Behold, the Magic of Geotargeting! Kind of.

Search engine marketing is awesome. Better than all other forms of advertising. Why? Geotargeting. For sure.

No more wasting valuable advertising dollars on people who can’t use your services! There’s not a single advertising channel – other than search marketing – that can do that.

Do you run a one-person storefront, closed Tuesdays, open until 1 on Thursdays, and sometimes not at all if you’ve got a doctor’s appointment? You don’t want to ship internationally with your business – after all, you don’t have a webstore – but you could benefit from the additional foot traffic that a targeted consumer visit to your four-page website might generate. By all means, enter your address into the Google interface, select a given radius (or, if you’re feeling really frisky, design a custom-made polygon), and only show your ads in those specific areas. Never waste money on unwanted clicks! Totally.

Are you the CEO of a nationwide franchisor? Well, nationwide, kind of. Nationwide insomuch as you serve a variety of regions, but don’t cover every address or every ZIP code in every region? No problem! Enter the names of the cities you serve, and you’re guaranteed only the highest-quality traffic. Never generate a lead that you can’t translate into a sale! For sure.

Here’s the problem, friends. It doesn’t quite work that way. It can’t quite work that way. An ISP-provided IP address can only provide the search engines with limited location information, and, on occasion, it’s the wrong information. (Until recently, the humble Northern Michigan offices of Oneupweb were served ads geotargeted to ‘Chicago.’ Where in Michigan is Chicago? Well, hold out your left hand, palm out, and Chicago’s right… to the left of your wrist? Hmm.) Bummer.

So how do you adjust to this? Change expectations. Understand that generating some unwanted clicks is simply a cost of doing business online. Let’s say you’re that nationwide franchise, thriving in the Pacific Northwest but, for business reasons, you’ve chosen not to serve the city of Seattle. You’ll cover suburban Renton, and Bellevue’s no problem, but you want to stay out of the big city. You’ve targeted those two towns, and you’ve seen no search impressions. Why’s that? Because a search engine simply can’t be that specific, in all cases. Not cool.

So open up your targeting a little bit. Add the city of Seattle, or maybe the entire Seattle metro area. You’ll probably catch several internet users who work in the city, searching during the day. And, quite likely, you’ll be able to capture ZIP codes or towns that are ripe for service – even the bad leads will give you valuable information. Awesome.

I like the way Yahoo’s handled geotargeting options in the new Panama interface. They’ve offered targeting by continent, and by country, and by state, and by television market. No promises of showing your ads only in a 43 square mile hexagon. No promises of hitting only the most-targeted, most guaranteed-to-convert consumer. Only a humble offer – we’ll try. That’s worth something.

It could be pretty sweet.