Google’s Ad Chief Talks Up Local

If there were any doubts that Google is dead serious about local, those doubts were dissipated by VP of Advertising Sales Tim Armstrong during a Feb. 1 keynote address to the Software and Information Industry Association’s Summit in New York.

Until recently, local “has been a big challenge,” said Armstrong. But now, “it is probably one of the areas that is going to grow the fastest.”

Armstrong believes that local’s growth is likely to manifest itself in numerous ways. Just 170 terabytes of 5 million possible terabytes have been catalogued. Local stores, for instance, could be catalogued in terms of “physical stores,” “in-store mapping,” “co-op advertising,” and “inventory.” “Users want access to assets,” he said.

Borrell Survey: Focus on Local Video

In the many unsettled areas of new media, including local, the questions can sometimes be more interesting than the answers. This is especially the case in the new executive survey by our friends at Borrell Associates.

This round, the latest in a continuing series, focuses largely on the potential of online video advertising by TV stations and other local media channels – something that I think is often overstated by Borrell, but cannot be counted out. One question, for instance, postulates that “Virtual tours of stores, restaurants and other advertisers using streaming video become the preferred format for local TV website ads.”

Real Cities Revenue Up 50%

Real Cities, the national network run by Knight Ridder, has lost several key members of its executive team in recent months. That’s almost always a bad sign, especially given all the other problems that Knight Ridder faces. The network is also facing competition from Centro and others that smell an opportunity to simplify local buys for national advertisers.

But things may not be as bad as they look. In fact, Knight Ridder claims that Real Cities revenue is up more than 50 percent in the last year. Part of this is due to a general boom in national advertising in newspapers – some of which trickles down online. It is also attributable to a 25 percent boost in reach, with major sites like The Houston Chronicle newly coming on board in 2005.

How does the rise of Real Cities’ fortunes translate to its affiliates? An online publisher at one of affiliates told The Local Onliner that “Real Cities is a useful network, but we’re certainly not seeing 50 percent growth from that relationship.” Translation: We’ll hang in there until something better comes along.

How Real is WiFi for Local Ads?

There’s been speculation that free WiFi would be used by Google and others as a carrot to target users and seize the local advertising market. That’s hard to do under any circumstances. But assuming that all the stars align, how attractive can WiFi be as a targeted, local delivery medium?

It can be “very attractive,” according to Nitin J. Shah, Executive Vice President of Feeva Technology, a San Francisco-based software company focused on WiFi ad targeting.

Shah is the first to concede the real limitations of WiFi technology. But he argues that WiFi’s adoption in laptops, PDAs and cellphones, combined with the rapid proliferation of free WiFi hotspots, “clouds” and “zones,” creates real opportunities for local advertisers and other geo-targeters.

IYP/Search Case Study: Morris Communications

Morris Communications is well known within the newspaper industry for being a highly entrepreneurial media company, especially in its pursuit of new, Internet-based revenues. In the summer of 2004, Morris launched Yellow Advantage, a hybrid of online search and Yellow Pages products. Yellow Advantage is branded as “a new breed of Yellow Pages.”

Since its launch, Yellow Advantage, or a similarly-branded product, has been introduced in 20 Morris markets, ranging from Ardmore, OK (circulation 10,800), to Jacksonville, FLA (circulation 167,229). It is powered by Interchange, which provides the search technology, licenses the listings, and supplements Morris’ local advertisers with an extensive network of national advertisers. (Disclosure: Krasilovsky Consulting provides strategic consulting to Interchange).

Revenues from Yellow Advantage aren’t critical to Morris’ bottom line today, although it has a positive return on investment. Strategically, it plays a more important role. It helps defend the papers from increasingly local-oriented search engines and Yellow Pages. At the same time, it extends the range of newspaper advertising to existing advertisers, and reaches out to small business customers that don’t normally advertise in the newspapers (or their websites).

How ‘Review’ Sites Fit In

The next generation of Internet Yellow Pages will inevitably include user reviews and ratings of services, whether they scare away advertisers or not. Some people have concluded that such reviews will be an interesting “extra.” My expectation is that they’ll be a core service from which all the other features sprout, including maps, urls, professional ratings, phone numbers, and Yellow Pages “copy points,” such as brands stocked, photos, hours, credit cards accepted and nearby businesses.

User reviews and ratings aren’t new. Of the major services, AOL has probably been collecting reviews the longest. Reviews from 1998 still show up on AOL’s undernourished “local experts” site. Yahoo! Local’s reviews, however, overtook AOL some time ago.

Since then, a lot of startups have entered the picture, hoping to carve out their own niches. These are generally more focused on the reviews, and less on other Yellow Pages features. Strategically, most probably have an end goal of selling to a major player at some point. Such local service-oriented sites include Insider Pages, Judy’s Book, CitySearch, Tribe, Cox’s Kudzu, BackFence and American Towns.

Among the local-oriented review sites, I liked Judy’s Book for its ease of use and high level of community. By allowing users to comment on all their life interests, it builds a better sense of community and more thoughtfulness. The site also provides a unique window into who is actually looking at which reviews, and counts them up. I’ve apparently got 319 looks at my 16 reviews; 119 of those looked at my mixed review of a local Honda dealer. It is definitely interesting, and brings a much heightened sense of community beyond Craig’s List.

Women Pass Men in Key Local Uses

Men and women are frequently targeted by local online marketers for different applications. Men are generally thought to be more interested in tech, news, cars and just surfing around. Women are thought to be less interested in aimless surfing, but are more interested in community, shopping/coupons, health services and real estate.

To me, it is still safe to generalize like this. But an updated 2005 study by The Pew Internet Project, based on 6,403 surveys with a margin of error of 2+-, suggests the differences in men and women online are becoming less pronounced.

From a local vantage point, the study contains several little surprises. For instance, user-review services such as Judy’s Book and Insider Pages are largely aimed at women. But the new Pew findings suggest that men are actually more likely to “rate a product, service or person.” 33 percent of online men say they do it; 28 percent of online women.