Online ads are the Brave New World of marketing, an uncharted frontier of opportunity and danger. With online ads you can get an extremely high return-on-investment for just a little time and a little money. The danger of this, though, is if you don't have the ability to craft an interesting offer--or find someone who can--be prepared for disappointment. Good writing is the key to results. It's all about the words and the search engine's ability to find them.
There are three ways to advertise "locally" online:
1. Your website. Insert words and phrases into your web page copy that web surfers in your town would likely type into a search engine. Example: A few months ago my wife made an appointment for me to see an allergist. Instead of opening the Yellow Pages, she logged onto Google and typed "Allergist Austin Texas". Would you believe that only one allergist in a city of over a million people had bothered to create herself a website? Well, that simple little one-pager made her $1,200 that day. How often do you suppose this happens?
Let's assume you sell wheels and tires in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For you to attract the attention of wheel shoppers in the area, you're going to need to make sure all your brands are listed as text because search engines can't read words that are imbedded in a photo.
If I lived in Tulsa and was looking for a set of Cragar wheels, I'd likely go to Google or Yahoo and type "Cragar Tulsa". If I did, I'd find Car Toys at 8134 E. 68th Street. According to their website, the store's phone number is 918-254-509, and Don Tessier is the general manager. Bye-bye, Yellow Pages!
Web marketing wizards Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg take this to an even deeper level in their online marketing book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?, available in June 2006. According to their book, "Keyword research is an excellent way to gather insights into the types of questions customers are asking at the precise moment they are focusing attention on the buying process. After all, what is a keyword search if not a question you're trying to answer?"
2. The local newspaper. Is your local newspaper cashing in on the trend toward local ads online by creating a localized news site for your town? An example of this is Austin360.com, a local electronic newspaper published by Austin's principal newspaper, The Austin American Statesman. I've used Austin360 several times to find exceptional employees through its electronic Help Wanted section. But the key to getting results, as I mentioned earlier, is the writing of the ad itself. Bad classified ads are about you, the job you're offering or the educational requirements of the applicant you seek. Good classified ads speak to the self-image of your hoped-for new employee. The goal of a great classified is for the right person to see themselves in it just as surely as if they were looking into a mirror. Here's the ad that worked wonders for me:
"Do you love to write? Do you have boxes and drawers full of stuff you've been writing since you were 14? Do you read a lot? We're a quirky advertising company serving small-business clients from coast to coast. Would you be willing to help turn their weak words into strong ones? You don't need experience in advertising. You only need experience with ideas and with words. Send us a few samples of your writing. Don't try to anticipate what we're hoping to see. Just trust that we know a writer when we see one."
That ad finished by giving them a starting salary and an e-mail to send their writing samples to along with their resume and a cover letter. We got 135 wonderfully qualified applicants. A Help Wanted ad written in the more traditional style would have received only two or three responses.
Yes, strong classifieds use casual language, and three or four times as many words as weak classifieds. Pay for the extra words--it's a lot cheaper than hiring the wrong employee.
3. Localized national websites. Localized national websites often have more penetration into your city than any purely local web presence that might be available. Face it: Craig's List and eBay probably have more traffic in your town than all the local sites put together. Unlike eBay, Craig's List lets shoppers isolate to their own cities with a simple click. Do you wonder if anyone in your area is advertising there? Put it to the test. Spend a few minutes at Craig's and your mind will likely be blown. My daughter-in-law was looking for a very specific, hard-to-find baby crib recently, and with just a few clicks of the mouse, she found one 12 miles from her house on Craig's List. Wow.
In summary: Localized national websites such as Craig's List and online search engines such as Google and Yahoo! are instantly-updatable, word-driven research tools that are being used by your customers with greater frequency every day. Learn to harness these horses or you'll soon be left behind.