The allure of local online newspapers
If you are wondering if an online news site is a good bet for your ad dollars I am going to save you a lot of money by sharing some money-saving secrets with you. Done the right way an ad on your local Newspaper web site can be effective but there are some major pitfalls that you need to know or else you will get burned – your ad dollars that is.
On April 9th, 2008 Borrell Research, a well known firm that collects and sells their research primarily to newspaper companies reported that NEWSPAPER-OWNED WEB SITES EARN MORE REVENUE THAN ALL LOCAL MEDIA COMPANIES COMBINED (capturing 26.9 percent of the market). The underlying message your local newspaper web site hopes you hear in this news is that their web site is the best vehicle to advertise on to attract new local business.
I spent five and a half years on the online advertising side of the nation’s second largest newspaper publisher where we had over forty online web sites. One of my jobs was to build their online ad operations where we used sophisticated ad targeting software to deliver over a billion ads per month across our network of sites. You really get to know what works and what doesn’t work when you’re running hundreds of ad campaigns at a time across a diverse set of web sites spanning small towns to major cities.
Does your product or service appeal to the majority of your local population? If so, it’s hard to beat the broad reach of an online newspaper. You can really blanket a large segment of the population in your market, reach multiple ethnicities, age groups, and other demographics. If you answered no, then stop reading and start researching targeted online marketing methods like e-mail or blog marketing where you can dial up direct response and niche audiences with comparable ease.
As I mention above, a newspaper web site’s real strength lies in its broad reach. The problem with that reach is that it’s out of reach of your marketing budget. Even a week long ad campaign on a local news web site that’s big enough to demand attention could run you $10,000 or more. The answer to this is to use targeting. Targeted ads do cost more but they’re still way more efficient than an untargeted ad and almost always a lot less money in the long run. Using targeting does mean that you’re no longer going to reach as BIG of an audience but that’s OK – leave that to Circuit City who has the bucks for it. You can still reach a very diverse and large audience, and one that uses the online newspaper for local buying information.
First, get rid of all those out-of-towners that can’t buy from you
Local Na8ion is all about local online marketing which means that you’re likely the type of business that gets all, or the vast majority of your business from people who live or work in your town or city.
Newsflash: Local Newspapers aren’t as Local as you think!
Here’s a big secret that is true of local online newspapers: up to 50% of the viewers are from outside the main area served by the paper’s web site. Big city newspaper web sites typically have larger out-of-town web readership whereas small towns tend to have less out of town readership (expect 70-80% of your small town paper web site to be local viewers). This means there is a tremendous amount of built-in waste for any ad you run on a local newspaper web site. No sense washing your visiting Uncle’s car with your garden hose if he just has to drive home on a dirt road.
Think of it this way, if you sell exclusively to people in your town or city only $50 to $80 of every $100 you spend in your local online newspaper advertising will be seen by people who can actually buy your product.
Let’s talk about specific targeting methods to address this
The best way to beat these poor odds is to ask your local online newspaper for your ad to be geo-targeted. Geo-targeting banner ads doesn’t cost any more than other forms of ad targeting (e.g appearing on just the Real Estate section). Geo-targeting is highly efficient because your ads only get shown to locals that visit your local newspaper site. In this case, less is more! There are two kinds of geo-targeting: IP based geo-targeting and user-registration based geo-targeting. Typically only major web publishers like Yahoo! offer the latter and most newspaper web site will offer you IP based geo-targeting. Ask which version of targeting your local newspaper web site offers and chose user-registration based geo-targeting if it is available as it is more accurate. But don’t fret that the more common IP based geo-targeting is less accurate, it’s still miles ahead of delivering un-targeted ads to people who won’t be interested in them.
Here are some other tactics to target your ad or run effective banner ads on your local online newspaper web site
- ask if your newspaper has any fixed monthly sponsorships where you pay a monthly set dollar amount (e.g. $500 a month). These sponsorships can be a good value in high traffic areas of your local newspaper (even without geo-targeting) if you’re looking to reach a big audience. Hint, local news sites get most of their traffic on sports and news. Ask to see a traffic report by section of the online newspaper (e.g. sports, business, travel, news, etc.) to get the specifics.
- buy a small ROS campaign (run-of-site) to test which areas of your local newspaper site actually perform for your business. Review the click-through rates of each section (the newspaper should give you an ad report free of charge) and then buy a geotargeted banner ad campaign on that section. Better yet, buy a geo-targeted fixed sponsorship where you pay a set monthly amount on that section.
- See if your local newspaper sells text link ads as they often perform better for direct response ads then banner ads do. Conversely, text ads DON’T work well for branding efforts (no logo or imagery to visually communicate your image, or an emotion that you’re trying to tap into). If they sell text links, buy them geo-targeted.
- Don’t worry about designing your banner ad, most newspapers will make your banner ad for your as part of their service.
- Ask your newspaper rep what e-mail sponsorships they offer. Because newspapers typically have strong trusted brands people don’t mind giving them their email address. Better yet, many consumers opt in to receive ‘special offers’ from newspaper partners (that’s you if you buy an email sponsorship). That means you can send out a tailored offer to your market and ride along on the coattails of your local newspaper’s brand. Like Martha Stewart says “It’s a good thing.”
If this sounds all together crazy, you’d be mostly right. Online newspaper advertising makes more sense for larger regional companies with bigger ad budgets or national advertisers with a local footprint. As a small business you can do much better with performance based methods of attracting new visitors to your web site like optimizing your site to increase your natural or organic search engine rankings. Buy ads on the major search engines with paid search engine marketing (SEM).
If you want a free method to brand your business use blog marketing, it’s the best branding tool around and it only costs your business the time you put into it. That can add up to a lot of time but if you’re smart you’ll read about “The best kept secret for quickly creating new content for your blog and web site.” The specific content you put on your blog attracts people with very specific like interests – that’s the kind of efficient targeting and branding you want! Just don’t forget to put all your location information on your site or you’ll get visitors from areas you may not be able to sell too!
p>Lastly, if you have a small town, neighborhood, or community newspaper web site that competes with the ‘big’ newspaper in town they can occasionally present very good advertising options at substantially reduced rates. Give these a try to test effectiveness with a small ad buy.