More Local Sites Target Rural, Exurban Populations

Every time we turn around another local-oriented web site says they’re targeting rural and exurban audiences. So far, we’ve got Center’dTopixMerchant and others zeroing on the rurals (Are we missing any?)

All these sites are drawn by the technical capability of geo-targeting thousands of population centers by zipcode. They’re also encouraged by the relative absence of significant local media.

How big is the rural marketplace? The Census Bureau classifies 61.7 million (25 percent) of the U.S. population as rural. But the most appealing rural markets are probably not the ghost towns we see in movies or on vacations. Instead, they are the “third order” markets that might have a knowledge worker basis, such as Blacksburg, VA and Boone NC, the respective homes of Virginia Tech and Appalachian State University.

Other appealing rural markets – perhaps, the most appealing — would be the exurban markets on the outskirts of major population centers such as Washington DC, Charlotte, San Diego and Palo Alto. These are largely under-served by local media even as million-dollar housing developments have cropped up.

But these kinds of markets appear limited to us. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the numbers really add up. While national advertisers might like to use these sites to reach the rurals, it isn’t clear whether there is much homegrown demand from local advertisers. In general, the demographics might be less appealing (especially in regard to key Web user parameters such as education); and there are fewer openings and closing of businesses, which tend to be stable and well known among the locals.