Howard’s Five Rules of Hyperlocal 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.

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