Don’t Forget The Place Your Customers Call Home

A new year offers new opportunities for local search providers and small business customers to reevaluate their advertising strategies to reflect the latest consumer usage trends and economic realities.

On December 31st, Yellow Pages directory publisher Idearc emerged from bankruptcy with a new name, SuperMedia, and a fresh understanding that new initiatives in the online and mobile local search front—in addition to its existing print offerings—will help drive its future. And with optimism, the company’s chief executive, Scott Klein, told Reuters that his operations in rural, Midwestern and some key major metro markets are starting to show signs of improvement as the economy begins to recover.

Along with many others, I have predicted that 2010 will be shaped by new advances in local online, mobile and social search—and SuperMedia’s new commitment to those platforms is evidence that changes are already underway. But as Klein’s comments suggest, I think that geography will also play an important role in determining how providers and advertisers plan their advertising campaigns this year.

To be successful, directories and advertisers will need to adapt their strategies not only to fit new widespread trends in how customers are searching for local business information, but also to reflect the speed with which specific communities are changing their search patterns and seeing signs of economic improvement.

When evaluating advertising campaigns, everything is local. Here are some things to consider:

Urban vs. rural technology: Broadband, WiFi and high-speed mobile penetration, the availability of local-based mobile applications, and a variety of other technological advancements afforded to more populated communities are creating differences between how urban and rural communities search for local information. While a recent study by Forrester Research showing rapid growth in the proportion of U.S. mobile subscribers owning smartphones—up to 17% in 2009 from 11% in 2008—may help shape advertising decisions in major urban markets, it won’t have the same impact in smaller markets. An innovative mobile campaign in New York City, for example, will likely not be effective in a small Midwestern town where high-speed mobile internet is not yet available, and the cost-ratio too high to make sense.

Age and gender: As local-social search gains ground this year, providers and their advertisers will need to take into account that younger communities are more likely to adopt those tools than areas with, for example, a high number of retirees. But they’ll also need to keep a close eye on how social media adoption rates are changing. A Sept. 2009 study by Inside Facebook found that while U.S. females aged 18-24 remain the highest share of users on the popular social media site, almost half of U.S. Facebook users are now older than 35. In fact, the fastest growing demographic percentage-wise is users over 45. Keeping a close eye on age and gender usage rates nationally, as well the demographic makeup of those communities being specifically targeted by advertising, will be essential in developing a successful campaign.

Ethnicity: The ethnic makeup of individual communities plays an important role in how different areas are conducting their searches. Recent comScore data show that the Hispanic online population, for example, is expanding 50% faster than the overall U.S. population. Additionally, a July 2009 Pew internet research poll found that Hispanics were more likely than other ethnicities to have used the mobile internet or accessed mobile content. Therefore, developing online and mobile local search capabilities that cater to Hispanic communities—whether through language, culture, etc.—is as important as creating those tools for the general population.

Print directory usage: Different communities have different usage patterns for print directories, which has a direct effect on how to best implement the hybrid model. With so much attention focused on online and mobile local search, a small business owner with stores in major Florida urban areas, for example, might consider changing his strategy to advertise more on those platforms. However, the owner must be mindful of how each of his individual urban markets conduct local searches. In Miami, weekly usage of print Yellow Pages directories is limited to approximately 21% of consumers because of its high level of Spanish-only speakers, according to a 2008 industry usage study conducted by KN/SRI. However, in Orlando, more than double that number—46% of consumers—use print directories on a weekly basis. With that in mind, the small business owner might adopt a varied approach to reflect usage in each of those individual markets.

The state of the economy: As Klein mentioned, certain U.S. markets—both urban and rural—are starting to show signs of economic improvement. Tying new advertising campaigns to growing markets will be essential in delivering the highest return on investment.

What’s the take home message? Our industry should never stop being innovating—growth in 2010 will undoubtedly be driven by our ability to develop new and exciting online and mobile capabilities. But at the same time, we should always remember our commitment to a hybrid approach as a means of reaching as many of our unique consumers as possible wherever they call home.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: brings nearly three decades of Yellow Pages and local search experience, as Director of Research for the Yellow Pages Association (YPA). Larry spearheads and advises on all association-driven research activities for the industry, as well as blogs about the industry on the InsideYP blog.

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