By now we’ve all heard (many times) that performance-based advertising is hot, local search is hotter, and the two disciplines together finally offer the promise of making online advertising pay for millions of small to mid-sized businesses — whether or not they have a website.
I use the phrase “offer the promise,” rather than sinking a flag and claiming that we’ve reached the Promised Land — because, in my opinion, we haven’t. Though there is huge potential for the local search space, the market in general is still woefully slow to adapt a business model that actually makes it work for all parties involved — merchants, ad agencies, consumers and the search vehicles.
The big search players obviously have built a sizable market by attracting early adopters, but now we need to bridge the chasm to the mainstream market. There still are millions of businesses not taking advantage of what could be the most exciting advancement in local advertising, because it’s too complicated and, until recently, hasn’t offered what they want: phone calls.
Several ADOTAS contributors have already successfully made the case for pay-per-call advertising — which allows consumers to contact companies via search listings by telephone, rather than by clicking through to a website. It has the potential to enable millions of merchants not yet online to find customers through local search, and to finally take advantage of pay-for-performance marketing.
If we’ve now bridged the main gap — providing leads via the phone, which is what local businesses prefer over clicks — then why aren’t more local businesses advertising online? Because the local search business model places the burden squarely on the merchant’s shoulders. As a result, there’s a huge opportunity for ad agencies to help advertisers get into the game, especially with the ability to sell phone leads. But even beyond that, what the agencies and their clients should demand from the other side is a reconstructed business model for the entire industry.
Banish ‘The Burden Model’
Advertising online is largely a do-it-yourself undertaking for local businesses. The burden is on the merchant to find online directories, navigate complicated sign-up procedures, create ads, pick keywords, manage a dynamic bidding process — with separate campaigns for each search engine and directory. Merchants often don’t have the resources or the inclination to go to such lengths, especially if they don’t yet have a website or if they’re not yet convinced of the value.