English Español Deutsch Français Italiano Português (Brasil) Русский 中文 日本語

Local PPC: How to Generate Business from Searchers in a Town Near Me or a Land Far Far Away



Joel: Hello everybody out there. We're here to discuss local PPC. A lot has changed and evolved over the years since PPC started, so it is a very exciting opportunity we have to hear from the experts.

We are here to talk about how to generate business from searchers in towns near, and also in lands far, far, far away. It adds an extra dynamic style in marketing because the internet does have a global reach. When you are trying to speak about how to use it, to reach people locally, it kind of sounds a bit contradictory.

Presenting with us today, we have James Svoboda. James is partner and CEO of Web Ranking, which is a search marketing agency founded way back in 1999. He also is the founder and Vice President of the Minnesota Search Engine Marketing Association, the porter of PPC chat, and an Ad Word Experience ambassador.

Also joining us is David Szetela, who is owner and CCO of the PPC ad agency, FMB Media. He hosts the bi-weekly podcast PPC Rock Stars, author of PPC books like In An Hour A Day, and voted as one of the top PPC experts by PPC Hero for several years.

Last, but not least, we have Amy Bishop. Amy is the owner of Cultivate, which is a page search agency, where she consults on digital media strategy. Amy is a columnist for Search Engine Land, and she is a frequent speaker at industry events in the United States and also internationally.

I will let you go ahead and start presenting. James, you can take it from here.

James: Local PPC. How to generate business from searches near me or land far, far away. Let's get started.

Targeting Local Searchers

For local PPC, there are three key considerations when we build campaigns for targeting local searchers. The first one is the searcher location. Where are they actually, physically located? The second one is location intent. When somebody is searching, are they using local keywords to identify themselves? The third is, local business intent, sometimes referred to as a business service area. We're going to break these down a little bit more.


The first one. Searcher location, where they are physically located, and also where do Google and the other ad platforms think that they are? Which isn't always exactly where they are. When we break down a particular ad in AdWords, we have two different targeting options for targeting people locally. There's the actual target, and then the exclude options. Excluding somebody is really helping shave off your wasted ad specs for markets that you are not currently trying to advertise in.


In this screenshot on the right, this is a campaign targeting the Portland market. We've got exclusions negatives for the other Portlands in the United States. Like, Portland, Maine for instance, is not applicable to this particular client. We added those as exclusions so that if anybody in our market is searching for Portland, Maine, we are not showing up to those ads and wasting ad spend.

One of the considerations we think about when local targeting, is how inaccurate some of the actual targeting features are. You can go to Google, and you can type in, “where am I right now”, and get different results where Google thinks you are, based on the internet provider that you are using. The below screenshot on the left is from my mobile phone. It is with my GPS and location services turned on, my wifi turned off. This is fairly accurate. This is about 500 feet from where I currently am now, in my office here in a suburb of Minneapolis.


The one in the middle, same device. I turned my GPS off, I turned the wifi off, and I'm just using my mobile phone data. Google thinks that, in this instance, I am the next zip code over from where I really am.

The third instance on the right is my GPS turned off, and I'm using the wifi for my Comcast internet here in the office. Google is getting data from Comcast, saying that I am in Minneapolis. This will actually bounce around depending on what your internet provider does. I checked it this morning, and it's even farther away from where I currently am. It's on the north side of town, and I'm on the southwest side of town.

Internet data can be a little bit inaccurate for location targeting. We have to keep that in mind when we are building out scoping campaigns for our target market.


Our second consideration is location intent. This sort of backs geo-targeting options. We figure out what's the explicit location for people's searches. Meaning, do they attach a city modifier to it? Is there an implied location for their searches? These are commonly referred to as “near me” searches, or “nearby” searches.

The third is if the keyword in the search term that they're using has a high likelihood of local intent. These would be keywords like doctor, lawyer, coffee shop, restaurant, things like that.

We typically bundle keywords under three different types. The local intent keywords: coffee shop, dentist, hotels. The implied ones: the near me and the nearby. The explicit geo ones: Portland coffee shops, dentists in Portland, Oregon.


Another key factor in figuring intent is, which city do they actually mean? In fact, there are 27 different Portlands in the U.S. and 15 others worldwide. When we are talking about keyword intent, we can't just rely on the most popular version. We have to also account for negatives for the other versions. This is where, getting back to that first screenshot earlier, we start negativing out the other locations to save our ad spend. For instance, in this case, we negative out Portland, Maine. Portland, North Dakota. This helps reduce our wasted ad spend and improve our customer conversion.

The third consideration is the local business intent. Sometimes these are known as business service areas, which means we have to identify, and we have conversations with our client about how far their business is willing to travel to get to their customers. Or, how far is their average customer willing to travel to get to them? This helps impact our zoning of campaigns.


Zoning PPC Campaigns

We typically define three different zones and bucket clients into them. It depends on whether the customer travels to the business, or the business travels to the customer.


If the customer travels to the business, we create these zones based on the customer's perceived value at the expected travel distance. The first zone, typically, the frequency is higher. There's a lower average order value or a lower value based on decisions. Such examples are restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, chiropractor.

The second zone, we get a little wider in our targeting. These are maybe a little more infrequent and have medium value decisions, such as dentists and accountants. You're only seeing your accountant a couple of times a year. The value there is a little higher to you.

The third bucket is generally a wider, infrequent, high value or out of area decisions. Such examples are real estate if you are house hunting or hotels.

This changes slightly when the business travels to the customer. In this case, it's generally based on the business ROI of the value of that segment. Frequency comes into play. Order value. A tier one zone is a local area one in a small local five or ten-mile radius and would include food delivery, groceries, weekly garbage pick up.

The next level, a tier two zone, is a little bit more infrequent. Things like an accountant, limo, and home services that are lower on the value charged end, such as house cleaning and lawn care.

The third zone is even more infrequent or high value. Real estate again, but then home services such as roofing, siding, decks, and fencing where the charge there is going to be several thousand dollars. It's going to also depend on the different services that the particular account or client has. We have clients who have a larger radius for certain services, but they shrink that zone down for lower valued services that's not worth their time driving an extra 30 minutes or so to get to. We have to keep that in mind.

Geo-Targeted and Geo-Modified Strategies

This is typically how we zone most local campaigns. We go with what we call a geo-targeted and a geo-modified strategy. Geo-targeted is where we have a smaller geographic footprint that we're trying to target. We go with broader keywords. In this case, it would be something like the keyword lawyer, broad match, lawyer near me. In this case, we want people in these areas that are searching for a little bit more generic non-local keywords, but that have a high local keyword intent.


The one on the right is our geo-modified local keyword explicit campaign, where we have a larger radius. We are targeting keywords like Portland lawyer, Portland real estate, things like that that have that local anchor in the keyword.

We can get into the habit where we fall back on just our local anchored campaigns. Portland lawyer, for instance. The problem with that is, there's a lot of volume out there for people searching for non-local keywords. Doing a little trend analysis, we see that restaurant, without a modifier on it, has much more volume than Portland restaurant, or restaurant near me. If you're running into budget constraints, then you can look to reduce your general restaurant keywords in favor of your higher converting “near me” and “Portland restaurant” keywords.

We've seen sort of a flat line in local anchored keywords, like Portland restaurant. I think “near me” searches are taking over. A lot of them are being done on mobile devices.

Optimizing Local PPC Ads

Talking about local PPC ads, I'm just going to get into a couple of things. Ad analysis. When we start doing local campaigns for keyword segments, the first thing we do is we go to the searches, primary searches for those segments, and we do a surf analysis to figure out what the ads in the listings look like, and the organic versus the paid. Both the content in the ads and the themes.

For example, Portland hotels, we start to see a lot of top 10 and best of, organic listings and paid listings showing up. That tells us that searchers predominantly like to look for the top ten lists of hotels. We've seen cases where advertisers are mimicking what the searchers are looking for, organically.


The second thing that we do is, we analyze the ads for local anchors. What local keywords are they using? Are they using predominantly metro-related keywords? We look for the local anchors. We look for features, benefits, and unique selling positions. We also go into other markets. Seattle dentist. What's happening in Seattle, Chicago? What are some key areas that unique selling positions that these other markets are using?


Then we compile a list of these and we take it back to the client, so that we can have an open discussion about what is going on in the marketplace and the ads, and whether any of these apply to the client.

Local Landing Pages

Crafting your landing pages to identify that the local area can really help increase conversions and engage them.


A couple others that we add are maps. Maps are also a great way to signify to a local searcher what your service area is. People generally have looked at maps before and know where they are at in relation to you. If you have a local map on your landing page, it helps engage people without them having to read a bunch of text. Also, listing your locations and service areas is a great way to reduce the inquiries you're going to get on whether somebody actually services you.

Finally, my local takeaway is to target searcher location intelligently. Use your target and exclusion methods for that. Account and location keywords can be very critical. Assess your local business and service areas and create your zones, research and use local anchors in your ads, and use local anchors in your landing pages.


That was my brief presentation.

Joel: That was very informative. We do have some questions that I think I would like to address. First of all, if we are managing a large chain, how do you suggest that we handle the account structure or should we have multiple accounts?

Amy: I would base it on the business needs, so the goal of the account is really to make sure that you are supporting whatever the business needs and goals are. If there are different teams that essentially run their operations separately, where different campaigns would need to be put on a different card. Things like that. A lot of times it makes sense to create separate accounts. Sometimes, it's not necessary.

Key considerations are making sure that you can support their billing needs and then also their reporting needs so that it is easy to pull reports for stakeholders at any level of the business. You just want to make sure that you don't have overlap, even between campaigns, but especially between accounts.

Joel: Okay. What are you using for the source of the maps?

James: A lot of times, like for landing pages, a lot of times we will just go to Google maps and take screenshots and add those to the landing pages.

Google Display Network Local PPC

Joel: Okay. Can display advertising, such as on the Google display audience network, work for local business?

David: I'm a huge proponent of Google display network for local and non-local advertising. For local advertising, I think it can be especially useful because of the fact that ads can be placed on sites. For example, local media. Local radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, magazines. Usually, that kind of property comes at a premium, but you can reach all of those through the Google display network.

Then, the last thing that I really like about Display advertising for local is the fact that you can target audiences. For example, you can target people who are interested in buying real estate or commercial real estate for example, within a short period of time. If you combine all of those things, you can really get high-quality traffic from the Google Display network. By the way, you can also take the lists that you create, the audiences that you create, and use those in your search campaigns as well.

Joel: How effective is keyword advertising on the Display network when you are actually specifying the location?

David: Well, keyword targeting is actually my least favorite targeting method. Unfortunately, it's not very precise and tends to cause ads to appear on the wrong sites. I would advise keyword targeting only for advertisers that want to reach a really wide and homogenous audience. In other words, you don't have to hyper-target people; you just want to reach a lot of people.  

If the offer is a general offer, like advertising a state fair, you don't really care about the demographics of the people you are reaching. You just want to reach a lot of people. Keyword targeting can be very useful for that.

Amy: If you have location extensions enabled, you have the ability to create localized display ads through the UI. That's a good option too, for local businesses, especially if you are trying to drive in-store traffic, not so much if you are business that is planning to visit your customers.

Joel: I think it depends a bit on the type of business that you have. If you have a local storefront or a local business that offers a service that could appeal to a very wide audience... display could work better than if you are selling or offering something that is very specific to a tiny audience, which is best expressed through a search.

When someone is searching for it, it's obvious that they want it, as opposed to something which, let's say, could be much broader. I think that is a big determination on whether you want to try to Display advertising for local versus search.

Tracking Conversions

Another question I have is regarding any tips that you might have for tracking conversions, to understand how well you are doing, because people aren't ordering online necessarily.

Amy: Yeah, so, let's break that down into two different business types. If you are driving people in-store...if you have a CRM or loyalty program that allows you to track offline events back to offline touchpoints, that's the best case scenario. There's typically a lag in being able to connect those dots. If you have some early indicators that you can track, that really helps.

For driving people in-store, there could be people looking, for instance, availability of items locally. Google does have the ability to track in-store visits, but it's not available for everybody. Assuming that's not available, just being able to track how people engage with your on-site store locator, and your location extensions can really help with that too.

But, also, if you are a business that either requires an appointment or a meeting, whether the customer is coming to you, or you are going to them, if you allow them to set that up online, that helps a ton. Both setting the meetings through forms, and also phone calls are a big driver because so much of local search is driven through mobile. Tracking the phone call can be really important to be able to track that back.

Joel: I was curious too about other ways to track offline. Maybe you can somehow attribute the phone call itself to the person that comes in and then sells.

Amy: Absolutely. If you are offering a service, most likely you will capture their name. Enough information to make a confident match. If you are bringing people in-store, and they're just buying a shirt, it's going to be harder to capture that information unless you have a loyalty program. If you do have a loyalty program, having them swipe their card, or put in their information makes it a lot easier to collect that data so that you can match it back.

James: If you are using a call tracking provider to track phone calls from your website, most providers will provide you with a list of calls that were generated during any given month. Then, you can take that list and provide it to your client, or analyze it yourself, and figure out how many of these actually turned into leads in your CRM.

It takes a little bit of back-end work, but especially if you are doing lead generation for local, it's a great way to tie that call back into a verified lead that you might have already had.

Why You Should Not Use Adwords Express

Joel: Can you compare the difference between AdWords and AdWords Express?

Amy: My comparison was going to be control versus no control. For the love of all things PPC, please do not AdWords Express. Basically, you are giving a list of keywords, and then Google is trying to handle the rest for you. That's sort of like giving Google all of the control to spend your money to pay themselves. You just lose a ton of control and ability to make optimizations. So much of the features are stripped out.

Joel: I think AdWords Express is just Google doing its own conversion optimization. Google is trying to get more sales and more revenue for AdWords by having a very quick option for users to create campaigns and start spending money on Google. Which is great for them, but it isn't necessarily good for you.

James: Yeah, it helps decrease their competition, which increases their customer clicks. Most people I know generate so much better results having a non-AdWords Express campaign.

Amy: The other thing I would say is, there's not a lot of scale there. You definitely would be able to spend more money, but as your business grows and you decide you want to add more campaigns, you're probably going to find that you get to a point where you're going to want to transition to the regular Google Ads platform.

Joel: I have a few more questions. I have Taylor T asking if you can give a better example of explicit geo keywords.

James: Explicit geo keywords are generally any keyword that has a location-modifier on it. For instance, Portland, or Minneapolis, or even U.S.A., Minnesota, Oregon, Washington. These are all explicit keywords that signify an intent behind a search.

One of the great things about search is that there is an intent behind every keyword search. The nice thing about the explicit location keywords is that it adds another layer of that intent. Now we know that they are looking for something in a very specific region. As long as it's not like New York and somebody is searching for a New York dentist.

It also depends on the industry. Hotels, for instance. Most people searching for a Portland hotel are not in Portland. They are outside the state, or out of the metro area. You have to change your negative strategy to account for that.

Joel: As opposed to, let's say, an emergency locksmith. No one is looking for a Portland emergency locksmith unless they are actually in the Portland that they're in.

James: That's a good one. We see with emergency services like a locksmith, auto accidents, things like that. “Near me” is even more prominent for somebody who is in a mobile action. Coffee shop, restaurant, things like that.

Amy: I actually do have some data on “near me” searches. Our data showed that keywords containing “near me” were about 50 percent more likely to convert, and had a cost per lead that was about 30 percent cheaper.

Joel: Since we are talking about mobile, what about voice-assisted searches?

Amy: Good question because that ties directly into people searching for things like “near me”. I would say, voice search plays a huge role in location-based businesses, and I think we are only going to continue to see that to grow. Not just near me, but even things like okay Google, and hey Siri, and things like that.

James: Now, one of the things I'm not quite sure about is whether Google scrubs the okay Google out of queries, and starts the query after okay Google.

There's a lack of transparency with voice search and voice devices, and how to attribute that, and what search patterns people are using for those, as they compare to even just a mobile device when people typing it.

We are going to see voice continue to grow. Typing is a task, and voice is a conversation, and it is a lower barrier for people to actually talk. We are going to see that just continue to grow, and hopefully, some transparency as far as devices used will come into play and give advertisers a little bit more control.

Joel: Are you using any third-party platforms for all this manual work on location ads with Google?

David: I think the best third-party platforms are Google AdWords editor and Big Ads editor.

Amy: If you have location extensions enabled, it's really easy to mass target all of your locations at once. You can also mass upload location lists as well. I don't typically use third-party apps for that.

Joel: What about Google searches in other languages? Particularly in “near me” searches? Will Google translate? How can I optimize this apart from actually write in the local language?

David: Google is not translating any English into any other language. I think your only alternative is to write in the local language.

Joel: Right. So, basically, let's say you are in Miami, Florida, where you have a lot of Spanish speakers, and you're a local business. You're going to want to duplicate your “near me” words in English and in Spanish, as well.

Multi-Location Local PPC Campaigns

Joel: How would you set up the campaigns for a local business that run across the country?

James: I assume you mean multi-locations, or where you are targeting searches in multiple locations? Like, you're targeting Portland, Oregon. You're targeting Seattle, Washington. You're targeting Chicago. Your local-modified local keywords like Portland dentist, you can duplicate that campaign through AdWords editor fairly easily into a Seattle account or campaign, and change all the Portland versions to Seattle, and all the Oregon versions to Washington.

Keyword patterns or location searches tend to be very similar like that. You change the ad URLs, some of the locations of the ad copies, and that's a good starting point for duplicating your geo-modified campaigns.

Now, a geo-targeting campaign where you are only targeting the city of Portland, and your keywords are dentist, a highly local intent keyword. You're going to basically take that whole campaign for targeting Portland and put it into a Seattle campaign. Once you've got a blueprint for something that works in one market, it's an easy transition into other markets.

Amy: The only other thing that I would add is that, typically, people that have brand-affinity are willing to travel a little bit further.

For instance, if people are searching for coffee, but they don't specify a brand or a location, they're probably looking for something pretty close. If they search for Starbucks coffee, they might be willing to drive a little bit further to try to get that. That's the only other campaign that I would suggest layering in, with a little bit broader of a radius than those non-geo-modified terms.

Joel: What is your process that you have in place for local PPC, such as doing an audit of an account first, etc?

James: Generally, when clients come to us to get an audit for an existing account, it's not in great shape. Our expectations are usually pretty low in those. We focus on the state and the data that they currently have. Audits are kind of needed at that point, but they can be a little disheartening when you see what's going on in some other accounts.

James: Amy or David, do you have any additional feedback on that?

Amy: I would say the same. Especially when it is a location-based business. Doing a lot of digging into the geo-specific reports. One of the reports that I really like is the distance report, so if you are using location extensions, you can actually see, based upon different radius or radii from your business, you can see how conversion performance compares. You can add different bid modifiers and things like that.

Really, the initial audit is very similar to other campaigns, because you are just looking for opportunities to improve efficiency. That doesn't really change from one account to the other. The tactics or strategy that we will employ to achieve that will change, though.

Joel: Okay. Before we go, can you each think of one quick tip that we could take with us for the day?

Competing With Big Brands

David: I have seen twice in the question list, how do we compete with Home Advisor, Thumbtack, Angie's List, the other lead generation sites? That's a huge problem, because Home Advisor and those other advertisers have very deep pockets, and they tend to monopolize the advertising section of the search results.  

My advice is going to sound familiar. Look into Display advertising. The competitors are less frequently present in the Display properties. The clicks are much, much cheaper. It's not unusual to get clicks on local display for anywhere from a couple of pennies up to twenty cents or so. That compares to several dollars per click that you might have to pay on the search results.

James: To piggyback on that, as a local business, you know your market better than Home Advisor does. That is inherently going to be an advantage to you, in the types of services that your local audience is interested in. Home Advisor has nationwide data. They don't know your small little suburb, or how it works. That gives you an advantage on the keywords, the scope, the text ads that you create, the landing pages.

Joel: That, to me, is one of the amazing things about paid advertising or PPC advertising. You're on an even playing field with the big brands. You could be a small shop and compete with large companies with massive budgets and massive reach. You know your business better, or you might just be able to reach people in a way that the large companies can't. What paid advertising is allowing anybody to do is really have a fair chance.

Amy: My tip would be to start with really high intent terms. Start to get a baseline for results and returns. Just lean really heavily on your data. Don't be afraid to shut things off or exclude areas that aren't working. Look for opportunities to expand into new areas, as well. When I say areas, I mean that very generally. Even shutting off keywords. Anything.

James: Yeah, it's a good point. If nobody is going to answer the phone after six o'clock at night, and a phone is a predominant conversion that gets people to convert to buy from you, then turn your ads off after six o'clock at night.

Joel: Okay, well, we're a little bit over time, but it was worth it. I think that's about it. It was really a pleasure. We're going to have this webinar online. You can find it on the webinar section of scmrush.com

James, David, and Amy, once again, thank you very much. It was an honor to host you all today, and I look forward to speaking to you again.

All levels