PPC, the Classic Geo-Targeted Mix

What is Geo-Targeting?
Geo-targeting refers to a search engine’s ability to discern the IP address of incoming search traffic and resolve the user’s IP address to a geographic location. The technology of IP targeting is not perfect and search engines offering geo-targeting options are careful to put forth disclaimers regarding the accuracy of their geographically targeted media placement capabilities.

For instance Panama, Yahoo’s ad platform (the evolution of Overture) allows advertisers to target PPC ads by state province or DMA but offers the following caveat: “Note: Please note that geo-targeting accuracy is not guaranteed and may vary depending on the level of targeting selected, as well as other factors.”

Google AdWords help explains the inherent inaccuracies of geo-targeting technology as follows: “You (or others) might not be able to see your ad if we’re unable to determine the search location. This might happen if you or another searcher: Uses an ISP that employs a proxy server, preventing us from identifying the computer’s IP address , Has an IP address that doesn’t match the actual region of the person searching , Hasn’t entered a recognizable location-specific term in the search query.”

First Google unveiled geo-targeting and we’ve been successfully using it for years. Panama Geo-Targeting is a major feature of Yahoo’s advertising platform and, after a bumpy start, works fairly well. It’s a brave new world. However it is important to strategize the mix of geo-targeting and geo-tags with full understanding of the tools.

What are Geo-Tags?
Geo-targeting is different from keywords with geo-tags. Geo-tagging a keyword means adding geographic specificity to the keyword or phrase itself-often as a suffix or prefix. “Wine Store, New York” is a geo-tagged permutation of “Wine Store.” “Wine store Buffalo New York” is a geo-tagged keyword with even tighter geographic specificity.

In the beginning
In the early days of paid search, the engines did not offer geo-targeting at all. This was not a problem for those purchasing pay per click ads on the early ad placement systems, including Alta Vista and Overture, because Internet marketing was inexpensive. Because the price was low it did not seam wasteful for us to place PPC and CPM search marketing ads world-wide on the engines.

Then the Price Went Up.
As everyone knows the cost of paid internet advertising has increased massively over the last 7-8 years as traditional marketing channels like print, video, and audio are folded into the net (the understatement of the year) and ROI proven. Ad campaigns that cost $30.00 a day in 2001 (to dominate the entire word’s search results for a contested keyword space) can now cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per day to maintain. Geo-Targeting has become a useful tool to keep the cost of PPC down by limiting the media buy expenditure to a smaller audience as defined by location.

Geo-Tagged Keywords
Price is not the only consideration. As the number of searches on the engines grow month by month keyword research reveals keywords, searched for with measurable frequency, that have identifiable geographic tags. “Recording School” spawns “Recording School Minnesota” and “Minneapolis Recording School.” The concept of local search was born by the growth of these less searched for but highly targeted geo-tagged keywords (also known as long tail words).

Before search engine marketing even had geo-targeting capabilities media planners limited the effectual geographic reach of keywords by purchasing geo-tagged permutations of their keywords globally. This classic practice theory still works really well.

If you market the phrase “health insurance in Minnesota” internationally (non geo-targeted search engine) the purchase of a geo-tagged phrase still serves to limit the search audience by geography and intent. It does not really matter where our customers are when they search for “Health Insurance in Minnesota” because clearly the customer’s query is still delimited by location. (It should be noted that conversion to sales, in cases like this, is sometimes a little lower percentage but still good).

Classic PPC Mix Options
When we place PPC advertising for clients we mix it up to serve unique needs of each campaign. Placement tactics often include combinations of the following:

Broad words (no geo-tag identifier) geo-targeted: For instance the keyword “Hotels” deployed in a campaign geo-targeted to Ashland, Wisconsin.

Geo-tagged keywords on non geo-targeted search engines: I.E. the phrase “Hotels in Ashland Wisconsin” in a campaign which is not restricted geographically and visible anywhere on the Internet. Again, our thinking is that the geo-tagged search is useful to us regardless of the originating location of the query because our customer is specifically searching for products in our customer’s region.

2 different Cites named Duluth
Since there is a Duluth in both Minnesota and Georgia, the value in doing an internet wide purchase for the geo-tagged keyword “Duluth Hotel” is somewhat diluted. In this case we would consider adding a more specific geo-tag like “Minnesota” or “MN” to the nationally purchased keyphrase. On the other hand I am more than willing to buy the phrase “Duluth Snowmobile Trails” without the “Minnesota” or “MN” specific permutation because it rarely snows in Georgia. This sort of decision making is where the rubber meets the road in PPC-think.

I’m sometimes asked whey would we ever NOT geo-target even geo-tagged permutations of keywords. The answer is that there are probably potential customers in Iowa or even Florida who type “Duluth Bed and Breakfast” into Google for their next visit to the in-laws in Duluth. Geo-targeting this search to the Midwest might eliminate some highly targeted traffic from far away places.

Theoretically though, in a case where we geo-target any media buy, the ad is supposed to be displayed in results for searches placed even from areas outside geo-targeted area if there is a literal geo-tag in the customer’s search words or even if they type in the zip code. In other words the search for “Hotel 55401” from Texas should return an ad which has been geo-targeted to Minnesota for the word “Hotel.” However from engine to engine we’ve found this feature somewhat unreliable, especially in Panama. Even the engines admit that geo-targeting features do not always work. IP targeting is not fully reliable.

Why Use a Search Marketing Firm for PPC
If all of this sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you then perhaps you are not alone. It makes sense sometimes to use an outside search marketing firm to help you strategize and monitor the paid placement mix for your campaigns. While the Google, Panama, and MSN ad platforms keep getting more “self serve” looks can be deceiving. We have a number of clients who placed PPC expenditures themselves in the past (or even used agencies) who wasted a lot of money.

Tips for Success
If you want to place PPC Internet Advertising on your own, KNOW the difference between geo-tags and geo-targeting. THINK your strategy through and don’t place broad words in too vast a geo-graphic area unless your business is truly global. Geo-target the broad words intentionally with care.

Don’t be afraid buy specifically geo-tagged keywords globally. A customer searching for “Minneapolis Museum” from Chicago or Saint Louis might result in focused traffic for the Art Institute.

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