners, can be overcome only with the help of… a middleman.
Being a big believer in self-serve, I predict that one day these complicated ad services will also be automated into systems that mask their complexity and enable users (SMBs) to simply enter their needs and budget and get the right solution. However, that will take some time and until then, the middleman will remain a critical component of this eco-system.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.