PPC Tips for Local Businesses

This is a guest post by Julie Friedman Bacchini, President of Neptune Moon, LLC.

Local businesses have had some positive and negative developments in the past few years when it comes to being easily found by potential customers. Organic search results positions keep shrinking and it seems like there are new paid search options every month. So, what are the best ways for a local business to get themselves in front of quality potential customers?

Get Your Local Search Profile in Order

This might be a bit of blasphemy on a PPC blog, but my first piece of advice to local businesses – be it those with physical locations or service area businesses – is to make certain that you have a complete, correct and claimed listing on the major search engines and listing sites. Of really high importance in this process is having a Google My Business (GMB) listing. GMB listings will populate on maps for local searches, but they also are where information is pulled from for location extensions in AdWords and at least part of what will determine your eligibility to show in a map listing ad.

You can check for existing listings to claim or generate a brand new GMB listing by going here.

Once you have a GMB listing set up, claimed and verified, you need to connect it to your AdWords account. You do this via Location Extensions. If you go to add a Location Extension you should then see a popup that looks like this:

Once your locations are synced with AdWords, you can actually apply bid modifiers to them. To do that in the “classic” interface, navigate to Locations within Settings for the campaign and click on Advanced Search.

From the next window, choose Location Groups:

From here you should be able to choose from among your GMB locations and add a radius.

Once you have added your locations and a radius around them, they are available for adding a bid adjustment.

In the new AdWords UI, the way you target areas around your GMB locations is different. You still have to add the GMB locations as location extensions to your AdWords account, as described previously.

To add the locations + a radius for targeting you have to choose a campaign, then choose locations, then click the little edit icon (pencil in a blue circle), then click on the Radius radio button to see the screen below:

From this screen, you can add your GMB locations for targeting and enter the radius you want around the GMB location(s).

NOTE: Change the radius to your desired setting prior to clicking on “TARGET” for your GMB locations.

Define Your Realistic Geographic Range For PPC

This should be where you determine the locations that are desirable for new customers to be located in. This should not be a list of every possible place you might consider servicing on a really slow random Tuesday afternoon.

For businesses with physical locations, set a radius around your location(s) that is reasonable to find people who might actually come to your business. This is for PPC, so you will be paying for this exposure – define your sweet spot areas and concentrate on them. The same principle applies for service area businesses (like plumbers, landscapers, pest control, etc.) choose an area that you WANT to work in, not that you “could” work in for PPC targeting.

How To Enter Your Geographic Targets

AdWords offers a lot of options when it comes to entering in geographic targets. While it makes for faster builds and setups to use the largest option that fits your needs, I prefer to put in individual pieces instead. This is of particular importance for local businesses. For example, if you have a retail location, I would enter in the zip codes and town names for areas within my desirable customer draw zone, rather than choosing a larger option made up of these pieces. Same for a service area business – if you serve a 3 county area, enter in the towns and zips for each county, rather than just selecting the county.

The main reason for taking this extra step is to give you maximum flexibility to adjust bids within your target zone at a pretty granular level. Also, historically I have found that you get better coverage for searches that include a geographic element (town name or zip code) if you add both a zip code and town, rather than just doing one or the other. I am hopeful that as machine learning evolves, this won’t be necessary, but for now, I still do it.

Create Your Campaigns

Search Ads

I tend to do search ads for more urgent needs, such as plumber, pest control, landscaping company, restaurant, salon, etc. For local businesses, coming up in search results for people with high intent queries should be priority number one.

Display Ads

I like to run a very targeted campaign on the Google Display Network, using only managed placements for local businesses.

I look for placements on sites with a local focus in their target geographic zone, specialty sites for their niche and anywhere they or their competitors have a citation online that runs Google ads. You can find citations by using a tool like Whitespark or Bright Local and run your client’s business and their competitors through the tool to find advertising placement ideas. The bonus of a managed placement campaign is no slogging through placement reports!

Facebook Ads

Even if it is only a small campaign, advertising to your target demographic in your target geographic zone on Facebook is just smart.

If you can do it and have people be able to stay on Facebook to visit the business’ Facebook page rather than clicking off on their website, so much the better.


Facebook is a great place for remarketing too. I like it better than the Google Display Network for small or local businesses because there are no placement issues to have to manage. You don’t have to worry about your ad ending up somewhere weird.

Specialty Sites

Some directory type sites offer advertising options exclusively on their site(s). If there is a site that is highly relevant to your business, considering advertising there too. Some of these sites also run Google ads on them, so learning how to check for that is worth your time. If you find a highly relevant site in your target niche, add it to your GDN placements.

There are plugins available for browsers that can help with determining where ads on a site are coming from. I like the Ghostery browser extension for this.

With it running, you can see all of the tags a site is running. If you see Google AdSense among the active tags, then you know that site runs ads from Google AdWords’ GDN.

Other Things to Consider for Local Businesses

What are some ways to track interactions that result from your advertising? There is a lot of data available in the different ad platforms and via Google Analytics (assuming you have it set up on the website), but there is an awful lot that happens for local businesses that happens offline or in a way that is not easily trackable via platforms or analytics.

Consider this when designing your campaigns: Tracking telephone numbers are great and services today are affordable. If phone calls are one of your goals, you could have a tracking number for each platform you advertise on to be able to better distinguish where calls come from (rather than relying on the person answering the phone to ask and the person calling to answer correctly).

Unique landing pages for ad campaigns are also, in my opinion, a must do. Again, it makes tracking of the behavior of users who came in via a platform/campaign/ad group easier to differentiate.

Your online reputation matters a lot. If there are negative reviews for a business, make addressing them a high priority. It is crazy to spend money advertising if within results potential customers are seeing negative reviews or low star ratings.

Be prepared to change your ads often. This is especially true on Facebook where ad fatigue is a real thing. Since search ads are only triggered when a person is searching, fatigue rarely exists, because the person was asking the search engine to give them specific results. Display advertising was not requested, so people’s view of it is different. Use each platform for what it is best for and in the way it best performs.

It can be challenging for local businesses to compete online. But, with some effort, local businesses can reach people who become customers.

About the Author:

Julie Friedman Bacchini is the founder and president of Neptune Moon LLC, a full-service internet marketing and web design firm with a focus on paid search. She and her blog are regularly included in many top search marketing influencer lists. She has presented on topics such as PPC, web site experience and local search visibility both locally and at national industry conferences, including SMX East and PPC Hero. You can find her on Twitter @NeptuneMoon.