For all the promise online advertising holds, one of the most difficult questions is how to use a global medium like the Internet to reach a local target.
While several ad networks use computer domain names to approximate the location of a user, these solutions aren't always accurate. A computer's IP address may be registered in one state and the actual user in another.
Now, a handful of sites are starting to help advertisers get more local.
MapQuest, an Internet cartographic service, goes live today with the first advertiser to sign up for its "GeoCentric" ad targeting service, the Radisson Hospitality hotel group. Aided by NetGravity's AdServer, MapQuest has "geo-coded" all 192 hotels in Radisson's U.S. chain to within a five-mile radius, so that when a visitor to MapQuest's site clicks on any given city, the chances are good a Radisson ad will appear. If the user selects the indexed category of "lodging" within that city, a Radisson ad will definitely display.
MapQuest has guaranteed Radisson half a million localized impressions over the next two months. The targeted ads carry a $40 cost per thousand, compared with a $25 CPM for other ads.
"One of the main shortcomings of the Web is geographic limitations," said Susan Lutter, communications director for Focalink Communications. Of the nearly 800 Web sites in Focalink's online advertising directory, MarketMatch, few offer geographic targeting.
"Typically a magazine or TV station will break down audience by where they're coming from," Ms. Lutter said. "That's missing on the Web. Retail and consumer goods producers will look much more favorably on the Web when it can deliver that targeting more accurately."
LOCAL WEATHER, ADS
Services that do provide geographic targeting report good advertiser response. Beth VanStory, VP of new media for the Weather Channel, said her site's ability to link localized ads to its 1,300 U.S. weather reporting stations "is one of our biggest strategic advantages against other large Web sites." The site's early April relaunch will focus on personalizing users' experiences, which will translate into sharper ad targeting.
Yahoo! targets users through a combination of localized content, such as its nine city-specific information services, and user registration data collected through special features such as the personalized My Yahoo! service. Wells Fargo Bank, American Honda Motor Co. and American Airlines are among those that have taken advantage of the site's localized ad targeting.
Given the inherent vagaries of the Net, localized targeting is not yet an exact science. Not only do IP addresses yield incorrect information, but there's no way of knowing that someone visiting a site about New York is in New York.
For the time being, advertisers have to take what they can get. Tim Glass, president of CyberSlice, an online pizza delivery service that runs city-specific advertising on AOL and Yahoo!, said pickings are slim so far.
"It has been difficult" finding localized adverting, he said. "There are a couple [of sites] that are able to do it now, but the feedback is `We're working on it, we'll have it soon.' They're all going in that direction. No one seems to be too troubled by the challenge of providing it, it's just a matter of getting it done."
Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.