Pandemic Effect On Local Marketing

To say that the last 12 to 18 months have been challenging for marketers would be the worst of understatements.  But as optimists who are energized by the ideas of what’s next, we are drawn to the silver linings of the many dark clouds that the pandemic blew our way. As ravaging as the pandemic has been, it has also highlighted many consumer shifts that are already transforming the future of marketing. With local marketing, there have been three major shifts that should be recognized and addressed.

Local Search

From 500%+ growth in “Can I Buy” local mobile searches to 3,000% growth in “Curbside Pickup” and 8,000% growth in “Who Has” or “In stock” searches over the past two years — consumers have shown that their new normal is to ascertain what business have the items they want in the digital space before venturing into a physical location. With Google now identifying almost 50% of all searches as having ‘local intent’ this equates to approximately 28 billion monthly local searches — a staggering amount of opportunities for businesses to connect with consumers.

Consumer Activity

By August of 2020 buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) grew by 259% year over year, additionally, eight in ten consumers expected to increase their use of this service throughout 2021.  Ecommerce went through about ten years of growth in the last year, powered by immense growth in grocery sales, which now make up 12% of ecommerce sales.  This growth is unprecedented and not likely to slow down anytime soon. Google research shows 67% of consumers plan on confirming an item is in stock this holiday shopping season before visiting a store to make a purchase.  These shifts, this merging of physical and digital retail, has created a new concept: phygital retail.

Local Ranking Factors

Since the advent of local search, the most important local ranking factor has been proximity, how close a given searcher is to a given location. As revealed by the MOZ Local Search Ranking Factor report in 2021, this is no longer the case. For the first time, proximity dropped out of the top spot into third place. The top two spots are now Google My Business (GMB) signals and review signals, meaning for the first time ever the most important ranking factors are those that are most controllable by local businesses. This is one of the most significant shifts in local search and is in line with Google’s overall shift in serving as more of the consumer journey themselves, with the Google SERP serving as a “one-stop” for local searchers.

Key Takeaway

Businesses, regardless of size, need to lean into Google’s changes and take advantage of the new opportunities to influence their ranking.

  • GMB is now just table stakes to play in the local game. Claiming, verifying and optimizing business profiles is no longer an option.
  • Utilize all profile enhancements and attributes available for your business and create a regular schedule of weekly activity: posting photos, update posts, Q&As and offer posts. 
  • For retailers, Google Products (i.e. See What’s In Store) is the most powerful tool to influence your ranking in the local pack. Uploading your inventory to each GMB profile can skyrocket performance

WordPress Proposes Blocking FLoC By Default

Google announced they will be phasing out third-party cookies by 2022, which undeniably seemed like a strange move for Google because they surely wouldn’t want to damage the industry that it dominates and is responsible for the majority of its revenue. Shortly after this announcement, they followed up with their replacement plan, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).

What is FloC?

FLoC is a different way of targeting advertisers that is interest-based. Instead of identifying consumers individually, you’re associated with a group of people with shared interests. Google is making this change all in the name of privacy, one of many privacy-based changes that have been made over the last year. With FLoC, an individual’s information is kept private while the browser will look at the history and assign users to specific groups.

WordPress Proposal

WordPress has proposed blocking FLoC on their websites by default. Essentially all website builders have the ability to block this technology with the entry of a few lines of code. The difference is, many people aren’t always aware of these changes when they are happening and simply don’t get around to implementing the code. This would leave the users of their site open to having their data tracked and placed in one of Google’s groups. As of now, this is simply a proposed idea, and WordPress is not expected to be close to a decision.

Why we care?

This would be a huge blow to Google and online advertisers because an estimated 40% of all sites use WordPress. That is a massive share of user behavior that would be lost to advertisers, dramatically impacting the ability to reach potential customers. 

Final Thoughts

The end of third-party cookies is overdue and having a more private internet is definitely important. Google publicly says that FLoC is a step forward in regards to privacy and that may be, but it’s a very small step forward. The biggest issue that comes to mind is the type of cohorts that will be utilized. It’s not difficult to see how this could lead to the exploitation of vulnerable groups of people which is one of the biggest reasons for these changes in the first place. On top of that, if we begin to see other website developers take the same stand as WordPress, advertisers won’t have access to much user data anyways. This comes across as Google pushing back against privacy while saying the opposite. If Google did push forward with FLoC, my belief is that it wouldn’t be long until we see more privacy protection lawsuits and Google is scrambling for a better solution.

It’s Time for a Local TV Currency Change

Local TV broadcasters and buyers are finally moving to an impression-based vs. ratings-based currency in order to place Local TV on a playing field comparable to other video and digital channels. Viewing audiences have actually always been measured on impressions, and this evolution does not represent a fundamental change. What is changing is the transaction currency for those impressions — now transacted on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) rather than a cost-per-point (CPP) used when the impressions were converted to rating points. The pace of this evolution was accelerated to accommodate Nielsen’s upcoming integration of broadband-only (BBO) homes into its local samples and universes – originally slated to become the standard for most local markets on April 1st, but recently delayed by Nielsen to October 2021.

While rating points typically rounded Local TV viewing audiences to the nearest tenth of a percentage point, leaving some viewers on the sidelines, and were held to Nielsen’s minimum reporting standards,  impressions account for all viewers and allow for more precise reporting of Local TV audience delivery and performance as well as post-buy evaluation. 

In the past, ratings could easily be converted to impressions, but the nature of rounding and reporting minimums often under-represented the total number of impressions, and the recent addition of Nielsen’s BBO homes is affecting the local market universes. Early estimates indicate that the shift from ratings to impressions and the addition of BBO homes adds anywhere from 5%-20% of viewers depending on the daypart. Interestingly, while local market universes will increase, ratings will likely see an overall decline because of proportionately less Local TV viewing in BBO homes.

The shift to impressions not only enables sellers and buyers to count all viewers on screens, it helps to simplify cross-platform comparisons and include Local TV in those solutions. Using impressions as the currency for Local TV, buyers and brands can now plan holistically across platforms and screens.

Moving to impressions will also help buyers to consider automated TV platforms and processes common in digital platforms, and further efforts to use audience data across platforms. 

This change doesn’t reflect a change in the way viewers are watching Local TV. Instead, it reflects the desire for sellers, brands and agencies like True Media to transact in a currency more similar to the majority of other channels, as well as positioning Local TV as an integral part of the evolving video landscape.

What does the Apple iOS 14 update mean for advertisers?

Apple has announced upcoming data-permission changes with iOS 14 that will impact how advertisers, publishers and app developers can target and track users on Facebook and other platforms. Businesses that advertise mobile apps, as well as those that optimize, target, and report on web conversion events will be affected.

Until now, advertisers could use a device ID number called the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) to better target ads and estimate how effective they were. In iOS 14, each app that wants to use these identifiers will prompt users to opt-in to tracking when the app is first launched. Users can choose “Allow Tracking” or “Ask App Not to Track.” If users want to provide more data for advertisers to serve them more relevant ads, they will need to explicitly opt-in (rather than currently being able to opt-out) in order to provide permissions to track them or access their device’s advertising identifier. This prompt will appear when using all iOS apps, including apps within the Facebook family and apps that monetize with the Facebook Audience Network.

Data permissions that will require user approval include:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in apps based on data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies
  • Sharing device location data or email lists
  • Sharing a list of emails advertising IDs or other IDs with a third-party ad network that uses that information to retarget
  • Placing a third-party SDK in apps that combines user data from one app with data from another app to target or measure advertising

As users opt-out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, advertisers will see a decrease in the number of conversions attributed to their paid advertising campaigns and iOS 14 limitations may cause some ads to be paused or stop delivering to certain devices. 

In its long history of conflict with Apple’s stance on data and privacy, Facebook has responded by testing a new feature that shows users its own prompt before Apple’s pop-up appears. In this test, Facebook’s prompt will explain to users why it wants to track activity and ask users to opt-in, hoping to convince users to allow ongoing tracking to provide a more relevant advertising experience. 

At this point, it is difficult to anticipate the full impact of this permission change, but we are working with our social partners to ensure that other tracking mechanisms are in place. Making sure pixels, SDKs and web domains are updated and verified is important for future conversions. We will continue to work with each client and determine best actions to ensure the best targeting and tracking tactics for each unique measurement strategy.

Local SEO: How to be Present

Google has reported that over the last two years, mobile “open now near me” searches have increased 200%, and searches containing “buy” terms have increased over 500%.  Additionally, 82% of smartphone shoppers conduct ‘near me’ searches and 76% of local mobile searches result in a store visit within 24 hours

It is clear that current and potential customers are on the go, on their phone and looking for specific locations.

Local SEO is different from SEO or paid search as it is based on a unique algorithm and set of conditions. Even with a robust SEO and SEM program, there can still be gaps in the search engine results when it comes to local search.

For local information and results, Google relies primarily on information through the Google My Business platform. Apple Maps is powered by primary data partners and other third-party sites, Siri uses Google as a data source and Amazon’s Alexa gets a good portion of location data from Yelp. Additionally, each of these platforms check and verify the location information with other platforms.

The foundation of local search centers on basic information: name, address, phone number and website URL. This information powers what appears in the listings, however, the NAP (name, address, phone) is only the foundation of local SEO.  Additional strategies such as location information syndication across the local ecosystem, content-rich individual location pages on the website, sponsorship and links to local organizations, location-based social media and review management are all key components to the local ranking algorithm.

A local search program is no longer an option for retailers; brands that are not present online for most consumers is equal to not existing.

For more information on utilizing Local SEO in your campaigns, contact us here.

Keeping Google My Business Listings Safe From Hijackers

The issue of hijacked Google My Business (GMB) listings — when a person other than a business owner or representative gains control of the local profile — continues to grow. 

Unethical marketers are phishing through many listings in the hopes of hijacking, ultimately succeeding through using the “claim this business” or “manage this listing” link on a local profile. Clicking on this link generates an email request for control over the listing that is sent to the registered owner of the profile. Business owners that are unaware of what these emails mean could unwittingly surrender control of their business listing and find their location marked as closed, as well as other objectionable changes to their local information.

Google is aware of the growing issue and advises business owners to remain cautious. A Google spokesperson recently told Search Engine Land, “If a merchant ever receives a request to manage or to transfer ownership from an unknown person, they should decline the request.  The rights to own or manage a Business Profile can only be granted if the verified merchant accepts the request or the requester proves their affiliation with the business.”

Why does it matter?

It is obvious to say that any form of false information in Google Maps and Search is not ideal for both companies or consumers. However, these phishing attempts in order to hijack Google My Business listings are significantly bad for small businesses. False online information can lead to a negative impact on sales, especially during COVID when the majority of consumers are obtaining information through a Google search.

How can you be proactive about this issue?

To start, as Google suggests, decline any request to manage or transfer ownership from an unknown person. Beyond that, this growing trend highlights the importance of a strong local SEO management program and agency partnership that can keep on top of listing status and puts your business’ security first.

For more information about True Media’s Google Search and Local Search marketing capabilities, contact us.

Connected TV in Your Media Strategy

As the media industry continues to be unpredictable with the disruption of COVID-19, advertisers are finding it harder to connect with their core audiences. 

Connected TV has continued to see an increase in viewership since the beginning of this year and it’s expected to continue to rise while paid TV households (those with a subscription to traditional paid TV services) continue to decrease. By 2023, according to eMarketer, non-pay-tv households (cord-cutters) will hit 68.2MM users (vs 56.3 in 2021), while pay-tv households dip to 63.4 (vs 73.7 in 2021). Ad spending in this space by 2021 is showing to be $11.36 billion dollars and by 2022, $14.11 billion. 

As the incline in Connected TV users grows, advertisers should start to strategically think about how to utilize this service to its fullest potential to reach their core audiences. Knowing that a majority of the population is going to be consuming content within this format, this type of targeting should undoubtedly be a successful tactic in advertising efforts and future strategies. 

Outside of traditional video, CTV buys and layering core audiences, there are additional opportunities and publishers that you can tap into that allow for expanded advertising. Examples like VideoAmp and Tremor/Alphonso, publishers that have ACR data, allow advertisers to target audiences who have seen a competitor’s TV ads and then target those users in real-time with their own advertising. Another example of expanded advertising opportunities with CTV is utilizing Origin, which is an offering within our programmatic efforts that gives you the ability to send trivia questions about your brand to your core audience as a different approach to capture consumer attention. Publishers, such as Hulu, can build out branded slates that live at the end video ads that allow for an additional call to action type of brand advertising.

When thinking about the next strategy approach for clients, it is important to include innovative ways to not just reach your audience, but also keep their attention. With the high consumption rate for Connected TV expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, utilizing this format could serve as an excellent solution to target your core audience.

At True Media, we will continue to utilize resources and research to help determine the best approach within this tactic to capture consumer attention and ultimately convert them to favor your brand.  For more insights on Connect TV advertising in your media strategy, contact us.

New Google Testing for Local Ad Options

Google continues to evolve with its local campaign options, which in turn continues to improve the value for advertisers. Earlier in the year Google added call clicks and driving directions as additional conversion options to original store visits. Additionally, they introduced the option of audience targeting or exclusion — a change that offered additional controls for advertisers. Most recently Google has been testing auto-suggest results within Google Maps.

On October 15, Thibault Adda tweeted that as he typed a search for “seafood restaurant” in the search bar, an ad for the seafood restaurant chain Red Lobster appeared in the auto-suggest results before his search query was even complete (see photo example).

Tests such as this are nothing new to Google, but it does seem to signal that local campaigns are now a permanent part of the Google suite of Paid Search campaign types. This is good news, as several True Media clients have already seen incredible results with local campaigns.

When examining results for Q3 year over year, one Farm and Home client saw a 1,250% increase in impressions, as well as a 86% increase in-store visits with 98% of all impressions coming from the local campaign.  Another client in the same industry saw similar results with a 2,623% increase in impressions.  Additionally, a Regional Banking client testing local campaigns saw similar results with September 2020 impressions showing a 236% increase over the previous year.

While advertisers do still need to be ‘whitelisted’ for Google local campaigns, retailers with physical locations who want to drive store contact via visits or calls, local campaigns can provide an unparalleled opportunity for brand reach and exposure.

For more information on implementing Local Search Campaigns in your media strategy, contact us.

Preston Waller Appointed President of True Media U.S.


  • Advertising Industry Veteran to Lead Agency’s U.S. Operations 
  • Waller to Report to True Independent Holdings CEO Jack Miller

ST. LOUIS, MO (September 18, 2020) – True Media one of the fastest-growing media strategy and communications agencies in North America, a subsidiary of True Independent Holdings, announced today the appointment of Preston Waller to the role of president of the agency’s U.S. operations. Waller will assume responsibility for the leadership and growth of the True Media U.S. network across its St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Missouri, and Minneapolis offices. Waller joins Bruce Neve who serves as President, True Media Canada as a member of the network’s executive leadership team. Both Neve and Waller will report to True Independent Holdings Founder and CEO Jack Miller. As previously announced on September 14, Miller assumed the role of CEO of True Independent Holdings the holding company which includes agencies True Media, True Media Canada, Coegi, RADaR, and True Properties.

I couldn’t be more excited to join the True Media team at such an exciting time for the company,” said Waller. “Throughout this process, I’ve been very impressed by the team, the capabilities, and the work; and I am honored to be joining such a great organization. I look forward to working alongside Jack and Bruce to ensure True Media remains the most effective independent marketing network for our clients.” — Preston Waller

We are absolutely thrilled to welcome a person of Preston’s character to the True Media leadership team,” said Jack Miller CEO of True Independent Holdings. “His experience working at respected global agency networks and his track record of building transparent and rock-solid client relationships made him the absolute right choice to lead True Media into the future.”— Jack Miller

Waller joins True Media after a distinguished career working in positions of increasing authority at some of the advertising and media industry’s most respected holding companies. He most recently served as Vice President and Head of Business Development for MDC Media Partners/Assembly the media offering within global agency holding company MDC Partners (NASDAQ: MDCA). During his tenure at MDC Media/Assembly, Waller was integral in new client wins that delivered more than $1.5 billion in new billings for the agency from iconic brands such as Nickelodeon, E*TRADE, Pabst, GameStop and Boehringer-Ingelheim. Prior to MDC Media, Waller worked for Interpublic Group’s (NYSE: IPG) media unit IPG Mediabrands helping to launch BPN a new global agency network. He began his career with IPG Mediabrands flagship agency UM in Dallas eventually being promoted into positions in New York.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Waller received his degree from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and is a proud Horned Frog alum. He and his wife Caitlin will relocate from New York, with Waller assuming leadership of True Media U.S. effective October 1st. He will be based in the agency’s St. Louis office.

About True Independent Holdings

True Independent Holdings is one of North America’s leading independent marketing and advertising networks with capabilities that span strategy, media, data, analytics, digital, social, and content development across its award-winning agencies True Media, True Media Canada, Coegi, and RADaR. Collectively, our companies provide marketers with the ability to collaborate and access best-in-class services by leveraging technology, data analytics, and a deep understanding of consumer behavior in order to help grow business for clients. Our structure enables the agencies in our portfolio to exist independently, grow entrepreneurially, yet collaborate when needed to meet our client’s needs. This integrated approach ensures our clients receive more holistic and effective solutions in less time, from true experts. In addition, through our subsidiary True Properties the company operates locations in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia (Missouri), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Toronto (Ontario), and Calgary (Alberta).

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Press Contact:
Erin Bone, Director of Marketing