Howard Owens is a digital media pioneer. He started publishing local news online in 1995 when very few local news outlets had web sites. The header image on the site depicts the film camera he used early in his career and the press pass from his year on the staff of the Carlsbad Journal. For more on Howard's professional background, read his LinkedIn profile.
HowardOwens.com is the personal web site of Howard Owens and covers his range of interests -- political localism and libertarianism, music and personal interests, as well as his professional interests.
Howard is currently publisher of The Batavian and lives in Batavia, N.Y.
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Tag Archives: Advertising
You can read about hyperlocal content strategies on dozens of web sites, but nobody ever talks about hyperlocal advertising strategies.
Content is cool. Revenue is an after thought.
Many people seem to assume that if you build a local web site that attracts readers, any old advertising you happen to throw on a couple of ad slots will some how magically generate enough revenue to pay for the enterprise.
Truth is, if your advertising strategy isn’t as well conceived as your content strategy, your hyperlocal dreams will never become reality.
Here are my five rules of hyperlocal advertising:
Rule #1 of hyperlocal advertising: Local is relevant. In general, it’s all the relevant you need. Google has taught us that contextual, relevant advertising works best on the web, but if you run a local news site, your target audience is very well defined: You appeal to people who are interested in information related to your community. When you display ads for local dry cleaners and neighborhood eatries, you are providing contextual advertising. You don’t need articles about spot removal for your dry cleaner display ad to display. It’s automatically related to any local story you run. The fact that both your articles and your ads are local is all of the relevance you need. You don’t need fancy algorithms and cookie tracking to serve highly targeted ads to your core audience.
Rule #2 of hyperlocal advertising: Advertising is content. Local readers read local ads. They are very interested in what the local sales and specials are, what events are taking place at what restaurants and what new businesses are about to open around the corner. The more informational your ads, the more they will engage local readers. If you’re able to provide a smorgasbord of local, relevant ads, people will visit your site just to look for local businesses to patronize.
Rule #3 of hyperlocal advertising: The more local content (the more local ads) the better. It’s important that your display ads act like a directory of the best local businesses in your coverage area. In order to achieve the goal of becoming a destination point for people to find out what local businesses are offering, you need to serve up a ton of local ads. Further, you diminish your local focus by placing ad network ads on your site. It should be your goal to keep all non-local ads off your site, including national chains. Your advertisers, all small, local business owners like yourself, will appreciate your efforts to put local businesses first in your revenue strategy. You can generate a lot more money with a local-only strategy than you ever could hope for from ad networks.
Rule #4 of hyperlocal advertising: Small, local business owners need to feel their ads are part of a site where lots of local people go. This is the main rule related to local editorial content — the reason most journalists start local news sites. In order for your site to be a must-be advertising spot for local business owners, it must be the news site that generates all of the buzz and conversation in your community. You need people talking about your content so that business owners hear their customers talking about your stories. If you’re not hearing from readers, "I’m addicted to (your site)," then you’re not creating enough buzz to sell lots of ads. You can line up all the metrics you like, but if you don’t have buzz, you won’t sell ads. Once you have buzz, metrics don’t matter.
Rule #5 of hyperlocal advertising: Keep it simple. Flat rates, no rotation, no CPM pricing. Mark Potts said it at Block by Block, but I’ve heard it before: "Small, local business owners can’t even spell ‘CPM.’" In all my years of dealing with local advertising, every time I spoke with an advertiser I found they either didn’t like or were confused by banner rotation. Nothing pisses off an advertiser more than to visit your site, reload your homage page a dozen times and never see his ad. You need to ensure that every time your customers visit your site, they see their ads. Next, price your ads in an easy to understand format, which usually means monthly rates with no respect to number of impressions served.
Bonus rule: Break any one of rules one thru five and you greatly diminish your chances of local advertising success.
I have yet to hear of a newspaper improving its revenue or audience growth by offering free classified ads.
The San Diego Union-Tribune tried it int 2005.
Now the U-T is further trimming staff.
“Not since the merger of the Union and Tribune over 15 years ago have we faced such wrenching changes,” he (CEO Gene Bell) wrote. “At the same time, never in our history have we faced revenue losses as dramatic as those of the last 12 months.”
Observation: The U-T offered free classifieds and that did not stem the tide of revenue loses.
I’m not trying to draw a direct connection, just saying … it didn’t help.
The only time I’ve ever heard of an MSM newspaper offering free classifieds and using it to win market share was in Arkansas when Walter Hussman took the Democrat from second-tier player into only game in town.
There might be a very scary lesson about the inability of a market leader’s inability to use disruptive strategy to beat other disruptive players.
What worked for Hussman to beat a bigger paper, may not work for a market leader like the leading metro in town to beat Craigslist and other free-classified sites.
If that’s true, then sustaining innovations (which most newspapers have been pursuing in the recruitment ad space for a decade) may be the only way to go.
Just thinking out loud. Continue reading
So I visited mecca today, aka, Lawrence, Kansas.
You know, the place that gave us Lawrence.com and made Rob Curley famous.
Innovation in Lawrence hasn’t stopped just because Rob left.Â Dan Cox and his team in Lawrence are doing a great things.
I learned stuff today about what they’re planning and how they’re working that left me truly impressed.Â These are smart guys who really get it. They are also realistic and not resting on the laurels of past Digital Edgies. Expect changes.
One of the things Dan and his team have launched recently is a product called Marketplace.Â I think it’s just smart.Â Simple, elegant, functional, and built with the small market advertiser in mind.
If I wasn’t impressed before, or not impressed with what Dan shared about the product’s performance, here’s a little transaction that knocked me off my feet:
My wife and I love mid-century modern furniture, so when I noticed a mid-century modern furniture store in town, I had to make time in my day to visit it.
After looking around, a woman approached me and I asked about a web site where I might be able to order stuff, and she gave me a card with a URL, www.blueheronfurniture.com. Then a gentleman approached me and we chatted a bit about my interest, and he handed me another card, saying something like, “rather than go to our web site, go here.”
On the back of the card was scribbled, “ljworld.com, marketplace, search for ‘furniture.’”
Can you imagine a local merchant recommending your IYP/directory product over their own web site?
To Dan and everybody in Lawrence, thanks for letting me poke around your shop today. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, there were pundits galore spouting non-sense about how much “local” advertising Google was taking from newspapers.
But for anybody who actually did a local search on Google, it was pretty clear that all of those “local” advertisers where actually national plays trying to reach a local audience, or aggregators, or arbitrage sites. They were not newspaper advertisers, except in the real estate category.
Up until today, there seemed like plenty of opportunity for newspapers to us its superior local resources to protect and expand local advertising online. But Google has some up with a plan to answer the “feet-on-the-street” challenge. It’s kind of scary. They’re paying freelancers to take pictures of local businesses to add to Google Local, bridging the gap between impersonal self-serve and an initial human contact to make the introduction.
Also interesting is the payment scheme, Itâ€™s a $10 rate per business – but, note, itâ€™s $2 for the content and $8 AFTER the business has verified the accuracy. Read: after we have established a real contact connection with the potential advertiser.
This currently appears to only be a US program, fyi. For those of you out there who claim to â€œown the channelâ€?, think about this. Smart college kids eagerly showing your local advertisers all about the chance to get featured in a prominent spot on Google Maps, for free.
Uhm…okay. We are drawn to movement–and shiny things! But aren’t classified ads supposed to be simple, and cost-effective? Once you factor in the expense of the video equipment, the matte paintings, the storyboards and craft services, hasn’t the cost-to-benefit ratio been blown out of the box?
She’s reacting to a piece in the LA Times that says, “Video classifieds are new … ”
Except they’re not.
Video classifieds pre-date web 2.0 by a good couple of years. Digital Media Classifieds, now Digital Media Communications, started turning recruitment ads into video six or seven years ago, or further back.
When I first heard about DMC, I was skeptical, but then we instituted the program in Ventura and quickly learned three things — Advertisers loved it, job hunters watched the videos, and the up sell created a significant revenue stream.
Video classifieds are a no-brainer, and letting users generate their own ads get in on the fun just makes a lot of sense. Continue reading
Nielsen/NetRatings needs you to care about audited metrics. That’s how they make their money.
I’ve just never been convinced online advertisers care about audited metrics. In more than a decade of doing online publishing, I’ve never had an advertiser ask me or one of my reps for audited traffic numbers. I’ve only heard tall tales of national advertisers asking for such numbers.
Online advertising — and maybe all advertising — is about performance. Whether you’re selling CPC or CPM-based advertising, if you can’t deliver results commensurate to your characterization of your site’s performance, you won’t retain advertisers.
The trend in online advertising is more toward performance metrics every day.
That’s why Nielsen swamping out the imprecise page view measurement for the equally imprecise time-spent metric seems so very unimportant.
For Nielsen, it’s all about revenue — their revenue, not yours.
UPDATE: BTW, how meaningful is “time spent” in the age of tabbed browsing? I might leave a tab open for hours before going back to a page and re-engaging in whatever I was doing earlier. Continue reading
Over the years I’ve read various quotes from Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster defending craigslist’s business practices.
Every time there is a phrase pops into my head: Master politicians. They are as good at spin as any inside-the-beltway veteran.
Let’s parse this quote from Buckmaster:
â€œWalled gardenâ€? is a misnomer â€” this term arose to describe AOLâ€™s attempts to keep their subscribers from accessing the internet at large â€” we do nothing of the sort, and in fact encourage users to go elsewhere
Here Buckmaster dodges the question by reframing the its intended meaning. Clearly, the intent is to use “walled garden” as a metaphor for craigslist’s unwillingness to open its site to third-party aggregators. Whether or not the original meaning of the phrase is as Buckmaster says it is matters not. He’s clearly spinning here. Instead of dealing with the criticism, he’s recasting the phrase into terms he can easily dismiss.
Of course, craiglist users can go elsewhere. That’s not the point. The real question is, are the people who supply the (mostly free) content that make craigslist what it is afforded the opportunity to benefit from wider distribution of their content? In that sense of “walled garden,” craigslist is, in fact, a walled garden. No amount of spin changes that.
I don’t mind that craigslist is a walled garden. I just think Newmark and Buckmaster should be honest about it.
Likewise, I have never before heard the term â€œproprietaryâ€? applied to craigslist, given our well-known near-exclusive reliance on free software.
Again, the question is being recast into a meaning that Buckmaster can wave off. Whether craigslist runs on open source software is irrelevant to the question of whether its business practices are proprietary. In fact, it’s ironic that Buckmaster would proudly wave the open source flag while defending very Microsoft-like business practices.
Newmark and Buckmaster are free to pursue whatever business practices they like, but they should stop hiding behind the spin of “we’re just here to serve the users.”
While I’ve said before that newspapers should not blame Craig for their woes, and I’ve also said Craig gets far more blame than he should, craigslist is also clearly not a friend of local newspapers. The company is far from harmless; it’s just that casting craigslist as the main villian is rather foolish.
That said, for all of Newmark’s and Buckmaster’s spin about how they’re not greedy capitalist, how they exist to serve users, how they care about communities, how they regret the decline of journalism, and value solid journalism, etc. — what have they done to help newspapers? Where are the partnerships that might benefit both a local paper and a craigslist site?
Newmark and Buckmaster owe newspapers nothing. They are under no obliation to seek partnership opportunities — opportunities that could benefit local communities on multiple levels — I’m just asking the question because I just don’t buy the craigslist spin that the company is all that White Hat.
Greed isn’t always about money. Sometimes it’s about control and attention. I suspect that Craig Newmark and Bill Gates aren’t all that different inside. Continue reading
Google is making a fairly significant change to how AdSense works for advertisers.
In short, Google is dealing with what is known as the “blind network problem” – advertisers pour money into AdSense, and they get a sense of how the campaign performed in aggregate, but they have no idea which sites did great, and which sites did poorly, or often, even which sites they ended up on (unless they specified via the relatively new site specific buys on AdSense.) This new set of reporting addresses this issue, allowing advertisers to determine where their campaigns are doing best, and then they can optimize accordingly.
This is significant for publishers, too. If you care at all about how much money you make from AdSense, you will want to figure out how to ensure your site is one of the better performing sites.
I also think it will help knock down some of the made-for-AdSense sites … assuming they’re not among the better performing sites, and/or advertisers have more control to ensure their ads don’t appear on smarmy-appearing sites. Continue reading