How to reach local customers with an online advertising strategy


Advertising has been part of building a business for hundreds of years, and the explosion of the Internet hasn’t changed that fact. What has changed is the form the advertising takes. Online display ads have replaced print ads as the dominant form of advertising, but if you’re looking to build your local business, what’s the best way to get the word out to the community?

Make sure you have a strategy

A strategy is key to obtaining the local results you want.

Identify your goals

Advertising nationally doesn’t make sense for a business that only draws local customers, so the focus needs to be on outlets that connect your message to your community. But what do you want them to do once they see your message? Are you looking for more foot traffic? Do you want them to fill out a form so you can contact them with additional information? Do you want them to buy something directly from your site, or is this more about building brand recognition? Knowing what you are trying to accomplish is the first step to success.

Once you have a goal, you can craft a message and strategy based on what action you want people to take.

Choose a strategy

With your goals established, where will you advertise? You have two choices: National companies that offer a local targeting option or locally focused sites.

Nationally, search engines like Google offer advertising packages that can be targeted by ZIP code, giving you access to a local audience. These options are usually something you can sign up for online, but for the beginner it can be confusing to navigate through all the options.

Locally, news sites, directories and other community-focused pages offer access to the people most likely to do business with you, whether it’s visiting your local store or inquiring about your services. These local sites have the traffic and trust of the local community and will give you better control over where your ad displays. With a national site, your ad might be displayed next to a search that you may find objectionable. The local sites will offer options to sponsor a particular topic, section, page or maybe even article.

Local sites will also usually offer help from a customer service rep to help explain all the options and choose what’s best for your particular campaign. The options can be extensive, so having someone on hand to help make the right choices can be a real advantage. For example, should you run a banner ad across all the pages or sponsor a specific page? Or, maybe it makes more sense for you to sponsor a specific section of a directory or buy an enhanced listing for your business.

Help also often comes in the form of designing an ad to your specs. Sometimes this is part of the cost, and other times there is a fee, depending on the site, so be sure to ask who creates the ad.

Regardless of whether you opt for a national site or a local one, the information you gather will help you determine what you can accomplish on your budget and set realistic goals for your strategy.

Analyze and revise

Give your campaign time to get results. You can’t run an ad for two weeks and expect to see instant results at the cash register. One of the purposes of your display ad is branding, even if that’s not a key goal of your strategy, and those results can be difficult to measure. However, one thing you can analyze is how many people are clicking on your ad. If the number is low, then try a different ad design or offering an incentive to click.

For example, a display ad with your restaurant’s name and type of food is great, but there’s not necessarily a reason to click on it. If you change the ad to an offer for 10 percent off your next meal, then there is a reason for someone to learn more by clicking. The person can be taken directly to a landing site on your web page that outlines the offer and what needs to be done to redeem it. This is also a great way to gather additional marketing information, such as email addresses, by requiring the coupon be emailed, for example. As you build an email database, you can send future offers directly to the customers that have shown interest in your product in the past.

Using online advertising to reach a local audience is a great way to build your customer base and get the word out about your business. With the right strategy and the right advertising channel, you can improve foot traffic, awareness and revenue.

Christina Wade is the sales and project coordinator for Emerge Inc. If you have questions about how to make the most of your local online advertising, contact her at

Emerge Inc. provides web, mobile, social and content solutions and is based in Avon Lake (Lorain County), Ohio.


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