Beware the Rogue Markets: A Beginner's Guide to Navigating Paid Search

In the paid search world, one of the most overlooked elements of campaign success is geo-targeting. For national advertisers, PPC geo-targeting is an absolute must; however, few are utilizing this tool to its full potential.

Unlike traditional media (such as TV or print) or display advertising online, paid search gives you (the advertiser) plenty of controls to reach your audience based upon their location. Furthermore, you have continuous control of these markets and campaigns. Paid search is not like a billboard run or TV spot that's purchased months in advance (campaigns that are not easy to change once flight dates have been established). As a paid search advertiser, you have the control to make changes at any point.

While having controls over campaign changes gives paid search an advantage over traditional media, the ability to get granular with PPC geo-targeting is very valuable. With paid search, you're able to reach a customer internationally, in specific countries, in specific states, in a certain city or DMA (Designated Market Area), or by coordinates around a particular point. This type of targeting capability is simply unavailable through traditional media avenues. The unparalleled quality of PPC geo-targeting options ensures more targeted and effective use of media dollars, eliminating media waste.

The Searching Efficiency of PPC Geo-Targeting

PPC geo-targeting lets you target two types of searchers: (1) the searcher who is within a given location looking for a general keyword and (2) the searcher who is searching with a geographic location included in the search query. For example, Jane is looking for a pet clothing boutique in Los Angeles. She may visit Google and search for "pet clothing stores." In this search, she may see plenty of paid search ads, but what are the chances she'll find an advertiser in Los Angeles?

Frustrated, Jane continues her search and tries searching for "los angeles pet clothing stores." In this case, the search results are little more useful for Jane and she moves forward with her research.

This example demonstrates that to fully capitalize on search behavior, advertisers must be present during both types of searches; a search query with geographic location and a search query without geographic location. Your potential customers are searching this way, and you must ensure they can find your website through both avenues by testing general keywords with and without geographic locations.

All Markets Are Not Created Equally

PPC geo-targeting is also extremely useful for testing new and unique promotions per market. In many cases, many national paid search advertisers will roll out a new promo, new landing page, or new version of the website throughout the entire nation. However, by using the PPC geo-targeting capabilities of the search engines, the same advertiser could test only a couple of markets for performance, gauge results, then roll out to the entire nation. In this scenario, you are not crippling yourself in the event your new initiative doesn't generate the results you anticipate. You can test first, learn, adapt, and execute initiatives that will generate proven results.

PPC geo-targeting is also beneficial for advertisers who provide services and sales, but perhaps not both to each market. For example, a computer parts shop sells product through its website nationally, but only provides services and performs repairs in its home city. In this case, the store can create multiple paid search campaigns, one set that targets sales, while the other set of campaigns target service, repairs, and installation.

Although trying PPC campaigns in test markets before rolling them out nationwide is extremely valuable, it's also important to note that every market is not created equally. This is a common mistake that many of our clients' previous SEM agencies make. How a keyword, ad, or landing page performs in Los Angeles isn't exactly how it will perform in Atlanta. Yet, a majority of paid search advertisers have no way of knowing exactly how each market is performing on the media side, or with regards to conversion, sales, revenue, and ROI. Usually, an advertiser will make overall campaign changes to a poorly performing nationally targeted campaign, when in fact it's only a couple of "rogue" markets that are negatively influencing results.

The Nitty-Gritty of Paid Search Success

To truly get this granular, an advertiser would need to geo-target and create unique campaigns per market. In this scenario, you can treat each market to its own ad copy, making the ad more targeted and qualified to the searcher. You can create a geo-specific landing page that aligns with your ad copy and resonates with your visitors. And, ultimately, you have greater cost controls over each individual market.

Some challenges associated with PPC geo-targeting usually involve campaign management. In the situation where an advertiser builds out a massive list of geo-targeted keywords, the management of this extensive list can certainly become a challenge. Think about all the different cities, counties, and zip codes you could associate with general keywords. Needless to say, building an extensive list like this will make the campaign management process a bit more challenging. Thankfully, there are campaign management tools and applications out there (ideal for your PPC geo-targeting needs) to help mitigate this issue.

So as you're developing or having your SEM agency work on your campaign, keep in mind that there is an entire world outside of general keywords. This includes an extensive opportunity to find geo-targeted keywords for inclusion in your campaign. Also, where it makes sense, think of creating unique campaigns per top market. While a bit more management and time is required initially to learn the ins and outs of PPC geo-targeting tactics, the measurement capabilities and performance of creating geo-targeted campaigns are vital to any organization's paid search success.

(C) Medium Blue 2009

About the Author

Hamid Saify is the Director of Search Advertising for Medium Blue, an Atlanta search engine optimization company, where he develops paid searching marketing campaigns, crafting and implementing SEO strategies that integrate with the overall marketing and business objectives. Prior to joining Medium Blue, Hamid worked both the agency and client side in online media and e-commerce in Los Angeles, serving as the Interactive Marketing Manager at Webmetro, where he serviced a client roster that included Frederick's of Hollywood, Murad, and the Merrick Group. He also had client side roles at 3 Day Blinds as Director of E-Commerce and at Jewelry Exchange as VP of Internet Operations. Hamid graduated with honors from Georgia State University with a dual BBA in Marketing & Management and is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the nation's leading honors society for business professionals. To see how we can help you achieve your online marketing goals, please contact us.
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